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Newsline - October 29, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said at the Russia-EU summit in Mafra, Portugal, on October 26 that the planned U.S. missile-defense system, which will include components in Poland and the Czech Republic, is comparable to the Soviets' installation of missiles in Cuba, which led to the crisis of 1962, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25 and 26, 2007). He argued that "analogous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles on Cuba, caused the Caribbean [missile] crisis. For us, the [current] situation is technically very similar.... Threats to our country are now being created on our borders." Putin stressed nonetheless that "I fully agree with [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush when he says that the United States and [Russia] are no longer enemies. We are partners. My personal relationship of trust with President Bush certainly helps smooth such problems over. And just as he calls me his friend, I have every reason to call him my personal friend." Putin noted that trade between Russia and the EU is growing "at an unprecedented pace" despite what he called differences on political matters. Putin said that he hopes that the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expires in December, will be automatically extended for another year in the absence of a new treaty. He also repeated Russia's proposal "to continue our work in setting up an early-warning mechanism for the supply and demand for energy resources from Russia to the European Union. It is based on exchange of information about potential problems and ways to resolve them." PM

In his remarks at the Russia-EU summit in Mafra on October 26, President Putin called for setting up a joint "Russian-European institute for freedom and democracy" based in Brussels, international media reported. He added that "its goal will be to activate a dialogue among representatives of the public, government structures, and experts in [several fields. They include] organizing and monitoring elections, [and studying] the status of ethnic minorities and migrants on the territory of the European Union, and in Russia too. [They will also discuss] freedom of speech and other issues of interest" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). Putin noted that the EU "by means of grants, is helping develop [democratic] institutions in Russia. Considering our growing economic and financial capabilities, I think the time has come for the Russian Federation to do the same in the European Union and make its own financial contribution in the development of this dialogue." On Russian domestic issues, Putin said: "I don't think the balance of power inside the executive branch in Russia should be changed. And if anybody believes that I intend to move to the government and transfer most of the power to the government, it is not true. There will be no reduction of the powers of the Russian president -- at least not as long as it depends on me." He added that "as far as my future job is concerned, I'm still undecided about where I will work and what I will do." PM

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Lisbon on October 26 that energy, Russia's proposed membership in the World Trade Organization, and delays in crossing frontiers between the EU and Russia still remain problems in relations between Brussels and Moscow, international media reported. He noted that "the European Union is moving further toward greater liberalization of the European Union energy market, and we have discussed, very openly, this issue with our Russian partners" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20 and 25, and October 23, 2007). Barroso added that "we have also raised the human rights issues, and we welcome the fact that Russian authorities decided to invite OSCE observers to the next elections in Russia according to normal OSCE standards and practices." He noted that the EU remains concerned about the unsolved murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana suggested that the many Russia-EU summits held during Putin's tenure have been "productive." Solana added that "without any doubt, the relationship between the European Union and Russia is deeper today, and I think the world, if we keep working together, will be a better place." But many Western media were less sanguine, noting that Putin followed his established practice of seeking to divide Europe from the United States and to drive a wedge between the older EU members and the newer ones, especially Poland and the Baltic states. Deutsche Welle observed on October 26 that Brussels-Moscow relations have reached a low point and that the summit resolved none of the most important outstanding issues between Russia and the EU. The German broadcaster said that Putin made it clear that Europe is of secondary importance to him and that relations with Washington are his primary concern. Putin came across to his hosts as "a new tsar rather than a democratic leader," Deutsche Welle added. The BBC stressed that Putin's message is that Russia wants to be a partner, but only on its own terms. One BBC commentator added that the root of the problem is that Russia "does not want to accept modernity." Several broadcasters noted that some EU leaders were visibly relieved that there was no major clash with Putin in public. PM

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in College Station, Texas, on October 27 that he finds President Putin's comparison of the proposed U.S. missile-defense project with the Cuban missile crisis "fairly troubling," international media reported. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on October 27 that the two situations are not analogous and that there are "clear historical differences" between them. But at the convention of the Social Democratic Party in Hamburg on October 27, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the missile-defense project, which he said has given rise to "misunderstandings" between Washington and Moscow, Deutsche Welle reported. He also stressed the importance for Germany of its "strategic partnership" with Russia. Steinmeier nonetheless joined French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in publishing an appeal on October 29 in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," in which the two urged Russia not to make good on its threat to "suspend" participation in the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty on December 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). PM

Russia and the United States issued a joint declaration on October 28 in which they appealed to all countries to "renounce ground-launched intermediate- and shorter-range missiles" and seek to eliminate them completely, Reuters reported. The appeal in effect calls on all countries to adhere to the 1987 U.S.-Soviet Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which Russia wants to revise and expand to include other countries. Colonel General Nikolai Solovtsov, who heads the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, said at his headquarters in Vlasikha near Moscow on October 26 that Russia will be able to resume production of short- and medium-range missiles "in the near future" if the "political decision" is made to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). PM

A spokesman for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said in Moscow on October 26 that Aleksandr Feklisov died earlier that day, aged 93, Reuters reported. The news agency described him as "a KGB master agent who ran some of Moscow's most damaging Cold War spies in the West -- [German-born scientist] Klaus Fuchs and [Julius and Ethel] Rosenberg," who helped speed the development of the Soviet nuclear program. As the KGB resident in the United States during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Feklisov "played a key role as a behind-the-scenes intermediary between the Kremlin and Washington," the news agency added. PM

Large demonstrations have been held in several Russian cities in recent days to urge President Putin to serve a third term, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 25. On October 23, several thousand Russians demonstrated in Volgograd and 5,000 demonstrated in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky; on October 24 up to 20,000 participated in a demonstration in Grozny and 10,000 marched in Tver. On October 25, the Chelyabinsk Oblast legislature passed a resolution asking Putin to serve another term. The Tyumen Oblast legislature has adopted a similar measure, RFE/RL reported. Four separate pro-Putin demonstrations took place on October 24 in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). Although the role of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in organizing the demonstrations is unclear, the party on October 26 decided to support the movement, reported. Regional party leaders were urged to participate in further demonstrations. Vyacheslav Volodin, general secretary of the party's General Council, denied that the party organized the earlier demonstrations, saying that they "were organized either naturally or on the initiative of one or another civic organization." Regional political analyst Aleksandr Kynev told the website the demonstrations are "an attempt to convince people that everyone is for Putin, so you should be, too." He added that the demonstrations are "carefully orchestrated and organized," and noted that they have identical banners, signs, and slogans. "There is nothing spontaneous about them," Kynev said. Unified Russia has attempted to cast the December 2 Duma elections as a national referendum on Putin and his policies since Putin agreed to head the party's list of candidates on October 1. RC

As many as one-third of the people on the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia's list of 600 candidates for the December Duma elections are dollar millionaires, political analyst Mikhail Tulsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service on October 26. Tulsky drew attention to Viktor Rashnikov, an owner of the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine, who is believed to be worth from $5 billion to $9 billion. Also on the list is Metallinvest holding company owner Andrei Skoch, whose fortune is estimated at $2 billion to $3 billion. Other billionaires include Boris Zubitsky of Tula Oblast and Novotek natural-gas company owner Leonid Simanovsky, who is running from Khanty-Mansiisk. Retail-chain owner Vladimir Gruzdev, running from Moscow, is worth an estimated $800 million. Tulsky said that about 10 candidates can be considered linked to Gazprom, including Valery Yazev, who currently heads the Duma's Energy, Transport, and Communications Committee, and Natalya Komarova, who heads the Duma's Natural Resources Committee. The analyst considers five candidates to be representatives of LUKoil. According to on October 26, the poorest candidate on the Unified Russia list is former Nashi press secretary Robert Shlegel, who reported no income for 2006, claimed to own only a 15-year-old Mazda car, and reported just 372 rubles of savings. Asked to estimate the total wealth of the people on the list, Tulsky said it would be between $30 billion and $50 billion. Asked how this information might affect the party's reputation, Tulsky noted that "very few media outlets write anything critical of Unified Russia these days." RC

President Putin, who heads the Unified Russia list for the Duma elections, also submitted a declaration of assets, reported on October 26. He reported earning 2 million rubles ($81,000) in 2006 and reported having 3.7 million rubles in savings. He also reported owning two Volga automobiles from the 1960s and an apartment of 77 square meters in St. Petersburg, all of which he inherited from his parents, as well as a small plot of land outside Moscow and 230 shares in St. Petersburg Bank. The assets report is similar to the one Putin filed when he participated in the 2004 presidential election. RC

The Central Election Commission on October 26 rejected complaints by the Communist Party and the Union of Rightist Forces concerning President Putin's October 18 nationally televised question-and-answer session, and other Russian media reported the same day. The parties argued that the president's appearance constituted illegal campaigning for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23 and 24, 2007). reported on October 29 that both parties plan to take their complaint to the Supreme Court and, in the event that they do not receive satisfaction there, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The election commission ruled that since Putin conducts the so-called Direct Line appearances regularly, the latest one was not a campaign activity. In his statement before the commission, Communist Party representative Vadim Solovyov said, "Unified Russia is trying to repeat the actions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union!" RC

Forty-nine percent of Russians agreed that Unified Russia should officially become the "leading force of government like, in its time, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was, capable of controlling the actions of all organs of power and of appointing its own people to responsible positions," a Levada Center poll has found, "Vedomosti" reported on October 26. Thirty-seven percent disagreed with this assertion. Levada analyst Lyov Gudkov told the daily that the results represent "an organized consensus, the product of propaganda, the discrediting of other parties and their elimination from the political field." In another Levada Center poll, 37 percent of respondents said Russia does not need a Duma at all, RBK reported on October 29. Forty-eight percent said the country needs a Duma. A third Levada Center poll found that 55 percent of Russians are prepared to vote for Unified Russia, "Kommersant" reported on October 26. In the same survey, the Communist Party polled just 6 percent, while the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and A Just Russia polled 4 percent each. That would mean that only Unified Russia would win enough votes to earn seats in the next Duma and some mandates would have to be distributed to the second-place party under a provision of the law designed to prevent one party from monopolizing the legislature. RC

The Central Election Commission on October 27 refused to certify the Green Party as eligible to participate in the December Duma elections, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other Russian media reported. The commission found that 17 percent of the signatures the party submitted in support of its list of candidates were invalid, far exceeding the figure of 5 percent needed to refuse registration. Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov recused himself from the voting, noting that he worked for environmental causes in the early 1990s. On October 28, the commission similarly refused to register Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin's People's Union and the Peace and Unity Party. The commission ruled that 8.56 and 5.16 percent, respectively, of their submitted signatures were invalid. As a result of the disqualifications, 11 parties will appear on the December 2 ballot, unless a court overturns the disqualifications. On October 31, a drawing will be held to determine the order in which the parties will appear on the ballot paper. RC

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on October 27 attempted to hold a regional conference of his new For Democracy and Justice Party in Ufa, Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other Russian media reported. The event was cancelled, however, when police closed the venue and said a bomb threat had been called in. No bomb was found at the site. Conference organizers then attempted to move the event to a local hotel, but as soon as Kasyanov began his opening remarks, the electricity was cut off in the building. After organizers decided to proceed despite darkness and cold, police appeared on the scene and broke up the conference. Kasyanov's supporters threatened to appeal to the federal authorities, after which police informed them that a bomb threat had been called in for the hotel as well. According to, shortly after Kasyanov left for the airport, electricity was restored to the hotel and the police sappers left the building. Kasyanov was able to meet briefly with supporters in the corridor of a residential building in Ufa on October 26. Kasyanov criticized President Putin for not yet inviting foreign election monitors for the Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007), noting that even communist-era leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Konstantin Chernenko, Yury Andropov, and Mikhail Gorbachev allowed international monitors. RC

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on October 26 on businessman Malik Saidullayev as he was entering his office building on Moscow's Lenin Prospekt, reported. Saidullayev was hospitalized with two gunshot wounds that doctors said were not life-threatening. It is not clear whether the attempt to kill him was connected with his political or commercial interests. In 1999, Saidullayev was elected to head a Moscow-based Chechen State Council, and he was barred from participating in the 2003 and 2004 elections for Chechen administration head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12 and 26, 2003 and July 23 and 27, 2004). Five months ago, he announced following talks with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov his intention to return to Chechnya and invest heavily in developing the republic's tourism potential. A second prominent Moscow-based Chechen politician, Yusup Soslambekov, was similarly gunned down on the street in Moscow seven years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19 and 27, 2000). LF

Azerbaijan's state rail company has demanded from its Russian counterpart an explanation for an October 26 attack in Kalmykia by a group of some 50-60 men armed with knives on Azerbaijanis traveling by train from Tyumen to Baku, reported. Some 25 people were injured, four of them seriously. Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry on October 29 denied any knowledge of the fight, while the National Security Ministry confirmed it took place and that 25 Azerbaijani passengers were injured, according to LF

Speaking on October 26 at a rally in Yerevan of some 30,000 of his supporters, Levon Ter-Petrossian confirmed that he plans to participate in the presidential election due in early 2008, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a 90-minute address, Ter-Petrossian elaborated on harsh criticisms of the present Armenian leadership he first expressed at an impromptu speech on September 21 to mark the anniversary of Armenia's declaration of independence (see "Armenia: Former President Lambastes 'Criminal Regime,'", September 24, 2007). Specifically, Ter-Petrossian accused incumbent President Robert Kocharian, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term, and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, regarded as the most likely candidate to succeed Kocharian, of "state racketeering," and the leadership at large of having misappropriated some $3 billion-$4 billion over the past five years. He further rejected as inflated government statistics demonstrating double-digit economic growth for the past six years. Ter-Petrossian was first elected president in 1991 and reelected in 1996 in a ballot that one of his close associates subsequently admitted was rigged; he stepped down in February 1998 under pressure. LF

Armenia, together with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, has expressed support for Russia's request that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission to be deployed for the December 2 elections to the State Duma number no more than 50 people, and that the monitors be barred from releasing their assessment of the conduct of that ballot until after the official results are made public, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on October 26 quoting a spokeswoman for the OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). Those same seven countries launched an initiative three years ago calling for a fundamental refocusing of the OSCE's priorities and activities and criticizing its election monitoring as "politicized" and as failing "to take into account the specifics of individual countries" (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2004). The ODIHR spokeswoman expressed bewilderment that Armenia should back Russia's initiative just months before the Armenian presidential election due in early 2008. "It is not a good proposal and flies in the face of what we have been doing for the past 10 years," she said. Kyle Scott, who is deputy head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE, similarly said on October 25 in Vienna that "the Russian proposals do nothing" to strengthen the work of the OSCE. Speaking in Yerevan on October 26, Hrayr Karapetian, who heads the parliamentary faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, a junior partner in the coalition government, said his party opposes restricting the activities of OSCE election monitors, Noyan Tapan reported. He argued that the number of observers should on the contrary be increased to encompass all polling stations. LF

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict met in Baku on October 26 with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Azerbaijani media reported. Echoing statements by Armenian officials following the co-chairs' talks on October 24 in Yerevan, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibragim told on October 26 that the co-chairs did not bring any new proposals for resolving the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). Meanwhile, the dailies and took issue with U.S. co-chair Matthew Bryza's statement on arriving in Baku on October 25 that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan could sign an interim agreement on the basic principles for resolving the conflict in early 2008, prior to the presidential elections to be held in both countries in the course of that year. The co-chairs returned to Yerevan on October 27 where they met again with Armenian President Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Mediamax reported. LF

The 10 opposition parties that aligned last month to form the National Council staged protest rallies on October 28 in the west Georgian towns of Tsalendjikha, Senaki, and Zugdidi, Caucasus Press and reported. A scuffle in Tsalendjikha between oppositionists and representatives of the local authorities failed to disrupt the rally, according to Goga Khaindrava of the Equality Institute. He estimated attendance in the thousands. Supporters of the ruling United National Movement also assaulted and beat two opposition parliamentarians, Bezhan Gunava and Bidzina Gudjabidze, after the rally in Zugdidi. Further rallies are planned for October 29 in the west Georgian towns of Tkibuli, Ambrolauri, and Tsageri in the run-up to a mass protest scheduled for November 2 in Tbilisi. Meanwhile, businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili released a statement on October 28 announcing that he will provide funding to enable the opposition to hold protest rallies "in a civilized manner," Caucasus Press reported. On October 27, Joni Mikeladze formally returned to the state chancellery the Order Of Honor bestowed on him by President Mikheil Saakashvili for his role in the May 2004 ouster of Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported. Mikeladze explained his decision in terms of what he termed the Georgian authorities' violations of human rights and lack of concern for the Georgian people. LF

Former Shida Kartli Governor Mikheil Kareli was released from pretrial detention on October 27 after posting 200,000 laris ($126,000) bail, reported. Kareli, a close associate of disgraced former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, was arrested in September and charged with corruption. Representatives of the ombudsman's office who visited him in detention last week expressed concern that his health was deteriorating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 24, and 26 and October 3 and 24, 2007). LF

The Tbilisi Municipal Court on October 27 handed down five-year suspended prison terms to seven Abkhaz border-guard trainees taken prisoner during a shoot-out in mid-September, Caucasus Press reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). In line with a pledge given by Minister for Conflict Resolution David Bakradze during an October 25 visit to Sukhum(i), the seven men were released from the courtroom and were then handed over to the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which arranged their return to Abkhazia. Rusgen Gogokhia, a former member of one of the two Georgian guerrilla organizations active in Abkhazia in the late 1990s, argued on October 29 that the Georgian authorities should have demanded the release of two Georgians currently held in Abkhaz jails in return for freeing the seven Abkhaz, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Relatives of David Kekua, a former head of the Tbilisi criminal police, have demanded an investigation into his death in pretrial detention, reported on October 26. Kekua, 43, was fired in May 2007 and charged with fabricating evidence and abuse of office. He was found hanged in his cell on October 25 in what prison officials termed a clear suicide, Caucasus Press reported the following day. LF

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, on October 26 accused the president of ordering the killing of a prominent opposition leader last year. Speaking by telephone from Vienna, Aliev also said that he plans to release the results of his own investigation into the February 2006 killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev, his driver, and bodyguard near Almaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). Sarsenbaev was a prominent leader of the For a Just Kazakhstan opposition group and was also affiliated with the opposition Ak Zhol and Naghyz Ak Zhol parties, and was a member of Zharmakhan Tuyakbai's team during his unsuccessful challenge of Nazarbaev in the December 2005 presidential election. A former Kazakh ambassador to Austria, Aliev is accused of arranging the kidnapping of two Nurbank executives and remains in self-imposed exile in Austria after an Austrian court rejected a Kazakh extradition request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, and 13, and August 9, 2007). RG

European Union Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs on October 28 expressed concern over a recent Kazakh law on energy and resources, saying that the European Commission is "studying" the possible impact of the law on the liberalization of the country's energy sector, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Piebalgs also expressed concern over the law's impact on European investment in the country, and said that the commission is analyzing the new law's conformity "with the regulations of the Energy Charter Treaty, particularly in the field of supporting and protecting investment." He noted that "above all, a favorable and predictable investment climate in the country is a guarantee of the attraction of large-scale energy projects," and warned that a "successful partnership in the energy sector should be based on mutual respect, predictability, and the principle of nondiscrimination." Piebalgs further explained that "Kazakhstan is an important partner for the EU in energy cooperation," noting that "a memorandum of understanding on energy issues has also been signed with Kazakhstan," in which "any new changes" to Kazakh law require "a through study by both sides." The adoption of the new law grants Kazakhstan greater authority over the operations of international energy companies in the country and follows the suspension of operation at the large offshore Kashagan oil field. That suspension, initiated by the Kazakh authorities in August, lasted for three months due to alleged violations of environmental-protection laws, as well as repeated delays and cost overruns by the Italian-led international consortium in charge of developing the oil field (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). RG

Kazakh officials in the Kostanai region on October 26 fined four demonstrators who participated in an "unsanctioned" opposition rally protesting recent price rises, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. According to Irina Khorosheva, a regional government official, the four demonstrators were fined some $200 each for attending a demonstration by several hundred people on October 24. Khorosheva explained that the local authorities decided to withhold permission for the rally because the opposition organizers "prepared documents incorrectly." She contended that "the holding of the rally by opposition members was nothing but a PR action," arguing that "the situation with prices has been stabilized in the region." The demonstration, organized by local members of the opposition National Social Democratic Party, was one of a series of rallies throughout the country to protest the recent rise in prices for foodstuffs and basic commodities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13 and 22, 2007). RG

Kanybek Cholponbaev, the local police chief in the Kochkor district, apologized on October 26 for an incident involving the stopping of a vehicle carrying several Kyrgyz opposition leaders earlier in the day, adding that it was a mistake, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. The incident occurred in the eastern Naryn region when an armed group of unidentified masked men in camouflage uniforms stopped vehicles carrying Ata-Meken (Fatherland) leader Omurbek Tekebaev and Ak-Shumkar (White Falcon) leaders Temir Sariev and Kubatbek Baibolov, and then proceeded to physically assault two of their bodyguards and fire their weapons into the air before releasing the group. Cholponbaev explained that the armed men were police "conducting an operation against criminal groups" and the opposition leaders were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he welcomed the fact that none of the leaders was hurt. The opposition leaders were returning to Bishkek after participating in a regional conference. RG

Kurmanbek Bakiev on October 26 fired Kyias Moldokasymov, the director of the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Corporation (UTRK), according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the website. Following the dismissal, which was not accompanied by any explanation or official justification, Bakiev appointed former opposition leader and onetime parliamentarian Melis Eshimkanov to replace Moldokasymov. Eshimkanov is one of the owners of the independent "Agym" (Stream) newspaper and was one of the main leaders of a series of mass demonstrations against Bakiev earlier this year. The UTRK is currently being reformed from a state organization into a public-broadcasting station. RG

Several dozen demonstrators staged a silent rally on October 26 commemorating the death of prominent Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Saipov, Kyrgyz television reported. The demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry in Bishkek and called for a "thorough and objective investigation" into the death of Saipov, who was killed on October 24 by an unknown gunman in the southern region of Osh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Nurlan Shakiev also recently announced that President Bakiev would personally lead the inquiry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). RG

Kyrgyzstan's human rights ombudsman, Tursunbai Bakir uulu, expressed his concern on October 25 over the killing of Saipov and accused an unnamed "neighboring country" of complicity in the killing, Kyrgyz television reported. As the editor of the "Siyosat" (Politics) newspaper, Saipov often 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 state corruption in Uzbekistan. RG

In a statement released in Bishkek, Damir Lisovsky, a member of the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission, announced on October 27 that over 50 political parties have applied for formal accreditation to run in the December 16 parliamentary elections, AKIpress reported. Lisovsky said that with the expiration of the deadline for registration on October 26, some 22 political parties have already acquired official certification, with commission officials now considering the outstanding applications, according to Kabar. A second deadline, for the submission of candidates from party lists, is set for November 25, with the formal campaign for the parliamentary election starting on November 26. The Central Election Commission also announced on October 25 that the total cost of the December elections is estimated to exceed 151. 5 million soms ($4.2 million), including more than 43 million soms ($1.19 million) for the operation of precinct election commissions, with 13,000 soms ($361) allocated per each commission, and 98 million soms ($2.7 million) to cover "expenses of logistical support," and about 20 million soms ($556,000) for candidates' television broadcasting. RG

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov presided on October 27 over the commemoration of Turkmenistan's 16th anniversary of independence, including a military parade and a celebration of national culture, ITAR-TASS reported. The independence day celebration was the first for Berdymukhammedov as president, but closely followed the routine of past annual commemorations held under the late President Saparmurat Niyazov, according to Turkmen Television. Berdymukhammedov, who worked as a dentist before becoming a deputy prime minister and health minister, was appointed interim president in December 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 22, 2006), but was not officially elected president until February. Berdymukhammedov met on October 26 and 27 with several visiting dignitaries, in Ashgabat for the ceremony, including senior executives from the Russian Itera and Gazprom energy firms, as well as from the British-Russian TNK-BP group, Turkmen Television reported. RG

Sergei Ezhkov, an independent journalist in Tashkent, reported on October 26 that former Uzbek Judge Zokir Isaev has fled to neighboring Kazakhstan and applied for refugee status with the United Nations in Almaty, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and the website reported. Isaev resigned in July, complaining of "interference" in his work by senior Uzbek officials. At that time, he reportedly sent a letter to President Islam Karimov in which he accused unnamed government officials of using the president's name to "destroy anyone who is in their way." Isaev was best known as the presiding judge in several of the trials of alleged organizers of the violence in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005, when security forces opened fire on several thousand protesters in the city's main square, killing hundreds. RG

Several Uzbek state-controlled Internet service providers blocked on October 26 articles on several websites concerning the journalist recently slain in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Alisher Saipov, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The independent website also confirmed on October 26 that all articles reporting on the Saipov killing on several Uzbekistan-based, Russian-language websites were inaccessible. Saipov, who was killed on October 24 by an unknown gunman in the southern city of Osh, often covered stories about corruption within Uzbekistan and Kyrgyz investigators are looking into reports that Uzbek security forces may have been behind his recent murder. In recent months, Uzbek state media carried numerous reports about Saipov, who was an ethnic Uzbek, calling him an "enemy of the Uzbek nation" and accusing him of destabilizing the situation in the country. RG

Hundreds of opposition activists marched on October 28 through Minsk to the nearby Kurapaty forest to mark Dzyady, the day of ancestor remembrance, Belarusian media reported. The crowd, which according to Belapan grew to 1,500 in Kurapaty, included representatives of the Belarusian Popular Front, the Conservative Christian Party, as well as prominent opposition politicians. Kurapaty is widely believed to be the site of Stalin-era mass executions of Belarusian intelligentsia. The march was sanctioned by the authorities and its participants were accompanied by police vehicles and officers in plainclothes. However, the authorities denied permission for a meeting planned by the opposition for October 29 to commemorate victims of Stalin-era repression. The civic committee for commemorating victims of Stalin-era repression has declared 2007 a year of remembrance for victims and October 29 as a day of remembrance. AM

Belarus's Supreme Court upheld on October 26 the denial of the registration of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights group, which is a successor of the prominent human rights organization Vyasna closed by the authorities in October 2003, Belapan reported. The Justice Ministry refused in August to register the group, claiming that its charter does not meet the requirements specified in a law on nongovernmental organizations. "It is absolutely clear that this decision is political. All of the flaws that led to the registration denial could be eliminated within a day," Vyasna founder Ales Byalyatski said. Group leaders intend to complain about the registration denial and the Supreme Court's ruling to the UN Human Rights Committee. AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on October 28 in an interview with Inter television that he sees no alternative to the coalition of former Orange Revolution allies in the new parliament elected in the September 30 preterm polls. He admitted that the slim majority of three votes, which the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense (NUNS) bloc enjoy in the new Verkhovna Rada, might be easily broken, but "I am sure that there is no alternative to this process" of formation of a BYuT-NUNS coalition. Yushchenko also said the coalition shouldn't be built on antagonism. "If someone thinks he might build the coalition on antagonism in the framework of two political forces, not sharing with others -- it's a mistake." AM

President Yushchenko said in the same October 28 interview that starting from January 2008, the new price for Russian natural gas sold to Ukraine should be at the level of $150-$160 per 1,000 cubic meters. Yushchenko described such a price as "optimal, rational, and well thought-out," arguing that the vast majority of the Ukrainian market would treat it with "understanding." Today, Yushchenko continued, certain political and business circles speculate about a price at the level of $188, $190, or even $200 per 1,000 cubic meters. "I would like to say what I said in 2005 when we were offered $235 -- there will be no such price," he said, adding that a price higher than $150-$160 is not "unacceptable, nor big", but "groundless." Ukraine currently pays $130 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas. AM

President Yushchenko said on October 27 that the question of whether Ukraine should attempt to join NATO will not be submitted to a referendum within the next several years, Interfax reported. "The nation will be asked [about NATO membership], and the nation will give its consent, but this will happen not in one or two years, but in many years, when Ukraine is properly prepared for such an answer and such a question," he said. Yushchenko believes that the European collective security model is most appropriate for ensuring Ukraine's security. The Party of Regions, which is opposed to NATO membership, announced in mid-October that it has collected enough signatures to call a referendum on Ukraine's participation in military blocs, but referendums must be approved by the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). AM

At the end of a two-day visit to Belgrade, Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), on October 26 gave a guardedly positive assessment of Serbia's willingness to cooperate with the UN tribunal, but also indicated that it still needs to do more before the EU should forge closer ties with Serbia. "I sense that a fully cooperate exists," Del Ponte was quoted by local and international media as saying, and added that "I know that there are members of government and senior officials who are working very hard to track down these war criminals." However, she said that "there are those who could do much more," and that "more effective leadership" and "more concrete actions" are needed before she will be able to "to inform the European Commission and the [European] Union's member states that there is progress in Serbia's level of cooperation with my office." The Swiss prosecutor is due to debrief senior EU officials on October 29. The EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, has said the EU will take Del Ponte's findings "strongly into account" when its decides whether to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia, a framework deal that would be Serbia's first substantive step toward EU membership. AG

However, Del Ponte made it clear once more that she personally believes the EU should not sign an SAA with Serbia. "The Stabilization and Association Agreement process between the EU and Serbia should only be finalized when Ratko Mladic is located or arrested," she said on October 26. The arrest of Mladic, the commander of Bosnian Serbs forces during the civil war, has been the central demand made by the EU and the ICTY. She also indicated that she will exert strong pressure on the EU, arguing that "we still count on the European insist on Serbia's full cooperation with the tribunal as a condition in the preaccession and accession process," because the prospect of closer EU ties is "the sole effective tool" that could lead to the capture of the four remaining fugitives. She described it as "intolerable" that Mladic and three other men continue to evade justice, arguing that there can be "no true peace" in the Balkans "until Mladic and [Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan] Karadzic are in the dock." Del Ponte reiterated her hope that "if not all four indictees who are still at large, then at least Mladic" will be in The Hague by the end of this year, when she leaves her post. "I know exactly that Mladic is in Serbia," she added. AG

Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian official charged with overseeing cooperation with the ICTY, told local and international media that it is "too early to say anything about the character and content" of the report that ICTY prosecutor Del Ponte will submit to the EU over the next few weeks. He stressed, though, the level of Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal and said he hopes Serbia will be able to agree a compromise over the ICTY's demand to gain access to its archives, one of Del Ponte's chief demands. Ljajic said Belgrade has agreed to give prosecutors access to state and military archives, but is trying to agree conditions under which the ICTY could draw on the archives of Serbia's secret service because "it is impossible to guarantee completely unrestricted access to a security agency." Ljajic also described Del Ponte's repeated claim that Mladic is in Serbia as a means of applying pressure rather than a well-founded claim, the Serbian broadcaster B92 reported. Ljajic reiterated Serbia's position that its failure to capture Mladic is a technical issue rather than a failure of political will. As evidence, Ljajic pointed out that Serbia has extradited 42 of 46 men wanted by the ICTY. "What's the logic of someone shielding the remaining four fugitives when so many of them have already been handed over? Why would someone protect Stojan Zupljanin when the majority of citizens don't even know who he is?" B92 quoted Ljajic as saying. In addition to Mladic, Zupljanin, and Karadzic, the ICTY is looking for Goran Hadzic, a former leader of Croatia's Serbian separatists. Speaking about Mladic, he said, according to B92, that Mladic was hidden in military facilities until June 2002, and thereafter first in Belgrade and then outside the capital. Mladic is also known to have been in Serbia between December 2005 and February 2006, Ljajic said, but "we don't know where Mladic is now." AG

Serbia has asked foreign experts to help it in its hunt for Mladic, the news service Balkan Insight reported on October 26. Announcing the initiative to parliament ahead of Del Ponte's visit, Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said, "Serbia wants to send a message that criticism leveled at this country is not justified and that Serbia wants to cooperate and arrest the remaining fugitives." The need for "more effective leadership and coordination between security services" was one of failings identified by Del Ponte on October 26. AG

The head of the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, claimed on October 25 that "a group of [EU] countries, including Germany, could move quickly to recognize" Kosova's independence if Kosova were unilaterally to declare itself a state, AFP reported. Guttenberg is also a senior figure in the Christian Democrats, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel. EU leaders have repeatedly underlined the importance of a unified stance on Kosova's future, but Guttenberg said he expects the EU to let individual members decide when to recognize Kosova. Guttenberg named Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia as countries reluctant to recognize Kosova. The EU has also said it opposes unilateral steps by Kosova. AG

The prime minister of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has responded angrily to a call by the United States for it to accept pending measures designed to speed up the decision-making process in Bosnia-Herzegovina's government and parliament and to invigorate the country's reform effort. Dodik described the call, which was made by U.S. Ambassador Charles English, as an "insolent threat" and gave no hint that he would heed English or withdraw his threat that Bosnian Serb politicians and officials will resign unless the measures are rescinded. "There are simply no yes-men here, who will nod at everything that the international community says, even if it is the United States," Bosnian Serb television quoted Dodik as saying on October 26. "Of course, I respect the United States [but] it is not my fault that many things are not going well for it in the world," he added. According to the news agency SRNA, English accused the Republika Srpska's leadership of "deliberately" misinterpreting the proposals drawn up by the international community's high representative, Miroslav Lajcak, and staging "an unnecessary provocation" by threatening to resign. The day after Dodik's response to English, Lajcak said, according to national public radio, that "it is absolutely clear that provoking the international community is counterproductive and dangerous." The dispute over Lajcak's planned changes -- which he has promised to force through even if opposed by the federal government -- has already rallied one of Serbia's governing parties and several of Montenegro's ethnic-Serbian parties in support of Dodik's position and prompted Russia to criticize the high representative. Russia will make its criticisms heard on October 31 when representatives of the 55 countries and international agencies overseeing Bosnia's postwar recovery, the Peace Implementation Council, meet in Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). AG

Excavation has begun of a mass grave near the eastern town of Zvornik, Bosnia-Herzegovina's Commission of Missing Persons announced on October 25. According to Serbian media and AFP, the site, which is near the village of Kamenica, is thought to contain the remains of 20 or more men slaughtered in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. This is the 10th grave opened at Kamenica. AG

Macedonia could find itself in a situation similar to the separatist crisis in 2001 unless it does more to resolve the problems facing its ethnic Albanians, the head of Macedonia's largest ethnic-Albanian party, Ali Ahmeti of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), warned in an interview published by the Greek daily "I Kathimerini" on October 26. Ethnic-Albanian separatists fought for six months with the Macedonian authorities in 2001 before their leaders, including Ahmeti, signed the Ohrid agreement, which established a framework to address ethnic-Albanians' concerns. Ahmeti, who did not explicitly raise the threat of violence, specifically criticized Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski for "refusing to recognize Albanian as an official language and of failing to provide pensions for fighters of the UCK," the National Liberation Army formed by the separatists. AG

A court in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester on October 24 sentenced two brothers to prison for nine and 10 years for making a bomb used to kill eight people, AP reported, citing the official Transdniestrian news agency Olvia Press. The court in Tiraspol found that Aleksandr and Sergei Varbasevici "sold" the bomb to a woman, Elena Litvinenko, who died during the explosion. A large cache of arms was also found in their homes. The men reportedly plan to appeal. There was no indication of the men's motive, why Litvinenko bought the bomb, and whether there was some connection with Transdniester's dispute with Moldova, from which it split violently in 1992. The bombing, which was carried out on July 6, 2006, on a crowded trolleybus, left 46 people injured. A month later, another Tiraspol trolleybus exploded, killing two people and injuring 10 others. One man, Sergei Kapustin, was jailed in March for 20 years. The court concluded he was planning to attack the home of a former employer when the bomb accidentally went off (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007). AG

The Baluchi minority in southwestern Pakistan and southeastern Iran is increasingly marginalized, discriminated against by the state, and suffers from limited access to the benefits of citizenship, according to political observers and human rights groups.

Although the 6 million-8 million ethnic Baluchis in both countries live in a strategic location atop untapped hydrocarbon and mineral deposits and possible trade routes, it looks unlikely that their grim conditions will improve soon.

A report released on October 22 by the International Crisis Group argues that only free and fair elections are likely to encourage Baluchi participation in Pakistani politics. The Brussels-based think tank predicts that in the absence of political reconciliation, violence will continue between Pakistan's military and Baluchi nationalist militants demanding political and economic autonomy.

Baluchi leaders claim to be fighting for autonomy and control over their people's abundant natural resources, but Islamabad regards them as revolutionaries bankrolled by regional archrival India. Years of armed insurrection have killed hundreds of Baluchi militants, Pakistani troops, and civilians.

I.A. Rehman, the director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent group that monitors human rights abuses, says the fighting has displaced thousands of Baluchis in the insurgency-plagued districts of Dera Bugti and Kohlu. Rehman told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the government's strong-arm tactics to suppress the insurgency have created a troubling human rights situation.

"There is the question of the suppression of all dissent. The cases of the disappeared people are only the tip of the problem," Rehman says. "The real issue in Baluchistan is that the Baluch people think their resources are being monopolized by the government, that their land and their resources are not their own, and that there is no freedom to express their opinions."

The International Crisis Group calls the Baluchi plight a "forgotten conflict." It maintains that the fighting has so far displaced 84,000 people, while thousands of Baluchi nationalist activists languish in jails and hundreds remain missing.

The Pakistani government meanwhile claims to be pouring billions of dollars into major infrastructure-development projects, including a new port on the Arabian sea coast at Gwadar, along with the construction of major roads, rail networks, dams, and new cantonments. Other ambitious projects are aimed at extracting gold, copper, oil, gas, and minerals in Baluchistan Province, which accounts for nearly half of Pakistan's territory and is home to some 8 million people, about half of them ethnic Pashtuns.

But many Baluchis oppose such projects and regard them as unfair efforts to exploit their land. Mariana Baabar, an Islamabad-based journalist and political commentator, says the Baluchis are among the most impoverished groups in the country, and require assistance to meet basic needs as well as longer-term development efforts.

"They do not have clean drinking water. They are not being provided with [basic] health care or education. And they are even regarded as not being part of Pakistan," Baabar says. The Pakistani government "is trying to build a port in Gawadar, but, again, non-Baluchis from Punjab and other regions are being taken there [to settle]. So that is why the people of Baluchistan are unhappy."

Across the border in neighboring Iran, Baluchis are enduring similar deprivation. There some 2 million Baluchis concentrated in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, representing about 2 percent of the country's total population.

Drewery Dyke, a Middle East researcher for human rights watchdog Amnesty International in London, told Radio Free Afghanistan that Iran's Baluchi population is subject to economic and cultural discrimination. Sistan-Baluchistan is "certainly one of the poorest and most deprived provinces in the country. And it has suffered droughts and extreme weather conditions. And certainly -- with respect to the situation of women and schooling for girls -- there are shortcomings that the state really needs to address," Dyke says.

In a September report that Dyke helped research, Amnesty International documented rights abuses by Iranian authorities and the armed Baluchi and hard-line Sunni group Jondallah (which has reportedly been renamed the Iranian Peoples' Resistance Movement). Since 2005, Jondallah appears to have carried out lethal attacks on Iranian security forces, and taken and executed hostages. Iranian authorities have blamed Jondallah for other attacks that resulted in civilian casualties, but the group has denied responsibility.

Amnesty International has criticized the arrest of suspected Baluchi militants who might have been subjected to torture to produce forced confessions. The group has expressed concern over special judicial procedures put in place by Iranian authorities, and a steep rise in the number of Baluchis who have been targeted.

Dyke says the Iranian authorities "have established a special court...almost like a security court to deal with what is obviously a very severe situation -- in some respects, an insurgency in the country. It appears to [have led] to a decline, an erosion of the safeguards, [of] the fair-trial standards and a massive rise in the implementation of the death penalty against the Baluchis."

The plights of their respective Baluchi minorities are unlikely to improve in the short term. In the best-case scenario, human rights advocates in Pakistan maintain that the coming national elections in Pakistan -- if they are sufficiently transparent -- might boost Baluchi participation in mainstream politics. That, they say, could provide incentives that help defuse militancy.

In Iran, Amnesty International warns that heightened global attention to the Iranian nuclear program might push attention to rights abuses off the international agenda.

(Abubakar Siddique is a Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent based in Prague.)

Approximately 80 Taliban fighters were killed on October 27 during a six-hour battle with U.S.-led coalition troops near Musa Qala, a Taliban-controlled town in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand Province, AP reported. Taliban insurgents attacked a joint Afghan and coalition patrol with rockets and gunfire, instigating a clash with the combined force. The patrol called in attack aircraft, which dropped four bombs on a trench line manned by insurgents, the coalition said in a statement. There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties, it added. Afghan General Mohaidin Ghori, the commander for Helmand Province, said no troops were killed and estimated that 73 militants were killed based on an initial assessment, AFP reported. Musa Qala has been the site of deadly fighting since it was overrun by Taliban militants in February. This latest clash is the fifth major battle there since September 1. JC

A suicide bomber dressed in a military uniform blew himself up at the main gate of a military base in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika Province on October 27, killing four soldiers and a civilian, AFP reported. Ghami Khan, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said five other people were wounded in the attack at the Bermel barracks, a base for Afghan soldiers and NATO-led forces. In Ghazni Province the same day, Taliban insurgents escaped after ambushing and killing two policemen on patrol, provincial police chief Alishah Ahmadzai said. Police have launched a search operation to find the militants, he added. On October 28 in volatile Helmand Province, three Afghan policemen were killed while trying to apprehend Taliban rebels who had kidnapped the father of another policeman. The militants fled with the hostage, provincial police chief Mohammad Hussain said. JC

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on October 26 urged NATO's European members to lift the restrictions on their forces' missions in Afghanistan and deploy more troops to the dangerous southern regions, AFP reported. Downer said that while the country's north, where many European troops are stationed, is not free of Taliban activity, "it is a good deal quieter and a less threatening environment" than the south, where the majority of insurgent attacks are focused. Downer spoke after the death of Sergeant Matthew Locke on October 25, the second Australian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan in three weeks. Prime Minister John Howard echoed Downer's remarks, saying that in the interests of national security, he will not be swayed to change his position on deployments in Afghanistan. Howard emphasized the importance of containing terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, adding that "the worst thing this country could do is to say it is all too hard and to give up...imagining it would make the problem go away." Australia is the third member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan in recent weeks to criticize the limitations placed on some European countries' troop deployments in Afghanistan. Both the United States and Britain have urged some NATO partners, including Germany, to step up their commitments and increase the "burden-sharing" in the volatile south (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). JC

Germany's Federal Customs Authority on October 27 donated sophisticated X-ray screening equipment to Kabul International Airport to assist in the detection of drugs, weapons, and other illegal items, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. At a ceremony in Kabul, Wolfgang Maierhofer presented a Rapiscan 528 HR X-ray machine, worth approximately 100,000 euros ($144,000), to airport customs staff, along with other equipment to help detect weapons, explosives, and drugs. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, and profits from the drug trade are believed to be funding the Taliban-led insurgency. The German contribution, which includes expert introductory training and maintenance of the equipment, is a small part of the country's efforts to rehabilitate and modernize Afghanistan's infrastructure, Maierhofer said. The new technology will replace the current malfunctioning equipment, according to Farid Nazari, the head of the Kabul Airport Customs Authority, who added that the up-to-date equipment will help improve customs officials' performance in illegal-goods detection. JC

The U.S. State Department and Treasury Department on October 25 imposed economic sanctions on several Iranian bodies and people cited as having links to alleged nuclear proliferation and terrorism, agencies reported. The targets of sanctions include the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC); the affiliated Quds Force, which has been accused of aiding some insurgent activities in Iraq; the Iranian Defense Ministry; nine entities and five people affiliated with the IRGC; the state-owned banks Mellat, Melli, and Saderat; and three people linked to Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, according to AFP and a State Department fact sheet. The sanctions restrict activities in trade, business, and finance. Great Britain and France are separately lobbying for strengthened EU sanctions against Iran, AP reported on October 28, adding that EU states are at odds over the desirability of more punitive measures. The news agency reported that Germany and Italy favor continued talks with Iran. AP quoted the head of the French Institute of Strategic Studies, Francois Gere, as saying in Paris that these countries "are discreet in their international relations," and have economic ties with Iran. The current sanctions on Iran already affect some joint projects, such as an agreement with Renault to assemble 300,000 cars a year in Iran, which has been slowed or halted by the economic restrictions. AP reported separately, however, that the French oil major Total SA is close to a deal to develop the last phase of the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf. VS

Iran's new Supreme National Security Council Secretary Said Jalili said on October 26 that the new set of sanctions will merely isolate the United States, Radio Farda reported, citing Iran reports. Iran has been subject to sanctions for 28 years, he said, and neither the old nor the new sanctions will affect Iranian decision-making. IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari told ISNA on October 26 that verbal threats against Iran from "certain leaders of Western states" are just "extra talk, and I do not see them as threats," Radio Farda reported. Any strike on Iran, he said, will meet "a more vigorous counterstrike." Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari, speaking in Washington on the sidelines of a joint annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, was also quoted as saying on October 25 or 26 that new sanctions will have little impact on Iran's economy. But he said that "American propaganda" against Iran is destabilizing the international oil market, Radio Farda reported. VS

Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Mohammad Reza Baqeri told ISNA on October 27 that "we will do anything we can to return" discussions of Iran's nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and move the talks out of the context of the UN Security Council. Baqeri said he expects Western countries to adopt a more rational approach to Iran's nuclear program and realize that further sanctions are not constructive. He expressed satisfaction that Iran has not retreated from its defending its "rights," and is now "in a position where we are considered a nuclear state." Baqeri did not rule out more talks between Iranian and U.S. officials over Iraqi security, but said Iran must first be asked to participate in such talks. He also referred to recent disagreements between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the treatment of Iranian pilgrims visiting the kingdom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2007). He said this is nothing new, and that the problem has "flared" intermittently due to "radicalism and bad behavior." He said he recently asked Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to help stop the alleged mistreatment of pilgrims, and received a pledge to that effect, ISNA reported. VS

The reformist Participation Front held its 10th party congress in Tehran on October 26, during which its secretary-general, Mohsen Mirdamadi, criticized what he called President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's "unbelievable" contempt for democracy in Iran, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian media. Mirdamadi said Ahmadinejad shows disrespect for democracy and party politics in Iran, but acts as if he were "the greatest defender of democracy" worldwide. He said many of the liberties enjoyed by Iranians have become "fragile" since Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005. Mirdamadi told the conference that the Ahmadinejad presidency is the fruit of the collusion of two political currents: one that is trying to exclude all political forces it considers "alien" to its strict definition of Iran's religious and revolutionary ideology, and another that he said is working to undermine the ideals of the Islamic revolution and sees the empowerment of "the most reactionary, radical, and antifreedom" elements as the means to achieve this. Iran, he said, regrettably faces "the decline of moral society, the spread of lies and deceptive appearances...and the wasting of social assets." Apparently referring to the foreign policy of the Ahmadinejad government, Mirdamadi said, "we cannot, for our ideals, undertake actions that will push the Iranian nation's present and future toward darkness," Radio Farda reported. VS

Iran's reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami, on October 27 criticized some political players' denigration of parties and party politics in Iran, saying that they have "no regard" for Iranians and their sovereign rights, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 28. Khatami told a meeting of members of the reformist Solidarity Party that Iran's 1979 revolution was part of Iran's 100-year social and political quest to set up democratic institutions. He said that parties are meant to make criticisms, that officials must be held to account, and that Iranians must learn to work together and tolerate each other's views. Defending his own government against right-wing accusations that it did not tolerate right-wing criticisms, he said that "pressure groups" -- referring to the most hard-line right-wing elements -- threw "any and all insults and accusations" against his government with impunity. But the "impertinent attacks and numerous insults" directed at his and previous governments merely discredited the accusers, Khatami said. VS

Kurdistan regional President Mas'ud Barzani said on October 28 that he will not hand over members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to the Turkish government. Fighters from the Turkish-Kurdish separatist group are holed up in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq. Speaking to Al-Jazeera television, Barzani said: "I will not hand over any person to any regional country no matter what the cost, but I will also not allow any PKK official to be based in the [Iraqi] Kurdistan region or to threaten Turkish security from here. No, I will throw [the PKK] out of the Kurdistan region, but I will not hand them over." Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, made similar remarks last week. Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Barzani, Talabani said Iraq will not turn over any Kurdish man to Turkey, adding that it would not even hand over a Kurdish cat to Turkey, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on October 21. KR

Kurdish regional President Barzani told AFP on October 28 that Turkey's dispute with the PKK should be resolved diplomatically, and suggested that the Kurdistan regional government hold direct talks with Ankara. The Turkish government has said it will deal only with the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. "Let us sit down together to resolve the Kurdish question," Barzani told AFP. "I am not an enemy of Turkey, but I do not accept the language of force." KR

An Iraqi security delegation led by National Security Minister Shirwan al-Wa'ili on October 27 returned from talks in Ankara, where the delegation had pressed for a peaceful resolution, al-Wa'ili told Al-Iraqiyah television. He contended that any Turkish incursion "will have negative effects on Turkey," and suggested that Turkey may not be able to defeat the PKK militarily. "I do not believe that the military option will be the best and most successful option to deal with this organization," al-Wa'ili said. He added that the Turkish government has failed to clarify "what it means by practical measures," referring to Turkish demands that the Iraqi government act against PKK insurgents. "The Turkish [government] did not say what it wants exactly," al-Wa'ili said, and asked whether Turkey expects Iraqi military forces to take action against the PKK. "First, our vision, as an Iraqi government, is that the military solution should be excluded. Second, we cannot send military units to deal with the PKK because of the current Iraqi situation," al-Wa'ili said. He added, "There are dozens of terrorist organizations in Iraq, and the Iraqi government is busy dealing with the internal security situation." KR

Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has asked President Talabani and Shi'ite Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi to recommend that parliament issue a general amnesty for detainees held in Iraqi prisons, the Iraqi Islamic Party's website reported on October 29. In a letter addressed to Talabani and Abd al-Mahdi, al-Hashimi said large numbers of detainees have been ill-treated in the prison system and are being held without charge. "This conflicts with the principles of public rights and liberties enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. In fact, it constitutes a blatant violation of the principle of human rights," al-Hashimi wrote. He added that the government should draft guidelines to avoid the release of dangerous criminals as it reforms the prison system. KR

Eleven tribal sheikhs affiliated with the Diyala Awakening Council were abducted in the Al-Sha'b district of northeast Baghdad on October 28, Iraqi media reported. The tribal leaders were returning to Ba'qubah after a meeting with Fa'al al-Maliki, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's adviser on tribal affairs. According to press reports, two cars carrying the men were stopped at a fake checkpoint. Al-Sharqiyah quoted unidentified government spokesmen as saying Shi'ite militants affiliated with cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, were responsible for the abductions. But Interior Ministry spokesman Abd al-Karim Khalaf criticized Al-Sharqiyah in an on-air interview with the news channel, saying the news channel's reports were unsubstantiated and "no party whatsoever has been accused." AP reported on October 29 that the bullet-riddled body of one of the sheikhs was found near the site of the abductions. Meanwhile, a delegation of tribal chieftains from the Al-Anbar Awakening Council left for the United States on October 27 on a 10-day State Department-sponsored trip. The delegation will meet with U.S. government and congressional leaders, and travel to Houston, Texas, and Burlington, Vermont, according to a State Department press release. The delegation includes Ahmad Abu Rishah, the head of the Al-Anbar Awakening Council, and Al-Anbar Governor Samir Ma'mun. KR