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Newsline - October 5, 2007

Just days before he is scheduled to visit Russia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Sofia, Bulgaria, on October 4 that Russia is "complicating" the world's problems, news agencies reported. He did not give specifics but said Russia needs to understand that "big countries" have responsibilities, including helping to solve world problems. Sarkozy also accused Russia of using its oil and gas to impose its will on Europe. Sarkozy has often been openly critical of Russia as a bully. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, worked closely with President Vladimir Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in active opposition to U.S. policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, September 18 and 19, and October 4, 2007). PM

President Putin said in a statement on October 4 to mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik-1 that that it "was a truly historic event that started the space age.... We are rightly proud that it was our nation that opened the way to the stars for humanity," news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2007). First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told a group of schoolchildren at the research center near Moscow named after space pioneer Sergei Korolyov that "50 years in cosmic terms is a mere instant, and yet it fundamentally changed the nature of all humanity." State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said that "unique space technologies make Russia really competitive.... The space program is back in the focus of the government's attention." The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" wrote that "we were first.... At 22:28 Moscow time on October 4, 1957, humanity entered a new space age. The Soviet Union sent the Earth's first artificial satellite into orbit." The space agency Roskosmos noted in a statement that "on that day in 1957...America was seized by panic." At a meeting of U.S. and Russian scientists in Moscow on October 4, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that "without Sputnik, there would have been no [U.S.] Apollo" program aimed at moon-landing missions. He added that "we have learned much from each other, and I think we can go farther together than either of us can go separately." Russia plans to send a probe to a moon of Mars and a manned moon mission by 2025. PM

Konstantin Dolgov, who is Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, said on October 4 that "it's not for the Security Council to lead" on dealing with the situation in Myanmar, reported. He added that "we don't think that there is a situation that threatens international peace and security at this point in time, but, of course, regional action is very important to prevent that." He strongly endorsed efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to seek a way out of the impasse. China's ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, said that "no international imposed solution can help the situation." He stressed that Beijing supports the efforts of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to help promote national reconciliation in Myanmar. Wang added that the international community, Myanmar's neighbors, and China all "want to see that country achieve stability and achieve democracy, achieve good governance, achieve a better way of life for its people." President Putin recently called possible sanctions against Myanmar "premature" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, May 16, and October 1, 2007). On January 12, Russian and Chinese diplomats both vetoed a U.S. resolution in the Security Council criticizing Myanmar for human-rights abuses. The Russian daily "Vremya novostei" wrote on January 15 that "for the first time in 35 years, Moscow and Beijing have acted together to prevent the UN Security Council from passing a resolution." In 1972, the two countries jointly vetoed a resolution on the Middle East. The last time Russia cast a veto was in 2004 against a U.S.-British resolution on Cyprus, the daily added. PM

Representatives of leading Russian civil-society groups expressed their frustration in Brussels on October 3 with what they say is a complete lack of progress in the EU's human-rights dialogue with Russia, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2007). Speaking for the 11-member group, Lev Ponomaryov, chairman of the For Human Rights activist group, said Russian authorities ignore the views of civil society in the country, and take no action after meetings with the EU. He argued "that the existing consultations with the European Union are not effective.... Now that they are being held for a [sixth] time, they have reached a dead end." He added that "the main problem is that it is a dialogue between the deaf and the blind. We say one thing [to the EU] -- and [Russian authorities] do not attend our talks with our Western interlocutors -- and [EU officials] say another thing at their talks with their...colleagues where we are not present. After all that, there is no follow-up." PM

Former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and several dozen other members of the European Parliament said in a formal petition on October 4 that they object to recent remarks against homosexuals made by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007). The legislators stressed that they urge him "to avoid the use of language inciting intolerance, and to respect, rather than seek to deny, the fundamental rights of sexual minorities." PM

President Vladimir Putin and Supreme Court Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev met in Moscow on October 3 to discuss judicial reform, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on October 4. Putin approved of Lebedev's suggestion that the jurisdiction of Russian courts be expanded to include cases now currently awaiting consideration at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. According to the government daily, the move would "simplify the life of the Strasbourg court" by reducing its workload. Putin was quoted as saying the change would "improve Russian jurisprudence, particularly in the area of civil cases, and ensure the legal rights and interests of citizens of the country." Some 12,000 complaints from Russia were brought to the court in 2006, amounting to one-fifth of all the cases sent to Strasbourg that year. RC

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has submitted its list of candidates ( for the December 2 State Duma elections to the Central Election Commission, Russian media reported on October 4. RBK noted that market analysts are studying the list carefully to determine which business interests -- both local and national -- will likely have influence in the next Duma. The agency said deputies connected with businesses in the regions will be in a position to deal with governors, trading political influence in Moscow for concessions and privileges on the local level. RBK added that Ingosstrakh intends to launch a new investment fund called Dividendnyi that will take into consideration the "political stability" of the companies included in the portfolio, although no companies have yet announced plans to create a fund based exclusively on the party list. Investment analysts at Da Vinci Capital and Renaissance Investment Management also told the agency they are monitoring Unified Russia-affiliated businesses carefully. RC

RFE/RL's Prague broadcast headquarters on October 4 hosted a conference to mark the occasion of the first anniversary of the October 7, 2006, slaying of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya (see "RFE/RL Newsline, October 10, 2006). Some 15 other memorial gatherings are scheduled over the next few days in cities from Moscow to Washington. Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of Politkovskaya's newspaper, "Novaya gazeta," told the RFE/RL conference by videolink from Moscow that Russian security agents were involved in the assassination and that they are now working to stymie the investigation. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told the conference that international pressure on Russia to strengthen the rule of law must be increased. "The outcome of the investigation of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya will attest to the current situation in Russia," Topolanek said. Edward Lucas, a deputy editor at "The Economist" who was formerly its Moscow bureau chief, said the killing "was a symptom of a process that probably started way back in 1991 when they failed to liquidate the KGB." That process, he said, is "still accelerating." RC

A new study by the Pew Research Center ( shows that 53 percent of Russians have a positive attitude toward a market economy, 46 percent view the activity of foreign companies in Russia positively, and 82 percent believe that increased international trade is good for the country. Russians showed less support for what the study calls "core democratic values." Thirty-four percent said they think the ability to criticize the authorities freely is important, while the same percentage agreed that it is important to maintain civilian control over the armed forces. Forty percent spoke out against media censorship; while 41 percent value fair, multiparty elections; and 45 percent consider freedom of religion important. Seventy percent of Russians think having an impartial legal system is important. In all these categories except the last, Russia fell below the average among 35 developing and transitioning countries included in the study. RC

Zakhar Prilepin, editor of the Nizhny Novgorod bureau of "Novaya gazeta," was detained by police for several hours on October 3 and questioned about his contacts during a recent trip to Warsaw for a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, "The Moscow Times" reported on October 5. Prilepin told the daily that Maksim Bedyrev, the head of the local organized-crime section of the police, quizzed him about his meetings with the representatives of six European embassies. Officials in Nizhny Novgorod recently confiscated computers from a local NGO and have investigated the "Novaya gazeta" bureau for allegedly using pirated computer software. They also forcibly broke up opposition demonstrations in March and April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, 2007). RC

President Putin purchased an apartment in Tel Aviv for Mina Yuditskaya, who taught him German in the ninth and 10th grades, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on October 4. The purchase was apparently made shortly after Putin visited Tel Aviv in 2005, during which he spent 40 minutes drinking tea with Yuditskaya. She told the daily that shortly after the visit, an unidentified representative of the president showed up at her door. "The man told me that Putin is a very grateful person," Yuditskaya said. "He doesn't forget about those who did something nice for him." Yuditskaya said she was shown two apartments -- one "huge and luxurious" -- and she chose a small one located near a clinic and drugstore. "It is convenient for me here," she told the daily. "The floor is easy to clean." She added that the president's representative handled everything connected with the purchase. RC

In comments during a London ceremony recognizing her work as a noted Grozny-based journalist and activist, Natalya Estemirova called on the West on October 4 to "not forget" the people of Chechnya, who she said "remain" victims of human rights abuses, Reuters reported. Her remarks came as she received the first annual Anna Politkovskaya Award for women defenders of human rights in war. Estemirova also stressed that Chechens still routinely face disappearances, killings, and torture, and that it is necessary to keep the public aware of the situation. RG

During his speech to the New York meeting of the UN General Assembly, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said on October 4 that the UN Security Council is the only place to find a solution to the long-running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to ANS-TV and Turan. Mammadyarov explained that, unlike the OSCE, the main mediator of the Karabakh conflict, the UN has a stronger base in international law and has four relevant Security Council resolutions that could form the legal basis of a settlement. He further rejected the previous day's statement by his Armenian counterpart, Vardan Oskanian, who argued that a resolution to the conflict should be negotiated only through the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2007). Referring directly to "the Armenian people," Mammadyarov also stated that their "policy [regarding Karabakh] undermines peace and stability in the region and can lead to very dangerous results for Armenia." He said the peace talks "have yielded no results" and pledged that Azerbaijan "will undoubtedly restore our territorial integrity," saying that it is only a matter of time. Later the same day, Mammadyarov met with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Matthew Bryza, and discussed the Karabakh issue, as well as energy security and issues related to Iran, Lider TV reported. RG

A key parliamentary committee voted on October 4 to approve an expansion of Azerbaijan's peacekeeping deployment to Afghanistan, Turan reported. Azerbaijan is seeking to increase the number of its peacekeepers serving in support of coalition efforts in Afghanistan and the approval of the parliament's Defense and Security Committee is essential to garnering eventual ratification of the plan. Currently, a platoon of Azerbaijani soldiers serves as part of a Turkish Army battalion within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. RG

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer arrived in Tbilisi on October 3 to start a two-day official visit to Georgia, according to Rustavi-2 television. In comments to reporters following a meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on October 4, de Hoop Scheffer welcomed the fact that Georgia "is making progress" in moving closer toward NATO membership but warned that there is a need for "greater transparency" and for measures to ensure the "independence" of the Georgian judiciary, AP reported. In a later speech to students at Tbilisi State University, de Hoop Scheffer refrained from citing a specific date for Georgia's eventual integration into the NATO alliance as a full members state, saying only that "we are content with our cooperation with Georgia, Imedi TV reported. RG

Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze said on October 3 that it was important to warn NATO against sending a "very bad message" to Russia by making compromises on Georgia's eventual NATO membership, Rustavi-2 reported. Her remarks came in response to an unexpected announcement by French Defense Minister Herve Morin on October 3 that France would not support Georgian membership in NATO if it meant that Russia would feel threatened or surrounded. Burjanadze explained that Tbilisi has adopted a fair approach and "demand only that just decisions" be made regarding its bid for NATO membership, and warning that the adoption of "an unjust decision...only on account of Russia's interests" would be "a very bad message to Russia." Also reacting to the French statement, Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili argued on October 4 that Georgia's "integration with NATO is in no way directed against Russia," Imedi TV reported. RG

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on October 4 with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Novosibirsk and discussed a joint energy strategy, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. They also discussed a project to construct a new energy-transportation corridor skirting the Caspian Sea and linking Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan to the Baltic Sea and the Persian Gulf. Nazarbaev also presented a proposal calling for closer cooperation with Russia in protecting and securing Kazakhstan's southern border. In a related meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana, Adylbek Zhaksybekov, the chief of the Kazakh presidential administration, also met on October 4 with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Sobyanin, to discus the implementation of a joint action plan formulated to elaborate specific measures and goals aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation. On October 3, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov presided over a ceremony in Atyrau with the Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov marking the opening of a new strategic cross-border bridge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2007). RG

In a statement released form its Vienna headquarters, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights announced on October 4 that Kazakhstan is "not fit" to assume the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009 "because of its poor rights record," AFP reported. The group argued that the Kazakh authorities have displayed an "unwillingness to demonstrate genuine commitment" to human rights, adding that a Kazakh chairmanship would only weaken the OSCE by the country's failure to conform to the organization's standards. Recent parliamentary elections also prompted some critics to question the country's commitment to the democratic and electoral values of the OSCE (see "Kazakhstan: Flawed Polls Enter Equation over OSCE Bid,", September 4, 2007). After failing to reach a consensus in 2006 on the Kazakh bid to assume the chairmanship, the OSCE postponed a decision until December 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006). RG

In comments during a press conference in Astana, Kazakh Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Iskakov announced on October 4 that the Kazakh authorities have imposed a 74.4 billion-tenge ($609 million) fine on an international oil consortium led by the U.S. Chevron energy company for violating national environmental legislation, ITAR-TASS reported. Iskakov explained that the violations were committed during the course of the TengizChevroil consortium's work in developing the offshore Tengiz oil field in the Caspian Sea. He noted that the case, which is now "being considered" by a regional court in Atyrau, stems from a set of complaints first filed against the consortium between 2003 and 2006 for the illegal storage of uncondensed sulfur. Speaking to reporters on October 4 during an energy conference in Almaty, TengizChevroil spokesman Todd Levy disagreed with those claims, arguing that "every year we obtain permission for the volumes [of stored sulfur] over which the suit has been filed," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Iskakov also said that the consortium was guilty of "systematic violations," and had been unable to prevent 98 accidents. The fine for environmental damage by an energy company comes in the wake of the suspension of operations in August 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). RG

In a press conference held during the official Kazakhstan International Oil and Gas exhibition in Almaty, Askar Balzhanov, the director of the KazMunaiGaz Exploration Production Company, announced on October 3 that it has acquired a 50 percent stake in the CITIC Canada Petroleum Limited energy group for an undisclosed sum, Kazakh television reported. The KazMunaiGaz Exploration Production Company is a subdivision of the state-owned KazMunaiGaz oil and gas group. The acquisition will allow the Kazakh company to take over oil exploration at the Karazhanbas oil field in the western Mangistau region. The oil field is one of the largest deposits in the country, holding an estimated 340 million barrels of proven reserves and producing some 50,000 barrels of oil daily in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). RG

A group of approximately two dozen Kazakh pensioners staged on October 2 a demonstration in Almaty protesting the recent rise in bread prices, Kazakh TV reported. The protesters specifically challenged the country's opposition parties to come up with alternative measures to deal with the crisis, in part as a response to a recent public call by the opposition for the government to resign over the sharp price rise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and October 1, 2007). Although small, the demonstration was the first such action by Kazakh pensioners in the past two years. The protest is tied to a sweeping increase in bread prices throughout the region (see "Central Asia: Soaring Bread Prices Give Rise to Domestic Solutions," September 17, 2007, As the main exporter of wheat in the region, a recent downturn in Kazakhstan's wheat harvest has exacerbated an already pronounced trend in rising bread prices worldwide. RG

The Kyrgyz parliament voted on October 4 to ratify a bilateral agreement with Uzbekistan for the coming five years in the areas of economic, scientific, technical, and humanitarian cooperation, AKIpress reported. Economic Development and Trade Minister Sabyrbek Moldokulov welcomed the agreement's passage, noting that it "would help boost investment cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan." He stressed that the overall volume of bilateral trade remains too low, at about $82 million for the first half of 2007, and blamed Uzbekistan for imposing "many restrictions in the form of excise taxes on goods." Energy Minister Igor Chudinov said on October 4 that officials from both countries will meet in November to discuss specific energy-related plans, including the Kyrgyz request for Uzbekistan supplies of natural gas in the winter in exchange for Kyrgyzstan supplying water to Uzbekistan in the spring. RG

Galia Alymbekova, an official with the Central Election Commission, reported on October 3 on the status of the preparations for Kyrgyzstan's national referendum on proposed changes to the constitution, AKIpress reported. Alymbekova said that more than 2,200 voting stations throughout Kyrgyzstan will be operating for the October 21 referendum, with another 30 commissions established in countries where Kyrgyzstan has official diplomatic representation. She also reported that voters participating in the referendum will not be "marked" after casting their ballot, as was done during the recent parliamentary elections, dismissing it as unnecessary and "too expensive." The "marking" of voters is intended to prevent people from voting more than once and is carried out by spraying a transparent but indelible fluid or ink on the voter's finger or wrist. During the last official election commission report on preparations, the cost of the referendum was estimated at over 58.5 million soms ( $1.5 million), with about 43 million soms ($1.1 million) allocated for establishing and operating a sufficient number of polling stations throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). According to the relevant provisions of the Electoral Code, the referendum requires over 2.7 million special onetime ballots to be printed and delivered to polling stations, the posting of public voter lists in each polling station prior to an October 6 deadline, and the distribution of an official document to every eligible voter detailing the address of his or her local polling station. In addition, more than 900,000 copies of the proposed amendments to the constitution are to be published in both the Kyrgyz and Russian languages and printed in newspapers before an October 11 deadline. President Kurmanbek Bakiev recently set the date for the referendum as a way to end a mounting conflict between the Constitutional Court and parliament over the court's recent decision to overturn a set of 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, effectively nullified the present constitution and restored the February 2003 version (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2007). RG

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov arrived in Dushanbe on October 4 in preparation for the next day's opening of a CIS summit, but first met with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, according to Asia-Plus. They endorsed a new five-year agreement reached in talks between the energy ministers of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan on the supply and transit of Turkmen electricity through Uzbekistan to Tajikistan during the winter months, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service. It is hoped that the agreement will help to ease Tajikistan's chronic power shortages every winter, when electricity is limited to between four to six hours from October to March. The planned volume of Turkmen electricity is about 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours, Avesta reported. RG

An unnamed senior leader of Uzbekistan's Liberal Democratic Party announced on October 4 that the party intends to nominate incumbent Uzbek President Islam Karimov for another term, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Although the announcement follows a meeting of the party leadership in Tashkent, the formal nomination must be endorsed by the full party congress, set for early November. The long-serving Karimov is constitutionally prohibited for seeking a third term, but he is widely expected to attempt to overcome the ban prior to the December 23 election. Karimov is the longest-serving leader within the former Soviet Union and has been in office since 1989, before his election as independent Uzbekistan's first president in December 1991. RG

Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said on October 4 that Minsk could be Vilnius's ally in energy policies after Russia increased gas prices for Belarus as of the beginning of this year, BNS reported. "Perhaps we are sort of allies in this area since Belarus also suffers pressure on prices, in gas and other areas, problems with crude oil supply. There are some plans being worked on. They made certain proposals on [October 3]. I think this is a common area as the transit pipelines cross Belarus," Kirkilas said in a radio interview, following the visit of Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sikorski to Vilnius the previous day. Kirkilas also revealed that he and Sikorski discussed issues connected with the planned construction of a nuclear power plant in Lithuania and the simplification of the visa regime for some categories of Belarusians after Lithuania joins the EU's Schengen agreement by the end of this year. JM

Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) election bloc, told journalists on October 4 that the NUNS is ready to create a ruling coalition only with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and invite the Lytvyn Bloc to join such a coalition, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I think that, first and foremost, it is necessary to form a parliamentary majority, at least in the NUNS and BYuT format. If the BYuT proposes Tymoshenko for prime minister, and I can forecast this with a 101.2 percent probability, then we will support her," Lutsenko said at a news conference in Kyiv, following a meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko. Meanwhile, Oleksandr Babak, a press secretary to Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, another NUNS leader, said the same day that the NUNS will hold no coalition talks with the Party of Regions led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (, with 99.98 percent of the ballots counted, the NUNS and the BYuT jointly have a slim majority of 228 mandates in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. The Lytvyn Bloc is set to obtain 20 mandates. JM

The Party of Regions is satisfied with its election result and is unlikely to demand a vote recount, Interfax-Ukraine reported on October 4, quoting Vladyslav Zabarskyy, the party's representative at the Central Election Commission. "Until now, we have no data on mass or systematic violations during the elections. I don't see any need to appeal against the results," Zabarskyy said. With 99.98 percent of the ballots counted, the Central Election Commission reported on October 5 that the Party of Regions leads in the vote count with 34.36 percent of the vote. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (, this result translates into 175 parliamentary mandates. JM

The militant ethnic-Albanian group the Albanian National Army (AKSh) has warned Serbia that it is prepared to fight for Kosova's independence. Footage shown on Radio-Television Kosova on October 3 showed masked armed men calling themselves members of the AKSh patrolling a highway and stopping cars. This is reportedly the first time pictures of the group have appeared on Kosovar television. The report said the site was near Podujevo, close to Kosova's border with Serbia. One of the approximately 10 men who appeared in the film told the producer, an independent journalist, that "given the very serious threat...from Serbian paramilitaries in Kosova, and that Serbia...will invade Kosova again, we have decided to get prepared and to be more vigilant." The group also said NATO is not doing an adequate job of protecting Kosova from possible attacks. A Serbian militia group has warned it would fight for Serbian sovereignty over Kosova, and the Kosovar newspaper "Koha ditore" reported on September 27 that the group -- and two others -- has recently written to NATO and the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) warning of war should Kosova declare independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, May 7, and June 27, 2007). There have also been signals by one member of Serbia's governing coalition that Serbia would feel free to send troops into Kosova if the disputed province were to declare independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2007). The AKSh emerged in Kosova after the 1998-99 war and it also says it has a presence in southern Serbia and Macedonia. It has laid claim to a number of terrorist acts in Kosova, and two of its suspected leaders were among a group of seven prisoners who escaped from a high-security prison in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, and October 3, 2007). It has made news on several occasions this year: in June, the AKSh warned the St. Tsar Lazar Guard that "we are waiting for you with bullets," and in August authorities arrested an alleged AKSh member for a grenade attack on an ethnic-Albanian mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and August 31, 2007). AG

Kosova's leading politicians, President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku, both issued calls for restraint on October 4, warning that the presence of militia forces in Kosova would harm the region's bid for independence. Belgrade voiced its concern, as well as dismissing the threat of violence posed by Serbs. According to the Serbian broadcaster B92, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on October 4 that "if you have a political request, and you are ready to use arms unless your political request is fulfilled, that is called terrorism in certain parts of the world" and that the threat of terrorism should not "loom over the process" of deciding Kosova's future. Serbian President Boris Tadic called the decision to air the footage an advertisement for terrorists and a threat to Serbs in the region, B92 reported on October 4. Speaking to the news service Balkan Insight on October 4, a spokesman for the Serbian government, Milivoje Mihajlovic, described as "ridiculous" the claim that Belgrade is planning for war. Earlier, on October 3, politicians in the Serbian-populated north of Kosova told the radio station Kontakt Plus that Kosovar media reports that Serbian "parallel or illegal structures" are operating in northern Kosova are false. "There are undoubtedly no paramilitary units in northern Kosovo at the moment," a senior Serbian leader in the divided city of Mitrovica, Nebojsa Jovic, said. He also suggested the claims are a "cover" for a repeat of anti-Serbian unrest in 2004. Another leader, Milan Ivanovic, said the video is evidence that NATO-led forces have failed to demilitarize Kosova. His namesake but political opponent, Oliver Ivanovic, urged international forces to respond and to take the AKSh's emergence seriously, but added that he does not believe they pose a "real threat" and are "virtual [militia] units." AG

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reiterated the importance of deciding Kosova's future soon, stating in a report published on October 3 that "at this stage, further progress [in Kosova] depends on a timely resolution of the future status of Kosovo." Ban warned in his regular quarterly report that "a further prolongation of the future-status process puts at risk the achievements of the United Nations in Kosovo since June 1999" and that "there is a real risk of progress beginning to unravel and of instability in Kosovo and the region." "There remains a discernible underlying volatility in Kosovo, which has been accentuated by disappointment expressed by the people of Kosovo at the prolongation of the Kosovo future-status process," Ban said. Ban did not say that talks should end on December 10 -- when EU, U.S., and Russian diplomats mediating direct talks between Belgrade and Prishtina are due to submit a report to the UN -- and limited himself to saying that "consideration should be given as to how to deal with a situation in which the sides are unable to reach an agreement by the end of the current period of engagement." However, his statement appears to suggest concern at the possibility of open-ended discussions, as Serbia and Russia are calling for. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic reiterated Serbia's position on October 4, telling the Council of Europe that "with a set time and a default position that amounts to their maximalist demands, what interest could the Kosovo Albanians have in negotiating in good faith?" Ban also called for Kosovar Serbs to fully take part in elections scheduled for November 17. Belgrade has urged them not to take part and, instead, to participate in parallel elections in Serbian-dominated areas. The report is due to be submitted next week to the UN's highest body, the Security Council. Belgrade's and Prishtina's negotiating teams are next due to meet on October 14. AG

The EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, said on October 3 that the EU's planned mission to Kosova "will be ready to be deployed from the moment the [UN] secretary-general decides it is time to move from UNMIK to another type of mission." Under a proposal drawn up by the UN's envoy to the Kosova status talks, Martti Ahtisaari, the UN should hand over responsibility for overseeing Kosova to the EU, but Serbia has rejected the plan outright and it is unclear whether an EU mission would win a mandate from the UN. Solana's statement suggests he believes that, in such a case, it would rest with Ban to decide what the next step should be. Despite the uncertainties, Solana told the European Parliament, "we have to be prepared, we Europeans, to remain in the driving seat." The EU believes that, in the absence of an agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina, it should have the critical say on Kosova's future. Senior EU figures have not said, however, whether the EU would call on the UN to play a role should direct talks end in an impasse. The Kosovar daily "Koha ditore" reported on October 3 that Britain's chief diplomat in Prishtina, David Blunt, said that in that case, the issue of Kosova's status would probably have to be sent back to the UN Security Council. AG

Russia was guilty of "selfish unilateralism" when it threatened in July to veto a UN Security Council resolution paving the way for Kosova to gain independence, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on October 4. "We call on other partners in the international community to adopt a responsible attitude that can facilitate a negotiated solution," Rehn said in a speech to Parisian students, international media reported. "In the end, the international community will be judged by its ability to use responsible and effective multilateralism," Rehn said. "Kosovo will not be the 51st state of the United States, and Serbia is not trying to join the Russian Federation!" he added. He did not elaborate whether his reference to the United States reflected opposition to Washington's strong support for Kosova's independence, or to Serbian claims that the United States is seeking to turn Kosova into a "puppet state" of NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 20, 21, and 24, and September 4 and 17, 2007). However, Rehn underlined Europe's primacy in international efforts to decide Kosova's future, saying "the future of Serbia and Kosovo lies in the European Union." AG

Two in five Serbs would be prepared to sacrifice the hope of EU membership for continued sovereignty over Kosova, a poll published on October 3 has found. Local and international media found 41 percent backed such a position, and 37 percent would want Serbia to break off diplomatic relations with any state that recognized a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosova. An almost identical number oppose such a move. Four in seven Serbs believe Kosova is a more important issue than EU accession. The poll, which was conducted by the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), also found that 10 percent of Serbs would be willing to go to war to maintain control over Kosova. The EU insists that the issues of Serbia's accession to the EU and Kosova's independence are unconnected, but Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has said that EU officials made an "indecent offer" linking the two (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2007). The poll also found that three in five Serbs -- 59 percent -- oppose membership of NATO under any circumstances. Kostunica believes Serbia should remain neutral and, according to Serbian television reports, Kostunica on October 4 echoed comments by party colleagues that the West's underlying aim is to turn Kosova into a NATO client state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 20, 21, and 24, and September 4 and 17, 2007). Some 26 percent of Serbs polled believe Serbia should join both the EU and NATO. AG

The CeSID poll also found that support for the country's largest parliamentary party, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), is growing. The poll found that the SRS, which topped parliamentary elections in January 2007 with 29 percent of the popular vote, now has the backing of 33 percent of Serbs. The second-largest party, the Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic, has also seen its support rise, from 23 percent in January's elections to 29 percent. The alliance of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the small New Serbia party would get 13 percent of the vote. In January, they won 17 percent of the vote. The other member of the current governing coalition, the G17 Plus party, has the backing of just 4 percent of Serbs, too few to enter parliament. The party of the late Slobodan Milosevic would just make it into parliament, with 5 percent of the vote. The poll augurs well for the SRS's prospects in upcoming local elections. However, there have been questions about the unity of the party in recent months, with the daily "Vecernje novosti" on September 30 describing differences between the party's acting leader, Tomislav Nikolic, and Maja Gojkovic, the mayor of Novi Sad, as "the most serious misunderstanding in the SRS leadership in the past 15 years." The dispute appears to have its origins in Gojkovic's statement -- first made in April -- that she plans to run for president in 2012. The CeSID poll found that Serbia's current president, Tadic, is the country's most popular politician (12 percent), followed by Nikolic and Kostunica (both 9 percent). AG

Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), on October 3 described "progress" in Serbia's hunt for four suspected war criminals as "rather slow" and said that "I am increasingly worried that this slow progress will not lead to a positive outcome." Del Ponte highlighted, as an example of her disappointment, that the ICTY is "still waiting for documents, some of which were requested last year." She reiterated that the ICTY wants "full and unconditional access" to requested government archives. Serbian reports indicated that during a recent visit to Belgrade, Serbian authorities promised to hand over confidential documents to Del Ponte by October 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). Del Ponte's comments to international media bode poorly for Serbia's bid for EU membership, as Brussels has made clear that the development of relations depends on its cooperation with the ICTY. Del Ponte is due this month to submit an official report to the EU about Serbia's cooperation with the UN tribunal, an assessment that may prove critical to Serbian hopes of taking a first step towards joining the EU, signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Serbia hopes to take the next step -- becoming a candidate member -- in the first half of 2008. Del Ponte's statement stands in strong contrast to her position in June when, for the first time, she issued her first positive assessment of Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). AG

The wife of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, has renewed her call for her husband to surrender to the ICTY. Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic first urged her husband to give himself up in July 2005, a call made, she said, under pressure from the CIA. In an interview published by the Bosnian magazine "Slobodna Bosna" on October 4, Zelen-Karadzic said that Karadzic's continued evasion of justice means that his family is "going through hell" and that "we only want all this to end, that he surrenders or be arrested." She also said that no one in her family knows of Karadzic's whereabouts. Zelen-Karadzic said that "the last time Radovan was here was 2002," by which stage he had already been on the run for seven years. Since then, she has had no contact with Karadzic, who faces numerous charges, including charges related to the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995. "He did not even react when his mother died, when our son was detained and maltreated, or when our youngest grandchild underwent complicated hip surgery," Zelen-Karadzic said. Their son, Aleksandar, was arrested by NATO in July 2005 and was deported from Serbia in September when he went to visit his son in a Belgrade hospital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). In March 2003, Karadzic's mother, Jovanka, urged him not to surrender. A Bosnian newspaper, "Oslobodenje," in February quoted a source in Bosnia's intelligence service as saying Karadzic was hiding in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, 2007). However, the ICTY has since said it has no idea where Karadzic currently is (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). AG

In her interview with "Slobodna Bosna," Zelen-Karadzic also asserted that her husband told her he signed a secret agreement in 1996 with U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke that promised he would "not have to worry about The Hague if he gave up his political career in Bosnia." The claim has been made repeatedly since the war, but the question recently returned to public attention following the publication in September of a book containing allegations by a former spokeswoman for the ICTY that Russia and Western powers systematically prevented the capture of Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11 and 12, 2007). Soon after, Serbia said it is questioning Serbs who acted as mediators in negotiations between Karadzic and Holbrooke in an effort to ascertain the truth of the allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). Zelen-Karadzic also stated that in 2001 the then U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, visited Karadzic's brother and told him that "they will never see [Karadzic] alive again and that they will kill him when they find him, and we will die of hunger." Zelen-Karadzic recounted that "similar things" were said to her by Steven Schook, then NATO's commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina and now the UN's second-most-senior official in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). AG

President Vladimir Putin's surprise announcement this week that he will head the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections sent shock waves throughout the political system. Although the president has been closely associated with the party since it was created, he has -- until now -- rejected a direct correlation.

The most common interpretation of Putin's move sees it as part of his presumed plan to remain personally in power after the March 2008 election. Tying his fortune to the party could, analysts note, open up for him opportunities to carve out powerful positions -- that aren't term limited -- as prime minister, speaker of the Duma, or head of Unified Russia. With Putin leading the charge, the party will almost certainly get a solid constitutional majority in the new legislature, allowing it to pass any number of revisions to the law on government or even the constitution.

But pursuing this agenda also seems likely to scuttle the Putin administration's efforts to develop at least the appearance of a two-party pluralist political system. The key to the half-hearted effort so far has been the creation and nurturing of the A Just Russia party, a left-leaning coalition led by long-time Putin ally and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. Although the sluggishness with which A Just Russia has developed since its founding in October 2006 suggests the Kremlin has never been entirely committed to the project, it has been touted as evidence that some in the administration would like to facilitate some sort of managed transition to a less authoritarian and more democratic system.

Before Putin's decision, both Unified Russia and A Just Russia offered their complete endorsement of Putin, while simultaneously sparring with one another on issues such as corruption, natural-resources management, and wealth distribution. With Putin heading the Unified Russia list -- in fact, Putin's is the only name on the party's national list -- A Just Russia will find it impossible simultaneously to back Putin and oppose Unified Russia. The problem was symbolically revealed in Ryazan recently, when Unified Russia succeeded in removing billboards promoting A Just Russia with the slogan, "Putin's Plan is the Victory of Justice" ("Putin's Plan" is the name of Unified Russia's campaign platform).

Because the party had been campaigning in this two-pronged way since its creation, Putin's move definitely pulled the rug out from under it -- as well as from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), which also has backed Putin while attacking Unified Russia as a collection of bureaucrats and oligarchs. INDEM foundation President Georgy Satarov told "Vremya novostei" that Russia now faces "a complete crisis of the party system" because "all the parties that agreed to act like an opposition and play by the rules that the Kremlin proposed...have been placed in a situation that they -- to say the least -- did not expect." "Therefore they have no room for a real public party contest," Satarov concluded.

Mironov tried his best to put a brave face on Putin's announcement, but his statements rang false. He told journalists on October 3 that Putin's decision is a step toward "the formation of a real two-party system in our country" and claimed it would affect A Just Russia "positively." "I think in the end we will get even more votes than we would otherwise," Mironov said. RFE/RL's Russian Service asked Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Andrei Ryabov about the statement: "It is very hard to agree with this assertion," he said.

By all prognoses, Unified Russia was expected to receive 55-60 percent of the vote even before Putin's bombshell. Levada Center analyst Aleksei Levinson has predicted the addition of Putin will boost that figure by 10-15 percent. But that estimate could turn out to be conservative, given Russia's history and the way in which signals such as this one get transmitted down the power vertical to the regions. It should be noted that about 50 governors appear on Unified Russia's regional lists and they will likely turn the vote into a simultaneous referendum on Putin and themselves. And there can be little doubt they will pull out all the stops to make sure the results of that referendum are as resounding as possible.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov reacted to Putin's decision with an enthusiasm that will likely prove infectious. He predicted Unified Russia will now receive 95 percent of the vote in his republic (the party polled 79 percent there in December 2003, the highest in the country). He then immediately amended his prediction to say real support for Putin in the republic is "100 percent." "I am just giving myself 5 percent as insurance," Kadyrov said.

Moreover, Putin's move is likely to pull support from many other parties participating. Although Communist Party and LDPR officials were quick to say that only A Just Russia will suffer, their arguments seem unconvincing. Only the minor liberal parties the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko are, in the end, unlikely to see much of their tiny sliver of the vote defect. Pre-bombshell polling put the Communist Party at about 18 percent of the vote, meaning the party still has a clear chance of surmounting the 7 percent hurdle and picking up Duma seats. But the chances for the LDPR and A Just Russia, which were on the edge of the barrier before the announcement, now look very slim indeed.

Under Russian law, at least two parties must be represented in the Duma. Even if no party besides Unified Russia overcomes the 7 percent barrier, some seats will be allotted to the second-place finisher in any event. Russia will not see a result such as emerged in Kazakhstan in August, where the pro-presidential party transformed its domination of the system to complete domination of the legislature as well.

As a result, a sort of "two-party" system will emerge from the December vote in Russia. But it won't be even the docile two-party system envisioned under the Unified Russia-A Just Russia plan. Instead, there will be a huge constitutional majority for Unified Russia and a token representation by the Communist Party. Although the Communist Party is a genuine opposition party (as opposed to A Just Russia's facsimile), its support is fading from election to election and it is a safe bet the Kremlin will not allow the party to use its opposition platform in the Duma to generate real political influence or increase its public support. The Communist Party is, from the Kremlin's point of view, a tolerable opposition both because it can be counted on to support the Kremlin in any issues touching the theme of Russia as a great power and because no other opposition parties are ever going to be willing to form a coalition with it.

By the time of the next election, there is a good chance even the Communists will be so weakened that they will be unable to garner the 7 percent needed to earn seats. If that scenario emerges, the two-party system in Russia will depend on the artificial life support of the law ensuring at least two parties in the legislature. And analysts will need a magnifying glass to tell the difference between Russia and neighbors like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

Afghan Deputy Counternarcotics Minister General Khuda-e Dad said on October 3 that NATO and coalition forces have agreed to support the central government in its efforts to combat the soaring trade in narcotics, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. He said foreign forces will help Afghan authorities transport detained drug smugglers from border regions to Kabul and provide air support in the event insurgents or criminals attack police conducting counternarcotics operations. Additional help will include logistical support, such as providing aircraft to government delegations when they travel between the capital and the provinces. While acknowledging the extra assistance, Khuda-e Dad took care to make it plain that Afghan police -- and not foreign troops -- would eradicate poppies. Noting the inextricable link between drugs and terrorism, the minister stressed that the counternarcotics drive must be strengthened. NATO spokesman Nicholas Lunt reiterated Khuda-e Dad's remarks and reaffirmed the alliance's commitment to cooperate with the Afghan government in its fight against illegal drugs, while acknowledging the threat to Afghanistan's security posed by drug smuggling. In only the last three months, according to a ministry quarterly report released by Khuda-e Dad, Afghan police have arrested 168 drug smugglers, destroyed 16 heroin labs, and seized 38 tons of heroin, hashish, morphine, and chemicals used in the manufacture of illicit drugs. Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium, the main ingredient in heroin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). JC

Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations on October 2 called for the early return of Afghan refugees to their home country, citing the great efforts being made by the United States, NATO, and the Afghan government to improve the security situation in Afghanistan, which has prevented refugees from repatriating, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Speaking at the inaugural session of the executive committee of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kabul on October 1, Ambassador Masood Khan stressed the need to form a "pull factor" to hasten refugees' return, adding that returnees need satisfactory security, shelter, and basic amenities like health, education, and water in order for the repatriation process to be effective. Khan also called for the design of individual- or family-return packages to enable skilled and unskilled refugees to work in labor-intensive reconstruction projects. The UN and the international community must step up efforts to repair damage to the environment in Pakistan created by the extended presence of the refugees, Khan added. JC

Brigadier General Pavel Macko said on October 4 that NATO is making progress on reconstruction projects across Afghanistan, achieving particular success in improving security along the country's main highway, which links the capital, Kabul, with other major cities, AP reported. Macko told reporters via a video link from Kabul that International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops have lowered the number of Taliban attacks on the ring road, also known as Highway 1. The 2,400-kilometer road network is considered to be the country's economic lifeline. Macko said ISAF forces are taking care "to keep freedom of movement" on the highway for the benefit of both security forces and the Afghan government, particularly with regard to "economic flow." Improved security has allowed the government to gain entry to areas previously inaccessible, enabling officials to evaluate national infrastructure and better determine where reconstruction efforts are most needed. The Afghan government, in coordination with NATO, made increased security and major upgrades to the highway top priorities in 2007. ISAF troops say they have carried out "dozens" of offensives around the ring road to push back Taliban forces in support of the mission. Taliban militants have routinely attacked trucks carrying food and other goods on the ring road, and have also kidnapped aid workers traveling the route, including the abduction of 23 South Koreans in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). JC

An Italian intelligence agent, kidnapped with a colleague in western Afghanistan and later rescued by the Italian military, died on October 4, according to the Defense Ministry, AFP reported. The agent was wounded during a rescue operation in which Italian special forces, supported by NATO soldiers and aircraft, ambushed a convoy carrying the kidnappers and the two Italian captives on September 24. At least eight of the kidnappers were killed in the ensuing gun battle, although NATO officials say they believe the Italians were injured by their Taliban kidnappers. The injured agent was transported to a military hospital in Rome, where he died. The other captive suffered minor injuries in the raid. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi defended his government's decision to carry out the rescue operation, arguing that "any other option would have been worse." The agent's death is expected to revive calls for the withdrawal of Italy's 2,000 troops in Afghanistan by members of Prodi's ruling coalition, demands which the prime minister has thus far resisted. JC

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad reaffirmed in Tehran on October 4 Iran's concern for the Palestinian cause and the ownership of Jerusalem -- often referred to as Quds in Iran -- and said Iran "leads the way" in backing the aspirations of Palestinians to statehood, IRNA reported. Iran does not recognize Israel, and its leaders have voiced their hopes for its collapse. Ahmadinejad told a mosque congregation that Israel is "a pretext" for repressing nations, and a manifestation of discrimination and "inhuman and unfair divisions in the world." He praised the late Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for instituting Quds Day 28 years ago on October 5 -- a day when Iranian authorities organize marches to denounce Israel's existence -- and said it was a move that thwarted Israel's increasing acceptance by international opinion. Quds Day, he said, is a day of nations, and power resides in nations. This is no longer a time, he said, when "military power and superior weaponry can give a country or an idea control and stability." VS

Majlis speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel cancelled a trip and speech scheduled for October 4 to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg, in protest at a recent meeting between European parliamentarians and Mariam Rajavi, a leader of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a militant group opposed to the Iranian government, Radio Farda reported on October 4, citing news agency reports. The MKO is considered a terrorist organization by Iran, the United States, and the European Union. Haddad-Adel was to address the assembly as the head of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly, whose members were in Europe to meet with European counterparts, AP reported on October 4. AFP reported that this was the penultimate day of a five-day meeting of the PACE, a grouping intended to promote human rights in 47 member states. Some members earlier said they would not sit and listen to Haddad-Adel address the assembly, given Iran's reported human-rights violations. Rajavi addressed the assembly on October 1, according to AP. VS

Iran and Syria have signed a deal for Iran to export a $1 billion worth of gas a year to Syria from 2009, news agencies reported on October 4, citing an Iranian state television report. Iran's caretaker oil minister, Gholamhossein Nozari, and Syrian Oil Minister Sufian al-Allaw signed the memorandum of understanding in Tehran, and Iran will export up to 3 billion cubic meters of gas a year to Syria, through a pipeline in Turkey, reported. The two states are to discuss transit costs and further details, Nozari said after the deal's signing. He said Syria is to receive gas through a pipeline already piping gas from Tabriz in northwestern Iran to Ankara in Turkey. The two sides also agreed on the construction by Syria, Iran, and Venezuela of an oil refinery in Syria with a capacity to refine 140,000 barrels of oil a day, and to increase Iran's participation in oil, gas, technical, and engineering projects in Syria, reported on October 4. VS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini expressed Iran's disappointment and "surprise" at reported remarks on Iran by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, ISNA reported on October 3, citing Al-Alam, Iran's Arabic-language television channel. ISNA did not specifically identify Saud al-Faisal's remarks. Hosseini said, "comments creating tensions from our Saudi friends were ambiguous and unexpected," and against "the spirit" of bilateral ties. He urged regional states to adopt positions benefiting their ties with Iran, and which prevent "the enemies" from attaining their "sinister and expansionist" aims. The Saudi minister said in New York on September 26 that his country sees Iran's standoff with the West over its nuclear program as "a confrontation in the making," AP reported. He said Saudi Arabia is "very anxious" about the prospects of another conflict in the "very volatile" Middle East. He described as "dangerous" remarks attributed to Iranian President Ahmadinejad in September that Iran will step into Iraq to fill the vacuum left by a possible departure of U.S. troops. "It was an unwise statement to make because the only people that can fill the void in Iraq are the Iraqi people," he said. VS

Iraqi State Minister for National Security Shirwan al-Wa'ili told AP that a three-member panel headed by Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir al-Ubaydi has determined that Blackwater USA guards who opened fire on civilians in a Baghdad square on September 16 acted without provocation, the news agency reported on October 4. The panel determined that 13 Iraqis were killed in the incident, two more than previously thought. A separate investigation carried out by an Iraqi Interior Ministry seven-member panel has concluded that 17 were killed in the incident and 24 wounded, an unidentified member of the panel told AP. He added that the panel's recommendations were nearly identical to the recommendations submitted to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by al-Ubaydi's panel on October 2. Both reports were to be submitted to a joint U.S.-Iraqi investigative team, AP reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting a State Department probe into the incident. KR

In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on October 3, Radi Hamzah al-Radi, the former chairman of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, said that corruption is rampant and reaches the highest levels of Prime Minister al-Maliki's cabinet. Al-Radi estimated that graft has cost the Iraqi government up to $18 billion over the past three years. Al-Radi said the prime minister relied on a 1971 law that stipulates that corruption cases cannot be referred to court without the prior approval of the prime minister or the minister in charge of the agency being investigated. He maintained that al-Maliki has intervened on numerous occasions to shut down investigations of officials, including members of his own family. He also testified that the commission could not safely investigate oil corruption where "Sunni and Shi'a militias have control of the metering, transport, and distribution of Iraqi oil. This has resulted in the Ministry of Oil effectively financing terrorism through these militias." Al-Radi said 31 members of his staff and 12 family members of staffers have been killed in assassinations aimed at stopping investigations. Al-Radi sought asylum in the United States after he and his family were threatened. KR

An Iraqi tribal leader from Salah Al-Din Governorate who joined the fight against Al-Qaeda was killed on October 4 when a roadside bomb struck his convoy, international media reported. Mua'wiyah Naji Jibara and five of his bodyguards were killed in the attack near Samarra. AFP reported. Jibara sustained serious head injuries and later died at a U.S. military hospital. Jibara was a member of the newly established Salah Al-Din Awakening Council, a body similar to the Al-Anbar council of the same name; both pledged to align with the government and fight Al-Qaeda. On September 13, a similar attack claimed the life of Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, the head of the Al-Anbar Awakening Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack. Meanwhile, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported that three members of the Northern Babil Salvation Council were killed by U.S. forces in Al-Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, in an overnight raid. That report does not appear to have been confirmed by the U.S.-led coalition. Iraq's state-run daily "Al-Sabah" reported this week that the government has made progress in talks with armed insurgent groups and it appears some groups will soon join tribal forces in Diyala to fight Al-Qaeda. KR

A full census will be carried out in the contested oil-rich governorate of Kirkuk in mid-November, said Narmin Uthman, the deputy head of the Higher Commission for the Implementation of Article 140 of the constitution, Kurdish media reported on October 4. Article 140 concerns repatriation of those displaced under Saddam Hussein's regime to their original homes. As it applies to Kirkuk, the article paves the way for thousands of Kurds displaced from their homes to return to the governorate. It also requires that tens of thousands of Arab families resettled in Kirkuk under Hussein must return to their homes and villages in the south of the country. The census, called for in the constitution, will be followed by a referendum by residents in Kirkuk to decide whether to join the Kurdistan region or remain outside it. International media reported this week that the commission has begun to compensate Arab families for leaving their homes in Kirkuk. The government is offering 20 million dinars (around $16,000) to each family that leaves Kirkuk and relocates to their original homes. The number of Arab families living in Kirkuk is not known, but estimates run between 70,000 and 135,000 families. KR