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Newsline - October 17, 2007

President Vladimir Putin used the occasion of his visit to Tehran on October 16 to warn against any military attack on Iran. According to Interfax, Putin, who was in the Iranian capital for a one-day summit of the leaders of the five Caspian Sea nations -- Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan -- declared in a speech that "every country has the right to develop peaceful nuclear-energy programs." Earlier in the day, Putin quoted a draft summit declaration as stating that "a country's territory must not be made available to other countries" for "an aggression or any kind of military action against one of the Caspian states" and that all issues should be resolved "through dialogue" and with "the rejection of not only the use of force, but even the mentioning of the possible use of force." The five leaders later signed a final summit declaration that included a similar statement, AP reported on October 16. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad also stressed the need to keep outsiders out of the region. "All Caspian nations agree on the main issue -- that all aspects related to this sea must be settled exclusively by littoral nations," AP quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "The Caspian Sea is an inland sea and it only belongs to the Caspian states; therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here." Putin invited Ahmadinejad to Moscow for talks, Interfax reported on October 16. The Iranian president accepted the invitation "with gratitude" and the parties "agreed to clear the dates for the visit through diplomatic channels." Putin also met with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told the Russian president that the Iranian nation respects the Russian people for the resistance they put up against their enemies throughout history, RIA Novosti reported on October 16. JB

While attending the Caspian summit in Tehran on October 16, President Putin pledged that the construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia is building under a contract worth $1 billion, will be completed on schedule. "The Bushehr nuclear power plant will be constructed and brought into operation in line with the agreed-upon schedule," Interfax on October 16 quoted Putin and Iranian President Ahmadinejad as saying in a joint statement. "The parties...reaffirmed that it will continue to be pursued strictly in line with their commitments under the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons." However, when an Iranian journalist asked Putin to promise that Russia will supply nuclear fuel for Bushehr before he steps down from the presidency in 2008, Putin replied, "I only gave promises to my mom when I was a small boy." According to Interfax, Putin said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rules dictate that fuel "is to be supplied for such a facility several months before the nuclear reactor is put into operation," but indicated that it remains unclear when the Bushehr reactor will be put into operation. As AP noted on October 16, Russia earlier warned that the Bushehr plant would not go on line this fall as originally planned because Iran has fallen behind in paying for its construction. Iranian officials denied that the payments were in arrears and accused Russia of caving in to Western pressure. According to AP, Putin said in Tehran that the two sides are negotiating revisions to the Bushehr contract and that once the revisions are agreed upon, a decision on fuel deliveries can be made. JB

During their one-day summit in Tehran on October 16, the leaders of the five Caspian Sea states pledged to overcome differences on how to divide the sea but failed to agree on a new pact to replace Soviet-era agreements on the sea's status, Reuters reported. The five leaders signed a final declaration stating that setting up a legal regime for the sea is "the most important duty" but giving no timetable for achieving this. President Putin said that projects which "may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations" -- implying, as AP reported on October 16, that each Caspian littoral state "should have a virtual veto on energy transport." However, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev avoided the issue entirely, while President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan said that "pipeline routes need to be coordinated with states whose territory they cross" but refrained from mentioning any need for the consensus advocated by Putin, AP reported. As Reuters noted on October 16, the Caspian Sea may hold oil reserves of as much as 49 billion barrels -- equal to about half that of an OPEC member such as Kuwait -- and reservoirs with 230 trillion cubic feet of gas. The Russian daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on October 17 quoted Nazarbaev as saying during the summit that the existing mechanism for distributing quotas for Caspian bioresources -- under which Iran gets 45 percent, Russia gets 27 percent, and the other three countries divide up the remaining 28 percent -- does not correspond to today's realities. Around 90 percent of the world's caviar comes from the Caspian Sea. JB

President Putin used the occasion of his visit to Tehran on October 16 to reiterate certain criticisms of the West in general and the United States in particular. In an oblique but clear reference to the latter, Putin told an Iranian journalist that he is in favor of "a multipolar world" and that "a unipolar world" has "already failed to materialize and cannot be built in practice," ITAR-TASS reported on October 16. "No single nation, even the largest one, can solve all global problems on its own," the news agency quoted Putin as saying. "It will not have enough resources -- either financial or economic, or material, or political -- and today this is becoming clear. The examples of Afghanistan and Iraq only confirm this point." He also took aim at NATO enlargement. "As regards NATO's enlargement eastwards, our attitude toward this process is extremely negative," Interfax on October 16 quoted Putin as saying. "All this does not help create an atmosphere of confidence in the world and in Europe. Modern threats -- such as terrorism, drug trafficking, or organized crime -- cannot be resolved within the framework of such an organization. It is necessary to improve the level of confidence and cooperation on a multilateral basis -- this is what is really needed." JB

In an interview with Iranian media on October 16, President Putin said Russia's discussion with its "American and European partners" of a missile-defense system in Europe is "not proceeding very smoothly," Interfax reported. If it makes sense to build such a system, he said, several conditions must be met. "First, it is necessary to identify these missile threats," Putin said. "There is no reliable data as to where they are emanating from.... Second, it is necessary to ensure democratic access to this structure [the missile-defense system].... And, finally, third, it is necessary to reach an agreement on joint work in the management [of the system]." Citing the potential threat of a missile attack on Europe from "rogue states" such as Iran, the United States wants to station elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia opposes this and has offered the United States the alternative of jointly using the Qabala (Gabala) radar station in Azerbaijan and a second radar installation under construction in the southern Russian city of Armavir. Still, Putin told the Iranian press that "recent contacts with our American partners have shown that a certain transformation in their views is also possible, and we will continue the dialogue," Interfax reported. During talks with Russian officials in Moscow on October 12-13, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposed an integrated anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) system that would involve liaison officers from both sides stationed at each site, "The Moscow Times" reported on October 15. Gates said afterward that Putin and other Russian officials "clearly were intrigued by some of the things we put on the table," particularly a detailed proposal for a U.S.-Russian ABM partnership. JB

Delegates from the dominant Unified Russia party on October 16 presented their finalized list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections to the Central Election Commission, Russian media reported. Afterward, representatives of the party met with journalists and were effusive in their praise of President Putin. "We must beg Vladimir Vladimirovich to remain for another term," Unified Russia supporter and famed circus performer Askold Zapashny said. "God does not bestow such a leader upon the country every year. We don't want our children to be abandoned." Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, head of the Unified Russia party, wrote in the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on October 17 that the Duma elections are "a national referendum in support of Vladimir Putin." He added that the Duma elections will determine who is the leader of the country and that that leader will be Putin. He said that the party will use all of its powers in the Duma "so that Putin will continue to lead." Gryzlov also said that "some forces" are looking forward to Putin leaving power because that would signal "the weakening of Russia" and said that there would be no "externally organized colored revolutions" in Russia. "The voting on December 2 is voting for Putin," Gryzlov concluded. "Vladimir Putin will remain the national leaders, regardless of what post he occupies." RC

Speaking to Iranian journalists in Tehran on October 16, President Putin affirmed that he does not want the constitution changed to allow him a third consecutive term, but did not rule out an additional "nonconsecutive term," RFE/RL reported. "There is a constitution that is dear to me, and I believe we should follow both the letter and the spirit of the basic law," Putin said. "The constitution does not allow a president to be elected for more than two consecutive terms. To be elected after missing one presidential term is, in theory, allowed by law, but life is very fast and dynamic in the word and in particular in Russia. It's difficult to say what may happen in the next few years. Right now, I would not try to look so many years ahead. But what I would definitely want to do is be in a place where I can serve the people of Russia." RC

The Russian-language version of "Newsweek" on October 15 wrote that "as time passes it is becoming clearer that the Russian president is being presented as the leader, the Leader of the nation with a capital 'L.' Now he alone is the author of all the achievements of recent years and without him there is nothing." The weekly noted that on Putin's 55th birthday on October 7, state Rossia television aired a fawning tribute by Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov, who has publicly called for Putin to ignore the constitution and serve a third term as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). Levada Center analyst Lev Gudkov, however, told the weekly that he does not see signs of a personality cult. "For a cult, you need an atmosphere of fear and adulation," he said. "In Russia, about 4 to 5 percent are ecstatic, 28 to 30 percent are sympathetic, and the rest are simply opposed. There is too little energy for a cult." As a result, the weekly concludes that the effort to produce a cult of personality around Putin is being orchestrated from above, rather than generated spontaneously from the grassroots. The weekly reported that there is a bid in St. Petersburg to name a park after Putin and that residents of Samara have requested that a local square be named for him. There is a street named for Putin in the capital of the Mary-El Republic. In St. Petersburg, a local resident gives tours of "Putin's City": "This is the store Sever," tour guide Andrei Frolov tells the foreign tourists who are willing to pay 11,000 rubles ($440) for the honor. "When he returned from working construction in Komi, Volodya bought his mother a cake here, and a coat for himself." A Zaporozhets car that Putin reportedly drove after completing his education in Petersburg -- which his parents purportedly won in a state lottery -- is now on display at the northern presidential residence, the Konstantinovsky Palace. RC

Central Election Commission member Maya Grishina told "Rossiskaya gazeta" on October 17 that the commission is satisfied with the way the mass media have covered the Duma elections so far. "During the election campaign the Central Election Commission at present has observed practically no violations by the mass media," she said. In the past there have been complaints "about the purported advantages in the coverage of one or another party," but she said that during this election cycle, such complaints have been fewer. "In my opinion, the media structures have covered the campaign events of the parties and the preelection congresses in a balanced way in accordance with the law," she said. According to a study of 3,000 media outlets carried out in September by the Medialogia group and published by, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party had a nearly 2-1 advantage in media coverage over its nearest rival, the Communist Party. The advantage was 6-1 over the liberal Yabloko party. RC

A conflict is developing in Saratov between local journalists and the dominant Unified Russia party, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 16. In September, 11 local editors in chief sent an open letter to President Putin asking him to intervene on behalf of a local newspaper that is accused of printing an unflattering caricature of him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2007). On October 2, local journalists demonstrated in the center of the city, with agitators claiming that Unified Russia is using the courts to restrain the media. There are three local cases being heard now involving Unified Russia complaints against Saratov media. The demonstration was supported by the local branches of Yabloko, A Just Russia, the Union of Rightist Forces, and the Communist Party. According to local polls, Unified Russia is expected to pick up about 50 percent of the vote locally, while the Communist Party is polling about 25 percent. RC

Former Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has been named to head the state-controlled Sberbank savings bank, Russian media reported on October 17. The appointment had been widely expected since former Sberbank head Andrei Kazmin resigned earlier this month to become the head of Russian Post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 9, 2007). In remarks on October 16, Gref said "a major bank is a conservative bank" and pledged to be "very careful." He also promised "transparency and openness," "The Moscow Times" reported on October 17. According to "Kommersant" on October 17, the management of the bank has expressed opposition to Gref's appointment, and some senior managers are expected to resign. Gref is expected to be confirmed as CEO of the bank at a meeting of the bank's shareholders on November 28. RC

Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who lives in the United Kingdom, arrived in Moscow on October 16 for a five-day visit during which he plans to lay out his program for competing in the March 2008 presidential election, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 17 (see "Soviet-Era Dissident Seeks Return To Politics,", July 13, 2007). At a book-signing on October 16, Bukovsky warned that Russia is gradually returning to a Soviet-style political system. However, he added that the country is far more open now than in Soviet times and that it would be impossible to impose a Soviet-style ideology on the entire country today. On October 17, Bukovsky plans to participate in an opposition political conference and on October 20, he will participate in a rally in downtown Moscow. RC

Some 100 supporters of Magomet Botashev, who according to official returns narrowly defeated incumbent Sapar Laipanov in the March 11 mayoral elections in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia town of Karachayevsk, picketed the State Duma in Moscow on October 15 to protest the process whereby the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic Supreme Court's validation of the ballot was annulled and a recount ordered that resulted in Laipanov being declared the victor, reported on October 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, July 12, and September 4 and 27, 2007). The picketers displayed placards appealing to President Putin to "put an end to the occupation of Karachayevo-Cherkessia by bandits." They met with unnamed State Duma deputies, and later with Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov, and reportedly also hope to secure an audience with staff at the Moscow office of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. LF

Armenian President Robert Kocharian issued on October 16 a decree dismissing Yerevan District Court Judge Pargev Ohanian following a recommendation by a state judicial oversight body that the judge be fired, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That recommendation, made last week by the presidentially-appointed Council of Justice, called for the judge's dismissal for alleged "serious violations of Armenian law" in some two dozen civil and criminal cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). The judge claims that the charges are false and accuse the authorities of seeking retribution for his controversial acquittal in July of two businessmen charged with fraud after they publicly accused customs officials of corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 14, 2005, and July 17 and September 12 and 19, 2007). The Armenian Court of Appeals ruled the day before to deny a bail request for one of the businessmen, after he was rearrested following his acquittal after prosecutors issued a fresh arrest warrant citing his failure to attend hearings on the high-profile case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 2007). RG

In the latest sign suggesting a planned political comeback, opposition Hanrapetutiun (Republic) party leader and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian announced on October 16 that former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian will hold a public rally in the capital Yerevan, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The rally, the former president's first such public event in a decade, is to be held on October 26 and will include a number of opposition figures, including Sargsian and People's Party leader Stepan Demirchian. The timing of the rally is also significant as it comes one day before the eighth anniversary of the 1999 armed attack on the Armenian parliament that left Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials dead. The announcement follows the recent pledge by some two down civic groups and opposition political parties promising to support Ter-Petrossian if he decides to run in the country's presidential election set for February 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). Ter-Petrossian also met on October 16 with former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, the leader of the opposition Orinats Yerkir party. Commenting on that meeting, Heghine Bisharian, a senor leader of the party, said that the discussion was limited to taking about the need for a free and fair election and stressed that Baghdasarian will contest the 2008 election and will not withdraw from the race in Ter-Petrossian's favor, Arminfo reported. RG

Led by several Georgian priests, an unspecified number of protestors staged on October 16 a demonstration outside the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tbilisi to protest the closure of a Georgian church in Azerbaijan, Imedi-TV reported. Protestors charged that the Azerbaijani authorities closed the historic Georgian Orthodox St. George church in northwestern Azerbaijan's Qax district that is home to a significant ethnic Georgian population. Priests at the demonstration also warned that the incident may "trigger a religious and ethnic conflict between the Azerbaijani and the Georgian population in Georgia." Speaking to reporters after the demonstration ended, opposition Conservative Party leader Zviad Dzidziguri criticized Azerbaijan and noted that "the rights of the ethnic Azerbaijani population are protected in Georgia while the rights of the Georgians are constantly violated in Azerbaijan." RG

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili proposed on October 16 new electoral reforms, including the lowering of the electoral threshold for parties to enter parliament by party list from 7 to 5 percent, Imedi-TV reported. The president made the proposals during a meeting of the ruling National Movement party that was broadcast live on national television. He also said that the president's right to dissolve parliament should be curtailed "to a certain extent" and called for the extension of parliamentary terms from four to five years, in order to schedule presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time. The proposals follows harsh criticism from a newly unified group of opposition parties attacking President Saakashvili and demanding new parliamentary elections in April 2008. RG

Georgian police moved on October 16 to disrupt a demonstration in central Tbilisi staged jointly by the newly-created "Georgia Without Violence" youth movement and the Freedom Party and arrested several protesters after they blocked city streets, Imedi-TV reported. Addressing protestors in front of the parliament building, Jaba Jishkariani, a leader of the Equality Institute NGO, criticized the police action, arguing that "this was a peaceful protest," making arrests unnecessary. He also personally accused President Saakashvili and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili as being "dishonest men," and warned that "none of us are afraid of the oppressor authorities" and "we are not afraid of arrests and prisons." RG

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's 22-year-old grandson, Nurali Aliev, on October 16 assumed control of Nurbank, one of the country's largest commercial banks after being elected chairman of the bank's board of directors, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Aliev is one of two sons of Rakhat Aliev, the fugitive former son-in-law of the president. The bank was at the center of the criminal case against Rakhat Aliev, who is accused of arranging the kidnapping of two Nurbank executives. He remains in self-imposed exile in Austria after an Austrian court rejected a Kazakh extradition request on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial if deported to Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, and 13, and August 9, 2007). Rakhat Aliev's ex-wife, Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, also holds a seat on the bank's board with her son. RG

The head of the Kazakh presidential human rights commission, parliamentarian Sagynbek Tursunov, on October 16 met with U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley in Astana, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Tursunov and Finley discuss the Kazakh commission's recent report on the human rights situation in Kazakhstan, which is to be presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. Tursunov stressed that the report was drafted with the active participation of Kazakh civil society, and is an attempt to offer an "analysis of the human rights situation" since independence. He pledged that the government is committed to adopting "a national plan of action on protecting human rights for the next five years" on the basis of the report. Kazakhstan's focus on human rights is part of the country's broader effort to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. But the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights recently criticized Kazakhstan as unfit to chair the OSCE "because of its poor rights record" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2007). The country's recent parliamentary elections also prompted some critics to question Kazakhstan's commitment to the democratic and electoral values supported by the OSCE (see "Kazakhstan: Flawed Polls Enter Equation Over OSCE Bid,", September 4, 2007). After failing to reach a consensus in 2006 on Kazakhstan's bid to assume the chairmanship, the OSCE postponed a decision until December 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006). RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced on October 16 that he is suspending his activities as the leader of a new political party, only hours after the party's founding congress, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A statement released by the president's office in Bishkek explained the decision as necessary "to comply with the country's constitution." The move comes just days before the October 21 national referendum on the government's proposed constitutional amendments. The new party, the Ak Jol Eldik Partiyasy (Best Path Popular Party), held its founding congress on October 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). Bakiev's decision to step down as the head of the new progovernment party follows strong criticism from the opposition, and seems to conform to the president's pledge last month that he could "be the leader of any" political party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2007). The new party, one of more than 90 officially registered political parties in Kyrgyzstan, will be led by its three deputy chairmen -- Vladimir Nifadiev, Elmira Ibrahimova, and Avtandil Arabaev. Arabaev announced on October 16 that the Republican Party of Labor and Unity has formally "suspended its operation and joined" the new party. The Republican Party of Labor and Unity has an official part membership of more than 50,000, according to AKIpress. RG

Reacting to President Bakiev's announcement that he will lead a new progovernment political party, the head of the presidential Commission on Human Rights, Tursunbek Akun, criticized the move on October 15, warning that "the president cannot belong to any political party, or be its chairman," AKIpress reported. Akun explained that although people "have the right to create a party," according to Kyrgyz law, the president "is not allowed to enter any party." Opposition deputies also strongly criticized the election of Bakiev as the new party's leader, echoing Akun's argument that Bakiev "has no right to lead a party" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). RG

Just days before a national referendum on a set of amendments to the Kyrgyz constitution, Turusunbai Bakir, the country's human rights ombudsman, on October 16 warned of the "possible violation of human rights and liberties" during the October 21 referendum unless key changes are made to the state-drafted amendments, according to AKIpress. In a personal appeal to President Bakiev, Bakir argued that "changes to referendum procedures" are needed, including new ballots allowing for a separate consideration of each new article of the constitution, and the creation of special voting stations in the cities of Osh and Bishkek specifically for "citizens without a registered residence or proper identification documents," the website reported. RG

Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov met with his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart, Colonel General Safar Abiev, on October 16 in Bishkek, AKIpress reported. The ministers signed a new bilateral accord on military cooperation, which includes an expansion of a current program for Kyrgyz officers to study at Azerbaijani military academies and a measure to formalize cooperation and information exchange between the two countries' defense ministries. Abiev is also due to meet on October 17 with Parliamentary Speaker Marat Sultanov and Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev before returning to Baku. RG

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on October 16 that Russia must pay 40,000 euros ($56,000) in compensation to a former Tajik trade minister for his "unlawful detention" in Russia, according to Asia-Plus and Interfax. The court held that several provisions of the European Human Rights Convention were violated during the arrest of Habib Nasrulloev, the Tajik trade minister from 1992 to 1997. Nasrulloev fled to Russia in 2003 after being charged by the Tajik authorities with treason and murder stemming from his alleged role in a failed antigovernment uprising in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 15, 2003). Russian police arrested him in July 2003 and kept him in a pretrial detention center for over three years before releasing him in September 2006. RG

During a visit to Dushanbe, the head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems power company, Anatoliy Chubays, on October 16 proposed building a new 600 megawatt hydroelectric power station on Lake Sarez in eastern Tajikistan, AKIpress reported. Speaking at a news conference with the president of the Tajik Academy of Sciences, Mamadsho Ilolov, Chubays noted that the proposal was also favorably received at the recent meeting of the CIS Electrical Energy Council, which took place on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Dushanbe on October 12. Lake Sarez is a mountain lake formed as the result of a powerful earthquake in the beginning of this century. It contains an estimated 17 billion cubic meters of water. Experts fear there is a danger posed by the possible collapse of the lake's natural dam, which would trigger massive flooding throughout the area. Tajikistan regularly faces severe power shortages for more than half the year, leaving entire towns and villages without power sometimes for several days at a time (see "Central Asia: Tajikistan Hopes To Avoid Another Winter Of Power Shortages," October 9, 2007, RG

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg late on October 15 adopted a decision effectively softening sanctions against Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. The ministers justified their decision to ease sanctions by noting that some strict measures remain in place, including the extension of a one-year arms embargo. The decision suspends travel restrictions imposed on a number of senior Uzbek officials for the next six months. The ministers further resolved to consider a return to more complete sanctions if there is "no progress" in human rights in Uzbekistan in the near future. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner said the "conditional lifting" of the travel ban enables the EU to "keep lines of communications open," and added that "we should engage with them" in a human rights debate, AKIpress reported. The EU sanctions were initially imposed after the Uzbek authorities refused to allow an international investigation into the violent events in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005, when government troops opened fire on a crowd of mostly peaceful protesters, resulting in hundreds of deaths, according to human rights groups and witnesses. Prominent human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have consistently urged the EU to maintain the sanctions on Uzbekistan, arguing that human rights must be prioritized ahead of "economic concerns," AP reported. RG

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 16 publicized its annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, which ranks 169 countries worldwide according to their level of press freedom. Belarus ranked 151st out of 169 countries. Uzbekistan, ranked 160th, and Turkmenistan, ranked 167th, are the only other post-Soviet states in the bottom 20 countries of the index. Ukraine was classified at 92nd place and Russia at 144th. One "topic of concern is Belarus, which as you know is one of the last dictatorships very close to Europe," Elsa Vidal from RSF's European and post-Soviet countries desk told RFE/RL. "Unfortunately we even very recently witnessed arrests, preventative arrests, of opponents and independent journalists to prevent them from witnessing and [taking part] in an opposition march that took place last weekend," Vidal said. JM

Andrea Rigoni, the special rapporteur on Belarus in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), arrived in Minsk on October 16, Belapan reported. The visit is Rigoni's first to Belarus as PACE envoy. "We would like to know whether Belarus has made some steps closer to the Council of Europe," Rigoni told journalists on October 17, following a meeting with Vadzim Papou, the chairman of the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house. Rigoni said the aim of his trip to Belarus is to prepare a report on the situation there, which will be made public at the beginning of 2008. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said in a televised address on October 17 that he supports the intentions of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc to create a parliamentary coalition and form a new government. "According to the Ukrainian Constitution, I declare my readiness, on the basis of proposals from the coalition, to submit a candidate for prime minister and candidates to the cabinet of ministers for [parliamentary] approval," Yushchenko said. "Society expects that the first session of the [Verkhovna] Rada will elect a new head of parliament, adopt urgent coordinated documents, and appoint a government.... I firmly guarantee that all the rights of the opposition will be respected. [The opposition] will have every possibility to conduct full-fledged work and control the actions of the authorities." After elections to the Verkhovna Rada on September 30, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, which jointly have 228 votes in the 450-seat house, on October 15 initialed an accord on running a new government in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). JM

Two Ukrainian politicians on October 16 reacted positively to Gazprom board chairman Dmitry Medvedev's recent hint that the Russian gas monopoly may consider removing the Swiss-based intermediary RosUkrEnergo from the gas trade between Ukraine, Russia, and Central Asian countries, Ukrainian and Russian media reported. "We will probably revise the scheme of our relations [with Ukraine] and give up any intermediary structures that are not clearly understandable -- at least those structures whose existence is not quite clear to us and who were proposed by our partners in a certain historical context," Medvedev told Germany's ARD television on October 15, according to Interfax. "We're closely studying it. We are always in favor of having direct links between our suppliers," Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov commented on October 16 on Medvedev's statement. But Azarov simultaneously warned that an immediate removal of RosUkrEnergo might entail a gas crisis in Ukraine similar to the one that occurred in 2006, when Gazprom cut gas supplies to Ukraine for a short time. Meanwhile, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is expected to become Ukraine's next prime minister, welcomed Medvedev's statement unequivocally. "It is very good that the Russian Federation confirmed such a position of ours in building relations," Tymoshenko said on October 16. A 50 percent stake in RosUkrEnergo is owned by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash with a partner, while Gazprom controls the other half of the company. JM

Serbia's minister for Kosovar affairs, Slobodan Samardzic, said on October 15 that he doubts Belgrade and Prishtina will reach an agreement on Kosova's future by December 10, the date when the three international mediators -- commonly referred to as the "troika" -- are expected to submit a report to the UN secretary-general. "Nobody can expect a positive outcome by December 10 in terms of finding a solution," Samardzic said during a visit to Brussels. "The most positive outcome would be if we see there is the possibility to continue." Samardzic argued that talks should continue beyond that date, a position that Kosova and Western powers oppose. He said the decision to end talks should rest with the UN Security Council. Russia, which has veto power on the council, backs Serbia's position that talks should last until an agreement is reached. AG

Serbian Minister for Kosovar Affairs Samardzic also told journalists on October 15 that Serbia opposes the idea of an extended conference of Serbian and Kosovar leaders of the type that brought peace to Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, Samardzic voiced no objection to a proposal made by mediators that, in his words, "an extended meeting could be held at our final get-together if they determine that there is enough common ground to warrant it" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). In the latest round of talks, Kosovar and Serbian leaders have met for a matter of hours at a time. Their next talks are scheduled to be held in Vienna on October 22. Veton Surroi, one of Kosova's five-member negotiating team, said an extended meeting is acceptable but unlikely to produce results unless Belgrade accepts the "reality of the situation" in Kosova. AG

. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has extended his longstanding criticisms of the United States' policy toward Kosova, arguing that the United States wants "at any price to prevent the Kosovo Albanians from accepting a compromise solution for the province," AP reported. Kostunica has previously accused the United States of favoring the Kosovar Albanians, of "obstructing" talks by wanting time limits on the negotations, and of wanting Kosova to be a NATO-dominated state, but this appears to be the first time that he has implied that the Kosovar Albanians would be open to compromise were it not for U.S. policy. Kostunica did not, however, explicitly indicate that he believes the Kosovar Albanians would, in other circumstances, be prepared to compromise. Kosova's political leadership argues that what should now be discussed is not independence, but how to manage Kosovar-Serbian affairs after independence. AG

A day before Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica attacked the U.S. role in the Kosova dispute, Minister for Kosovar Affairs Samardzic urged Europe to formulate a "specific European solution" for Kosova. According to, Samardzic told a think-tank audience in Brussels on October 15 that the talks mediated by the "troika" have resulted in some movement -- which he described as "progress from nothing to something" -- and that the EU is "more in favor of a continuation of talks to reach a compromise than before." Samardzic suggested that much now depends on Europe, whose policy is "still being just formulated" after an extended period in which "the EU followed exclusively the U.S. approach on Kosovo." He urged Europe to move more quickly, adding that Serbia would be open to a "European-style solution" that would embrace "a kind of autonomy" for Kosova. That is "a classic European solution on how to solve minority problems," he declared, adding that autonomy creates "a lot of room for experiments" on the details of power-sharing. AG

Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian official who chairs the commission overseeing Belgrade's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said on October 16 he was "surprised" at the conclusion of the UN court's chief prosecutor that Serbia is "too slow, " "without results, " "irresolute," and "unsystematic" in its efforts to find suspected war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). Ljajic added that prosecutor Carla Del Ponte's assessment will only serve to strengthen the position of anti-Western forces within Serbia, the BBC reported. Similar surprise and disappointment was voiced by other Serbian officials quoted in the Serbian and international media. Earlier, on October 15, Ljajic's commission agreed to send documentation to the ICTY and to respond to eight of its requests, the news agency FoNet reported. It is not clear whether the requests and the documents sought by the ICTY are fresh. Del Ponte said on October 15 that "I still have a number of very important outstanding requests for assistance and my staff is still denied access to crucial archives." Del Ponte also made clear in her assessment that "I cannot give a positive assessment of full cooperation until Ratko Mladic is arrested and transferred to The Hague," a reference to the military commander of the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 civil war. AG

In an interview published by the German paper "Der Spiegel" on October 15, ICTY Chief Prosecutor Del Ponte said that, despite her reservations about Serbia's cooperation, she is "80 percent certain that [Ratko] Mladic will be arrested no later than by the end of this year, possibly even in the coming weeks. Serbia definitely wants into the EU," she continued. Asked why she believes Serbia is serious in its pursuit of Mladic, Del Ponte said that "since early 2007 has there been a serious plan to apprehend him in his Belgrade hideout. After many difficulties, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica now supports this plan too. The only problems that remain at this point have to do with cooperation between the military and civilian intelligence services." Del Ponte also said "it was not until mid-2006" that she realized that Serbia's authorities at the time "would never actually arrest him." AG

In the same interview, ICTY Chief Prosecutor Del Ponte said that in the past, the international community has regularly failed to help the ICTY, particularly in the search for Ratko Mladic's political commander, Radovan Karazdzic. "I repeatedly complained to the Security Council about a lack of support from the international community," Del Ponte said, arguing that "Karadzic could have been easily arrested until 1998, but no one wanted to. The justification given was the fear of renewed unrest, which could have put our own soldiers in harm's way." Asked about her suspicions, which she voiced publicly in 2005, that the U.S. mediator in the Balkans in the 1990s, Richard Holbrooke, tried to cut a deal assuring Karadzic protection from prosecution at the ICTY, Del Ponte said "I had information suggesting that," but added that "I am a prosecutor, and thus I must rely on firm evidence. I have yet to come up with any of that." A former ICTY spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, recently published memoirs in which she accused the Western powers and Russia of obstructing the hunt for Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11 and 12, 2007). AG

Carla Del Ponte also told "Der Spiegel" that witnesses in the war-crimes case against a former Kosovar prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, "are running away from me." The reason, she said, is that they are "under dire threat," adding that witnesses in the Haradinaj case are in more danger than witnesses have been in previous cases brought by the ICTY against ethnic Serbs. While the ICTY has a witness protection program that gives witnesses a new identity in another country, "most Albanians do not want to leave Kosova," Del Ponte said. She expressed fear that the lack of witnesses could result in Haradinaj not being convicted, but said she has the evidence to prove that Haradinaj is "utterly guilty" of a range of crimes committed during the 1998-99 war with Serbia. Del Ponte also said it "really galls me" that judges at the ICTY ruled that Haradinaj can stand for office in parliamentary elections to be held in Kosova this November. AG

A Kosovar Albanian man was arrested on October 16 and charged with the murder of 14 ethnic Serbs, local and international media reported. Most of the victims were elderly farmers and were harvesting wheat at the time of their murder, in July 1999. The suspect, who was named as Milazim Bytyci by local media, was arrested in his home in the village of Veliki Alas, not far from the site of the massacre he was accused of, near the village of Staro Gracko outside Prishtina. The Serbian news agency Tanjug reported that Bytyci is also accused of the murder of Milen Stojanovic in June 1999, a killing that prompted an exodus of Serbian villagers from Veliki Alas. AG

A retired Bosnian Serb policeman, Borislav Berjan, was sentenced to seven years in jail for war crimes by a Sarajevo court on October 15. According to local media, Berjan armed Serbs in the Ilidza municipality and, as a local army commander, ordered the killing of ethnic Croats in the area. He also personally participated in evicting, robbing, and beating Croats between 1992 and 1993. Berjan has been in detention since May 31 this year. AG

Ukraine's Odesa-Brody oil pipeline has been seen as a solution to Eastern Europe's dependence on Russian crude ever since the project was completed in 2001.

But with all the necessary infrastructure in place, including the 674-kilometer pipeline and a new oil terminal located south of Odesa at the Black Sea port of Pivdenny, the dream remains unfulfilled.

The original idea called for Kazakh and Azerbaijani oil to make its way to the Black Sea coast, from where it could be shipped to the Pivdenny port. Once in Ukraine, it would be pumped north through the new pipeline and made available for distribution to European destinations.

But Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan never committed to providing the oil needed to fill the pipeline, and cash-strapped Ukraine was unsuccessful in convincing European states to build an extension that would pump the oil from Brody to refineries in European markets.

As Stratfor Commentary wrote in September 2003, "The end result was that Kyiv found itself saddled with a white elephant rusting picturesquely in the Ukrainian countryside."

To remedy the situation, the flow of the pipeline was reversed in 2004 to send Russian oil south from Brody to Odesa, and on to global markets by ship via the Bosporus.

Thus, the project envisioned as a way to circumvent Russia in the end became another means to transport Russian oil.

Now, the original plan has returned to the fore with the signing of a deal this month to explore the possibility of using the Odesa-Brody pipeline to pump Caspian oil to European destinations.

At the Vilnius energy summit on October 10, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, and Azerbaijan inked a deal under which a $700 million, 500-kilometer pipeline extension would be built to send Caspian oil from Brody to the central Polish city of Plock.

The first phase of the proposal is for a feasibility study to be conducted, and if all goes well the Brody-Plock extension could theoretically be built by 2012.

But despite the excitement over the new deal, many of the same questions that originally hampered Odesa-Brody remain.

The most glaring of these is, once again, who will provide the oil to fill the pipeline?

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are viewed as the potential suppliers, but doubt has already been cast on their participation.

Azerbaijan's excess oil has already been earmarked for export via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, and the country currently has no means of increasing production.

The BTC, which in 2005 started pumping oil from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey, sends Caspian crude to the Mediterranean while bypassing the overburdened Bosporus. The BP-led consortium that built the pipeline is unlikely to allow Azerbaijan to divert supplies to a second pipeline, considering that the BTC itself has spare capacity.

Azerbaijan's industry and energy minister, Natiq Aliyev, has previously said that the country's "end target is to maximize the capacity of BTC" and that "we will attract all the oil in the region in order to export it via BTC."

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's state oil company, Socar, announced on October 15 that it has not yet decided whether it will participate in the new project, saying any decision to do so would not be made until 2008.

Kazakhstan, for its part, made clear from the start that it has no intention of supplying oil for the new Odesa-Brody-Plock route. While the country's energy and natural resources minister, Sauat Mynbayev, attended the October 10-11 summit in Vilnius, he did not sign the new agreement and stressed Kazakhstan's commitments to export its oil via Russia.

Much of the country's oil presently flows through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium network to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, from which it is shipped to outside markets.

Even in the event Kazakh that and/or Azerbaijani oil is found to supply Odesa-Brody-Plock, the proposal faces the formidable hurdle of transporting that oil across Georgia and on to Odesa.

One possibility considered at the Vilnius meeting was to ship the oil by tanker from the Georgian ports of Batumi and Supsa to Odesa, but the costs of doing so would make the project commercially unfeasible.

An alternative Georgian proposal is to build a pipeline under the Black Sea from Georgia to Odesa. But this too presents problems because, aside from the extreme expense involved (most likely to be incurred by the five states that signed onto the project), such a pipeline would have to cross over or under Russia's Blue Stream gas pipeline.

And ultimately, while some in Ukraine might view the pipeline as an excellent way to show its worth to the EU as it vies for admission to the bloc, the millions Russia pays Kyiv every year for use of the Odesa-Brody pipeline may prove insurmountable.

Afghanistan this week is hosting the annual meeting of 10 member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) for the first time in decades, in what is viewed by many as a step towards normalcy following decades of war and internal conflict, RFE/RL reported on October 16. In addition to Afghanistan, the participating countries are Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, as well as the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Beheen told RFE/RL that the foreign ministers' meeting will take place on October 20, following days of gatherings between deputy foreign ministers and other high-ranking officials. During the final meeting, the deputy foreign ministers will present their conclusions on economic issues, trade, transportation, and regional cooperation to the ministers for discussion and approval. Afghan officials will focus on promoting their country as a regional center for trade and transportation between the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia, Beheen said. Other attendees will include representatives of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, several United Nations organizations, and U.S. government officials specializing in agriculture. JC

The Canadian government on October 16 said it intends to keep troops in Afghanistan until 2011, without specifying exact numbers or the focus of the mission, Reuters reported., Canada's 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, based primarily in volatile Kandahar Province, are scheduled to leave the country in February 2009. In a policy statement, the government stated that it "does not believe that Canada should simply abandon the people of Afghanistan after 2009," despite deep divisions among Canadians over the continuation of the mission. Opposition parties have demanded that the troops be withdrawn no later than the scheduled pullout in a little more than a year, or sooner. The minority Conservative government has pledged to hold a vote on any extension. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has supported continuing the mission in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12 and September 12, 2007), established a bipartisan advisory panel on October 12 to debate the future role, if any, of Canada's troops there. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in 2001, 71 Canadian troops have been killed in Afghanistan. JC

A Danish officer wounded in a clash with Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan on October 15 died the next day from his injuries, AP reported. Major Anders Storrud, 34, sustained injuries from mortar and grenade fire while recovering an armored vehicle that had struck a landmine in restive Helmand Province, according to Major General Poul Kiaerskou, head of the Danish Army Operational Command. He was quickly evacuated to a Danish base where he died the following day, Kiaerskou said. Approximately 600 Danish troops are stationed in Helmand Province as part of NATO's 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The officer's death brings to seven the number of Danish troops killed in Afghanistan. JC

Afghan and coalition forces on October 15 arrested more than a dozen suspected Taliban insurgents, including four Taliban commanders, in southeastern Paktia Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Din Muhammad Darwish, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the joint operation in Paktia's Zurmat district also yielded a number of antigovernment documents, without giving details. Meanwhile, in a separate joint operation in Logar Province, security forces apprehended four suspected terrorists and seized arms and ammunition hidden at a local fuel station. The suspects admitted to having ties with the Taliban and a role in attacks on security forces in the area, according to Colonel Qudratullah Arabzai, an official in the provincial police headquarters. In western Farah Province, a suspected militant died and another was wounded when a bomb they were trying to plant exploded, local security official Juma Khan said. Earlier this week, another suicide bomber killed himself and four family members in an accidental detonation when his mother tried to stop him from carrying out the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). JC

Members of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in Europe have called on Iran to release Mansur Osanlu, the detained chief of the Tehran bus drivers' union, and deputy chief Ibrahim Madadi, Radio Farda reported on October 16, citing the ITF website. The ITF's European wing, the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), held protests on October 15 or 16 in front of the Iranian Embassy in Brussels, and tried to present Iran's ambassador with a letter calling for the unionists' release. The embassy reportedly did not receive the letter, which condemns the arrests and Iran's treatment of labor activists. The protest was part of the ITF's "international road transport action week" from October 15-21, intended to press for better rights and working conditions for commercial drivers. The ITF website on October 16 accused the Iranian government of engaging in a "cynical catalogue of dirty tricks" regarding Osanlu, and accused Iranian officials of lying in reporting that Osanlu recently received urgently needed eye surgery. The Iranian government apparently cited this excuse to prevent ITF representative Hanafi Rustandi and Osanlu's wife Parvaneh Osanlu from visiting Osanlu in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2007). ITF General-Secretary David Cockroft has accused Iran's government of "digging deeper" into its "barrel of dirty tricks" so it can "weaken and undermine the most significant union leader in Iran today," reported on October 16. VS

The Intelligence Ministry has reported the arrests of three people suspected of involvement in "bombings and disorder" in Ahwaz, in southwestern Khuzestan Province, Radio Farda reported on October 16, citing IRNA. The IRNA report did not give details on the suspects' alleged crimes. Radio Farda noted that the arrests may be related to bombings in Khuzestan that killed about 20 people in 2005, and for which about 15 convicts have been executed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16 and September 14, 2007). The ministry statement added that the authorities also seized three handguns, two Kalashnikov rifles, 1,000 cartridges and "divisive" CDs from the suspects. VS

Iran's government may ask parliament to approve $1.5 billion to purchase gasoline for the second half of the Persian year ending on March 20, 2008, Radio Farda reported on October 15, citing Iranian reports. News agencies quoted Nureddin Shahnazizadeh, a director of the oil ministry-affiliated National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company, as saying on October 15 that the firm needs $1.5 billion for gasoline imports and another $830 million to import other petroleum-based fuels. Shahnazizadeh said his company has drafted a proposed amendment to this year's state budget and presented it to the government. The financial daily "Sarmayeh" quoted deputy oil minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh as saying on October 15 that the $2.5 billion budget for fuel imports for the year to late March 2008 has effectively been spent, and the National Iranian Oil Company is now spending its own money to import fuel and oil products, Radio Farda reported. It added that some reports indicate legislators oppose a budget amendment for more gasoline imports. In June, Iran imposed restrictions on gasoline use in a bid to limit consumption, but some legislators have criticized the government for not fully implementing the plan. The bill allotted drivers a set monthly amount of gasoline at subsidized prices, while purchases above the allotted amount would cost much more. However, the government has not yet allowed drivers to purchase gasoline at the higher, nonsubsidized price. VS

Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi spoke to senior officials of the State Inspectorate on October 16, the anniversary of the inspectorate's formation, and urged the body to find out why state bodies take so long to implement decisions, ISNA reported. He said Article 174 of Iran's constitution has tasked the State Inspectorate with supervising the functioning of state agencies and the due implementation of laws. The inspectorate, he said, "has to inquire and find the reasons why there are delays in implementing decisions," and noted specific delays in signing a treaty on piping gas into Pakistan and India. Hashemi-Shahrudi said that "when a person is engaged in corruption and abuses his position, the main reason is our system." He said "the system must be faulty" in allowing such people to "infiltrate" it and abuse their positions. The inspectorate chief, Mohammad Niazi, presented the gathering with a report of the body's one-year record of activities, and said it has a duty to supervise the functioning of all state-sector agencies. He cited several areas or problems it has examined, including the failure to attract "elites" into the civil service, rising house prices, the implementation of current privatization programs, and the workings of the National Petrochemical Company affiliated with the Oil Ministry. VS

The Turkish parliament is expected to vote on October 17 on granting permission for Turkish military forces to launch an incursion into northern Iraq to rout Turkish-Kurdish militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). According to Turkish media reports, the session will be open to the public and may be broadcast. Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi told CNN Turk on October 17 that his October 16 talks with Turkish officials were fruitful. "I think I got what I wanted [from the talks]. Now there is a new atmosphere and we should use it.... Iraq should be given a chance to prevent the cross-border terrorist activities," Reuters quoted al-Hashimi as telling CNN. Meanwhile, Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted al-Hashimi as telling reporters in Ankara on October 17 that Turkey has the right to launch an incursion into Iraq if the Iraqi government does not eliminate the PKK threat. "If the Iraqi government fails to meet its responsibilities, it would be legal for Turkey to do what it takes to safeguard its national interests," al-Hashimi said. He added that Turkey should give the Iraqi government some time to deal with the PKK. Al-Hashimi met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 16. KR

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on October 16 that he will dispatch a high-level delegation to Turkey to address its security concerns. Al-Maliki's office said in an October 16 statement that the Iraqi government is undertaking all possible steps to settle the crisis with Turkey and maintain the security and stability of all neighboring countries. The statement added that al-Maliki stands opposed to Turkey's desire to resolve its dispute with the PKK through military means. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on Turkey to exercise the greatest possible restraint in dealing with Iraq, his spokesman told reporters in Brussels on October 17. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters at the UN on October 16 that he is monitoring the crisis. "We are going through a very difficult and sensitive period in Iraq. We need full cooperation and support from the countries in the region. The Turkish government is going to host an international conference on the Iraqi situation in early November, therefore I have full confidence and trust that each and every country in the region will act accordingly for peace and security in the region," Ban said. KR

A number of skin diseases, including scabies, have broken out in prisons under the control of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on October 16. The epidemic is reportedly due to cramped prison conditions and poor hygiene. Human Rights Minister Wijdan Mikha'il told Al-Sharqiyah that the government is responding to the crisis, saying: "The Health Ministry has agreed to provide Iraqi prisons with all the necessary medicines to fight [scabies]. The detainees will get the medicines in the coming few days." But Mikha'il challenged Al-Sharqiyah's claim that other skin diseases are plaguing the prison system. "There are no other serious diseases in the prisons," he said. "The main problem facing the prisoners is scabies -- no other contagious diseases have broken out." KR

All travelers entering Jordan from Iraq must submit to a medical exam to prove they are not infected with cholera, the "Jordan Times" reported on October 17. The new entry requirement applies to passengers entering the kingdom by land and air. The Jordanian Health Ministry's Secretary-General for Technical Affairs Ali Assad told the daily that once cleared, the travelers' visas will be stamped. Those infected with cholera will be given the necessary treatment, he added. Assad said the ministry has increased the number of medical personnel at the Al-Karamah border crossing to help expedite the entry process. Jordan has also banned the entry of noncanned foodstuffs. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged Iraq's neighbors in early October to take precautionary steps to prevent the spread of cholera across the region after several cases of cholera surfaced in Iran, presumably carried by travelers. KR