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Newsline - October 25, 2007

In the run-up to the opening of the Russia-EU summit in Mafra, Portugal, on October 26, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who is President Vladimir Putin's aide and special envoy to the EU, said in Moscow on October 24 that the EU's principle of presenting a united front to the outside world is impairing its relations with Russia, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 22, and 23, 2007). He argued that "there are indeed problems that some EU member states are particularly sensitive about, and such problems are often bilateral. But because of so-called European solidarity, these problems are pushed to the level of European-Russian relations. And that is something that we generally cannot agree with." He noted that Moscow and Brussels recently reached an agreement on setting up an early-warning system to deal with interruptions in Russian energy deliveries to the EU. Other issues on the summit's agenda include defining the future political status of Kosova, easing EU visa restrictions for Russian citizens, and dealing with disputes over EU food exports to Russia and flights over Siberia. Western news agencies quoted unnamed EU officials in Brussels as saying on October 24 that relations between the EU and Russia are "dense and complex." Those officials added that matters are not helped by Moscow's policy of trying to "divide and conquer" EU member states. For its part, Russia is expected to raise again its objections to 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 in question and the EU. Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado was quoted by Reuters as saying in Brussels on October 24 that "this is a transition period in Russia, in the EU, and in our relations between the EU and Russia. So I would characterize this as a summit of transition." PM

The foreign ministers of Russia, China, and India said in a statement in Harbin, China, on October 24 that they oppose any new sanctions against Myanmar, AP reported. In addition, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Russia's Sergei Lavrov criticized the proposed U.S. missile-defense system, but India's Pranab Mukherjee did not join them. The daily "Kommersant" noted on October 25 that New Delhi's attitude amounts to a defeat for Moscow and Beijing (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). The paper commented that, for China and Russia, "the ultimate purpose of the [meeting] was to manifest to the world at large that a strategic triangle of Moscow-Beijing-Delhi is gaining momentum" at a time when Washington and Tokyo are developing a missile-defense system in the Pacific and when the United States shows a growing interest in Central Asia. The daily noted that it is difficult for Russia and China to accept that "Delhi does not seem to share the saber-rattling attitude of its partners toward the United States." The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on October 24 that Lavrov visited Tokyo prior to going to Harbin, adding that the two sides sought to downplay their differences. The paper also argued that the main purpose of the Harbin meeting was to strengthen the international political role of the "Asian triangle." PM

Special EU envoy Yastrzhembsky said in Moscow on October 24 that Washington's latest proposals aimed at easing Russian concerns over missile defense are "positive signs...[and] a source of hope," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 22, and 23). He added that "these are new elements.... There is a chance we could reach agreement." The daily "Vremya novostei" noted on October 24 that the presentation of the proposals, which were recently brought to Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, signals the start of real bargaining over Washington's missile-defense plans. PM

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said on Czech Television on October 25 that Russian experts may possibly visit on unspecified "inspection days" the planned U.S. radar site in the Czech Republic, which is slated to be part of the missile-defense system, but "there will be no Russian soldiers [permanently stationed] here." U.S. Defense Secretary Gates recently suggested that Russia might inspect the planned facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, if those countries agree (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22 and 23, 2007). PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on October 25 in Angarsk in Irkutsk Oblast that Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia is building, will receive fuel from Russia only after Iran pays its debts related to the project, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). Ivanov also stressed that Bushehr will operate under the strict control of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He noted that it will be considered a "crude violation" of IAEA rules if the Iranians "turn off [the IAEA's monitoring] video cameras even for one minute." The fuel will eventually be returned to Russia for reprocessing, presumably at the fuel-enrichment center in Angarsk, an industrial city founded during the last years of Josef Stalin's rule. Ivanov also noted that Russia's state-run United Aircraft Company (OAK) and the European aircraft manufacturer EADS, the parent company of Airbus, will acquire stakes in each other's company, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2007). Ivanov added that this will be accomplished by Russia transferring its 5 percent stake in EADS from Vneshtorgbank to OAK and by EADS swapping its stake in the Irkut Corporation, which is also an aerospace firm, for OAK shares. PM

The daily "Vremya novostei" and reported on October 25 that President Putin will soon name veteran nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin as ambassador to NATO, replacing Konstantin Totsky. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on October 24, Rogozin refused to comment on reports of his alleged new posting, saying that he will address the issue only after the Kremlin makes an official announcement. Reuters reported from Brussels on October 24 that many NATO officials expect Totsky to be replaced soon. "Vremya novostei" noted on October 25 that Rogozin and the Kremlin have been at odds over the past year and that Putin might welcome a chance to send him out of the country. The paper also argued that Rogozin can be expected to take a tough line with NATO, which he often criticizes as an aggressive tool of Washington. Such a stance would also be in keeping with Putin's recent aggressive rhetoric toward the West in general. PM

Following heavy pressure from the government, leading food producers and retailers agreed on October 24 to freeze prices for basic foodstuffs, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on October 25. Under the agreement, prices for milk, vegetable oil, eggs, bread, and other products will be held at October 15 levels until at least January 31, 2008. The Federal Antimonopoly Service has approved the agreement. Analysts say the measure is intended to shield voters from the effects of increasing inflation during the run-up to the December legislative elections. Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina said on October 24 that the government does not plan to increase export duties on foodstuffs, as some politicians have urged. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the price freeze is a temporary measure and the government will continue efforts to counter the root causes of the price rises. RC

Russia has submitted a proposal to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that would sharply limit the activities of OSCE election monitors, "The New York Times" reported on October 25. The proposals, which were submitted confidentially in September, would reduce the size of observer missions and forbid them from issuing reports or making public statements about elections in the days immediately following the voting. The proposals were reportedly co-sponsored by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Although unanimous consent would be required to change OSCE practices, Russia could unilaterally restrict the activities of the monitoring team that is expected for the December legislative elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). With just five weeks remaining before the vote, the Russian government has yet to invite the OSCE to send a monitoring team, although Russian officials have said Moscow intends to do so. Central Election Commission member Andrei Davydov told "Kommersant" on October 23 that Russia will invite "dozens" of observers, rather than the 400 that the OSCE has said it plans to send. British Member of Parliament Bruce George, who has served as an OSCE election monitor, told the daily that "Russia knows full well that...there is no way [the OSCE] will find that Russia's elections meet international standards." RC

October 25 marks the fourth anniversary of the arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Both men were sentenced to nine years' imprisonment in May 2005, but that sentence was later reduced to eight years, meaning that they have now served half their terms and are theoretically eligible for parole. To mark the occasion, 33 leading rights activists issued a statement describing the Yukos affair as "four years of unconcealed political repressions." They argued that the case radically altered the country's political and economic landscape. Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva told RFE/RL that "big business is a hostage to the federal powers and small and medium-sized businesses are hostage to local and regional authorities." Lebedev has filed three cases with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg concerning his treatment while in detention; the first case has been accepted and hearings are expected to begin shortly, RFE/RL reported. RC

The founder of oil giant Russneft, Mikhail Gutseriyev, who is wanted on suspicion of tax evasion, is in London and has applied for political asylum in Great Britain, "Izvestia" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on October 25. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that British authorities have informed the Russian government of the asylum application, but Gutseriyev's lawyer, Alla Yaminskaya, told the daily she knows nothing about it. Yaminskaya claimed that she is not in contact with Gutseriyev and does not know his whereabouts. Gutseriyev reportedly sold his controlling stake in Russneft in July to the Base Element holding company, which is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, for some $3 billion. As a former oligarch in exile, Gutseriyev joins Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, Leonid Nevzlin, Vladimir Vinogradov, Vladimir Dubov, and Aleksandr Smolensky. RC

Surprise, especially in the form of unpredictable personnel decisions, is the key to President Putin's political success, analyst Mikhail Rostovsky wrote in "Moskovsky komsomolets" on October 25. Rostovsky asserts that Putin views personnel "like living chess pieces" and says that Unified Russia party leader Boris Gryzlov learned of Putin's decision to head the party's list of candidates for the December Duma elections only moments before Putin announced it publicly on October 1. He quotes an anonymous, highly placed source as saying that Putin rarely consults with anyone on personnel decisions. "The center of decision making on federal personnel in Russia is limited to the confines of Vladimir Vladimirovich's head," the source said. According to Rostovsky's sources, deputy presidential-administration head Viktor Ivanov, who formally oversees personnel decisions, is often left surprised by major personnel announcements, including the recent appointment of Grigory Rapota as presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. RC

President Putin on October 24 nominated Altai Krai Federation Council representative Igor Slyunyayev to be the governor of Kostroma Oblast, reported the next day. Slyunyayev is an activist with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, and currently heads the party's regional coordinating council for the Southern Federal District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2007). His nomination must now be approved by the oblast legislature. The oblast's previous leader, Viktor Shershunov, was killed in an automobile accident on September 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). RC

St. Petersburg legislator Aleksei Timofeyev was thrown out of the A Just Russia party on October 24 after publicly suggesting that the party disband itself, Ekho Moskvy reported on October 25. Timofeyev, in a speech following an address by party leader and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, said that since both Unified Russia and A Just Russia are pro-presidential parties, there is no need for them to compete against one another in the December elections. Mironov told Interfax that Timofeyev was excluded for "discrediting the party." Mironov urged him to join Unified Russia, although if he leaves the A Just Russia faction in the St. Petersburg legislature, he will lose his mandate. RC

Olga Arefeva, a student from Petrozavodsk, was fined 1,000 rubles ($40) on October 24 for "disturbing public order" during a demonstration marking President Putin's 55th birthday on October 7, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Arefeva reportedly covered her face with a scarf while fellow students were marching to honor the president's birthday. Arefeva's lawyer, local legislator Aleksei Mosunov, said the case is a dangerous precedent and vowed to appeal. RC

Over 30,000 people attended four separate rallies in Chechnya on October 24 to register their support for a third presidential term for incumbent President Putin, and reported. Up to 20,000 people rallied in Grozny, and 5,000 each in Argun, Gudermes, and Achkhoi-Martan. The Constitution of the Russian Federation currently bars anyone from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, and to date Putin has said he sees no need to amend the constitution to remove that restriction. The demonstrators adopted formal appeals to the Federation Council to abolish that restriction, and to residents of other federation subjects to support a pan-Russian campaign to enable Putin to run for a third term. Young participants in Grozny carried placards declaring that Putin "ended the war in Chechnya" and describing him as the guarantee of stability on Chechen soil. LF

The first deputy and deputy foreign ministers of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI), together with that unrecognized republic's diplomatic representatives in 11 European states, have adopted a statement, posted on October 25 on the ChRI website, endorsing the warning issued on October 22 by London-based ChRI Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev that the Kremlin seeks to impel ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov to declare a North Caucasus emirate and to declare war on the entire world in the name of the region's Muslims. Zakayev alleged that the Kremlin initiative is intended to create a pretext for even more harsh reprisals against the region's population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22 and 23, 2007). The exiled diplomats appealed to Umarov to abide strictly by the objective, espoused by his predecessors as president, of building an independent Chechen state, in line with the ChRI constitution, and "to distance himself from those persons who for years have engaged in antistate policy." LF

Two brothers from Ekazhevo in Ingushetia, Amirkhan and Maksharip Khidriyev, were arrested on October 23 on suspicion of perpetrating the August 13 bombing of the Neva Express that runs between Moscow and St. Petersburg, reported on October 24. Over 60 people were injured in the bombing. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev confirmed the arrests the same day and said the two men have been taken to Moscow for questioning. The daily "Kommersant" on October 25 claimed that both men have a cast-iron alibi for the day of the bombing. LF

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has reopened a case dating from 1999 involving Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the independent Ingushetian website, who at that time was deputy prosecutor in the town of Malgobek, "Kommersant" reported on October 25, Yevloyev was suspected of having illegally engineered the release from pretrial detention of Suleiman Tsechoyev, who was suspected of having abducted Magomed Keligov, the brother of businessman and senior LUKoil executive Musa Keligov, in 1998. Tsechoyev was found murdered shortly after his release. "Kommersant" quoted Yevloyev as saying the reopening of the case is a clear attempt "to get us to shut up." The website has consistently highlighted and condemned corruption and mismanagement within the Ingushetian leadership; on October 22 it claimed that Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov had persuaded the Prosecutor-General's Office to arrest Yevloyev. LF

Nikol Pashinian and Shogher Matevosian, the editors in chief respectively of the newspapers "Haykakan zhamanak" and "Chorrort ishkhanutiun," have been charged with hooliganism and resisting arrest in connection with the October 23 incident in Yerevan when police used force against a group of opposition activists and journalists who sought to alert passersby through a loudspeaker to the October 26 rally planned by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Noyan Tapan reported on October 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). Pashinian told fellow journalists at an October 24 press conference that the oppositionists did not break the law, and he accused Aleksandr Afian, deputy head of the Yerevan police department, of ordering police to assault the oppositionists. Hrayr Karapetian, who heads the parliament faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, the junior partner in the coalition government, told journalists on October 24 that the "regrettable" police intervention constituted an unpardonable infringement on the right of free speech, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

Zhirayr Sefilian, who was sentenced in early August to 18 months' imprisonment on charges of illegal arms possession, has been denied parole in light of criticisms of the Armenian leadership he expressed during an October 17 argument with Samvel Petrosian, the deputy head of the prison where he is serving out his sentence, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on October 24. Sefilian was taken into custody in December 2006; under Armenian law, prisoners become eligible for parole after serving at least one-third of their sentence. Petrosian told RFE/RL he formally reprimanded Sefilian for statements "disrespectful of the state and the courts," and in light of that reprimand the relevant commission cannot accept any application he submits for parole. Speaking to RFE/RL, Sefilian again claimed that his arrest, together with that of fellow Karabakh war veteran Vartan Malkhasian, was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 11, 12, and 20, 2006, and July 2 and August 7, 2007). LF

The Georgian delegation on October 24 walked out of a session in Tbilisi of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported, citing the Georgian co-chairman of the commission, Deputy Minister for Conflict Resolution Dmitri Mandjgaladze. It was the first meeting of the commission in over a year. Mandjgaladze said, "we failed to agree on any of the issues due to the unconstructive position of the South Ossetian side." The South Ossetian side in turn accused the Georgian delegation of refusing to sign a formal protocol on the results of the two-day session, according to RIA Novosti as cited on October 25 by On October 24, Caucasus Press quoted Mandjgaladze as having said after the first day's talks that Russia and North Ossetia had agreed to a Georgian demand to locate an observation post on the northern edge of the conflict zone, but that the South Ossetian side was reluctant to consent. Also on October 23, Ambassador Yury Popov, who heads the Russian delegation to the talks, said Georgia and South Ossetia had agreed to hold weekly meetings at the headquarters of the Joint Peacekeeping Force deployed in the conflict zone, and that the pro-Georgian provisional South Ossetian administration would be represented at those weekly meetings. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution David Bakradze told journalists after the JCC session that Georgia is ready to continue talks within the JCC format, but at the same time he cast doubts on that body's effectiveness and called for a new format for talks, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The much-touted agreement under which the Georgian government sold the right to manage the national railway network to U.K.-based Parkfield Investment has been annulled, Georgian Economy Minister Giorgi Arveladze announced in Tbilisi on October 24. "Our major goal is always to have a contract that would benefit the country to the maximum," Arveladze added. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, who approved the sale on August 16, said last month that Parkfield "offered the best conditions" in the privatization tender, Caucasus Press reported on September 7. According to an analysis posted on August 20 on the Civil Georgia website, Parkfield acquired the right to manage the railway for 99 years and undertook to invest $1 billion in its modernization over the coming decade. That analysis also claimed that Parkfield was established with the specific objective of acquiring the Georgian railway network. Georgian State Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze was quoted by Caucasus Press on October 24 as saying the government is currently undecided whether to privatize the rail network entirely, to sell only part of it, or to sell just the management rights. LF

Kazakhstan blocked access to four opposition news websites on October 24 in what local media freedom activists condemned as "political censorship," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty, the head of the Adil Soz media rights group, Tamara Kaleeva, accused government officials of blocking access to the sites for nearly a week. She said that given the restrictions on traditional media outlets, electronic and Internet-based media offer an important alternative source of news for the Kazakh population. Kaleeva said that blocking the websites was illegal, and called for those responsible to be punished and the websites unblocked. Also speaking at the press conference, the operators of the websites linked the move to their sites' publication last week of the transcripts of wire-tapped telephone conversations reportedly involving senior government officials. The opposition websites include,, and In a statement to reporters, Kazakh Culture and Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbaev said on October 24 that he was not aware of the problem and that his ministry had "nothing to do with this incident," and promised to address the issue, Kazakh television reported. RG

Kazakhstan on October 24 lifted a ban on rocket launches from the Baikonur Space Center, clearing the way for a planned October 26 launch of three Russian global positioning satellites into space, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Kazakh authorities imposed an immediate ban on rocket launches after an unmanned Russian Proton-M rocket crashed last month after its launch from Baikonur (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 11, 2007). Two other Proton rockets crashed at Baikonur in July and October 1999, also leading to suspensions of launches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 8 and November 3, 1999). The Baikonur Space Center is one of the world's leading space facilities and is regularly used to launch commercial and military satellites, as well as missions to supply the International Space Station. RG

Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov said on October 24 that Kazakhstan seeks to build up its naval force in the Caspian Sea to guard its vast offshore oil fields, Reuters reported. The naval buildup is part of a broader effort to expand, train and develop the Kazakh armed forces, and conforms to a strategic goal of becoming an "advanced military power" within five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). Last month, Akhmetov made similar comments on plans to bolster Kazakhstan's naval force in the Caspian Sea, including the planned procurement of several large naval vessels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). In his October 24 comments, he said that Kazakhstan will promote its military contacts with other countries such as Turkey and Israel, while Russia will remain a key arms supplier to Kazakhstan, particularly in the antiaircraft-technology and aviation sectors. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has also vowed to purchase "the world's best" weapons and expand the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24 and May 9, 2007). RG

Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Saipov was fatally shot on October 24 by an unknown assailant, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz and Uzbek Services reported. The body of the 25-year old Saipov was discovered in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh. As the editor of the "Siyosat" (Politics) newspaper, he frequently wrote articles critical of the authorities in neighboring Uzbekistan, prompting speculation that his killing in the predominantly ethnic-Uzbek region around Osh may be linked to his coverage of Uzbekistan. President Bakiev has pledged to monitor personally the investigation into Saipov's killing, reported on October 25. RG

At a press conference in Bishkek, Omurbek Tekebaev, the leader of the opposition Ata-Meken Party, warned on October 24 that "the Kyrgyz authorities should not forget that all serious political changes in former Soviet countries have begun following violations during elections," the news agency reported. Tekebaev, referring to the recently announced parliamentary elections set for December 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007), added that his party will field candidates in the election based on a new alliance with the opposition Ak-Shumkar Party. He also said that although progovernment parties hold "considerable resources," his opposition alliance has "principles, history, and our voters." The co-chairman of the Ak-Shumkar Party, Kubatbek Baibolov, said the contest will be difficult, and that "it is necessary to take into account the fact that the opposition has united against a backdrop of looming dictatorship." Also on October 24, members of the government formally submitted their resignations following President Kurmanbek Bakiev's dissolution of the parliament, which came after the successful passage of the government's constitutional amendments in a national referendum on October 21, according to Kabar. Bakiev accepted the resignations, but asked the ministers to stay on in "a caretaker capacity" until the conclusion of the parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. RG

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov called on October 23 for the introduction of more comprehensive defense reforms, Turkmen Television reported. Following a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat, Berdymukhammedov ordered a group of senior military, national security, and law enforcement officials to accelerate reforms toward the goals of "maintaining public order and strengthening the country's defense capacity." He also gave detailed instructions on the implementation of military reforms, specifically prioritizing the "issue of introducing new uniforms," which he said must "be of modern design, smart, and also should [follow] national traditions." RG

The leader of the Esguliq human rights group, Karim Bozorboev, was arrested on October 23 by police in the central Uzbek city of Syrdarya, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and AP reported. According to his colleague Alisher Tashanov, Bozorboev was charged with fraud. Bozorboev joined the human rights group in 2004 after resigning from a state-affiliated political party, saying he was disgusted by corruption among Uzbek officials. RG

The Chamber of Representatives on October 24 passed a bill on pardoning some categories of convicts, Belapan reported. The bill applies to those convicted of crimes punishable by no more than six years in prison. Those who were convicted of grave economic crimes, such as larceny and fraud, and have served at least a third of their sentence may also be pardoned, provided that they did not commit the crime as part of an organized group. Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau told legislators that the amnesty will extend to some 2,500 convicts. Navumau said at a news conference later the same day that he does not know whether opposition politicians Alyaksandr Kazulin and Andrey Klimau will be pardoned under the amnesty bill. Navumau also denied that there are political prisoners in the country. "There are no political prisoners or politically motivated articles [of the Criminal Code] in Belarus. Many people whom the opposition is talking about were convicted on criminal charges," he noted. JM

The Justice Ministry has turned down a second application for registration from the Movement for Freedom, an organization led by former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Belapan reported. The ministry explained that the organization's founding conference, which was held on the property of a children's summer camp in Minsk Oblast, violated a law governing mass events. "The law on mass events does not govern founding conferences for nongovernmental organizations and we did not have to apply for permission to authorities [to hold the conference]. There is no such practice," Yury Hubarevich from the Movement for Freedom told journalists. "Of course we will appeal this decision by the justice ministry to the Supreme Court. And we will continue applying for registration," he said, adding that the movement will send a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee if the Supreme Court upholds the registration denial. The justice ministry rejected the organization's first application for registration earlier this year, citing alleged flaws in the organization's charter. The Supreme Court upheld that decision last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree to draft conscripts into Ukraine's armed forces in 2008, the presidential website reported on October 24 ( The decree establishes two periods for army drafts in 2008 -- in April-May and October-November. The coalition deal initialed by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc earlier this month provides for abolishing the military draft in 2008 and switching to a fully professional army in 2009. "The switch to a professional army requires a professional approach and precise calculations," presidential staff head Viktor Baloha commented on the presidential decree. JM

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has again imposed an entry ban on Eurasian Youth Union head Pavel Zarifulin and International Eurasian Movement leader Aleksandr Dugin, both from Russia, Interfax-Ukraine reported on October 24. Earlier this month, three representatives of the Eurasian Youth Union, which is banned in Ukraine, attempted to destroy the national symbols of Ukraine positioned on Hoverla peak in Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains. They shot a video of their attempt with their cell phones and made it available on the Internet. SBU acting Chairman Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said last week that the SBU has established the identity of the vandals. They are Eurasian Youth Union members Leonid Saviv, a Ukrainian citizen currently residing in Moscow, and Aleksandr Bovdunov and Valeriy Mantrov, both Russians. Nalyvaychenko said Zarifulin and Dugin planned the destruction of the symbols. Zarifulin and Dugin were barred from entering Ukraine in mid-2006, but the ban was lifted earlier this year under a Ukrainian-Russian agreement on eliminating entry bans placed on nationals of both countries. JM

Ordinary Serbs would rather vote for a new national president and new local councilors this year than postpone a vote until the future of Kosova is resolved, according to an opinion poll published on October 24. About 46 percent want elections to be held this year, as they would be normally. That is also the position of two of the government's three parties, the Democratic Party (DS) and the G17 bloc, and their supporters overwhelmingly share their view, the Strategic Marketing Agency survey found. The government's other party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and most of its supporters believe the votes should be put back, as do supporters of the country's largest party, the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Overall, roughly 26 percent of Serbs back a delay in the elections. The poll found that President Boris Tadic, a Democrat, would beat acting SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic by 24 percent to 18 percent in an election. With ratings of 25 percent, the DS is almost twice as popular as the DSS (13 percent). Serbia believes there should be no deadlines on talks on Kosova's future and, according to the news agency Tanjug, a senior DSS politician, Dusan Prorokovic, said on October 20 that he believes the talks will last the whole of 2008. AG

The Serbian authorities have "absolutely precise information" about the whereabouts and movements of Ratko Mladic, the leader of Bosnian Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina's civil war, Serbia's most prominent human rights activist, Natasa Kandic, claimed in an interview with AP on October 23. Kandic also said the country's Security and Information Agency (BIA) has told the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte, that Mladic will soon be arrested. According to Kandic, the BIA knows not just the whereabouts of Mladic but also where Stojan Zupljanin is hiding. The men are two of just four men still being sought by the ICTY; the others are the Bosnian Serbs' political leader, Radovan Karadzic, and a wartime leader of Croatian Serbs, Goran Hadzic. AG

In reaction, DSS spokesman Branislav Ristivojevic accused Kandic of "glaringly misleading the public," the news agency Tanjug reported on October 24. Ristivojevic also accused her of trying to prevent Serbia taking its first step toward joining the EU, by signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). The two other governing parties and the commission overseeing cooperation with the ICTY have yet to comment on Kandic's claims. Serbia's failure to capture Mladic is the principal reason given by the EU to explain why it has yet to sign an SAA with Serbia. In the past week, the Serbian authorities have carried out searches in three military barracks, all of which, they now say, were part of the hunt for fugitive war crimes indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). Mladic was not named as a specific target, and Serbia's defense minister said in September that he is "fully and completely" sure that Mladic is not hiding in military facilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). According to the broadcaster B92, the official heading the hunt for Mladic, Rasim Ljajic, said the latest search had "nothing to do with the forthcoming visit" to Belgrade by ICTY chief prosecutor Del Ponte. AG

The daughter of fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic said on October 23 that "surrender never was" and is not an "option" for her father. Surrender would be tantamount to accepting "execution," Sonja Jovicevic-Karadzic told the Bosnian television station Alternativna TV. Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, has twice called on him to surrender, most recently on October 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2007). Jovicevic-Karadzic said her mother made her first plea, in 2005, because she was under pressure from "foreign and domestic [intelligence] services," because "we really had had no contact with him and the only way to get in contact with him was through a public call," and because she was acting "in the best interests of...her children and grandchildren." Jovicevic-Karadzic said she does not know whether her father is still alive. The most recent operation conducted by the Bosnian authorities in their hunt for Karadzic was on October 19-20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). In her October 23 interview with AP, Serbian activist Kandic said that locating Karadzic is proving "a bit more complicated" than pinning down the whereabouts of Mladic. She said Karadzic is probably being sheltered by clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church. AG

A Macedonian police officer was killed and two of his colleagues injured on October 25 when their car was fired upon near the border with Kosova, the Macedonian police said. It is not clear whether the officer was killed by a bullet or by injuries suffered after the car spun out of control and crashed. The news agency Makfax reported that one of the two injured officers is in critical condition. "We have no information about the identity or the number of the attackers as yet," Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski told Makfax. He also said police believe the armed group may be based in Kosova, but added that "nothing can be confirmed at the moment." The area is commonly used by smugglers. The incident occurred close to the village of Tanusevci, a stronghold of ethnic-Albanian separatists in their six-month conflict with Macedonia's government in 2001. Tanusevci was also the site of an incident in September during which a former separatist leader, Xhezair Shaqiri, alleged that his supporters fired on police who were trying to enter the village (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). The claim was dismissed by the Macedonian authorities. Shaqiri has denied any involvement in the latest incident, Makfax reported. Shaqiri has been pushing for Tanusevci to hold a referendum to secede from Macedonia and unite with Kosova. AG

Serbian officials on the country's border with Bulgaria announced on October 24 that they have seized 160 kilograms of heroin, one of Serbia's largest drug seizures in the past decade, Radio Television-Serbia reported. The street value of the heroin was put at 5 million euros ($7 million), Reuters reported. According to local media reports, the drugs were hidden in a truck with Turkish license plates. Its supposed cargo was furniture for Austrian, Dutch, and French diplomats. The largest drug seizure made last year at the same border crossing, Gradina, was 111 kilograms, the news agency Beta noted. AG

Mladan Ivanic, a former Bosnian foreign minister, is one of 13 men charged on October 23 for their role in what, according to local media, prosecutors believe was an illegal deal aimed at raising funds for Ivanic's party, the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP). The case dates back to 2001 when Ivanic was the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity. Ivanic is accused of allowing a local logging company to cut timber on the proviso that it pay back money owed to the municipality and Republika Srpska government. No money was actually owed. Instead, prosecutors believe, the money was given to the PDP to fund its election campaign. The Republika Srpska's current prime minister, Milorad Dodik, told local media that he suspects the case, which was brought by the federal prosecutor, is an act of "political reprisal." He connected it directly to the Republika Srpska's current dispute with the Office of the High Representative, which plans to force through changes to speed up government and the passage of legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22 and 23, 2007). According to Dodik, Ivanic "has been making a principled political stance about the politics of enforcement, threats, and removals that the institution of the high representative is making in Bosnia-Herzegovina." AG

Croatia has begun building a bridge linking Dubrovnik, a UNESCO-listed coastal city on the Peljesac Peninsula, with mainland Croatia despite protests and threats of a lawsuit from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnian and Croatian media reported. When complete, the 2.4-kilometer-long bridge will allow drivers to avoid a short, 12-kilometer stretch of road that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The move is opposed by all three members of Bosnia's Presidency. Bosnia has voiced two principal objections: that the bridge might limit the access of ships to the Bosnian port of Neum, a concern that Croatia has sought to address by changing the design; and that questions remain about the countries' sea borders. "Bosnia is not opposed to Croatia's sovereign right to link parts of its territory but this cannot be done in a way that violates Bosnia's rights and interests," the Bosnian Muslims' representative in the presidency, Haris Silajdzic, said in a statement issued on October 25. The Bosnian Foreign Ministry said it is considering launching a legal effort to halt construction. The ethnic-Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, is skeptical about the immediate prospects of a political resolution of the dispute. "Serious talks about borders and the bridge should start only after elections" in Croatia, which will be held on November 25. Croatian President Stjepan Mesic criticized the lack of transparency that has dogged the project and questioned the wisdom of beginning construction. "The worst and the most costly thing would be to start building and then stop, because of a legal dispute. That's what I am afraid of," Mesic told Croatian reporters. AG

Iraqi Kurds, threatened with a military incursion by Turkey, find themselves in a pivotal position as Ankara and Washington seek solutions to a wave of attacks by Turkish Kurdish militants holed up in semi-autonomous northern Iraq.

In recent days, Turkey has deployed some 100,000 troops to the border areas of Kurdish-administered northern Iraq -- proof that Ankara is determined to force the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants out of its strongholds on the other side. At the same time, Turkey says it still wants a diplomatic solution to a crisis which has seen scores of Turkish troops killed in cross-border raids by PKK forces.

Ankara's diplomatic efforts focus on pressing Iraq's Kurdistan regional government (KRG) to take action against the PKK. But negotiations are not easy. To send Iraqi Kurdish fighters, the peshmerga, against the PKK -- possibly with the support of U.S. air power -- Iraqi Kurds will demand a high price from Ankara. How high a price is the million-dollar question.

Ankara has never, and still does not, recognize the KRG and refuses to meet with its representatives in any official capacity. That reflects Ankara's fear that any international respect shown to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region would only embolden Turkey's own Kurdish minority to seek similar home-rule status.

As Ankara and Washington look for solutions from the Iraqi Kurdish leaders -- who are among the strongest supporters of the United States in Iraq -- those same leaders see the crisis as presenting them with some valuable bargaining power. The target for any bargain is Turkey. The price is what Ankara might give in exchange for Iraqi Kurds moving against the PKK.

In its diplomatic push, Turkey has the support of Washington. The U.S. government -- which lists the PKK as a terrorist organization -- is also putting pressure on the Iraqi Kurds to push the PKK out. "The United States is determined to work with our allies in Iraq and to work with our allies in Turkey to try and deal with what is a very difficult situation of terrorism from a fairly remote part of northern Iraq," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on October 23. "And it requires information sharing, it requires a great deal of coordination."

But so far, the U.S. pressure on the Iraqi Kurds has not yielded much result. The State Department's senior Iraq adviser, David Satterfield, suggested on October 23 that Washington wants to see Iraq's Kurdish leaders do more. "We are not pleased with the lack of action," he told reporters in the U.S. capital, without specifying what kind of action he meant.

In public, Turkey is bargaining solely through the Baghdad government. That was apparent this week as the Turkish foreign minister, Ali Babacan, visited Baghdad. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he assured Babacan that Iraq "will not allow any party or any group, including the PKK, to poison our bilateral relations. And also I reassured [Babacan] that the Iraqi government will actively help Turkey to overcome this menace."

But the fact that Zebari is also a top official of one of the dominant Iraqi Kurdish parties may belie the appearance that this is entirely a state-to-state affair. Zebari is from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), whose support base is the region that abuts the Turkish border. Both the KDP, and its partner in the KRG, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have strong militias that are nominally part of Iraq's army but ultimately answer to the Kurdish parties.

Sami Shoresh, a former KRG minister, says the Iraqi Kurds are ready to discuss with Ankara alternative solutions to a Turkish invasion, but only if Ankara meets certain conditions. "The Kurds of Iraq have said that if the Turkish government announces a peaceful solution for the situation of the PKK inside Iraqi Kurdistan, and if the PKK refuses this political solution, then at that time the Kurds would be ready to think with the Americans, with the Iraqi government, with the Turkish government, about another kind of solution," he says.

This position recognizes that the PKK have had bases in Iraq since the 1980s and -- even though both the KDP and PUK have periodically fought with the PKK in shifting alliances since then -- there is some popular sympathy in northern Iraq for Turkish Kurd separatists.

But would Turkey offering a political solution to the PKK really be enough? Some independent observers with close ties to the KRG say privately that the price the Iraqi Kurds want is much higher. They say it could include Ankara formally recognizing the Kurdish-administered north of Iraq as part of the federal state of Iraq.

The observers say the recognition demands would at a minimum include accepting the KRG's representatives as officials. They might also include withdrawing Turkish opposition to including oil-rich Kirkuk as part of the Kurdish self-rule region. The future status and ethnic make-up of Kirkuk is hotly contested between Iraqi Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans -- a Turkic-speaking minority community whose claims are backed by Ankara.

As Turkey pursues diplomacy on the Iraqi side of the border, but threatens invasion by massing its forces on the Turkish side, does it have any other ways to step up pressure on the Iraqi Kurds to act? In the past, one such lever might have been economic action. Despite Turkey's nonrecognition of the Iraqi Kurdish area, cross-border trade is high and some 800 Turkish companies are working in the Kurdish-administered area.

Indeed, some of the area's largest construction projects -- funded in part by taxes on oil exports to Turkey -- have been completed by Turkish firms. They include the region's two airports, in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah.

But former minister Shoresh says that the time when Turkey could simply isolate northern Iraq economically by closing the border is now long gone. "Until now, there is nothing in the way of economic pressure from Turkey and maybe this has a link with another matter, which is the fact the Kurds now have many airports and they have good links with the whole world and even if Turkey closes the [border] gate, yes, there will be bad effects on the Kurdish economy but not as bad as those worst effects which we experienced 10 years ago," he says.

If so, Turkey's options now are just two. Send its army -- which is NATO's largest -- into Iraq despite Washington's opposition. Or negotiate the price for Iraqi-Kurd assistance.

Where the bargaining leads -- and whether it might yet end in Turkish military action -- is hard to predict. But over the coming days, and possibly weeks, intense behind-the-scenes negotiations appear to be more likely than a cross-border operation by the Turkish military.

(Charles Recknagel is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

Eimert van Middelkoop on October 24 pointedly challenged other NATO members to take on a fair share of the fighting in Afghanistan, as he opened two days of talks among alliance defense ministers in the Netherlands, AP reported. "There is no such thing as a free ride to peace and security," he said, adding that "it is not about what we are willing to say for a safer and more just world.... [But] what we are willing to do." The Dutch government has warned NATO that its parliament may not extend the country's mission in southern Oruzgan Province beyond next August without increased backup for the 1,600 Dutch troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency there. Any withdrawal of Dutch troops may instigate similar actions by Canada, which also faces a decision in 2009 on whether to extend the mission of its 1,700 troops in the south. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters he would consider the idea of a rotation system, under which member states would alternate positions in the relatively calm north and front-line positions in the volatile southern provinces. He added that the plan would be considered in the long run only and is not "a plan for the immediate future." For the first time, representatives from the United Nations, European Union, and World Bank participated in the NATO defense ministers' talks, in accordance with the alliance's goal of coordinating the Afghan security mission with other civilian reconstruction and governance efforts. JC

Both Germany and France agreed at NATO talks on October 24 to increase their troop contributions in Afghanistan, although not in a fighting capacity, AFP reported. France agreed for the first time to send military trainers to Afghanistan to work with Afghan National Army (ANA) troops in the volatile south, a Defense Ministry official said. Some 50 trainers are expected to be embedded with ANA soldiers in Oruzgan Province, said the French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added that the pledge is France's way of showing "its commitment to Afghanistan by responding favorably" to a request from Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer." German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung told reporters that his country wants to "triple our efforts for training the army," in addition to the current 60 army instructors already serving among its contingent of 3,100 troops stationed in the north. De Hoop Scheffer, along with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has of late expressed disappointment at the lack of commitment in Afghanistan by alliance members, warning that success there is "vital to global security" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). Lack of trainers and equipment remains an ongoing obstacle for Western forces combating the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, as they look to the ANA and local police to take over primary responsibility for maintaining security. JC

Khost Province Governor Arsallah Jamal was unhurt when a suicide car bomb exploded near his convoy on October 24, injuring two of his bodyguards and two civilians, AP reported. The bombing was the third attempted assassination against the governor, who was returning home after visiting districts along the Pakistani border. The injured were escorted to a nearby hospital by U.S. troops in the area, said the provincial police chief, General Mohammad Ayub. Elsewhere, U.S.-led coalition troops, following an intelligence lead, moved into militant hideouts in central Afghanistan, instigating a clash with suspected militants during which several were killed and two taken into custody. Troops also found weapons, ammunition, and explosive materials stored in the compound. JC

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on October 23 said it has launched an investigation into claims that civilians were killed in an October 22 air strike in the central Afghan province of Wardak, AFP reported. An ISAF spokesman said the force did not receive any reports of civilian casualties following the bombing raid near the town of Jalrez in Wardak Province, while an Afghan Defense Ministry statement only stated that "12 enemies of the people were killed," with no mention of civilian casualties. Afghan military commander Zalmai Khan told reporters that three civilians were wounded, but reported no deaths. But Haji Janan, the head of the Wardak provincial council, claimed that 13 villagers were killed, including 11 members of one family. The air strike was called in to target a large group of "antigovernment militants" seen preparing an ambush near the site of an attack less than two weeks earlier. The United Nations and the international community continue to criticize NATO for the high numbers of civilian casualties as a result of alliance air strikes and bombing raids (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 and August 1, 2007). JC

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Said Jalili, now Iran's ranking nuclear negotiator, met with EU foreign-policy coordinator Javier Solana in Rome on October 23 for talks on Iran's nuclear program later described as constructive, news agencies reported. Ali Larijani, whom Jalili recently replaced as lead negotiator, attended the talks as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative on the council. Solana later told the press there may be more talks before the end of November. Details of the talks were not immediately reported, but some news agencies have reported that Solana probably discussed the renewal of the EU's previous offer of economic incentives and cooperation with Iran in exchange for its freezing its nuclear fuel-making activities, which have potential bomb-making usage. Jalili told the press in Rome that Iran's basic policy on the issue is to cooperate and negotiate, "Iran" reported on October 24. Solana said separately in Rome on October 24 that the presence of several negotiators on the Iranian side could complicate talks, Reuters reported. He told Italy's RAI television that Larijani seemed to have a more decisive role in the team than Jalili, both in talks and at the subsequent press conference. VS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a Tehran press conference that Iran's case at the UN Security Council is just a "a lot of paper" without any "credibility," Radio Farda reported on October 24, citing news agency reports. The Security Council may discuss another round of economic sanctions for Iran late in November, if it believes Iran is continuing suspected violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Ahmadinejad said that "some people are telling us the...dossier is in the...Security Council, but we would tell them this is just a lot of paper. They have no credibility for us. Some people like to stick paper together, but...even if it is a 100,000 pages," the dossier would not have an impact on "Iranian decision making." He said Iran will not negotiate over its quest for "peaceful nuclear energy" and its case was "terminated in political terms, and the reason for that is clear. The case is now peacefully making its way in the" International Atomic Energy Agency, he said. VS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki appointed Ahmad Sobhani, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry's department for Europe and America, as the new deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, Mehr news agency reported on October 23. Sobhani replaces Said Jalili, who was named to head the Supreme National Security Council on October 20. Mottaki also appointed Alireza Sheikh-Attar, a deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, as "first" or senior deputy foreign minister, Mehr reported. VS

The EU expressed its profound concern over the state of human rights and press restrictions in Iran in a statement issued on October 23 by its rotating presidency, currently held by Portugal, Radio Farda reported. The statement reportedly urged the release of prominent rights activist Emadeddin Baqi and three recently jailed students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University. It also mentioned the closure of ILNA, a news agency close to labor groups that takes a mildly critical stance in some of its reports. Radio Farda reported that Baqi, the head of the Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights in Iran, wrote an open letter before his October 14 arrest to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, asking him to protect the social and personal rights of Iranians. He pointed out to Shahrudi the restrictions he and his family have recently faced, including his being banned from teaching, engaging in press work, or giving interviews. His house, he wrote, was being watched by agents in neighboring buildings and his telephone was probably tapped. VS

Amnesty International has expressed concern in a statement over Iran's bid to execute Soghra Najafpur, a 30-year-old woman sentenced to death over a killing when she was 13 and who is currently in hiding, Radio Farda reported on October 24. The broadcaster, citing the women's website "Zanestan," reported that she was released on bail of about $60,000 on October 1, but prison authorities expect her to return to face her execution sentence. According to the Amnesty statement, Najafpur was sent as a domestic servant to a house in the town of Fumen in the northern Gilan Province when she was 9 years old, and was accused four years later of killing the family's 8-year-old son. She apparently confessed to the murder under questioning, but later retracted her confession. She was scheduled to be hanged when she was 17, but was reprieved with the victim's family's consent at the last minute. But the family reportedly insisted on the sentence being carried out when they found out she was freed on bail. Her release order required her to return to prison to face the sentence on October 22, Radio Farda and Amnesty International reported. VS

Iran has executed several convicted criminals in recent days. It executed a man identified as Mehran on October 22 in the south-central town of Kazerun, after he was convicted of killing two people in the 2001-03 period, "Iran " reported on October 24. Mehran, whose age was not given, shot dead a 16-year old in 2001-02 with an accomplice, in an apparent feud, and killed a man in 2002-03 to take his "young wife," whom he had "come to like." Police shot dead his accomplice at an unspecified date when he escaped from prison. Mehran was publicly whipped and executed, probably by hanging, early on October 22, Kazerun district judiciary chief Arsalan Ashrafi told "Iran." A 24-year-old convicted of murder and armed robbery was hanged in a prison in Isfahan in central Iran on October 23, "Kayhan" reported the next day. The man, identified as Mohammad A., killed a man in his home during a robbery. On October 24, a man identified as Hamed was hanged in public in the district of Sahlabad near the southern city of Shiraz, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 25. He shot a 16-year-old girl in early April, then slit her throat and stabbed her 25 times for repeatedly rejecting his marriage proposals. The authorities also hanged three "corrupt" men on October 24 inside the main prison in Zahedan, in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province. They were convicted of offenses including kidnapping, rape, and child abuse, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

Several Turkish military officials acknowledged on October 24 that Turkish forces have carried out limited operations inside northern Iraq against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters, international media reported the same day. AP quoted a senior Turkish military official as denying that any cross-border operations have taken place, but he did concede that shelling has been carried out by Turkish artillery against PKK positions. The attacks were seen as retaliation for the October 21 killing of 12 Turkish soldiers by PKK fighters who infiltrated into Turkey from northern Iraq (see RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). Meanwhile, the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet" on October 24 quoted Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Cemil Cicek as saying that Turkish F-16 fighters have flown up to 50 kilometers into Iraqi airspace and attacked suspected PKK training camps. The paper also reported the same day that Turkish special forces have conducted "hot-pursuit" operations against PKK fighters, as well as rescue operations to free the eight Turkish soldiers being held captive by the rebels. SS

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's office issued a statement on October 24 denying rumors that he has agreed to hand over all PKK leaders based in Iraq to Turkey, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. "We have said many times that the PKK leadership does not exist in Kurdish cities but are living with thousands of their fighters in the Qandil Mountains, so it is not possible for us to arrest and hand them over to Turkey," Talabani said in a statement. Earlier the same day, an unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry official indicated that Talabani told Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that Iraq will hand over all Kurdish rebels to Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly called on the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) to arrest all PKK leaders in Iraq and extradite them to Turkey. The lack of action on the KRG's part has prompted several Turkish officials to accuse the KRG of protecting the PKK. SS

The Iraqi government announced on October 24 that it has revoked the law granting immunity from prosecution to private security firms operating in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told a news conference: "The cabinet held a meeting yesterday and decided to scrap the article pertaining to security companies operating in Iraq that was issued by the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] in 2004. It has decided to present a new law regarding this issue which will be taken in the next cabinet meeting." CPA Order No. 17 stated that private contractors "shall be immune from the Iraqi legal process." Iraqi officials have been highly critical of the provision, saying it allows the firms to operate with impunity. Iraqi lawmakers have also accused the security firms of employing highly aggressive and sometimes deadly tactics that have led to the deaths of civilians. The most well-known incident was on September 16, when security contractors from the U.S. firm Blackwater killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad's Al-Nusur Square (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007). SS

The Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front issued a statement on October 24 saying that Iraqi security forces opened fire on the offices of Adnan al-Dulaymi, the leader of the General Council for the People of Iraq and head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, Al-Arabiyah satellite television reported the same day. The front accused Iraqi security forces of intentionally firing on al-Dulaymi's office, located in the Al-Adl district of Baghdad. The statement added that al-Dulaymi, his spokesman, and two office guards were wounded in the incident. In an interview with KUNA, al-Dulaymi accused government forces of trying to assassinate him. This is the second incident within a week in which an Iraqi Accordance Front member was attacked. On October 17, unknown gunmen killed Sheikh Ahmad Khalil al-Mashhadani, a senior political adviser to al-Dulaymi, in the western Baghdad district of Al-Amiriyah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). SS

Following a meeting with Iraqi President Talabani in Baghdad on October 23, Russia's Ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Jamov, announced that Moscow will soon open consulates in both Irbil and Al-Basrah, KUNA reported on October 24. During the meeting, Talabani stressed the importance of bolstering bilateral relations with Russia, particularly in the political, economic, and cultural sectors. "The Iraqi leadership has agreed to foster closer ties with Russia, as such development would be in the best interest of the two parties, as well as the region and for world peace," Talabani said. He also said that he was encouraged that Russian construction firms have been heavily involved in reconstruction efforts in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. For his part, Jamov reiterated Russia's support for the Iraqi government and indicated that the consulates will open in a few weeks, first in Irbil and then in Al-Basrah. SS

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned on October 23 that any conflict involving Turkey and Iraq could lead to greater numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Iraq, the UN News Agency reported. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond noted that northern Iraq, the most secure part of the country, is currently home to 800,000 IDPs and major conflict in the north could lead to greater displacement throughout Iraq. "We fear that displacement inside central and southern Iraq will increase as safe havens outside Iraq and in the north become increasingly inaccessible," Redmond said. SS