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Newsline - October 23, 2007

Russia on October 23 marked the fifth anniversary of the beginning of a hostage crisis at Moscow's Dubrovka Theater, Russian media reported. When Russian special forces stormed the theater, in which some 900-1,000 hostages were being held by Chechen militants, on October 26, 2002, about 130 hostages died, most of them asphyxiated by a narcotic gas deployed by security personnel. All 42 hostage takers were killed in the fighting. Igor Trunov, a lawyer for the victims of the tragedy, on October 22 filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee alleging that Russian officials falsified documents presented to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in response to a case filed there by his clients, "Gazeta" reported on October 22. Trunov said the Russian government filed a 1,500-page response to the Strasbourg court's request for information relating to the case. Trunov told the daily he believes the government's response "contains many contradictions regarding case materials, facts about the operation and the rescue, the number of those killed, and the percentages of those given medical aid and hospitalized." Trunov said the Dubrovka victims are seeking compensation from the federal government, which has asserted that Russian antiterrorism legislation mandates that victims of terrorist acts must be compensated by the perpetrators of those acts. The Moscow city authorities paid families 100,000 rubles ($3,150) and paid for funeral expenses, "Gazeta" reported. A memorial service will be held outside the theater on October 26. RC

One of the many unanswered questions about the Dubrovka hostage taking was the exact nature of the gas used by Russian security forces to disable the hostage takers. "The Moscow Times" reported on October 23 that experts from the United States and Europe have now identified the substance as an aerosol form of carfentanyl, which the daily says is "an artificial, opium-like substance that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and usually used to immobilize large animals." The Russian government regards information about the substance as a state secret and has refused to identify it. German toxicologist Thomas Zilker told the daily that the use of carfentanyl, given the hopelessness of the situation, was "quite a cunning feat," adding however that lives could have been saved if medical personnel on the scene had been informed of the nature of the narcotic and had been better prepared to treat victims. Lev Fyodorov, a chemist who heads the Russian Council for Chemical Security, told "The Moscow Times" that the security forces who stormed the building initially focused on finding and shooting dead the unconscious hostage takers. "There were no paramedics, no Emergency [Situations] Ministry officials," he said. "This was a case of gigantic unprofessionalism." He added that many victims were taken to hospitals in ordinary buses because no ambulances were on the scene. RC

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in an interview with German television, stated that the national projects that he oversees are a success and have improved the quality of life for ordinary Russians, the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on October 23. Medvedev said that the projects have revived the "moribund sectors" of agriculture, housing, health care, and education, "all of which are connected with the level and quality of people's lives." He said that the decision to implement all four projects simultaneously was difficult, but correct, since all four are "interconnected." He added that the projects must be continued. Medvedev also commented on the country's economic development in general, saying the government will continue to develop the natural-resources sector, but will also increase its focus on manufacturing and high technology. "Only then will Russia be a country with a developed economy and normal participant in such major organizations as, say, the G8." RC

Maksim Medvedkov, Russia's chief negotiator in its effort to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), told "Izvestia" on October 23 that intellectual-property rights are still the main obstacle to Russia's bid. Medvedkov said that Russia's negotiations are being held up because of a perception that China failed to live up to its antipiracy commitments. "China took on specific commitments to protect intellectual property and, according to the Americans, didn't fulfill them," he said. "Now they are looking at us through the prism of China. That means that Russia is being obligated to take on even more onerous commitments." Medvedkov said that Russia's rapid economic development is also an obstacle. "The richer we become, the tastier our pie, the stronger will be the desire to take a larger part of it," he said. "If we look at the history of joining the WTO over the last 15 years, we can see that the richer the country, the stricter the conditions. Georgia joined without problems; Kyrgyzstan, no problem. But when it came time to talk about China, everything changed." Asked which country in the world is his favorite, Medvedkov answered: "The Sultanate of Brunei. There everything is controlled by one man and the word 'corruption' doesn't exist. You can't steal from the sultan's purse! The people live with their leaders like one big family. A very effective state." RC

In an interview with "Vedomosti" on October 23, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko explained her reasons for agreeing to appear on the regional list of candidates for the December Duma elections from Unified Russia. Matviyenko will appear in the No. 2 slot, after party leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. Matviyenko said that "as the governor, I am responsible for the equal conditions for all parties from the point of view of election law." However, she added that the country is entering "a very momentous political season." "Such a period is very shaky and unsteady in terms of politics," she said. "In order to maintain stability, succession, the course of the country's democratic development, the government and the president need a powerful base of support. I thought for a long time. I just didn't see on the political map of the country another party capable of ensuring the succession of power." She added that the use of administrative resources to support Unified Russia would not help the party because "it isn't possible to force anyone to vote, particularly in St. Petersburg." She said that claims that officials are using administrative resources are a reflection of "the desire of the opposition to prepare in advance reasons for their defeat." She said that the leaders of other parties -- A Just Russia leader and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Communist Party leader and Duma Deputy Gennady Zyuganov, or Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- could be accused of using their official positions to support their parties. More than 60 regional leaders appear on the Unified Russia list of candidates for the elections. Matviyenko added that she knows who the next president of Russia will be, revealing only that he will be a man. RC

Communist Party leader Zyuganov plans to ask the state television channels to provide him the same national platform to address voters that President Putin was afforded during his October 18 question-and-answer session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18 and 19, 2007), reported on October 22. If his request is refused, he plans to appeal to the Central Election Commission. The Communist Party is arguing that Putin appeared in his capacity as a candidate for the Duma elections from Unified Russia. On October 1, Putin agreed to head the party's list of candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). Officials with the state television channels told the website they have not received Zyuganov's complaint but that if they do, they will consider it. Central Election Commission member Elvira Ermakova told the website the commission will likely not be sympathetic to the complaint. "When Comrade Zyuganov is president, then he can talk directly to the people in this format," she said. "Putin appeared not as a candidate, but as the president of the country." RC

Writer Sergei Shargunov, head of the Ura! youth movement, has been removed from the No. 3 spot on the A Just Russia list of candidates for the December 2 State Duma elections, "Vremya novostei" reported on October 22. The exclusion came after a long struggle within the party and was reportedly a response to complaints about Shargunov from the Kremlin. Shargunov is a longtime associate of nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin, who is reportedly on the Kremlin's list of figures to be sidelined during the current political transition. "The dependency on the administration was too strong," Shargunov told the daily, commenting on the party's decision to exclude him. Shargunov told Ekho Moskvy that party officials threatened him and tried to bribe him in order to induce him to withdraw his name from the list voluntarily. Since it is too late for A Just Russia to add a new name to its list, the party will contest the elections with just two names on its federal list -- Federation Council Chairman and party leader Mironov and Duma Deputy Svetlana Goryacheva (formerly Communist, now independent). RC

Vladimir Spiryagin, editor of the Saratov newspaper "Saratovsky rasklad," was sentenced on October 22 to 180 hours of community service and a 200,000-ruble fine ($8,000) for libeling local Unified Russia official Vyacheslav Volodin, reported the same day. Spiryagin's newspaper printed an article that alleged that Volodin wounded a local woman with a speargun during a fishing outing on the Volga River. The paper cited only an unidentified source who claimed to have witnessed the incident. A representative of the newspaper told the website Spiryagin was ready to apologize and print a retraction, but Unified Russia insisted on taking the matter to court. The website reported that Volodin has filed 11 cases against local media in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). RC

An unnamed U.S. official said in Washington on October 22 that U.S. President George W. Bush urged Russian President Putin in a telephone conversation to press Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities in cooperation with the UN, international media reported. It was the first time the two leaders spoke since Putin's recent visit to Tehran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 19, and 22, 2007). Also in the U.S. capital on October 22, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a conference of historians that "in the case of Iran, the United States and Russia may differ from time to time over tactics and the timing of how we address this challenge, but what is most important is that we are united in our common conviction that a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian government would be disastrous for international peace and security." She also stressed that the United States respects "Russia's interests, but no interest is served if Russia uses its great wealth, its oil and gas wealth, as a political weapon, or...if it treats its independent neighbors as part of some old sphere of influence." Rice warned that "we want Russia to be strong, strong in 21st century terms. [That means] not just with a strong center, but with strong, independent institutions: an independent judiciary and legislature, and an independent civil society with a free media, and a vibrant nongovernmental sector. Democratic institutions and a free society are not a source of weakness; they are a source of strength in a dynamic and modern world." She argued that Russia should measure its political progress by modern democratic standards, not by those of tsarist or Soviet times. She urged Russia to respect the Kosovars' right to determine their own future and thereby contribute to international security. PM

Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said in Brussels on October 22 that his country will propose setting up a rapid-alert system with the bloc at the EU-Russia summit in Mafra, Portugal, on October 26, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on October 23. He noted that "Russia has agreed to warn the EU if Gazprom decides to turn off the tap" on gas supplies, and plans to implement a 24-hour hotline between Brussels and the Kremlin. Chizhov added, however, that Russia feels it is unfairly targeted by new EU restrictions aimed at preventing foreign ownership of EU pipelines and power grids in the absence of a reciprocal access agreement between the foreign country and the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20 and 25, 2007). He suggested that it is the EU, and not Russia, that is using energy as a political weapon. Chizhov reaffirmed that Moscow is opposed to independence for Kosova, but will not block it if Belgrade and the Kosovar leadership agree. "Our aim is not to be more Serb than the Serbs," he added. Chizhov said he is cautiously optimistic on the prospects for improved relations between Russia and the EU following the Polish parliamentary elections on October 21, which resulted in the defeat of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Chizhov argued that Kaczynski and his brother, President Lech Kaczynski, "led Poland into some tough moments with its EU partners, with Russia used as an excuse. We hope the new government will be less stubborn. Things certainly can't get much worse" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The Russian daily "Vzglyad" noted on October 23 that Donald Tusk's Civic Platform, which won the election, plans to "reexamine" the Kaczynski government's pledges to the United States on missile defense and to consider withdrawing Poland's military contingent from Iraq at a suitable time. PM

Leonid Fedun, the vice president of LUKoil, said in Moscow on October 22 that his company has suspended work in the Anaran block of four fields in western Iran because of U.S. State Department sanctions, reported. LUKoil has a 25 percent stake in developing Anaran, which has reserves estimated at 2 billion barrels. Norway's StatoilHydro, which holds 75 percent, is still studying its possible courses of action. Fedun noted that U.S. sanctions prohibit third countries from investing more than $20 million in projects in Iran. He said that other restrictions imposed by Washington bar LUKoil from working in Sudan, and might eventually force LUKoil to give up its Junin-3 project in Venezuela. Fedun argued that Washington's policies could lead to a situation in which China is the only foreign country investing in Venezuela because Beijing "doesn't care what the United States thinks about it." He noted that LUKoil recently completed acquisition of three exploration blocks in the Gulf of Guinea that cost "several hundreds of millions of dollars," Interfax reported. The blocks are in "very deep waters" and are believed to contain huge reserves, Fedun added. PM

In an October 22 interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based foreign minister of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI), expanded on his warning earlier that day that the FSB seeks to discredit ChRI President and resistance leader Doku Umarov and create a pretext for even more brutal reprisals in the North Caucasus by impelling Umarov to proclaim a North Caucasus Emirate and declare war on the entire world (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The interview was posted in a Russian translation on October 23 on the resistance website Zakayev said that certain people are trying to convince Umarov that if he fails to declare a North Caucasus emirate, the younger generation of resistance fighters, its primary source of new blood, will denounce him as having come close to betraying Islam. As in his original statement, Zakayev declined to name the Chechens he claimed have been suborned by Moscow to discredit Umarov, saying only that they include some people who were behind the creation (in April 1998) of the Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Daghestan. That organization, the proclaimed aim of which was to create an independent Islamic state comprising Chechnya and Daghestan, was the brainchild of radical field commander Shamil Basayev, who was killed in an explosion in Ingushetia in July 2006, and former ChRI Information Minister Movladi Udugov, currently believed to be living in exile in Turkey. In a statement posted three months ago on, Umarov defined the resistance's objectives as defeating the enemy, establishing a state based on Islamic law, and giving the people freedom. He paid special tribute in that statement to the devout belief of the younger generation of resistance fighters. LF

Mahmud Ahmadinejad met in Yerevan on October 22 with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian to discuss bilateral relations and regional developments, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. After the meeting, Ahmadinejad described the two countries' relations as "excellent," while Kocharian said they are "strong, stable and developing." At the same time, the two presidents pledged to deepen economic and foreign policy cooperation. Among the economic projects discussed was a planned oil refinery in Syunik province, close to the Iranian border, that would process Iranian crude for the Iranian market. Russia's Gazprom has expressed readiness to cover the $1 billion construction costs. In a departure from his officially agreed schedule, Ahmadinejad left Armenia early on October 23 without visiting either the Armenian parliament or the monument to the victims of the 1915 mass killings, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

Vahan Khachatrian, the owner and chief executive of the Giumri-based Gala TV, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on October 22 that National Security Service personnel have warned him not to cover the renewed political activities of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. In defiance of a warning by the National Commission on Television and Radio, Gala TV aired in full Ter-Petrossian's September 21 speech criticizing the present Armenian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). On October 18, leading Armenian media representatives expressed concern over leading television stations' sudden decline in coverage of the activities of the political opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2007). LF

In the third and final reading on October 22, the National Assembly passed by a vote of 65 to three with eight abstentions a law on surveillance that empowers law enforcement agencies to wiretap any telephone conversation without a court order, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The government argued that the law is aimed at making it easier for police, security agencies, and customs and tax bodies to prevent and investigate crimes, but opposition deputies are convinced that it will be used to silence critics of the government. LF

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Xazar Ibragim told the online daily on October 22 that he views as "a serious threat" to the economic interests of numerous states the Kurdistan Workers Party's (PKK) October 19 warning that it may target pipelines in Turkey in the event of a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, the daily reported on October 23. At the same time, Ibragim said Baku does not doubt Turkey's ability to protect the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, through which most of Azerbaijan's oil is exported, from any such attack. On October 19, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov met in Baku with his Turkish counterpart Unal Cevikoz to discuss regional and international security issues, apparently including the anticipated Turkish incursion into Iraq, and reported. Meanwhile, parliamentarian Iqbal Aqazade, who heads the small Umid party, argued that Azerbaijan and Turkey should form a joint antiterrorism squad to counter the PKK threat, reported. He suggested that Georgia and Iran should also contribute contingents to that force. LF

In an October 22 interview with the Georgian weekly "Kviris palitra," Eduard Shevardnadze said he told former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher during a recent meeting in Berlin that the international community should boycott the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi unless Russia resolves the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Shevardnadze added that he asked Russia's Ambassador to Germany, Vladimir Kotenev, to convey that message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that Kotenev declined to do so. LF

During a cabinet meeting in Astana, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov issued orders on October 22 to the law-enforcement bodies to address the alleged manipulation of prices by food companies, Kazakhstan Today reported. He recommended that the police "adopt the Russian experience" of targeting and detaining "middlemen who do not realize the social responsibility of business." Masimov also said that the Industry and Trade Ministry's Competition Protection Committee "should also adopt this experience," vowing that "we will publicly punish those who have taken advantage" of the recent rise in food prices. On October 20, an opposition demonstration of between 2,000-3,000 protesters rallied against the recent increase in the prices of food and other basic staples (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13 and 22, 2007). RG

Prior to a cabinet meeting on October 22, Prime Minister Masimov discussed the sharp rise in prices for food and other basic goods with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov in a telephone call, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. They agreed "to draw up a plan and take joint actions to prevent the further increase [in prices] and stabilize prices for basic foodstuffs." They also agreed to "hold a bilateral meeting in early November this year in Tashkent as part of the forthcoming session of the prime ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states," according to a press release issued by Masimov's office. RG

Kazakh Deputy Interior Minister Alik Shpekbaev met on October 20 in Astana with Brittany Brown, a U.S. State Department official in charge of efforts to combat human trafficking, Kazakhstan Today reported. Shpekbaev briefed Brown on the Kazakh government's strategy to curb trafficking and noted an increase in the number of arrests of criminal traffickers. Brown also welcomed Kazakh efforts to more fully integrate state programs with existing initiatives by Kazakh civil-society groups aimed at providing assistance and counseling to victims of human trafficking. Local police in northern Kazakhstan launched an operation last month against human trafficking that resulted in the arrest of group of local residents on charges of trafficking minors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). RG

Kyrgyz opposition leader and deputy Omurbek Tekebaev criticized on October 22 President Kurmanbek Bakiev for his decision to dissolve parliament in the wake of the passage of new constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007), according to the website. Tekebaev said that there is no reason to disband the current parliament and warned that Bakiev's preference for fresh parliamentary elections means that the authorities "will use all administrative resources against opposition parties" in the contest. A second opposition deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, added on October 22 that the adoption of the government's package of amendments has resulted in a new constitution marked by the "establishment of a dictatorship," adding that "the new constitution allows [the state] to sell natural resources" with no accountability. The opposition also rejects the official results of the recent national referendum, arguing that in contrast to the Central Election Commission's claim of a turnout of some 80 percent of eligible voters, only about 35 percent of voters actually participated, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Lending a degree of credibility to the opposition claims, the head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek, Ambassador Markus Mueller, also noted on October 22 that he is concerned about reports of a "high number of irregularities" during the referendum, according to a statement on the OSCE's website ( RG

Kyrgyz parliament speaker Marat Sultanov announced on October 22 that following the president's dissolution of parliament, a new legislature "should begin work within 60 days," as stipulated by the new constitution, Kyrgyz television reported. Sultanov responded to opposition criticism by the opposition by saying that "the president used his powers" in accordance "with the 2003 constitution, which is currently in force" and that grants the president "the right to dissolve parliament." Sultanov also told reporters that President Bakiev "will have to name the date of the early elections very soon," noting that the "president does not have the right to issue decrees, which would have the legal force of laws, as long as the republic does not have an effective legislative authority," according to ITAR-TASS. RG

A Kyrgyz district court in Bishkek on October 22 sentenced two men for participating in an opposition rally organized by the United Front for a Decent Future for Kyrgyzstan in April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. The two men, each sentenced to four years in prison, were convicted of "throwing stones" at the police and "attempting to seize" a megaphone from Interior Minister Bolotbek Nogoibaev during a clash between demonstrators and police. The prosecutor initially sought eight-year prison terms. Kyrgyz human-rights activists have repeatedly criticized the case as an overreaction to a peaceful rally that was met with an overwhelming and unnecessary police response. RG

The government has suspended the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on October 22. The government also imposed a three-month suspension of activities of two other Christian groups -- an evangelistic Baptist group called Hayat Faravan (Full Life) and the missionary group Ehya (Revival). Tajik officials defended the decision by arguing that the religious groups have "increased their propaganda activities and bring an excessive amount of religious materials into the country." The officials also said that the organizations "criticized other religions, which is a violation of Tajik law." RG

Rene van der Linden, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said on October 22 that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka should apologize for his remarks about Jews earlier this month, Belapan reported. Speaking to a group of Russian journalists on October 12, Lukashenka said Jewish residents turned the city of Babruysk in Mahilyou Oblast into a "pigsty" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2007). "President Lukashenka should reflect on this and apologize for his disgraceful words, if he is serious in his desire to move closer to the rest of Europe," van der Linden said. "The Council of Europe, as a value community, was created as the first step in a process of European integration intended to prevent the re-emergence of intolerance and extremism in Europe. The fight against anti-Semitism has been a priority of the Council of Europe since 1949 and will continue to be so for as long as the threat remains. Rejection of anti-Semitism is a universal principle," he added. JM

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, who won a parliamentary seat on the ticket of the propresidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc, told journalists on October 22 that he will quit Our Ukraine if NUNS and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) fail to consider his proposals concerning the creation of a ruling coalition, UNIAN reported. Last week NUNS and BYuT initialed a deal to form a new government in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2008). According to Yekhanurov, the two blocs still need to coordinate and review their positions on such issues as a moratorium on land sale, state purchases, amendments to the law on the Cabinet of Ministers, returning lost Soviet-era savings to Ukrainians, and reforming the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Yekhanurov, Ukraine's prime minister from 2005-2006, is widely believed to favor creating a ruling coalition between the NUNS bloc and the Party of Regions led by current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. JM

Kosovar and Serbian leaders spent October 22 in Vienna holding a fresh round of direct talks on the future of Kosova, but they emerged, if anything, further apart than ever. "This was probably one of the worst meetings we've had," AP quoted one of the five senior Kosovar negotiators, Veton Surroi, as saying. Comments by Kosova's president and prime underlined that there is, in their view, an unbridgeable gap. "I think we are too far away from each other" to reach a deal, Prime Minister Agim Ceku told reporters. "Independence is not something we are asking for," he said, leaving unsaid what he has said before -- that Kosova will declare independence if there is no agreement with Serbia. President Fatmir Sejdiu was similarly tough-talking, saying Belgrade is acting as obdurately as the man who sent Serbian troops into Kosova in 1998-99, the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The talks ended with "complete disagreement," Sejdiu said. The next round of talks will be held on November 5, again in Vienna. AG

The Vienna talks were framed by 14 interim conclusions reached by the "troika" of international mediators after previous meetings. The reason, EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger told reporters, was to stress points of agreement rather than contention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). For the same reason, the mediators' discussion paper bypassed the core issue, Kosova's final status. Ischinger had also characterized the meeting as an attempt to move "away from slogans and into the substance." The Kosovar Albanian team said they had no major objections to the mediators' conclusions, with its spokesman, Skender Hyseni, saying that "the discussion paper of the troika does contain pretty much what Prishtina's position is on the future relationship between Kosova and Serbia." By contrast, Serbia's minister for Kosova affairs, Slobodan Samardzic, was critical of the paper. Samardzic emphasized that Serbia is willing to give Kosova authority over its internal affairs, telling journalists, the news service Balkan Insight reported, that "we would be satisfied not to govern Kosovo in relation to its own internal affairs." However, he continued, the mediators' document cuts out Belgrade, "without leaving it any competencies." "Foreign policy and control of the border are the minimal competencies that Serbia should maintain and preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity", Samardzic said. Serbia's chief ally, Russia, contributed to the troika's document through Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, who is one of the three mediators. AG

The international diplomats mediating the Kosova talks expressed the hope that, "without prejudice to the positions of both parties on [Kosova's final] status," the "principles" laid out in their 14-point summary of conclusions could "open a path to a solution." The document itself has been reprinted by several media organizations, including the news service Balkan Insight. Several conclusions address the management of the relationship between Serbia and Kosova: the two will develop the "special nature" of their relationship and will resolve disputes peacefully. Issues where cooperation is required are stipulated, as well as the need to "establish common bodies to implement cooperation." Three conclusions lay down red lines for Serbia: "there will be no return to the pre-1999 status," Belgrade "will not govern Kosovo," and nor will it "reestablish a physical presence in Kosovo." Prishtina, in exchange, would be obliged to guarantee the protection of minorities and their cultural heritage. Three conclusions underline Kosova's economic rights -- to enjoy "full authority over its finances," to forge relations with international financial institutions, and to "be fully integrated into regional structures, particularly those involving economic cooperation." Two conclusions have a particularly large foreign-policy dimension: they underline Kosova's and Serbia's shared desire to join the EU, as well as obliging Serbia not to hinder Kosova's relationship with the EU. The final conclusion relates to security: "The international community will retain civilian and military presences in Kosovo after status is determined." AG

During the talks in Vienna, Serbia's negotiators presented a point-for-point response to the mediators' conclusions, Radio-Television Serbia reported. From the channel's verbatim read-through of the document, the Serbian team left largely unchanged the troika's conclusions on cooperation, on Kosova's rights on economic matters, and Kosova's obligations to minorities. Their counterproposal broadly accepts two of the troika's conclusions delimiting Serbian influence -- Belgrade "will not govern Kosovo," and nor will it "reestablish a physical presence in Kosovo" -- but also makes clear they are still subject to further debate. On foreign-policy issues, such as relations with the EU, Belgrade's document talks of "Serbia and the province of Kosovo-Metohija" progressing "towards EU association and, finally, membership." One key change attempts to forestall a move to independence by Kosova: Belgrade's counterproposal replaces the mediators' emphasis on forging a fresh relationship with a commitment by "all three sides -- Serbian institutions, Kosovo interim institutions, and international community representatives -- refrain from any unilateral moves." In several cases -- regarding the international military presence in Kosova and minority rights -- Serbia demands UN mandates and approval, and -- critically -- it stipulates that while there can be "no return to the state of affairs prior to 1999," "the future status of Kosovo should be found in line with the [UN Security Council] Resolution 1244." That is the resolution with which the UN Security Council authorized an international military and civilian presence in Kosova in 1999. It also reaffirms "the commitment of all [UN] member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other states of the region." AG

Kosova's political leaders should refrain from unilateral steps toward independence, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said on October 21. Berisha's comment, reported by the daily "Republika," reiterates his already stated position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2007). Berisha urged Prishtina to coordinate its actions with "the government of the United States and other Contact Group countries," the group of six countries leading efforts to determine Kosova's final status. "These countries have a clear concept about peace and stability in Kosova and the region...and have played a decisive role in getting the Balkans out of the spiral of wars, barbarities, and ethnic cleansing and into the arena of cooperation, friendship, and integration," Berisha continued. One member of the Contact Group, Russia, has backed Serbia's position. Berisha described independence as "the only remaining option." NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently praised Albania as a "moderating voice" in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). AG

Trains in the Republika Srpska stopped for five minutes on October 22 in protest at pending political measures intended to accelerate the passage of reforms and legislation through the federal government and parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). According to Bosnian public radio, the railway workers' trade union in the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska said its members wanted to express their support for the autonomous region's prime minister, Milorad Dodik, who on October 21 threatened to end cooperation with state institutions in protest at the measures, which were initiated by the international community's high representative, Miroslav Lajcak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The union described Lajcak's measures as the "undemocratic," "uncivilized" act of a "dictatorship," Bosnia-Herzegovina Radio 1 reported. Bosnia-Herzegovina has separate railway systems in its two autonomous regions, sometimes necessitating a change of engines and personnel when trains reach the regions' boundaries. AG

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik said it is now a matter of days before Bosnian Serb politicians and officials resign from their posts in protest at High Representative Lajcak's promise to drive through measures to accelerate the decision-making process in the federal parliament and government. "I am definitely resolved to resign from all offices that I hold in protest at such undemocratic behavior by an institution that we call [the Office of the] High Representative," Dodik said on Bosnia-Herzegovina Radio 1 on October 22. "If in the next few days we see no possibility of change, the main committee [of Dodik's party] will ask all representatives appointed and proposed by the SNSD [Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats] in state bodies to submit unrescindable resignations." Dodik and Lajcak held an unscheduled meeting on October 22, during which, according to the news agency FENA, Lajcak said the measures, which he has threatened to impose if they are not approved by December 1, are not directed at any particular ethnic group or their politicians. The SNSD is the most powerful party in the Republika Srpska and won more support than any other party in the country in elections in October 2006. AG

The position adopted by Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik won unequivocal support on October 22 from the party of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). Its spokesman, Branislav Ristivojevic, damned the initiative by High Representative Lajcak as an "attempt to abolish" the Republika Srpska, the news agency FoNet reported. Ristivojevic linked the issue to the dispute over the future of Kosova, saying that Lajcak's measures "irresistibly" reminded him of the plan drawn up for Kosova by the UN's special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, in March. "Judging by everything, these two attempts [by Lajcak and Ahtisaari] are not happening at the same time by chance, but are, rather, fully coordinated," he concluded. "We think that both policies are an expression of a policy of imposing force, and, as such, they are unacceptable," Ristivojevic continued. Ahtisaari's plan concluded that Kosova should be granted independence under international supervision. In an interview published by the Italian newspaper "Il Sole 24 Ore" on October 21, Kostunica reiterated his view that "the United States is not interested in a truly independent Kosovo but in a state in the heart of Europe, totally governed by NATO." AG

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Foreign Ministry is delaying the sale of arms to Georgia because it does not wish to antagonize Russia, the Croatian daily "Vecernji list" reported on October 18. "We must be careful with things that might exacerbate our relations with Russia, and avoid them," the paper quoted Ismet Briga, the head of Bosnia's Directorate for Specialized Industry, as saying. "We do not need anything like that, particularly keeping in mind the current situation with the negotiations on the police and constitutional reforms. You never know who can further complicate the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and how." The weapons in question are "Hurricane" multiple-rocket launchers of a sort jointly developed by the former Yugoslavia and Iraq in the 1980s. Bosnia is seeking to sell its stocks of the weapon, but, reportedly, only Georgia has so far shown an interest. AG

Greek and Macedonian officials will meet in New York on November 1 in a UN-mediated effort to resolve the dispute over Macedonia's constitutional name, the UN's press service said on October 22. Greece rejects the name "Republic of Macedonia" and has likewise rejected alternatives suggested by the UN. This is the first time since May 16 that the two sides will have met for talks with Matthew Nimetz, the envoy appointed by the UN to broker a solution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18 and 23, 2007). The two countries in 1995 agreed to take part in UN efforts to resolve the issue and in September 2005 signed a fresh accord with the UN intended to inject new impetus into negotiations. Nimetz said that he hopes the talks will "lay the groundwork to more intensive discussions." While talks remain intermittent, the issue's importance has steadily risen as Macedonia nears its goal of gaining membership of NATO and of the EU. Greece has repeatedly threatened to veto Macedonia's bid, a position backed by a majority of Greeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). AG

A new centrist political party, the Party of Free Democrats (PSD), was formed in Macedonia on October 21, local media reported. The party's leader, who was elected the same day at the party's inaugural meeting, is a political heavyweight, former parliament speaker Ljupco Jordanovski. Jordanovski was previously a member of Macedonia's largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM). This is the second party to splinter off from the SDSM. The other, the New Social Democratic Party (NSDP), was established at the turn of 2005 and joined the governing coalition after parliamentary elections in July 2006. The PSD has two seats in parliament, Jordanovski's and that of another SDSM refugee, Kire Gestakovski. According to the news agency MIA, Jordanovski said he expects other members of parliament to defect "only when they are free from their fear...of party leaderships." AG

The EU's commissioner for multilingualism, Leonard Orban, has ordered EU officials to avoid references to the "Moldovan language," the Moldovan news agency IPN reported on October 20. The move followed an angry reaction by Romania to the inclusion of the phrase in two recent agreements signed by the EU and Moldova. Neither required ratification by all 27 members of the bloc. Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu said Romania will not ratify any EU document mentioning the "Moldovan language" because the phrase is "purely political," reported on October 16. Romania maintains that there is no Moldovan language, arguing that the differences between linguistic usage in the two countries are too few and too minor to warrant the view that Moldovan speech amounts to a distinct language. AG

As tensions with the United States rise over Iran's nuclear ambitions and regional security issues, Tehran has been flaunting its military capabilities and asserting its preparedness in the face of a possible attack.

In recent weeks, Iran has opened a new air base, unveiled new domestically produced military hardware, and issued defense pronouncements at a rapid-fire pace.

At a military parade on September 22 to mark the 27th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran, the Iranian military presented what it claimed was a new, medium-range ballistic missile.

The Qadr-1 appeared to be an advanced variant of the Shahab-3. A former director of Israel's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Uzi Rubin, noted that the Qadr missile "which appeared in the 2004 parade was then said to have a range of 2,000 kilometers."

If those and other reports are correct, the Qadr-1 is capable of striking Israel, southern Europe, and U.S. bases in the Middle East.

Just days earlier, Iran unveiled three prototypes of what it claims is a domestically manufactured fighter jet. The aircraft, called the Saeqeh (Thunderbolt), is the latest generation of the previously tested Azarkhash (Thunder) fighter jet. A joint product of the Iranian Air Force and its Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry, the Saeqeh has been described as similar to the U.S. F-18 fighter jet. Iranian authorities say they have begun industrial-scale production of the Saeqeh.

Military commander Major General Ataollah Salehi has described the domestic production of the Saeqeh as "a warning to Western countries that threaten" Iran. He added that such countries "must know that while they are trying to turn other countries against [Iran] with their limited capabilities in the region," Iran "possesses unlimited technology" with which it can oppose those threats.

On October 9, Iran inaugurated a production line for the manufacture of a one-ton smart bomb called the Qadr. Fars News Agency reported that this bomb -- a variant of the Qased (Messenger) smart bomb -- is an optically guided, air-to-surface, long-range bomb that meets the Iranian Air Force's need for a powerful weapon. Fars' defense reporter added that Iran's "attainment of the technology for designing and mass-producing smart bombs with a high degree of power and accuracy is one of the achievements of Iran's defense specialists," and said the Qased is one such weapon.

Also this month, Iran opened a new air base near its eastern border with Afghanistan. The new air base -- named Qa'em Al-e Muhammad in a reference to Shi'a Islam's 12th, or hidden, imam -- lies in Birjand, the capital of the sparsely populated province of South Khorasan, and is about 1,300 kilometers from Tehran. While most of Iran's air bases, mainly constructed under the Pahlavi Dynasty between 1925-79, lie along its western borders in anticipation of threats from that direction, the Qa'em Al-e Muhammad facility is meant to enhance the presence of Iran's air force along its eastern borders, together with three other bases in Mashhad, Zahedan, and Chah Bahar.

The commander of the Iranian air force, Brigadier General Ahmad Miqani, told state television after the base was opened that "in light of the threats that Iran faced in the past, Iran paid more attention to the southern and western region." But he said that "the inauguration of this air base is aimed at responding swiftly if an attack is launched against the country."

Miqani accused "extra-regional and global powers" of " threaten the Islamic republic," and said the country's air force is fully prepared to respond to possible attacks.

In addition to these efforts to boost its military capabilities, Iran has taken steps to improve its passive defenses -- such as radar and other detection -- that might minimize damage in the event of hostilities by the United States or Israel.

On 27 September, Iran's Defense Industries Organization held its first conference on passive defense, inviting representatives of engineering consultancies, as well as planners and managers from a number of ministries.

In a reference to Iran's experience in passive defense during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88, the head of the country's Passive Defense Organization, Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, has argued that "implementing the principles that govern passive defense can reduce costs and provide a durable defense" against enemy attack.

The rising tensions between Washington and Tehran have no doubt influenced the timing of Iran's displays of military progress.

While U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed their desire to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff diplomatically, administration officials have pointedly avoided taking a military option "off the table."

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on October 21 described Iran as an "obstacle to peace in the Middle East," and warned that "the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences" if Iran's leadership maintains its "present course."

Two new European leaders, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have issued blunt statements on the topic of a possible military option if diplomatic efforts fail to curb Iran's nuclear activities.

While Iran's top brass have suggested that the United States is in no position -- economically or politically -- to attack Iran, current and former generals are well aware of U.S. military might.

Addressing students at Tehran's Sharif University recently, former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Yaha Rahim-Safavi warned against "looking at military issues simplistically." Rahim-Safavi went on to say that "America, with its military forces in the region, has the capacity to cause problems" for Iran.

Reports of an alleged Israeli air attack against mysterious targets in Syria in September have compounded Iranian concerns. Iran's generals appear to be wondering why two state-of-the-art, Russian-built radar systems in Syria failed to detect Israeli jets entering Syrian territory.

Iran in January received a $750 million shipment of 29 Tor-M1 short-range, mobile surface-to-air missile systems from Russia to help guard Iranian nuclear facilities.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on October 22 criticized unnamed NATO members for falling short on troop commitments in Afghanistan, AP reported. At a news conference following a meeting of Southeast European Defense Ministers (SEDM) in Kyiv, Gates told reporters that he is "not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan." The primary issue is the lack of soldiers to provide training for the Afghan National Army and Afghan police officers, who will be responsible for maintaining security after NATO and coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan. Gates said that a number of NATO countries have indicated that they will increase their troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq, but "principally in Afghanistan." He did not specify which countries because troop commitments have not been finalized. Gates said he will take up the discussion of troop levels in Afghanistan again at a NATO defense ministers' meeting in the Netherlands later this week. JC

Al-Qaeda's media outlet, al-Sahab, has claimed that a Taliban leader shown in a video posted on several Islamist websites on October 22 is one of the five militants recently freed in exchange for the release of a German hostage, Adnkronos International (AKI) reported. Muhammad Yaser, formerly the Taliban's culture minister before the group was ousted during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was released in early September along with four other militants in exchange for Taliban hostage-takers' release of German engineer Rudolf Blechschmidt and his four Afghan colleagues. The five men were kidnapped in July in Wardak Province along with another Afghan man and a second German engineer, who was later executed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19 and 20 and August 3, 2007). At the time of the prisoner swap, local officials said none of the prisoners released were key Taliban members, a claim the latest video calls into question. In the 25-minute video interview posted online, Yaser describes his capture during the 2001 invasion. He also condemns those in Afghanistan who do not recognize the Taliban's political power and in particular the authority of fugitive Taliban commander Mullah Omar. On various websites, members of the Taliban compare Yaser's release to that of Mansur Dadullah, the brother of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah. The Afghan government in March freed Mansur Dadullah in exchange for the release of an Italian hostage, journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, despite fierce criticism from the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20 and 23, 2007). JC

A suicide bomber on October 22 blew himself up near a convoy of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southern Afghanistan, wounding three civilians, Xinhua News Agency reported. No ISAF troops were injured in the blast, which took place around noon in the Gereshk district of Helmand Province, according to provincial police Chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal. Helmand is the largest poppy-cultivating province in Afghanistan and a known Taliban stronghold, although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Elsewhere in Helmand, Afghan National Security Forces and coalition troops killed nearly three dozen Taliban after the militants attacked a reconnaissance patrol with rockets and small-arms fire on October 20, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Coalition troops used small arms and mortar fire and called in air support to repel the militants, who continued to reinforce their positions near the Musa Qala valley for several hours, a military statement said. Insurgents also placed an improvised explosive device in an attempt to prevent security forces from moving along a nearby route, but coalition troops safely defused it. More than 80 Taliban fighters have been killed in several battles across southern Afghanistan in the past four days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). JC

Afghan officials on October 21 said the country's exports increased by 13 percent in the second quarter compared to the same period last year, although the extensive export-import gap remains, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Rohullah Ahmadzai, the director of public relations with the export promotion department, said exports rose to $112 million in the second quarter, up from $101 million in the previous fiscal year. Ahmadzai attributes the increase to improved laws governing taxes and customs duties, adding that the government is taking steps to follow a presidential decree to gradually remove all levies on the country's exports. This is the second consecutive fiscal period in which Afghan exports have seen gains, as first quarter exports showed a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Afghanistan exports mainly foodstuffs and consumer goods, such as handicrafts, fresh and dried fruit, minerals, leather products, cotton and precious stones, Ahmadzai said. China, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States provide the bulk of its imports. Despite positive export growth, Afghanistan still maintains a massive export-import gap, importing approximately $5 billion worth of goods from the United States while only exporting about $5 million each year. JC

Iran's judiciary announced on October 17 that judicial authorities have hanged two purported Kurdish militants in the town of Sanandaj in western Kurdistan Province, Radio Farda reported on October 18, citing ISNA. The Kurdistan Province judiciary said the convicts were members of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party who allegedly killed an officer of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on January 14, 2007. The broadcaster quoted the Kurdish party as reporting that two Kurds -- Nader Mohammadi and Kiumars Mohammadi -- were executed on October 10, presumably referring to the same case. Hasan Sharafi, a party leader, told Radio Farda that the execution coincided with the World Day Against the Death Penalty, and said the two had earlier faced charges of acting against police and military forces. He said they were arrested eight months ago and that their last trial date was in late September. Sharafi called the executions "political," and said Iran charged the men with murder so the sentences "are acceptable to public opinion in legal terms." VS

Students from Tehran universities and colleges gathered in Tehran on October 22 to condemn the prison sentences recently handed down to three students of Tehran's Amir Kabir University. The three were jailed for allegedly publishing sacrilegious pamphlets in March, Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2007). The protest took place inside the gates of Tehran University, and the broadcaster reported tight security measures and a heightened police presence on the streets. One participant, Nariman Mostafavi, told Radio Farda that university authorities and security sought to prevent student activists from joining the gathering, especially some from the nationwide grouping Office to Consolidate Unity (DTV), but that some activists forced their way into the university. Protest participants also condemned increasing restrictions against students and rights activists, and universities in general, Radio Farda reported. Some speakers referred to the recent arrests of rights activist Emadeddin Baqi and reformist cleric Hadi Qabel, which they said were made "without any explanation to the pubic," and to an unspecified complaint against certain Amir Kabir students that the university dean has lodged with the Tehran Revolutionary Court, Mostafavi said. VS

In a letter to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Manuchehr Mottaki has written that France's recent efforts to expand UN sanctions on Iran have failed, "Iran" reported on October 23. Mottaki said sanctions have only prompted increased self-sufficiency and innovation in Iran. Iran is subject to two sets of UN Security Council sanctions intended to curb its nuclear activities. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Kouchner in recent months have called for tougher sanctions. Mottaki said "France's pressure for more unilateral sanctions and encouragement for the EU to do the same" merely follow the "failed policy" of Western states toward Iran. Mottaki wrote that Iran is a responsible actor in the international arena, but will not allow its "rights to be trampled on," "Iran" reported. Iran will respond to goodwill, he added, while "unilateral" sanctions "have had and will have no effect on Iran." He said pressures for further sanctions are at odds with Western calls for negotiations with Iran. Mottaki noted a discrepancy in Western states' concern about proliferation in Iran and their seeming indifference to what he termed Israel's expanding nuclear activities, "Iran" reported. VS

Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar told the Mehr news agency on October 22 that Iran has the "most advanced weaponry," allowing it to give a "shattering" response to any aggression. He said his ministry is able to meet the armed forces' needs for armaments and supplies, and its industries and "universities" have designed a range of products including planes, helicopters, surface-to-surface missiles, armor piercing, air, and marine missiles or ammunition, and cruise missiles. He said Iran's surface-to-surface missiles have a 2,000-kilometer range. Mohammad-Najjar added that sanctions and threats have made Iran's scientists more resourceful. VS

The Turkish government issued a statement vowing to wipe out Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters based in northern Iraq, after a PKK ambush on October 21 killed 12 Turkish soldiers, international media reported on October 22. The PKK fighters carried out the attack in the town of Daglica after infiltrating Turkey from northern Iraq, according to the Turkish military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). "Turkey will not hesitate to pay whatever price is necessary to protect its rights, its laws, its indivisible unity, and its citizens. It is apparent that the terrorist organization [the PKK] aims to disrupt the unity and integrity of our society with these heinous attacks," the statement said. Meanwhile, the Turkish military announced on October 22 that eight of its soldiers were missing after the PKK ambush. "Despite all searches, contact has not been established with eight staff with whom contact was lost," the Turkish General Staff said in a statement. The Firat News Agency posted the names of seven of the eight Turkish soldiers on its website. SS

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced at an October 22 news conference in Al-Sulaymaniyah that the PKK will declare a conditional ceasefire with Turkey, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Shortly afterwards, a statement on a pro-PKK website indicated that the rebel group is prepared for a ceasefire if the Turkish Army stops its attacks on PKK positions and if Turkey drops plans to conduct cross-border incursions into northern Iraq. In response, the office of Kurdistan regional President Mas'ud Barzani issued a statement urging the PKK to commit to the ceasefire, the independent news agency Voices of Iraq reported. "The president calls on the PKK to avoid turning the region into a battlefield, [and] voices readiness to take any steps to solve the crisis peacefully," Barzani's office said. SS

Sheikh Ibrahim Mansuri, a top official in radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement, harshly condemned the U.S. military's October 21 attack on Al-Sadr City, claiming that many civilians were killed in the operation, Al-Alam television reported on October 22. The U.S. military claimed that some 49 "criminals" were killed in three separate operations in Al-Sadr City, but local police and officials contend that many of those killed were innocent women, children, and elderly people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). "The U.S. occupation forces justified their criminal act with this allegation that gunmen who kidnapped Americans were hidden there," Mansuri said. "But even if they were hidden there, is that justification for the occupiers to slaughter innocent people, including children and women?" he added. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki filed a formal complaint with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, saying that U.S. troops used excessive force during the operations. "You cannot kill civilians in this way," al-Dabbagh said. "I do understand there are a lot of people violating our law, and then you have criminals. But do not use [your] power this way," he added. Meanwhile, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on October 22 that the Iraqi parliament announced the creation of a committee to examine the continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq with the possible aim of restricting future American military activities. SS

Clashes between members of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, and Iraq police in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala left eight people dead and dozens injured on October 22, Xinhua reported. Local police officials said 33 militiamen were arrested and six roadside bombs were defused. AFP reported that the clashes erupted after gunmen loyal to al-Sadr's militia ambushed an Iraqi police patrol. Karbala was also the site of violent clashes on August 28 when gunmen clashed with Iraqi police near the shrine of Imam Hussein during a religious festival, leaving 52 people dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). Those clashes were widely blamed on the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, prompting al-Sadr to declare a six-month suspension of the militia's activities. SS

Unknown gunmen assassinated a senior political adviser to Adnan al-Dulaymi, the leader of the Sunni-led General Council for the People of Iraq, in Baghdad, KUNA reported on October 22. Al-Dulaymi's party issued a statement saying that Sheikh Ahmad Khalil Al-Mashhadani was gunned down in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Amiriyah on October 17, without giving any further details. The General Council for the People of Iraq is part of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc in the 275-seat parliament with 44 seats. SS

South Korea will probably extend its troop deployment in Iraq for another 12 months, but may cut the number of soldiers from 1,200 to 600, the "Korea Times" reported on October 21. In a National Assembly audit last week, Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo hinted that the Zaytun Division, based in northern Iraq, will stay another year. "Personally, I want to extend the deployment of Zaytun forces even if the numbers of the troops is reduced. The troop presence is important in solidifying the military alliance between South Korea and the United States," Kim said. South Korean troops in Iraq have played a noncombat role, providing medical services, repairing roads and power lines, and building schools and other infrastructure. Seoul was at one point the third largest coalition partner, after the United States and Britain, with 3,600 troops. However, rising public opposition to the Iraq mission has forced the South Korean government to drastically cut its troop levels. SS