Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - October 18, 2007

During a press conference in Moscow on October 17, General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian General Staff, publicly took issue with remarks made by President Vladimir Putin that Russia may quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans U.S. and Russian short- and medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe, unless the treaty is expanded to cover other countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). "I would not hurry to violate that treaty today," Baluyevsky said. "Violating it could lead to irreversible, in my view, consequences." In particular, Baluyevsky said the collapse of the INF Treaty could lead "a large circle of states capable technically and technologically of creating such weapons [missiles of medium range and less] doing so." He added: "And I do not rule out that they would equip [such missiles] with both highly accurate means of destruction and more exotic forms of weaponry, including weapons of mass destruction. And that we don't need." Russia does not have "an urgent need to pull out of that treaty immediately" even though it needs such a class of missiles, Baluyevsky said. Russia, he said, would like to see other countries covered by the INF Treaty, but added that this is unlikely to happen. "I do not rule out that many states that already have such missiles will not join this treaty." The daily "Gazeta" on October 18 quoted a Defense Ministry source as suggesting that Baluyevsky's public comments contradicting Putin may have reflected unhappiness at the top ranks of Russia's military, which wanted to see Baluyevsky replace Sergei Ivanov as defense minister rather than Anatoly Serdyukov, who was appointed to the post in February. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper reported that Baluyevsky may have decided to speak his mind on the INF Treaty because he knows he will soon be replaced. JB

General Baluyevsky also said on October 17 that during the talks in Moscow with visiting U.S. officials on October 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2007), the U.S. side put forward "so-called new proposals" on missile defenses for Europe. "One of them consists in the possibility of our specialists being directly located at the [missile-defense] installations...that either have been created by the Americans or are being created at the current time," quoted Baluyevsky as telling reporters. "The Moscow Times" reported on October 15 that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposed to their Russian counterparts an integrated anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) system that would involve liaison officers from both sides stationed at each site and that Gates said afterward that President 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 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). Baluyevsky said he saw nothing new in the U.S. proposals, adding that they assume that Russian radar installations in Azerbaijan and southern Russian should become "an addition to" the planned U.S. missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic -- something which, he said, Russia will not agree to. Baluyevsky also said that the United States has a "diametrically opposed" view of the threat posed by Iranian missiles and that as long as this remains the case, no agreement on a new missile-defense system for Europe is possible. The Russian General Staff rules out the possibility that Iran will be able to build an intercontinental ballistic missile -- either in the short term, the medium term, or ever, Baluyevsky said. JB

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was quoted as saying that President Putin gave Iran a "special message" concerning its disputed nuclear program and other issues during the Russian leader's visit to Tehran, Reuters reported on October 17. "Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his trip to Tehran, had a special message for Iranian officials," Larijani told Iran's official IRNA news agency. Asked whether it was about Iran's nuclear activities, he said: "Yes, Iran's nuclear issue was also a part of it." During his visit to Tehran, Putin publicly warned against any possible military action aimed at Iran and invited Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Moscow for talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). Larijani gave no details about the substance of Putin's "special message," but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who also met with Putin, said Iran will consider the Russian president's "proposal." "We will think about what you said and your proposal," Khamenei told Putin, the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported. JB

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was set to arrive in Moscow on October 18 on a one-day official visit to the Russian capital, where he will meet with President Putin, reported on October 17. The website reported that Iran's nuclear program will be the main subject of Olmert's talks with Putin, which will also touch on the Middle East peace process and bilateral relations. Reuters quoted a spokeswoman in Olmert's office in Jerusalem as saying as saying that "Iran's threats and its attempt to equip itself with nuclear weapons" would be among the issues discussed and that she was sure Putin's visit to Iran will be discussed, but that it did not prompt Olmert's visit to Moscow. JB

U.S. President George W. Bush was asked during a press conference on October 17 about comments that U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) made about Russian President Putin. McCain said on October 16: "I looked into Putin's eyes and I saw three letters -- a K, a G, and a B." McCain, a candidate in the 2008 presidential race, also charged that Putin is trying to restore the Russian empire, news agencies reported. McCain has called for removing Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries. Bush replied that he and Putin "don't agree on a lot of issues" but "do agree on some," including the issues of Iran and nuclear proliferation, according to a transcript of the press conference posted on the White House's website. "Reducing our nuclear warheads was an issue that we agreed on early," Bush said. "But I believe that diplomacy requires good relations at the leadership level. That's why, in Slovakia [where Bush and Putin held a summit in February 2005], I was in a position to tell him that we didn't understand why he was altering the relationship between the Russian government and a free press -- in other words, why the free press was becoming less free.... Nobody likes to be talked to in a way that may point up different flaws in their strategy. But I was able to do so in a way that didn't rupture relations. He was able to tell me going into Iraq wasn't the right thing. And to me that's good diplomacy. And so...I'll continue to practice that diplomacy." JB

President Bush also suggested that centralized political power is natural to Russia. "Now, in terms of whether or not it's possible to reprogram the kind of basic Russian DNA, which is a centralized authority, that's hard to do," he said. "We made it clear to them that it is in their interests to have good relations with the West. And the best way to have good long-term relations with the West is to recognize that checks and balances in government are important, or recognize there are certain freedoms that are inviolate." Asked about the possibility of Putin remaining in power after his second presidential term ends next year, Bush said he had no idea what Putin is going to do. "I asked him when I saw him in Australia [during the APEC summit in Sydney in September]," Bush said. "I tried to get it out of him, who's going to be his successor, what he intends to do, and he was wily. He wouldn't tip his hand." JB

President Putin on October 18 held his fifth "national press conference" in which he answered questions from across the country on live television and radio, Russian and international media reported. Putin spoke for nearly three hours and answered 50 questions. A complete transcript of the event has been placed on the presidential website at There was relatively little discussion of politics in the carefully stage-managed presentation. "Vedomosti" wrote that 28 percent of the questions involved social issues, 22,5 percent involved the military and security, 17 percent concerned the economy; 11.5 percent were about international affairs, and 5.5 percent were about patriotism and culture. Asked about his plans after the end of his term, Putin said, "I hope that even after I lose formal authority and the presidential reins of power, I will be able to retain the most important thing a politician can have -- the confidence of the people." He said that he reserves the right to express his opinion as to who should be Russia's next president and that he will do so "when the time comes." RC

About one-fourth of all the money allocated for state purchases is stolen, according to an independent study, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on October 17. The study, carried out by the National Association of Electronic Traders and the interregional NGO Against Corruption, analyzed 10,000 state orders in 2006-07, and concluded that some 1 trillion rubles ($40 billion) are lost each year due to corruption in government and business. The findings correspond with the results of studies by Transparency International, which ranked Russia 127th among 145 countries in a corruption study, and the Heritage Foundation, which ranked Russia 120th among 161 countries. Former Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin told the daily that low-level corruption is decreasing, as is the public's willingness to tolerate corruption. However, corruption at the highest levels of government and business is on the rise. "At present one could create small islands that are free of corruption," Yasin said. "But overall, without serious attention to democracy and democratic controls in society, and until the corruption fight becomes a basic priority for the state, decreasing the scale of corruption will not be possible." RC

Pensions will be raised an average of 370 rubles ($14.85) beginning on December 1, Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova told Interfax on October 18. Golikova noted that pensions were already increased on April 1 and October 1, meaning that over 2007, they will have increased 37 percent in inflation-adjusted terms. On October 11, President Putin ordered the government to increase pensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2007). Golikova said a bill raising pensions would be submitted to the Duma on October 18 and is expected to be passed immediately in all three readings. The bill is also expected to pass the Federation Council either on October 18 or 19. RC

The Investigative Committee on October 17 filed charges against Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov in connection with the October 2006 killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on October 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). The same day, the Moscow Municipal Court sanctioned the arrest of Dzhabrail Makhmudov, who is also being held in connection with the killing. An unidentified source said Ryaguzov is being charged with abuse of office. RC

A public organization created in the spring with the intention of providing independent monitoring of the legislative elections has quietly ended its work, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on October 18. The organization Civic Pool, which operated the website and was headed by presidential civil-society adviser Ella Pamfilova, has been disbanded and, according to the daily, "all traces of it have been wiped away." Civic Pool included leading human-rights and civil-society activists, many of whom were uncertain why the organization was shut down. Pool member Aleksandr Auzan told the daily that the decision to close the project was made on October 1, the day that President Putin announced he will head the party list of Unified Russia. Auzan said the project was begun in January on the assumption that Putin was interested in free and fair elections and had no intention of influencing them and added that that situation has changed. "We aren't naive people," he said. RC

Reporters Without Borders on October 16 published its annual ranking of press freedom around the world, ranking Russia 144th among 169 countries, "Kommersant" reported the next day. Russia ranked slightly below Afghanistan and Yemen, and slightly above Tunisia, Egypt, and Rwanda. A spokesman for the Russian Union of Journalists told the daily that the situation in Russia will likely worsen as the election season proceeds. Earlier this year, Freedom House ranked Russia 164th among 195 countries and the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Russia among the top 10 countries where press freedom is under threat. RC

In a report on drug-related crime statistics released in Yerevan, the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office reported on October 17 that it has initiated some 59 criminal cases related to the sale or trafficking of narcotics since a special antidrug unit was first set up this past February, Arminfo reported. The report added that of the total of 59 criminal cases, 42 cases involving 110 people have been already brought to court. A total of nine incidents of drug trafficking, including four Iranian citizens, were uncovered, resulting in the seizure of significant amounts of opium, marijuana, and other unidentified banned substances. RG

Maria Kadlecikova, a senior official from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, praised the Armenian government on October 17 for working closely with the UN to significantly reduce the level of malnutrition in the country, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kadlecikova said that the decline, which she described as a "great improvement," now means that malnutrition in Armenia is no longer high by international standards, citing government data showing a fall in the malnutrition rate from 2.8 percent to 1.8 percent between 2002 and 2005. Kadlecikova cautioned, however, that although the number of underfed people in Armenia is "not so high," it has not changed significantly since 2005. RG

Azerbaijani National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov met on October 17 in Baku with senior officials from his counterpart ministries from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey, Turan reported. The various security services' officials are in Baku to participate in a closed meeting focusing on countering the threats posed from terrorism, illegal migration, drug trafficking, and organized crime. The officials also discussed measures aimed at improving multilateral coordination of security efforts and information-sharing strategies. RG

The leaders of the Georgian opposition United National Council released on October 17 a new national "manifesto" laying out the party's concerns over "national problems," Imedi-TV reported. The 12-point document identifies several main priorities, including the need to ensure an independent judiciary, the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity, the prevention of political violence, and the securing of the rights of "free media, the inviolability of property and free entrepreneurship. The opposition manifesto criticizes the Georgian government for failing to address these main concerns and specifically condemns President Mikheil Saakashvili for refusing to "create worthy living conditions, protect national identity, and achieve civil integration." The manifesto also cites its support for "the implementation of the constitutional agreement between the state and the [Georgian Orthodox] Church" and for a foreign policy based on Georgia's "integration into Euro-Atlantic organizations." In an address accompanying the release of the document, opposition deputy Kakha Kukava said that the manifesto seeks to help "consolidate the entire public and opposition political forces in order to prevent social and political cataclysms," adding that "the only way to overcome the crisis is to elect authorities that will enjoy popular trust and will be accountable to the people, which should be achieved through restoring constitutional order in this country and holding fair and free parliamentary elections." Deputies from the ruling National Movement party dismissed the manifesto as "not serious" and parliamentarian Pavle Kublashvili said that it "would be better for our opponents' political future, if they realistically assess their own possibilities." RG

The deputy police chief of Almaty, Amantai Aubakirov, announced on October 17 the discovery of a body believed to be that of one of two missing bank executives, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Aubakirov said that the body was found near Almaty and noted that the discovery stemmed from testimony provided by a suspect in the disappearances earlier this year of Nurbank executives Zholdas Timraliev and Aibar Khasenov. The bank was at the center of the criminal case against Rakhat Aliev, the fugitive former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev who is accused of arranging the kidnapping of the two Nurbank executives. He remains in self-imposed exile in Austria after an Austrian court rejected a Kazakh extradition request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, and 13, and August 9, 2007). Aubakirov also revealed that a suspect placed Aliev at the scene, which was reportedly located near the farm of his father. RG

Speaking to reporters following a meeting of a Kazakh-German working group on trade and economic cooperation in Astana, German Economy and Technology Minister Michael Glos welcomed on October 17 plans to expand energy cooperation with Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Glos added that Germany foresees "good prospects that in October we will be able to conclude a contract on completing the construction of the Nabucco pipeline that makes it possible to transfer natural gas directly to Europe." Kazakh Minister of Economy and Budget Planning Bakhyt Sultanov said that his government seeks to expand German investment and noted that over 500 German companies are currently operating in Kazakhstan, with another 1,500 German firms involved in joint ventures with Kazakh businessmen. RG

On the second day of her visit to Kazakhstan, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Julie Finley met on October 17 in Astana with Kazakh State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev to discuss "priority areas" concerning Kazakhstan's bid to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Finley expressed her "great optimism" over the Kazakh bid and welcomed the application, which is due to be considered by the 56 members of the organization at a meeting of foreign ministers in Spain set for the end of November. She added that "the world community respects Kazakhstan's achievements gained in the process of establishing a democratic society and successful economy." For his part, Saudabaev said that one of the priorities for Kazakhstan during its possible OSCE chairmanship would be to increase "the efficiency of measures aimed at ensuring humanitarian security." He then stressed that "Kazakhstan intends to step up the OSCE's efforts to fight all forms of racism, intolerance, and discrimination based on its own experience of interethnic accord, to strengthen the organization as a bridge between the West and the East in the dialogue of civilizations, to focus on expanding the OSCE's presence in Central Asia and ensuring the stable development of the region, as well as on more active cooperation between the organization and Afghanistan." Finley met with the head of the Kazakh presidential human-rights commission, parliamentarian Sagynbek Tursunov, the previous day and discussed the commission's recent report on the human-rights situation in Kazakhstan, which is to be presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in Vienna recently criticized Kazakhstan as unfit to chair the OSCE due to "its poor rights record" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2007) and 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). RG

On a regional tour of the country, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev held a meeting on October 17 with officials in the town of Talas to review the socioeconomic situation in the Talas region, Kabar reported. The local officials stressed the region's record of "social and economic development" and pointed to "high rates of economic growth" in several districts in the region. Bakiev said that his priorities for the region include the implementation of a "state language policy" that he hopes will strengthen Kyrgyz-language instruction in rural schools, but he also emphasized "the importance of learning Russian." The centerpiece of Bakiev's regional tour, however, is his promotion of the set of government-drafted constitutional amendments that are set to be considered in a national referendum on October 19. RG

During a visit to the southern Tajik region of Khatlon, President Emomali Rahmon sharply criticized "the pace" of the region's "overall socioeconomic development in the first nine months of this year," Asia-Plus reported on October 17. His criticism, directed at local officials in the region, came during an address to a meeting of regional administrators in the city of Qurghonteppa, the regional center. Rahmon ordered the implementation of unspecified "immediate measures to rectify the current situation" in the region. He pointed to the region's failure to meet revenue-collection targets, inadequate investment, and lack of job creation. RG

A delegation of European human-rights officials arrived on October 17 in Ashgabat for a series of meetings with senior Turkmen officials, Turkmen television reported. The delegation consists of representatives from the Foreign Ministries of four key European countries, and includes Michel Doucin from France, Guenter Nooke from Germany, Silvia Escobar from Spain, and Jan Nordlander from Sweden. As part of a broader assessment of the human-rights situation in the country, the delegation met on October 17 and again early on October 18 with Turkmen Foreign Ministry officials and members of the president's National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, before a formal visit to the Turkmen parliament. The visitors are also scheduled to hold meetings at the Education and Interior ministries, and with teachers and students of the law faculty of Magtymguly state university. RG

Israeli Ambassador to Belarus Zeev Ben Arie told journalists in Minsk on October 17 that he was surprised by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's remarks about Jews last week, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. While talking to a group of Russian journalists in Minsk on October 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007), Lukashenka blamed Jewish residents for turning a Belarusian city into a "pigsty." "If you were in Babruysk, you saw in what condition the city was. Entering it was a fearful experience! It was a pigsty! This was mainly a Jewish city. Well, you know how Jews treat the place where they're living. Look at Israel," Lukashenka said. The Israeli ambassador said Lukashenka's words are reminiscent of "the anti-Semitic myth depicting Jews as untidy, dirty, smelly people." Ben Arie added that he hopes that "municipal and social services" in Belarus will one day match Israel's level. Referring to a recent vandal attack on a Jewish cemetery in Babruysk, and anti-Semitic graffiti on a building in Slutsk, Ben Arie expressed hope that "in Belarus, on whose land one of Europe's biggest Jewish communities was nearly entirely destroyed at the hands of the Nazis and their henchmen, they will [start to] devote more attention to manifestations of anti-Semitism and refrain from any remarks that may encourage such regrettable phenomena." According to Belarus's 1999 census, the population of 250,000 in Babruysk includes 4,000 Jews. JM

Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Surikov told journalists in Minsk on October 17 that the price of Russian gas to be supplied to Belarus in 2008 will be set in December, Belapan reported. According to Surikov, the price will be around $125 per 1,000 cubic meters. Under a five-year contract signed in December 2006, Belarus has paid $100 for 1,000 cubic meters in 2007, compared with $46.68 in the previous 2 1/2 years. The price is to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011, reaching 67 percent of the market level in 2008, 80 percent in 2009, 90 percent in 2010, and 100 percent in 2011. JM

Ukraine's Higher Administrative Court has postponed the official publication of the final election results announced by the Central Election Commission earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007), Ukrainian media reported on October 17, quoting the court's press service. The postponement is reportedly due to a lawsuit filed by the Communist Party, which is seeking to contest the official election results because of alleged violations concerning voting abroad. Once the vote count is published in the "Holos Ukrayiny" and "Uryadovyy kuryer" newspapers or the official presidential bulletin, it is deemed final and is not subject to any change. JM

Yulia Tymoshenko, the head of the political bloc bearing her name, and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, a leader of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc, presented the coalition deal they initialed earlier this week to journalists in Kyiv on October 17, Ukrainian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). The full 105-page document was made public on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website later the same day ( The deal stipulates that Yulia Tymoshenko is to be proposed as prime minister, while the NUNS bloc will nominate a candidate for parliament speaker. Cabinet portfolios are to be distributed on a 50-50 basis between the two blocs. The potential coalition pledges to seek membership in the EU and NATO for Ukraine, as well as partnership relations with Russia. JM

Mihalj Kertes, a former senior official in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and head of the customs inspectorate, has acknowledged that millions of dollars of customs revenues were siphoned off by the SPS and that some of it was placed in offshore accounts on Cyprus. According to the Serbian broadcaster B92, Kertes on October 17 admitted giving money to SPS officials and the state security agency based on "oral orders from a coordinating body" headed by former President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was, he said, personally responsible for orders to transfer money to Cyprus. The last sum handed over by Kertes to members of Milosevic's regime was on October 4, 2000, the day before Milosevic's ouster. However, Kertes maintains that he is not guilty of embezzlement and abuse of office and, reiterating previous assertions, said the state transferred money abroad "because of the hard circumstances the country found itself in under international sanctions." Kertes, who is one of three men indicted on similar charges in March, argued that the case against him is politically motivated and is, in effect, a trial against Milosevic. Kertes's trial began on September 5. In a previous case, Kertes was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for aiding and abetting the would-be assassins of opposition leader Vuk Draskovic in 1999. Draskovic went on to serve as foreign minister after Milosevic's removal from power. AG

Local councilors in the town of Kosovska Kamenica on October 17 rescinded a week-old decision to build a mosque in a Serbian-dominated suburb. "The decision has been annulled, no mosque will be built in the part where Serbs live, and the commission appointed to deal with this issue will propose another location," Ivan Stanojkovic, the deputy mayor, told the news agency FoNet. Stanojkovic said Serbs did not oppose the construction of the mosque, but its location. One of the objections -- shared, according to an October 10 report by FoNet, by Serbs and Roma alike -- was that the mosque would have stood next to a playground used by Serbian and Romany children. Among those who had opposed the mosque's construction was Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Serbian political leader, who told FoNet on October 10 that the decision to build the mosque there rather than in an area predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians was "probably motivated by the preelection campaigns and the wish to gain political points in a cheap but dangerous way." Kosova will hold local and parliamentary elections on November 17. On Belgrade's recommendation, the region's Serbs have decided to boycott the vote and to hold parallel elections in their own communities. AG

Two Spanish soldiers serving with the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosova, KFOR, were killed late on October 16 when their car slid off a road and crashed into a fueling station. Two other soldiers were killed in the accident, which occurred when the men were returning from patrol to the Spanish contingent's base near the town of Istog, which lies roughly 80 kilometers west of Pristina. The men were named as Francisco Javier Roldan and Antonio Jesus Bonilla. Two other Spanish peacekeepers were injured. Three other KFOR soldiers have died in road accidents since June, all in separate incidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). AG

Bosnia-Herzegovina's political leaders united on October 16 behind a program aimed at injecting new energy into the country's weak and languid economy. According to local media, the platform -- entitled "Our Platform for Action" -- envisages opening up markets, cutting red tape, helping the financial sector, improving fiscal polices, cutting public spending, devising a development strategy, and revising the formula by which revenues are distributed. The signatories are the prime ministers of the country's two autonomous regions -- Milorad Dodik of the Republika Srpska and Nedzad Brankovic of the Muslim-Croat Federation -- and the head of the federal government, Nikola Spiric. It was also signed by Mirsad Djapo, the mayor of Brcko, which falls under the jurisdiction of both autonomous regions. The document underlines that reform of the economy must not be delayed by political disputes. The most critical of those unresolved issues at present is over reform of the country's various police forces, an issue on which Bosnia's relationship with the EU now depends (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). The renewed attention to the economy also reflects the position of Miroslav Lajcak, the international community's high representative in the country, who said on October 16 that, following the failure of the country's politicians to agree on police reform by the October 15 deadline, the economy should now be the focus of political debate. "Reforms that could help turn modest improvements in the economy into full-scale economic takeoff have been among the most serious casualties of the political deadlock," local media quoted Lajcak as saying. AG

Fourteen politicians registered to enter the race for the Republika Srpska's presidency by October 16, the deadline for registration. Two are independents; the remainder are party candidates. The elections, which will be held on December 9, were triggered by the sudden death of Milan Jelic, who died of a heart attack at the age of 51 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 3, and 15, 2007). AG

The appeals court at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on October 16 upheld a lower court's ruling clearing one of the senior commanders of Bosnian Muslim's wartime army, Sefer Halilovic, of war crimes. The court found there was no evidence to link Halilovic with the killing of 62 ethnic Croatian civilians in Mostar in 1993. Halilovic was at the time the chief of the Bosnian Muslim army's General Staff. Halilovic turned himself in to the ICTY eight weeks after being indicted in July 2001 and was cleared in 2005. Another of the Bosnian Muslims' top commanders, Rasim Delic, is currently on trial in Sarajevo for failing to prevent atrocities by troops under his command (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, and September 10 and 11, 2007). AG

Macedonians observed a national day of mourning on October 17 for Tose Proeski, the country's favorite pop singer, and then laid him to rest in a state funeral with full state honors, including a gun salute. Government ministers and foreign diplomats, including a U.S. envoy, attended the funeral in Proeski's hometown, Krusevo. Proeski was killed on October 16 when his car collided with a truck. Macedonia's parliament canceled its session on October 16 and the government swiftly followed by calling for the country to mourn together on October 17. Proeski was just 26, but he gained national fame in the late 1990s. Proeski, who sang both in Macedonian and in Serbian, was lauded as a bridge between the region's nations: he was among the most popular singers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Serbia, and in Croatia, where the accident occurred. He was also a prominent supporter of local charities and was a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. "Macedonia and the Balkans have lost an angel," local media quoted the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefan, as saying, while President Branko Crvenkovski said, "we couldn't help but love Tose Proeski." AG

Moldova has acknowledged that it was wrong to refuse several official Romanian delegations entry into the country. The incident elicited angry responses from Romania's president, prime minister, and foreign minister and the issue was brought up by the European Commission's deputy president, Franco Frattini, when he visited Moldova on October 15. The Romanians were turned back on October 12 when guards concluded that documents inviting them to a festival in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, were not originals. EU citizens do not require visas or invitations to enter Moldova. The head of Moldova's border guards, Igor Colenov, told local media on October 17 that the incident was a "singular and regrettable case" attributable to an error of judgment by individual border guards, and Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan also expressed regret. "There was an attempt to jump the queue and the customs officer, without trying to understand the situation, decided to send these citizens back," Moldovan television quoted Colenov as saying. Two border guards now face disciplinary measures, local media reported. According to AP and local media, Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu on October 14 called the incident a "hostile act" by Moldova and a "political gesture, most likely premeditated." The two countries have long-standing differences on a range of issues. There has been speculation that the Romanian officials were turned back because the festival they were to attend was organized by the mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, who has adopted a pro-Romanian stance. Like other members of the opposition, Chirtoaca saw the incident as being politically motivated and, according to the news agency IPN, as being Soviet in character. AG

Earlier this month, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov signed a package of amendments to spell out investor safeguards and extend them to a number of existing laws in Turkmenistan's latest move to lure investors to the energy-rich country.

The package was signed on October 1, but only announced nearly two weeks later, on October 12. The amendments don't appear to represent major changes -- and are in fact focused on a "national tourism zone" with special legal, tax, and customs regimes. But once the news was out, both Western and Russian media were quick to assess the move as a serious attempt to attract investment.

The changes purport to strengthen investors' hands by harmonizing a handful of laws that apply to foreign investment -- including on land use, tourism, a free-economic zone -- and it allows them to rent land for long-term use. To protect Turkmenistan's natural resources -- including vast fossil-fuel deposits -- foreign entities are banned from owning land with sizable mineral deposits.

According to Anna Walker, a senior editor with the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London, there are other long-standing obstacles to investment in Turkmenistan, and she says the amended law does not go "far enough" to make the business climate truly attractive to potential Western investors.

"Although they allowed foreigners, for example, to start up ventures on their own without the need to form joint ventures with government companies, they don't relax a lot of the other restrictions," Walker says. "I mean, it has always been difficult to invest in Turkmenistan. For example, the restrictions on the access to the foreign exchange -- there is no mention it would be easier for foreigners to gain access to the foreign exchange. There is also no mention that the official exchange rate will be made more realistic."

Walker says the official exchange rate inside the country of the Turkmen currency, the manat, is about five times the black-market rate. Last week, the government announced its plan to redenominate the manat in 2009, removing three zeros. News agencies quoted analysts as saying the move could facilitate foreign investment.

Walker and other experts suggest that the recent amendments appear to demonstrate an eagerness to usher in foreign capital to boost the Turkmen economy. Turkmen state media quoted President Berdymukhammedov as saying that development of the country's energy sector requires foreign investment and new technology.

During his trip to New York in September, Berdymukhammedov said he wanted to accelerate economic reforms and his country's transition to a market economy, in part to stimulate economic growth and boost living standards. "Turkmenistan supports the concept of mutually beneficial exploitation of raw energy resources by energy providers, as well as by end consumers," he said. "In this context, we believe that the development of Turkmenistan's energy-resource projects for international markets will add an extra impulse to invigorate intergovernmental and interregional trade and economic relations."

Turkmen state media reported that Berdymukhammedov met in New York with representatives of top U.S. businesses and the heads of several international companies, including oil companies BP and Shell, to discuss potential cooperation opportunities. State media has quoted Berdymukhammedov as saying Turkmen gas production will reach 250 million cubic meters and oil production 100 million tons a year by 2030. International oil giants -- including Chevron, BP, and Total -- have reportedly expressed interest in investing in Turkmenistan's energy sector.

The EU, in particular, has been eager for Turkmen gas as part of an effort to reduce its dependency on Russia. Britain's minister of state for energy, Malcolm Wicks, visited Ashgabat last month, and potential Western investments in the Turkmen gas sector reportedly dominated his meeting with the Turkmen leaders. Wicks said afterward that he has been "impressed by how Turkmenistan is considering the many options available to it, including the opportunities for energy trade with the EU." He expressed Britain's willingness to cooperate with Turkmenistan, and -- drawing a sharp contrast with Russia -- he offered to pay market price for the Turkmen gas.

But experts say that despite Turkmenistan's clear desire to attract Western investors -- in addition to existing deals with Russia and China -- and the West's willingness to cooperate with Ashgabat, they doubt that cooperation will happen anytime soon. There are currently no export pipelines that transport Turkmen gas to Europe without crossing Russian territory. But plans have been proposed for trans-Caspian projects that would transfer Turkmen and Kazakh hydrocarbons through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to the European market. Another proposal envisions piping gas through Iran, but that plan would face strong opposition from Washington.

Mathew Clements, Eurasia editor in the country-risk department for Jane's Information Group in Britain, says that Western representatives -- like Wicks -- have their eyes fixed squarely on longer-term plans and cooperation with Turkmenistan. "I think one of the reasons why they'd make statements like this is to try and encourage Turkmenistan to agree to the construction of a pipeline across the Caspian, to try and focus its energy on supplying its gas through this method, and try to give it beneficial market prices, make it beneficial for them economically to do this," Clements says.

Many observers say Turkmenistan needs to do much more than simply lift a few restrictions to bring Western investment to the country. They say Ashgabat should create a better business environment, which requires a wider range of reforms -- both economic and political. Walker says reform of the Turkmen judicial system should be part of a broader process.

Russia is currently Turkmenistan's main partner in the energy sector, with more than 50 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas flowing annually to Russia. Beijing's landmark deal with Ashgabat in July earmarked some 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year for 30 years through a planned pipeline. So Russia and China appear poised to remain Turkmenistan's primary business partners in the energy sector in the immediate future, regardless of any tentative steps to reform economically or establish firm ground rules for would-be investors.

(Farangis Najibullah is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

Hundreds of demonstrators in Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika Province on October 17 protested against U.S. troops following an incident in which troops allegedly desecrated the Koran during an operation last week, Reuters reported. According to various allegations, which arose on October 15, a U.S. soldier threw away a copy of the Koran during a raid on a home in which four people were arrested. Similar accusations were leveled against U.S. troops last week in the eastern province of Konar, where villagers said the soldiers burned a copy of the Koran. U.S.-led coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said a follow-up investigation found no evidence supporting claims that troops desecrated religious articles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). "We respect all religions and treat their holy articles with the respect they deserve," Belcher said. Nawar Khan, the police chief of Urgun district, where the protest took place, said local officials launched their own investigation into the arrests during the U.S. raid and the allegations of religious desecration. Another provincial official, whose identity was withheld, said those arrested were members of the Taliban. JC

Defense Minister Frantisek Kasicky on October 17 said Slovakia intends to nearly double its troop level in Afghanistan in 2008, AP reported. Slovakia currently has 57 military engineers serving as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and plans to send an additional 54 soldiers next year. The Slovak troops, who earlier served in Kabul, are now stationed in the city of Kandahar, following a NATO request to shift efforts to Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces. About a third of the new troops will be deployed to the mission's headquarters in Kandahar to serve on training, medical, and reconstruction teams. The rest will act as guards to Dutch troops operating in Oruzgan Province, Kasicky said. The additional deployments will require parliamentary approval before being put into effect. JC

Local officials and members of the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Badakhshan Province inaugurated a 25-meter-long bridge providing a new link between the remote province and the rest of the country, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 16. The new metal bridge, known as the Teshkan bridge after the district where it was constructed, took approximately two months to complete with the assistance of the PRT. It replaces a dilapidated structure that locals nicknamed the "scary bridge," which ISAF troops identified as a significant danger. The addition of the new bridge will provide a secure and reliable route for Afghans traveling to and from Badakhshan, particularly during the upcoming winter. Officials say the bridge will also become an integral part in the construction of the new Highway 302, which will connect Faizabad Province with neighboring Taloqan, the capital of Takhar Province, and Konduz Province. Colonel Sahm, the commander of the regional PRT team in Faizabad, described the construction of the Teshkan bridge as a "perfect example" of how foreign groups and local authorities can work effectively together to help the Afghan people. "We should take the new solid bridge as a symbol...of cooperation and peace," he added. JC

Unidentified gunmen on October 16 kidnapped an education official and a teacher in Afghanistan's western Farah Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Abdul Ghafoor Sherzai, the head of the Dilaram district education department, was kidnapped at gunpoint from the main shopping market in the district. Teacher Mohammad Zahir was also kidnapped but later released, officials said. A provincial education official identified as Ateequllah said that Sherzai is still being held hostage, but that police have surrounded the village of Shadi where they believe he is being held. Police officer Juma Khan said the authorities have no contact with the captors, but that a search operation has been launched. Educators, teachers, and students alike face persistent insecurity and violence in Afghanistan's southern provinces, where over 400 schools have closed in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and October 10, 2007). JC

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani is to meet with the EU's foreign-policy coordinator and chief negotiator with Iran, Javier Solana, in Rome or Vienna on October 23, to discuss Iran's nuclear program, news agencies reported on October 17. The EU is trying to persuade Iran to give up nuclear fuel-making and related activities with potential military applications, which Iran has so far refused to do. IRNA quoted Larijani's deputy, Javad Vaidi, as saying in Tehran on October 17 that the meeting is a continuation of the envoy's last meeting in Lisbon on June 23, and from previous conversations held on May 31-June 1 in Madrid and April 25-26 in Ankara. Iran is currently collaborating with UN nuclear inspectors to clarify certain aspects of its nuclear program. Larijani told IRNA on October 17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave Iranian leaders a "special message" or made an unspecified proposal concerning its nuclear program in Tehran on October 16, Reuters reported. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Putin in a meeting on October 16 that Iran will consider his offer. Reuters added that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose country has repeatedly denounced Iran's alleged bid to produce nuclear weapons, was to meet with Putin in Moscow on October 18, to discuss issues including "Iran's threats and...attempt to equip itself with nuclear weapons." VS

The Tehran Revolutionary Court has given three students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University mandatory jail sentences after finding them guilty of collaborating to publish purported sacrilegious student journals in March, Radio Farda reported on October 16, citing Iranian media. The court sentenced Majid Tavakkoli to three years in prison, Ahmad Qassaban to 2 1/2 years, and Ehsan Mansuri to two years, Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2007). The three have already spent about six months in Tehran's Evin prison, and their relatives have said the three claimed that they were tortured into confessing to the charges. An unnamed official told ISNA on October 16 that the students last appeared in court and presented their defense on September 29. The official added without specifying that the sentences are for some of the charges they face, and that other charges have been referred to an ordinary court in Tehran. Their lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, has said he will not accept sentences for charges the students have rejected from the start, and that he will appeal, Radio Farda reported. The students were arrested in early May following the publication of pamphlets they themselves denounced as forgeries, Radio Farda reported. VS

International human rights groups have deplored the Iranian government's recent arrest in Tehran of the head of the Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights in Iran, Emadeddin Baqi, for "propaganda against the system" and "publishing secret government documents," Radio Farda reported on October 17. In a statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Iran on October 16 to "immediately release" Baqi and drop the "politically motivated" charges against him. HRW's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Joe Stork, said Iran should "applaud" Baqi for his work to safeguard prisoners' rights in Iran, not arrest him. HRW cited the charge for which Baqi may have been jailed this time -- he spent two years in prison in 2000-02 -- a suspended one-year sentence given to him in 2003 for allegedly endangering national security. It also stated that the Tehran Revolutionary Court gave Baqi, his wife, and daughter suspended jail sentences in July for documenting rights violations in Iranian prisons. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned the "arbitrary arrest" on October 15 and urged democratic countries to do the same. Baqi told RSF on October 13 that he is "convinced they will not let me walk free from the courtroom. They want to ban my activities...and silence all independent voices" in Iran, reported. The other groups to condemn the arrest were the International Federation for Human Rights, an umbrella grouping of 155 rights groups, and the World Organization Against Torture, Radio Farda reported. VS

On October 17, Iran hanged nine convicted killers, including a nurse who killed an elderly man at home, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 18, citing the ISCA news outlet. The nurse, named as Fakhteh S., said her 80-year-old patient had "malevolent" intentions toward her and that she killed him in self-defense, apparently at the start of 2002. Others hanged were named as Morteza R., a 20-year-old who killed a girl in July 2003 for not paying for some cupboard handles she bought from him; Behzad M., who killed an elderly woman on February 1, 2004; Hoseyn, an 18-year-old who killed a 20-year-old man in a scuffle in Eslamshahr, near Tehran, on December 2, 2004; and 22-year-old Hamid, who killed a man in a fight in Karaj, outside Tehran, on January 27, 2004. The others were Babak R., Mohammad Reza S., Kian A., and Sadiq, all in their 20s or 30s, and convicted of killings either in fights or in family squabbles in Tehran since 2001. The Tehran judge and head of the Tehran judiciary office tasked with implementing penal sentences, Esmatollah Jaberi, cancelled death sentences for two other convicted killers on October 17, after they were pardoned by their victims' families, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

Turkey's parliament on October 17 authorized the military to launch operations across the Turkey-Iraq border in an effort to root out Turkish-Kurdish militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The authorization, made with a vote of 507 to 19, gives the military one year to complete its mission. President Abdullah Gul told NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on October 17 that Turkey will do whatever is necessary to combat terrorism, Gul's press office announced. "The importance that Turkey attaches to Iraq's territorial integrity is known to all, but terrorism cannot be presented [as] excusable in any way, and Turkey will obviously take any measure to stop these heinous attacks," Gul told de Hoop Scheffer. The secretary-general earlier called on Turkey to exercise the greatest possible restraint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). KR

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told Al-Sharqiyah television on October 17 that Turkey should reconsider plans for a military incursion. "We should take these threats seriously. I do not advocate taking them lightly. I remind our Turkish neighbors that any unilateral interference represents a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty, borders, and international law," Salih said. He continued: "Such an act would cause a crack in Iraqi-Turkish ties, not to mention that it would set a precedent for further interferences in Iraqi internal affairs." Salih told Al-Sharqiyah: "There is a security problem on the border which we should deal with through cooperation between the two neighboring countries. Threats and military action and interference across the Iraqi border and in violation of Iraqi sovereignty will be a problem for Iraq, Turkey, and the entire region." KR

The Iraqi parliament on October 17 denounced the Turkish parliament's authorization of a military incursion into Iraq, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. In a statement released by his office, parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani said that while parliament condemns terrorism, it also calls on Turkey to respect neighborly principles and international laws. Meanwhile, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan spokesman Azad Jundyani told Al-Iraqiyah in an October 17 interview: "This is mainly a Turkish affair [and] of course they are free to do whatever they think is necessary. But the regional dimension and the future of Iraqi-Turkish ties are indeed important and have to be taken into account by all sides, including Turkey." KR

Adnan Mufti, the speaker of the Kurdistan regional parliament, has warned that Turkey's main objective is not to attack the PKK but to assert control over Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peyamner website reported on October 17. "We are not a part of the crisis that Turkey has fallen into with the PKK. The [PKK] has been in existence for more than 20 years and the crisis will not come to an end by simply attacking the [Iraqi] Kurdistan region," Mufti said. Regarding the consequences of a Turkish military incursion on the whole of Iraq, Mufti said: "Such an attack would have catastrophic consequences. For the [Iraqi] Kurdistan region, border guards are currently given the responsibility for protecting electricity and oil pipelines and countering terrorists [south of the region]. In such circumstances [of a Turkish incursion], these forces will be tasked with a greater duty, that is, defending the [Kurdish] homeland." Mufti said that Sunni Arab terrorists would then be able to seize energy resources, putting them in a stronger position. That, he said, would "have dire consequences on the existing opportunity for coexistence among Iraqi constituents." KR

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on October 17 lent his support for a Turkish military incursion into Iraq during an official three-day visit to Ankara, Syrian state television reported. At a press briefing in Ankara following a meeting with President Abdullah Gul, al-Assad said: "Turkey does not have ambitions in Iraq. Turkey wants to defend itself and this is its right." Al-Assad. He also contended that the U.S. should be held accountable for PKK violence. "Who is harboring [the PKK]? This is the most important question. It is not enough to say that there is a party that carries out terrorist attacks... We believe that the occupation forces -- which are mainly responsible for the chaos in Iraq and for exporting terrorism either to Turkey or to Syria, and not vice versa as they claim --are mainly responsible for these acts." Meanwhile, Egyptian state radio on October 17 commented on the Turkish decision, claiming Turkey is working to justify its own plans for occupation in Iraq. "It appears that Turkey, despite its relations with Middle Eastern countries, has shifted its good-neighborhood policy to a policy of imposing the status quo, no matter what the consequences are," the radio station commented. "Ankara, just as Washington did in the past, is working to justify its possible operations in Iraq under the pretext of Kurdish rebel activity." The commentary defended the Baghdad government, saying it should not be expected to rein in terrorism along its northern border given all the other challenges it is faced with. KR

U.S. President George W. Bush criticized Turkey for its planned military incursion into Iraq, telling reporters at a White House press briefing on October 17. "We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq. Actually, they have troops already stationed in Iraq, and they've had troops stationed there for quite a while. We don't think it's in their interests to send more troops in." Meanwhile, Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said a military incursion by Turkey could result in disastrous consequences, "Voyennykh novostei" reported on October 18. "The situation is very alarming. The issue concerns not only the fact that Turkey could use force to resolve the Kurdish problem, but also that it is leaving the framework of the Iraqi settlement and becoming a hostage of Turkish-U.S. relations," Kosachyov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. KR

Two Saddam Hussein-era leaders convicted of crimes against humanity for their roles in the Al-Anfal operations against Iraqi Kurdish civilians in the 1980s have reportedly been taken to the gallows, and may be executed in a matter of hours, "The New York Times" reported on October 17. Citing a police official who asked not to be identified, the daily reported that Ali Hasan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, and former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad were moved to the Al-Kadhimiyah Prison in the evening of October 17, where they were to remain in U.S. custody until two hours before their execution. Both men were sentenced to death on June 24 for their roles in the 1987-88 Anfal campaign, which left as many as 180,000 Kurds dead. An Iraqi appeals court refused to overturn the death sentences last month (see RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). KR