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Newsline - October 3, 2007

The state-controlled monopoly Gazprom said in a statement on October 2 that it will cut gas supplies to Ukraine if Kyiv does not pay by the end of October the $1.3 billion the company says Ukraine owes it, international media reported. The statement noted that "the problem is objective. It is not connected in any way with who wins or does not win in [the recent legislative elections in] Ukraine. But it is connected to debts that have to be paid." Britain's "Financial Times" on October 3 quoted a Gazprom spokesman as denying that his firm is trying to interfere in Ukrainian political affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). He said that "we tried not to push this issue during the Ukrainian election, otherwise there would have been the immediate accusation that Gazprom is using this as an attempt to influence the outcome of elections. But with autumn approaching, we need to settle all the issues related to nonpayments. There is never a good time." The British daily noted that "Gazprom likes to present itself as a purely commercial company. But on [October 2 it]...gave a spectacular demonstration of its political clout." The paper added that Gazprom's "decision to threaten to cut supplies to Ukraine just as pro-Western parties were poised to win power in Kyiv struck observers outside Russia as clearly political. The [Gazprom] group, which has close links to the Kremlin, could have made its announcement...a week or two before or well after the poll." The daily quoted an unnamed Ukrainian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that Gazprom's announcement amounts to a "welcome mat for [opposition politician Yulia] Tymoshenko ahead of her return as premier." She blames current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych for the debts and has promised an investigation of his government's "dishonesty" in its business dealings. On October 3, the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" wrote that Gazprom "has entered the Ukrainian political fray," adding that the "underlying political motive" behind its demand on debt repayment is "obvious." noted that "Gazprom is meddling in the Ukrainian political confrontation." PM

In Moscow on October 3, Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko met with Gazprom officials to discuss the current impasse, Interfax reported. In Kyiv on October 3, Prime Minister Yanukovych said that he might soon join Boyko in Moscow, adding that the imbroglio is "very complicated." First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov said in Kyiv that the government has no debts to Gazprom and that the matter of the debts is one between businesses. In Brussels on October 2, the European Commission called on both sides to "find a speedy settlement for this issue," dpa reported. About 80 percent of Russian gas supplies to Western Europe transit Ukraine's territory. PM

On October 2 in Brussels, Riina Kionka, who is personal representative on human rights to EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, was quoted by dpa as saying that she is not optimistic about the outcome of the EU-Russia summit slated for October 26. She said that "we continue to hope that there will be a constructive outcome, but the broad brushstrokes are not in bright tones." The previous EU-Russia summit, which took place in May, failed to resolve differences over Russia's human-rights record and democracy deficit, and its attempt to put political and other pressure on Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). Kionka said on October 2 that recent Russian nationalist charges of "crimes against humanity" against former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and former Estonian President Arnold Ruutel are an attempt to ward off criticism of Russia by taking the offense against two small neighboring states. She noted that the charges are backed by the youth group Nashi (Ours), which has close ties to the Kremlin and which recently launched a weeklong "antifascist marathon" protest outside the offices of the European Commission in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2007). The Russian accusations, which the Estonian Foreign Ministry recently called "beyond any reason," have been widely ridiculed by Western experts, dpa reported. Kionka noted on October 2 that the status of the Baltic states' ethnic minorities "has been looked at by any number of missions and groups since 1991, and it's clear that it is not a problem. If it had been a problem, the EU would never have started accession negotiations with the Baltics." She added that Russia's "is not a serious, credible accusation." Elsewhere in Brussels on October 2, Member of the European Parliament and former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis launched a photographic exhibition titled "Chechnya: The Final Solution." He said that the purpose of the exhibition is to remind EU politicians of the human suffering in Chechnya. "I would like to see if the EU dares to speak about human rights in Russia at the summit," he said. PM

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted by the "New York Post" on October 1 as saying that Washington is concerned about the "concentration of power" in Russia, following President Vladimir Putin's recent suggestion that he might become prime minister after the December parliamentary elections, according to the State Department's website (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). Asked if she thinks that Putin is preparing to become "dictator for life," Rice said she does not think that he will attempt to change the constitution to that end. She added that "he says that he will not change the constitution. I believe him. I think he won't change the constitution. I think the concerning thing about Russia right now is just the concentration of power in the Kremlin, leaving aside the presidency itself." She argued that "it's quite obvious that there are not strong countervailing institutions. The legislature is not, the Duma is not, the courts are not." In Bonn on October 2, Deutsche Welle quoted Ruprecht Polenz, a leading German parliamentarian, as expressing similar concerns about the future of Russian "checks and balances." Polenz, who belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Russia is heading for a concentration of power in Putin's hands, regardless of his title. Polenz argued that Putin's strong position is primarily the result of Russia's huge energy revenues at a time when crude oil is selling for over $80 per barrel. "If [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev had [such oil prices] instead of $20 [per barrel], he'd still be president today," Polenz argued. PM

President Putin told Russian sports officials in Moscow on October 2 that they should stop recruiting African athletes, news agencies reported. Putin argued that "looking at our teams, one cannot immediately understand whether those are ours, or a team from Africa. The result is well-known. There is no one to play on our national teams.... Instead of training young [Russian athletes], they spend millions of dollars hiring foreign players." He stressed that his concern is "the spiritual and physical health of the nation, of its young generation.... I want to see results." PM

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on October 2 that "there is a breach between human rights and morality today, which is destructive for European civilization," news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, May 29, 2007). He added that "this can be seen in the appearance of a new generation of rights contradicting morality as well as justification of immoral actions with the help of human rights." He stressed that "nobody should make me or my brothers and sisters in faith keep quiet when we call sin that which is called sin in the word of God. If there is obtrusive propaganda of homosexuality, which affects mainly young people, we have the right to ask society to think about what it should and shouldn't support legally and politically." He argued that "when there were persistent attempts by homosexuals to hold a parade in Moscow, we thought of it as propaganda and advertisement of sin. It is a sickness. It is a transformation of human personality. But there are other transformations of human personality, such as kleptomania. Why isn't kleptomania advertised by anybody, while homosexuality is?" PM

The Unified Russia party announced at its preelection congress in Moscow on October 2 that the only name that will appear on the party's federal election list will be that of President Vladimir Putin, Russian media reported. "Why do we need three locomotives when there is one big locomotive," Duma Deputy Artur Chilingarov told RFE/RL. The party's leaders -- Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev -- will head the party's regional lists in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Stavropol Krai, and Tatarstan, respectively. As a result, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko will occupy the No. 2 spot in St. Petersburg, instead of the No. 1 position as previously reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2007). Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov and Duma Deputy Stanislav Govorukhin will occupy the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively, on the party's Moscow list, RFE/RL reported. In his closing remarks to the congress, Gryzlov said the party defines victory as achieving at least 300 mandates in the 450-seat chamber. RC

A national poll by the Public Opinion Foundation conducted on September 22-23 (before Putin's decision to head the Unified Russia party list) indicates that more than half of Russians favor Putin heading the Unified Russia party and only 7 percent oppose it, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on October 3. The poll found that 57 percent of voters say they would vote for Unified Russia if Putin was the party's leader, while 24 percent said they would not. The same survey found that Russians are split on the question of Putin leaving office. Forty-six percent of respondents said they would be sorry to see Putin leave, and 46 percent said they would not. Twenty-five percent said they are "certain" that Putin will continue to play a major role in politics after March 2008, possibly as prime minister, speaker of the Duma, or secretary of the Security Council. A poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found that social justice is the most important issue for voters in the December 2 Duma elections, "Izvestia" reported on October 3. The poll found that two-thirds of Russians agree that they cannot solve their own and their families' problems without the support of the state. About the same percentage, however, said that they do not trust the government. "The nearly universal striving for justice is a very good sign," political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told the daily. "Notice that people are not demanding a rollback of the market economy or a return to the Soviet Union. They accept capitalism as a given and merely want to correct it." RC

President Putin's support for the Unified Russia party is a major blow for the left-leaning pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party, which is struggling to surmount the 7 percent hurdle for seats in the next Duma (see "Russia: Kremlin Labors To Get 'A Just Russia' Into The Next Duma,", September 5, 2007), RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 2. A Just Russia has been firm in its support of Putin, even as it has attacked Unified Russia; the latest development will make it very difficult for A Just Russia to maintain both positions, analyst Oreshkin said. He added that the "administrative resources" of regional administrations will now be deployed exclusively in support of Unified Russia. A Just Russia has already complained of such tactics. Last week, the local party leader in Volgograd, Oleg Mikheyev, was arrested on tax charges, and accused the local police chief of acting at the request of Unified Russia. "Novyye izvestia" reported on October 3 that the boost Putin's move gives to Unified Russia will likely mean that neither A Just Russia nor the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will pass the 7 percent mark and only Unified Russia and the Communist Party will have representation in the next Duma. RC

Four officials with the Federal Antinarcotics Agency were detained at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on October 2 on suspicion of illegal eavesdropping on telephone conversations, Russian media reported. The detainees include Lieutenant General Aleksandr Bulbov, a senior figure in the Three Whales investigation, in which a furniture dealer has been accused of illegally importing massive quantities of furniture and other items (see "Russia: Corruption Scandal Could Shake Kremlin,", September 26, 2006). Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinstein, writing in "Moskovsky komsomolets" on October 3, attributes the arrests to a high-level conflict among the siloviki within the Federal Security Service, on one hand, and the Federal Antinarcotics Agency, on the other. Khinstein writes that Bulbov's pursuit of the Three Whales case led to "mass dismissals inside the FSB and the Prosecutor-General's Office" and claims that "now Lubyanka has carried out a retaliatory strike against the enemy." RIA Novosti reported on October 2 that the Investigative Committee will look into the unexplained death in July 2003 of investigative journalist and Duma Deputy Yury Shchekochikhin, who was conducting his own independent research into the Three Whales case, among others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). RC

Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Kamil Iskhakov has been named deputy regional development minister, RIA Novosti reported on October 3. Iskhakov, formerly the mayor of Kazan, was named presidential envoy in November 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2005). The Regional Development Ministry is headed by Dmitry Kozak, who was formerly the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. RC

The number of Russian troops deployed in Chechnya will not be reduced any further in the immediate future as the Chechen Interior Ministry forces are not yet capable of assuming full responsibility for security, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on October 2 quoted Lieutenant General Yakov Nedobitko, commander of the Combined Group of Forces in the Caucasus, as saying in Grozny on September 30. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov called six months ago for speeding up the gradual withdrawal of Russian troops, according to "Gazeta" on March 27. Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev for his part noted on September 30 that Chechen Interior Ministry forces participate in every major operation against the armed resistance and sustain frequent casualties; Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said 29 of his men were killed and 59 wounded between January-August this year. According to Nedobitko, the Chechen North and East battalions (which are subordinate respectively to the Russian Interior Ministry and Russian Military Intelligence) have incurred the heaviest losses in the ongoing "counterterrorism" operation. He characterized those two battalions as "a real force capable of ensuring a high level of public order and safety" and of containing the threat of banditry and terrorism. The East battalion is commanded by Sulim Yamadayev, whose relations with Kadyrov have long been strained. LF

Police and security forces in Ingushetia were recently issued orders not to inform the media of any "incidents of a terrorist nature," such as armed attacks, exchanges of fire and explosions, the website reported on October 2 quoting an unnamed local security official. The press services of the agencies in question have begun declining to comment when asked about such incidents, saying they have no knowledge of them. Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov has repeatedly complained in recent weeks that Russian media exaggerate the extent of violence in the republic. LF

The Russian State Duma adopted a statement on October 2 condemning the September 27 arrest of former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and expressing concern at what it described as the lack of political pluralism and the extensive recourse to phonetapping and the arrest, intimidation, and beating of opposition supporters, reported. The statement further expressed concern at the unequivocal support extended by the United States for the present Georgian leadership, and it demanded an independent enquiry into the circumstances of the death in February 2005 of Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Okruashvili claimed days before his arrest that Zhvania did not die in the apartment where his body was found (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2007). Speaking in Tbilisi later on October 2, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said the Duma has no moral right to rule on issues of democracy, given that it turns a blind eye to daily violations of human rights within Russia, Caucasus Press reported. Parliamentarian Giga Bokeria, a close ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili, characterized the Duma statement as that of a "hostile country," Caucasus Press reported. In Sukhum(i), Abkhaz Vice President Raul Khadjimba described the Duma assessment of the situation in Georgia as more objective than that of the U.S. State Department, Interfax reported. LF

The cabinet on October 2 approved a proposed draft budget for 2008, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian service reported. The budget envisages an increase of over 40 percent in both spending and revenues, which will rise to 820.8 billion drams ($2.45 billion) and 744.7 billion drams, respectively. Spending on education will rise by 20 percent, and on medical care by 24 percent, much of which is earmarked for a pay rise for medical personnel. The projected level of defense spending remains unclear. LF

Implementation of the second stage of drilling and extraction of natural gas from Azerbaijan's large offshore Shah Deniz field may be delayed by one year, from 2012 to 2013, Azerbaijani media quoted Jan Heiberg, vice president of Statoil-Azerbaijan, the operator of the project, as telling journalists in Baku on October 1. Heiberg explained that his company encountered unspecified problems in drilling a fourth well, but nonetheless still intends to invest up to $10 billion in the second stage of extraction. Export of the first gas from Shah Deniz was delayed for several months due to problems with the first well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7 and 8, 2007). Shah Deniz currently produces some 15 million cubic meters of gas daily, of which Azerbaijan retains 5 million and exports 8.2 million to Turkey and 1 million to Georgia. LF

The opposition For a United Georgia party launched by former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili days before his arrest on September 27 on charges of extortion of bribes, money laundering, and abuse of power has begun collecting signatures to a petition demanding his release, Caucasus Press reported on October 2. Also on October 2, Georgian opposition parties convened a meeting in Tbilisi to demand the release of Okruashvili and other persons they consider political prisoners. Meanwhile, the daily "Rezonansi" calculated on October 2 that 17 close allies of Okruashvili have been arrested in recent weeks, including former Poti Mayor David Kantaria and former Shida Kartli Governor Mikheil Kareli. Kareli's health has deteriorated since his detention on September 23, giving rise to rumors he has been poisoned. The Court of Appeal on October 1 upheld the September 29 ruling by the Tbilisi Municipal Court sentencing Okruashvili to two months' pretrial detention. LF

In a joint statement released during a press conference in Almaty, the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan and the Adil Soz foundation for protecting the freedom of speech announced on October 1 that they are concerned about proposed amendments to the new draft media law presented by the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Culture and Information, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to the two groups, the proposal offered by the Interior Ministry would "make journalists responsible for disseminating discrediting information" and strengthen the criminalization of "slander and the insult of one's dignity." Tamara Kaleeva, the president of Adil Soz, criticized the amendments as "depriving society of the right to know about abuses and immoral behavior of public figures," and noted that existing laws provide sufficient protection against unethical journalists. According to the current Kazakh law on the media, a lawsuit may be brought against any journalist for publishing information concerning a public figure's private life. RG

On a state visit to Turkey, Nursultan Nazarbaev met newly installed Turkish President Abdullah Gul to discuss plans to expand cooperation in the areas of trade, energy, and investment, Kazakh television reported on October 1. Turkey has long had close relations with Kazakhstan; bilateral trade reached some $906 million last year and both countries have pledged to increase trade to an ambitious target of $5 billion by 2010. Nazarbaev reiterated his interest in specifically expanding bilateral cooperation in the transport and communications sectors and stressed priority of constructing a new oil refinery at Turkey's port of Ceyhan. RG

Kazakh Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov announced on October 1 the arrest of two major Georgian crime figures who were allegedly attempting to "incite prison riots" and conducting other "criminal activities" in Kazakhstan, according to Kazakh television. Police detained the two unidentified men in Almaty after receiving information of their intention to "organize disorders in Kazakh prisons" and "exert pressure on prison administrations." The men were reportedly invited to Almaty by an unnamed "businessman" from the city of Karaganda and were placed under constant police surveillance on their arrival in the country. RG

Kazakh Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Sauat Mynbaev announced on October 2 that he sees "no grounds" to suspend operations at the offshore Kashagan oil field on the basis of complaints by the Environmental Protection Emergency Situations ministries, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty, Mynbaev explained that "the environmental complaints" lodged against the Italian-led consortium in charge of operations would most likely be resolved by the signing of a "memorandum" between the Environmental Protection Ministry and the consortium. He also noted that the consortium "accepted part of the complaints" and is "currently in the process of rectifying them," stressing that "we do not see any reasons to suspend the project because of the environment." In late August, the government suspended work at the Kashagan oil field for three months due to alleged violations of environmental-protection laws, as well as repeated delays and cost overruns by Eni, the Italian leader of the consortium in charge of operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). Relations between the government and the Eni-led consortium have been strained by the consortium's decision to push back the start of production at the oil field from 2008 to late 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31 and August 22, 2007). The projected total cost for developing the Kashagan field has more than doubled from initial estimates of $57 billion to $136 billion. The Kashagan field holds between 7 billion and 9 billion tons of proven reserves, making it the single-largest oil field discovered in the last three decades and the fourth- or fifth-largest deposit in the world. RG

The Kyrgyz parliament voted on October 2 to adopt a resolution calling on President Kurmanbek Bakiev to "thoroughly examine the activity of the Constitutional Court," AKIpress and ITAR-TASS reported. The deputies argued that the country's highest court "exceeded its authority" last month, when it overturned constitutional amendments that were adopted in November 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). That ruling, which prompted parliament to adopt a vote of no confidence in the court, held that the constitutional-amendment process illegally violated the requirement that "changes or amendments to the constitution can be made only through a referendum," effectively nullifying the present constitution and restoring the February 2003 version (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2007). During his annual televised national address last month, Bakiev called for a referendum on a new constitution, set for October 21, in an attempt to end the political deadlock between the Constitutional Court and parliament. But tensions between the two branches of government returned as the parliament authorized its Audit Chamber to "examine the court's financial and economic activity" and voted to form a special state commission empowered to investigate the performance of the Constitutional Court. In response, Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova urged the president, as the "guarantor of the constitution," to defend the court from "persecution by the parliament," and to "take appropriate measures to ensure the rule of law." RG

A press release issued by the Foreign Ministry announced on October 1 that Kyrgyzstan intends to purchase wheat from Iran, importing it through the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas, according to the website. The agreement to import the wheat followed negotiations between Kyrgyz Ambassador to Iran Medetkan Sherimkulov and Iran's first vice president, Parviz Davudi, and also included a discussion of expanding cooperation in the agricultural, construction, and banking sectors. Although Kyrgyzstan is also seeking to attract Iranian financing for the construction of several new hydroelectric power stations, the wheat deal addresses a pressing crisis in the country following a sharp rise in bread prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). RG

The head of the Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization Civil Platform, Alisher Mamasaliev, told reporters on October 2 that Kayrat Birimkulov, a journalist working for the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Corporation, left the country after seeking political asylum in Switzerland, AKIpress reported. Birimkulov, who was able to leave Kyrgyzstan with his immediate family in the early morning hours of October 2, reportedly decided to seek asylum after he "constantly received threats by phone," according to Mamasaliev. Birimkulov was also assaulted in March in an attack that required his hospitalization. That attack was assumed to be linked to his reporting on corruption among officials of the railway management. RG

Nozirjon Yodgori, a spokesman for the Barqi Tojik state electricity company, announced on October 2 the imposition of new rationing for electricity supplies throughout the country, Asia-Plus reported. The rationing is to go into effect in all regions, with the sole exception of the capital Dushanbe, and is the latest attempt to curb rising demand for electricity in Tajikistan following an acute shortage of electricity last winter and early spring. The new restrictions are to last through April 2008 and will reduce the supply of daily electrical power to eleven hours, or five hours in the morning, from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., and six hours in the evening, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. RG

The Chamber of Representatives on October 2 elected Vadzim Papou as its chairman, Belapan reported. The election followed the resignation of Uladzimir Kanaplyou from the post last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). Papou, who is 67 years old, already headed the Chamber of Representatives in 2000-04. Before that, he served in various managerial posts in the agricultural sector in Mahilyou Oblast. He was appointed deputy agriculture minister in 1999 and served as agriculture minister for a short stint in 2000. JM

Opposition leaders delivered some 40,000 signatures under a petition against the upcoming abolition of state benefits and privileges to the Belarusian National Assembly in Minsk on October 2, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Some 20 members of the group, including Belarusian Party of Communists head Syarhey Kalyakin, Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) head Anatol Lyaukovich, and United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, managed to reach the national legislature after scuffles with police who blocked the way to the building. "I worked in parliament for six years and never saw somebody preventing a person from entering the parliamentary building and approaching his representative," Lyabedzka told journalists. The state benefits are to be abolished under a bill that was passed in May and signed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in June. In particular, the legislation will remove reduced transport fares for students and the holders of the Veteran of Labor title as well as make fewer people entitled to discounts on utility and phone bills and health services. JM

The Minsk City Court on October 2 dismissed an appeal from opposition politician Andrey Klimau against his prison sentence, Belapan reported. Klimau was found guilty in August of making calls for overthrowing the government or changing the constitutional system of Belarus in an article posted on the Internet earlier this year. Following a trial shrouded in secrecy, Klimau was sentenced to two years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). Klimau has already spent more than five years in prison on two other sets of charges that were widely believed to be politically motivated. JM

After tallying the vote in the September 30 preterm polls from 99.44 percent of polling stations, the Central Election Commission reported on its website ( that the Party of Regions received 34.28 percent of the vote, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 30.77 percent, the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc 14.20 percent, the Communist Party 5.38 percent, the Lytvyn Bloc 3.96 percent, and the Socialist Party 2.87 percent. The current election outcome gives the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc jointly a slim majority of 229 seats in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. The commission expects that it will be able to view all potential election complaints until October 15 and publish official results after that date. JM

Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of the bloc bearing her name, told journalists in Kyiv on October 2 that she is confident that her bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense will have a majority in parliament, Ukrainian media reported. "As soon as the Central Election Commission announces the preliminary [election] results, in order to have a firm base for forming state power, we will immediately start forming a government, fill all the leadership positions, and determine the composition of the entire executive branch," she added. Tymoshenko also promised that if she becomes Ukrainian prime minister, she will find "all essential elements of cooperation" with Russia so that Russian gas supplies to Ukraine are not reduced. Tymoshenko's comment was apparently in response to Gazprom's threat earlier the same day to reduce gas deliveries to Ukraine over an outstanding debt (see Russia above). JM

UN police in Kosova are investigating the possibility that officers in Kosova's local police force may have been involved in a bomb attack that killed two people in Prishtina on September 24, local and international media reported on October 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2007). A police spokesman, Veton Elshani, said that witnesses saw up to seven police cars from a southern town, Urosevac, at the scene shortly before the explosion. The cars have now been impounded for investigation. Elshani also said it could not be ruled out that the attack was connected with the killing in August of a police officer, Triumf Riza, at the same spot. One man, Agron Berisha, has already admitted killing Riza. He gave self-defense as the reason, though he had initially said he was paid by the head of a local criminal gang to kill Riza. Kosovar television reported on September 28 that a second man has been arrested in connection with Riza's murder, but gave few details. AG

The leaders of parties representing ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Presevo Valley united on September 29 to make a joint statement in support of the UN's proposal for Kosova, which would pave the way for Kosova to gain independence. This is the first time that the region's five senior leaders have adopted a joint position on the future of Kosova. They justified their position by arguing that Serbia has failed to bring security to the region. "In the context of Serbia's stalling of the process of European integration, we give our full support to the [UN envoy Martti] Ahtisaari plan for the future status of Kosova, as only this package could solve the province's issue and produce permanent peace and stability in the region," they said in their declaration, the news agency Beta reported. They also said that the security situation in the region has "deteriorated," and they warned that unspecified statements by Serbian officials "constituted a threat to regional stability and peace." They also warned Belgrade that "any form of militarization of the Presevo Valley is a threat to regional stability and its economic development." The Serbian authorities strengthened border patrols in August following a highway ambush involving armed ethnic-Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2007). Much of the three-hour meeting was reportedly devoted to criticism of Belgrade's failure to invest more into the region, which is one of the poorest in Serbia, and to criticism of a special political body created for the region by the Serbian government. The five leaders present did not say how they would respond to any partition of Kosova, an option that both Serbian and Kosovar Albanian negotiators have refused to discuss in talks about Kosova's future. The Ahtisaari plan has been accepted by Kosovar Albanians, but rejected by Serbia. AG

Igor Radojcic will serve as acting president of the Republika Srpska until a successor to the late Milan Jelic is elected, the parliament of the Bosnian Serb-dominated region decided on October 1. Radojcic will retain his current role as the assembly's speaker. Jelic's sudden death on September 30 left uncertainty about who is entitled to occupy his post under the region's and the country's constitutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). Like Jelic, Radojcic is a member of the region's largest party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Local media reported that the Republika Srpska's government hopes the election of a new president will be held within three months, but the timing depends on the decision of the country's electoral authorities. Radojcic's nomination was criticized on October 2 by the country's largest Bosnian Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which, according to the news agency Fena, said creates a conflict of interest by granting Radojcic both legislative and executive power. The Republika Srpska ends three days of mourning for Jelic on October 3. AG

A man of Bosnian origin has been arrested after an apparent attempt to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. Police reports say that man, whose name has not been released, was caught when a metal detector alerted security staff. Explosives, nails, and Islamic literature were found in his backpack. AG

The EU's peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, EUFOR, on September 27 transferred responsibility for mine clearance to the Bosnian Army. Land mines continue to make around 4 percent of the country's territory dangerous. AG

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski has dismissed a claim by his Serbian counterpart, Boris Tadic, that terrorists are being trained in northern Macedonia. Crvenkovski told Macedonian media on October 1 that there are currently no "serious threats" to Macedonia's security, adding that while "it is true that there has been more intensive activity by individuals, groups with a criminal record, who often cross the Macedonia-Kosovo border," they "do not pose any threat to security." Speaking on September 27 on the BBC's Serbian service, Tadic identified the source of the terrorist threat as a group of convicted terrorists and militants who escaped the high-security Dubrava prison in neighboring Kosova in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 22, 23, and 31, and September 5, 2007). Tadic said the Serbian authorities believe the group is planning attacks just over the border with Serbia. High concentrations of ethnic Albanians live in certain parts of southern Serbia, primarily in the Presevo Valley. Crvenkovski implied that Tadic's comment was prompted by ongoing talks about Kosova's future, saying, according to the news agency MIA, that "we should be aware that in this delicate period of negotiations on Kosovo's future status, statements and interviews will arrive from both Belgrade and Pristina aimed at strengthening the position of the side they represent." Macedonia's defense minister, Lazar Elenovski, immediately rejected Tadic's claims, telling the Macedonian media on September 27 that Macedonia's security forces have no evidence to corroborate Tadic's assertions. The Kosovar newspaper "Express" carried a report on October 1 that quoted one of the fugitives, Burim Basha, as saying he is currently in hiding in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, and will resist any attempt to capture him. AG

Political opponents Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko barely waited for polling stations to close before each claimed a decisive victory in the September 30 vote. Exit polls appeared to hand the win to Prime Minister Yanukovych's Party of Regions, with 35 percent of the vote. The same polls indicated the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) would take 31 percent.

Taken individually, however, the results represented a dramatic 10 percent gain for Tymoshenko over the March 2006 vote, whereas Yanukovych's results saw little variation. Tymoshenko had in mind both this and the fact that a partnership with the bloc backed by her erstwhile ally, President Viktor Yushchenko -- the Our-Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc (NUNS), which exit polls handed 13 percent in expected votes -- would have given them a majority in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada and a chance to form the government on their own.

The early stage of the ballot count seemed to bolster Tymoshenko's hopes. The BYuT lead the Party of Regions by several percentage points for most of the tally's first day. Things began to change, however, when the Central Election Commission began to process voter protocols from Yanukovych's traditional strongholds in southern and eastern Ukraine. Slowly but surely, the Party of Regions relegated the Tymoshenko bloc to second place, with an ever-widening margin.

On October 3, with more than 99 percent of the ballots counted, the Party of Regions tops the election list with 34.27 percent of the vote. The BYuT is second with 30.78, and NUNS third with 14.20.

These preliminary results translate into a slim majority of 229 seats for Tymoshenko and Yushchenko's blocs. But this majority is largely contingent on the fate of a fourth group, the Socialist Party -- which, with 2.87 percent of the vote, currently falls short of the 3 percent barrier required to enter parliament. The Socialists have indicated they will demand a recount. If their demands are met, and they ultimately cross the 3 percent hurdle, they will be rewarded with 15 seats and deprive the potential Orange Revolution BYuT-NUNS coalition of their competitive edge.

Were the Socialists to enter parliament, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko would be forced to take a third party into their coalition in order to form a cabinet. The Communists (who have already safely passed the 3 percent hurdle) and the Socialists are unpalatable options for both BYuT and NUNS. The only possible option left is the bloc led by former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. The Lytvyn Bloc, which has also cleared the 3 percent threshold, might well play the role of kingmaker with its 20 parliamentary mandates.

The mathematical possibilities don't stop there, however. The former Orange Revolution enemies Yanukovych and Yushchenko could form a coalition, with or without the Socialists in parliament. (Tymoshenko, eyes clearly on the premiership once more, has publicly touted a BYuT-NUNS alliance, but the pro-Yushchenko bloc has been far more circumspect about an Orange reunion.) And a partnership between the Party of Regions, the Communists, the Socialists, and the Lytvyn Bloc would also hand that group the slimmest of majorities.

Considering the mind-boggling odyssey of coalition-building that followed the March 2006 polls in Ukraine, it is entirely reasonable to say that all of these postelection scenarios stand an equal chance of coming to fruition. Thus, the real winner of the September 30 elections will become clear only once a new parliamentary majority is formed.

The Ukrainian Constitution stipulates that such a majority must be formed within one month of the new legislature's inaugural session. If the deadline passes with no resolution, Yushchenko has the right to dissolve the legislature and call for yet another round of elections. Since the September 30 polls were the third general elections in Ukraine in the past three years, however, another vote seems highly unlikely.

It is anybody's guess when the Central Election Commission will announce its absolutely final election results and give the go-ahead to the new Verkhovna Rada. If the Socialists make good on their promises to challenge the election results in court, a counterchallenge by BYuT and NUNS will likely follow. Both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have branded Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz a "traitor" to the Orange Revolution, so it's reasonable to assume they will do everything possible to bring about his political demise by stripping him of a decimal point or two in the official vote count.

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on October 2 condemned the hanging of a 15-year-old boy by Taliban rebels in the volatile southern Helmand Province two days earlier, criticizing the growing frequency with which children and young people are being "targeted so cynically," the Integrated Regional Information Network reported. Killing children "goes against all norms in Afghan society, is against international law, and we condemn such actions unreservedly," UNAMA spokesman Aleem Siddique said of the September 30 killing, in which the boy was hung from a tree and his mouth stuffed with dollar bills (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). In a separate incident involving children on September 30, a bomb disguised as a toy exploded in Khost Province, killing two children and wounding five others, provincial police spokesman Wazir Pacha said. Afghan and Western officials have repeatedly accused the Taliban of using children as human shields during clashes with coalition forces, often in an effort to increase civilian casualties and subsequently blame them on Western militaries as part of its propaganda campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2007). Schools are also being targeted, making it difficult for girls in particular to have access to education (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2007). On June 15, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a school in Tarinkot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, as children were leaving, killing 11 and wounding several others. Over 400 schools are still closed in many southern provinces due to insecurity. JC

A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest on October 2 while attempting to board a police bus in Kabul, killing 13 people including a mother and her two children, AFP reported. Witnesses reported that the force of the explosion tore off the sides and roof of the bus and flung parts of the seats into nearby trees. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said the attacker was shot trying to board the bus when a police passenger became suspicious, but was still able to detonate the explosives. Health Minister Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatemi confirmed that 13 people were killed, including eight police, and another 10 wounded. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed claimed responsibility by the group for the attack, as well as the September 30 attack on a Defense Ministry bus in which 30 people were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). President Hamid Karzai condemned the suicide bombing in a statement, describing it as a sign of "savagery" and "evil" and pledging that those responsible "will face punishment for their actions." NATO military officials also reacted strongly to the incident -- one of the bloodiest bombings since the onset of the insurgency in 2001 -- saying such attacks "will not deter us in our commitment to create a better Afghanistan." JC

Iran's Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki addressed a gathering of "American thinkers," academics, and the press in New York on October 2, and answered questions on Middle East politics and Iran's nuclear program, Iranian news agencies reported. Mottaki is in New York to attend the UN General Assembly. Referring to the threat of more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, Mottaki said that Iran has been under sanctions for 28 years and developed its creative skills as a result. The UN Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran since December 2006 designed to force a halt to sensitive nuclear fuel-making activities. Iran says it intends to continue. Mottaki said Iran has progressed "in all economic indices last year, including foreign investment, so sanctions as a political tool have no impact on Iran's decision," Mehr news agency reported. He told a reporter that when President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says Iran's case is closed, he means it is closed as a "political" case and should be taken from the Security Council to the International Atomic Energy Committee (IAEA), to be treated as an ordinary and "technical" case. He said this is because Iran is cooperating with the IAEA as requested. Mottaki urged Western states to consider the "reality" that Israel is still not accepted in the region after "60 years." He said the "real inhabitants" of Israeli-Palestinian lands should hold a referendum to decide on the territory's future. He added that "debate" about the Holocaust is not the same as its denial, referring to the skeptical attitude some Iranian officials have expressed over the mass killing of Jews and others by the Nazis. "The question is, a crime has been committed, but who did it? Where did this crime occur? Who were the victims? Why should the people of the Middle East and Palestine pay for this crime?" he asked. VS

Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi told a gathering of fire fighters and emergency rescue workers in Tehran that special departments to coordinate the response to emergencies, working under the provincial governor's office, will be set up in large provinces or those prone to emergency situations like floods or earthquakes, ISNA reported on October 2. He cited this as part of changes envisaged for some provinces under the ministry's new "charter" for provincial government. He said a new deputy governorwill be appointed in about seven or eight provinces -- larger provinces or those bordering other countries. There will be a deputy governor for political and cultural affairs, and another for security or policing, while one person currently undertakes these duties. Purmohammadi also said the ministry and the Guardians Council, a body that supervises elections and confirms results, are examining software the ministry has proposed for counting votes in parliamentary elections set for next March, ISNA reported. VS

Iranian security forces shot dead six "armed traffickers" in the eastern South Khorasan Province on September 30 or October 1, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 2, citing a police official called Gudarzi. He is a senior officer at the Rasul-i Akram base near Zahedan in southeastern Iran, which is a coordinating center for counternarcotics operations on Iran's eastern frontier. Police also seized "a ton of drugs," a vehicle, 200 kilograms of "half-burned, heroin-type substances," six Kalashnikov rifles, a rocket launcher, ammunition, and two mobile phones, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

The head of the Health Ministry's water- and food-borne contagious diseases department told Fars news agency on October 1 that 40 Iranians have been or are being treated for cholera, and that all of them have recently traveled to Iraq, where there has recently been an outbreak of cholera (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). The ministry official said the disease in Iran is confined to a few districts in the western Kurdistan Province, "and there have been no deaths from cholera in Iran." However, the official said that concerns remain over the prevalence of cholera in Iraq, and cited 2,116 as the number of diagnosed cholera cases there, with 12 fatalities. The official said most of the cases are in Iraq's northern provinces and the number could drop as temperatures fall in autumn. He advised Iranians not to go to Iraq unless necessary, or to postpone their trips. The head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, urged the Health Ministry on October 1 to do what it must to control the spread of cholera in Iran, but he said the Iran-Iraq frontier cannot be closed to block the disease, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 2. VS

Five members of Iran's parliament have made a request, read out in parliament on October 1 or September 30, asking the Interior Ministry to close Benetton shops in Iran. They have alleged that the Italian clothing chain is "wittingly or not" promoting Western values and fashions among Iranian women, Radio Farda reported on October 1, citing Iranian reports. Deputies from the Tehran, Mashhad, Ardestan, Taft, and Boyrahmad constituencies, all members of parliament's Cultural Affairs Committee, described Benetton's principal shareholder and founder, Luciano Benetton, as a "Zionist investor." When their letter was read out, speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said, "I have to add...that the one or two of this investor's shops I have seen seem to be ashamed of using Persian, and all their shop fronts are in [European languages], which also has to be stopped in keeping with the law." Radio Farda reported that Benetton obtained a permit to open shops in Tehran and some other cities last year. There are very few foreign brand shops in Iran, though clothes or foreign goods are sold by importers. Clothing is a sensitive issue in Iran, where people are discouraged from being "indecent" or ostentatious in public and Western fashions are frowned on by conservative elements. Neckties were banned from government offices after the 1979 revolution. According to Benetton's website, it has opened four shops in Tehran, all in its northern, wealthier districts. Business is reportedly good. VS

The Iraqi government commemorated its National Day on October 3, marking the day in 1932 in which Iraq became the first former mandated state to achieve full sovereignty and join the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations. Under Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq commemorated National Day on July 17, which marked the 1968 coup that brought Hussein's Ba'ath Party to power. Several Iraqi parliamentarians and citizens interviewed by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in recent days said they were unaware of the government's decision to change the National Day to October 3, and some expressed disappointment that the National Day was not changed to reflect a date more significant to Iraq's recent history. Meanwhile, the Iraqi press has given little coverage of the commemoration day. KR

Ambassador to Iraq Edward Pietrzyk was wounded when three bombs struck his convoy as it traveled through central Baghdad on October 3, international media reported. Iraqi police reported at least one civilian killed and five others wounded in the attack, including three embassy personnel. Poland's Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack, saying three embassy cars were hit by separate roadside bombs. Pietrzyk is a retired general, who previously served as commander of Polish land forces. KR

The Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association issued a scathing criticism of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) and its two leading parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, on October 2 after the KRG issued a statement voicing support for last week's nonbinding U.S. Senate resolution calling for a formal division of Iraq into three separate regions. In a statement posted to its website, the association accused Kurdish leaders of colluding with so-called occupation forces "in committing crimes of murder and liquidation." The association blamed the Kurds for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, contending the Kurds "colluded with the occupiers in all their schemes and accepted to be the occupiers' partners in the killing of more than 1 million sons of this nation, in destroying the country, and in putting 27 million Iraqis on the road to the unknown." The statement claimed the Kurds carried out "ethnic cleansing in several Iraqi cities, especially in Mosul and Kirkuk," and have liquidated religious scholars, tribal elders, and other scholars through assassination in recent days. The association said it believes the Kurdish people are noble people who do not accept the crimes it alleges the KRG and the Kurdish peshmerga militia are responsible for. In what appears to be a bid to incite Sunni insurgent groups to violence against the KRG, the association warned Kurdish politicians that "injustice does not last," adding, "ancient and modern history offer many examples with lessons for those who which to learn." KR

Commenting on the Senate resolution and alluding to the Kurdish statement of support for it, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad on October 2 that while the Iraqi government supports federalism in Iraq, it will not accept any partition plan. "I do not approve of any Iraqi side praising partition plans, as we completely reject this idea in the first place," al-Maliki said. "Federalism is stipulated in the constitution. We, too, talked about federalism, as this is a constitutional issue. As for partition, this is not acceptable." The KRG statement issued on September 28 stated: "The people of Kurdistan, who have struggled for decades to achieve democracy and freedom, see in federalism the promise of stability and freedom from dictatorial regimes. We welcome this significant resolution in support of federalism, which guarantees the survival of Iraq on the basis of voluntary union." KR

The Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) issued a statement on October 2 warning U.S.-led coalition forces against arming Sunni tribesmen who have pledged to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The UIA contends that some tribesmen are members of nationalist insurgent groups that frequently target the Iraqi Army and police, as well as coalition forces. "We condemn and reject embracing those terrorist elements that committed the most heinous crimes against our people," the UIA said in the statement, adding that the U.S. plan is rejected by the Iraqi people. UIA leader Hadi al-Amiri told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television in an October 2 interview that the UIA's main concern is that the Iraqi government be closely involved in the process of arming the tribes. Al-Amiri is secretary-general of the Badr Organization, the former armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the two main political parties belonging to the UIA. The majority of Iraqi Army personnel are former Badr fighters. KR