IS RUSSIA TRYING TO STRONG-ARM GERMANY'S TOP AIRLINE INTO CHANGING HUBS?
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier telephoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on November 1 to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue, the situations in Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and some unspecified "practical questions regarding Russian-German cooperation," mid.ru reported on November 2. It seems likely that one of those "questions" was the still unexplained recent Russian ban on Siberian overflights by Lufthansa Cargo, which is the freight subsidiary of the German airline Lufthansa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31 and November 1, 2007). On November 1, Andreas Schockenhoff, who is parliamentary foreign-affairs spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian affiliate, the Christian Social Union (CSU), criticized Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) for not intervening with Moscow to resolve the issue, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on November 2. Schockenhoff said that "when the going gets tough, Steinmeier disappears." The paper reported that the Foreign Ministry takes the position that the Transportation Ministry is the government department responsible for the Lufthansa Cargo dispute. Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD) said on November 1 that the EU should become involved in the matter if it appears that any other EU member states are experiencing similar problems with Russia. The Frankfurt daily reported on November 2 that "difficult talks" are continuing between Moscow and Berlin at the "state secretary level." On November 2, "Financial Times Deutschland" quoted Russian Transportation Ministry spokesman Timur Chikmatov as saying Russia proposed to Lufthansa Cargo to use Krasnoyarsk instead of Astana as its Asian hub. Several Western news agencies then suggested that Moscow manufactured the crisis in a bid to bring Lufthansa Cargo's lucrative business to Siberia at the expense of Kazakhstan. The Frankfurt daily wrote on November 2 that the entire "scandal" shows that it is "highly dangerous" for Germany to trust Russia on vital matters affecting its security, including energy policy. The paper called the Russian move against Lufthansa Cargo "attempted blackmail." PM
SWEDEN CALLS FOR ALTERNATIVE ROUTE FOR RUSSIAN-GERMAN PIPELINE
Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren said on Swedish radio on October 31 that the planned route of the Russian-German Nord Stream gas pipeline along the floor of the Baltic Sea runs through a nature-conservation area as well as through locations containing old explosives and chemical waste, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on November 1. He called for a detailed and extensive study of the potential environmental impact of the project. He also suggested that the route should be moved toward the east, closer to the coasts of the Baltic states, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on November 1. Poland, Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic states all object to Nord Stream on political or economic grounds or both. "Kommersant" noted that if the study proposed by Carlgren goes ahead, it will probably cost $30 million and delay the Nord Stream project "for a few years" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, March 26, April 12, August 15, and October 2, 2007). PM
IS IMPASSE IN RUSSIAN-POLISH RELATIONS ABOUT TO END?
Russian food-safety officials said on November 1 that Russia is now ready to resume inspections of Polish meat exports, which have been banned since 2005, possibly as soon as next week, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on November 2. The daily wrote that the announcement was widely interpreted in Warsaw as a "goodwill gesture" to the new Civic Platform government. Radek Sikorski, who many expect to become the new foreign minister, said that if Russia lifts its ban on Polish meat shipments, it would constitute "an opportunity for our Russian neighbors to turn a page in the relationship." PM
CHINESE PREMIER PRAISES RUSSIAN MEDIA
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who will visit Russia soon, said in Beijing on November 1 that Sino-Russian relations are the best they have ever been and are at their "most important historical stage," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007, and End Note, September 12, 2007). He singled out the role of the Russian media, noting that they have done an excellent job in "reporting on reforms and construction in China for a long time." He added that the Russian media "help develop cooperation between our countries and peoples." Wen stressed the importance of finishing on time the construction of Russian pipelines bringing natural gas to China. He also called for completing plans for and launching construction of Russian oil pipelines to China, noting that these projects serve the interests of both countries. Wen suggested that China and Russia could expand civilian nuclear cooperation, but made no firm commitment. China is actively seeking energy and other natural resources around the world but has been hampered by poor infrastructure, among other reasons, from obtaining as much gas and oil as it would like from Russia. PM
RUSSIA WANTS BIGGER CUT OF CANADIAN FIRM'S URANIUM BUSINESS
The Russian state firm Tekhsnabeksport, which sells enriched uranium from decommissioned Russian nuclear warheads, told its Canadian partner Cameco that it wants to renegotiate their current agreement, which is slated to run out in 2013, to reflect higher market prices for uranium, Reuters reported on November 1. Cameco currently buys and resells about 3 million kilograms of uranium annually under the deal with the Russian firm. The news agency noted that "a global return to non-greenhouse-gas-producing nuclear power has pulled uranium spot prices up from a low of $7 in 2000 to a record high of $136 earlier this year. The price was $85 this week." PM
MAN WHO BROUGHT RUSSIAN FOLK DANCE TO THE WORLD DIES AT 101
Igor Moiseyev, the choreographer most responsible in the 20th century for bringing Russian folk dance to the world as an art form in its own right, died in Moscow on November 2, aged 101, RIA Novosti reported. Performances of the ensemble that bears his name attracted widespread interest abroad, even at the height of the Cold War. Moiseyev also turned his attention to other genres of dance, including rock and U.S. square dancing. PM
WIFE OF POISONED EX-SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS PUTIN OBSTRUCTS JUSTICE
The widow of Aleksandr Litvinenko, the former Russian security agent killed by radioactive poisoning in London one year ago, said on November 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin is guilty of "obstructing" the prosecution of the chief suspect in the case, Andrei Lugovoi, international media reported. Lugovoi, whom Britain wants Russia to extradite in connection with the case, said in Moscow that he is a "victim of British lies." Litvinenko died from the poisoning in a London hospital on November 23, 2006. Russia refuses to extradite Lugovoi, ostensibly because the constitution forbids it. Before his death, Litvinenko reportedly blamed Putin for his murder. Recently, Russia's Investigative Committee reopened the probe into the mysterious July 2003 death of Duma Deputy and investigative journalist Yury Shchekochikhin, which many suspect was also due to an unusual form of poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20 and October 10 and 30, 2007). PM
NO LAME DUCK, PUTIN TO PRESENT DEVELOPMENT PLAN THROUGH 2020
President Putin has ordered the government to prepare by February 2008 -- one month before the presidential election -- a socioeconomic development plan for Russia covering the period to 2020, "Vremya novostei" reported on November 2. Putin said the goal of plan should be to lay out priorities in the development of an innovation-based economy, featuring diversification and the creation of instruments for solving social-development problems. A similar plan covering the period until 2010 was approved shortly after Putin first became president in 2000, although many of the priorities laid out in that plan were never fully realized. According to the daily, the plan foresees the growth of the middle class from 20 percent to 55 percent of the population, with definition of middle class being upgraded from those who earn 20,000 rubles ($810) a month to those who earn 46,000. Experts at the Business Russia forum criticized the plan, saying it is a road map to "state capitalism" and pays little or no attention to small and medium-sized business. RC
PUTIN SIGNS PENSION HIKE INTO LAW
President Putin on November 2 signed into law a measure that would increase base pensions by 300 rubles as of December 1, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2007). A Levada Center poll found that 11 percent of Russians are grateful for the increase, 18 percent are satisfied with it, and 25 percent considered it "laughable." Similarly, 40 percent agreed that the increase is a genuine effort to mitigate the effects of inflation, while 36 percent consider it nothing more than a campaign stunt. RC
MOSCOW HOUSE OF JOURNALISTS CLOSED FOR SAFETY REASONS
The Emergency Situations Ministry on November 2 announced that the Central House of Journalists in Moscow, home of the Union of Journalists, will be closed for 90 days because of fire-safety violations, RIA Novosti reported. The building's administration and the journalists union said they believe the close is connected with the Duma elections, now exactly one month away, because the building has been used to give opposition politicians a venue for meeting with journalists. Union General Secretary Igor Yakovenko told "Vechernyaya Moskva" that the problems with the fire inspectors began shortly after a press conference in the building by members of the opposition Other Russia coalition. RC
OSCE DISMAYED BY RUSSIAN RESTRICTIONS ON ELECTION MONITORS
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is considering not sending monitors to observe Russia's December 2 legislative elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on November 2. A spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, told RFE/RL on November 1 that the OSCE is still studying the new limitations on their activities announced this week by the Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on November 2 that Moscow has invited just 70 OSCE observers this year, compared to 400 in 2003. In Vienna, OSCE officials said the organization is concerned that the observers would not have time or freedom to perform their task professionally and so there might not be a compelling reason to send them. Gunnarsdottir told RFE/RL that even Belarus has never attempted to impose such severe restrictions on the number and activities of election monitors. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told journalists in Vienna on November 1 that he hopes Moscow and the OSCE will still be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution of the matter. RC
OPPOSITION DIVIDED ON HOW TO PROCEED IN DUMA CAMPAIGN
The unregistered Other Russia coalition, headed by chess grand master Garry Kasparov, is urging supporters to spoil their ballots during the December Duma elections, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported on November 1. Some coalition members were urging a boycott of the voting, while a minority argued that Other Russia should lend its support to one of the opposition parties participating in the ballot in order to boost its chances of gaining seats in the new legislature. National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov, who is also an Other Russia leader, told the website that the number of spoiled ballots could reach the millions. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's unregistered People's Democratic Union is urging a boycott of the vote. RC
VTSIOM POLL FINDS FOUR PARTIES HAVE A CHANCE FOR DUMA SEATS...
A new poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has surprisingly found that four parties have a chance of surpassing the 7-percent barrier to gain seats in the next Duma, gazeta.ru reported on November 1. Earlier polls by other agencies, particularly the Levada Center, have shown that only the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has a solid chance of earning seats in the legislature. The VTsIOM poll found Unified Russia with 52.7 percent of the vote, followed by the Communist Party at 15.6 percent, A Just Russia at 9.3 percent, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 7.5 percent. Meanwhile, a Levada Center poll has found that 55 percent of Russians favor amending the constitution to extend the presidential term from four years to seven, "Kommersant" reported on November 1. Thirty-five percent oppose the proposal. In 2005, those figures were 41 percent and 42 percent, respectively. Thirty-four percent of respondents have no objection to the president elected in March 2008 stepping down after a short period, allowing President Putin to seek another term; 43 percent oppose such a scenario. Only 17 percent agreed with the proposal that Putin should be named president-for-life, while 65 percent oppose that idea. RC
...AS UNIFIED RUSSIA WORRIES ABOUT MONOPOLY IN DUMA
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on November 2 that leaders in the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party are concerned that the party's monolithic structure could be an obstacle if the party obtains an overwhelming majority in the next Duma. As a result, the party is considering deputies to form up to four "sub-factions" within the party's Duma faction. The daily identified two of those possible groups as the "liberal-conservatives" and the "social" bloc. A third group could be made of young deputies who are new to politics and fourth could coalesce around "Christian-conservative" ideas. An unidentified party official said that move is intended to make the huge party more manageable and to prevent stagnation by introducing "opposition." Most political analysts ridiculed the initiative, but some added that if it were imposed seriously, it could lead to the breakup of the party. Union of Rightist Forces official Leonid Grozman told the daily the move is "an effort to create the appearance of pluralism." RC
12 CONVICTED IN KONDOPOGA RIOTS CASE
A court in Kondopoga has convicted and sentenced 12 men in connection with September 2006 rioting in the city that was considered racially motivated, RIA Novosti reported on November 2. The 12 faced a maximum sentence of eight years in prison on charges of destruction of property and public disorder, but were sentenced to three years' imprisonment each. Half the defendants were ethnic Russians and half were originally from the North Caucasus. Two people were killed in the rioting and some nine were injured, while damages were estimated at 4.6 million rubles ($180,000) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006 and September 4, 2007). RC
INGUSH BOMBING SUSPECTS KEPT IN ISOLATION
Maksharip and Amirkhan Khidriyev, who were detained in Ingushetia last month on suspicion of involvement in the August 13 bombing of the Neva Express train traveling between Moscow and St. Petersburg, were refused a meeting with their lawyer on October 31, their brother Ayup told the Chechen Committee for National Salvation, ingushetiya.ru reported on November 1. The two men have not yet been formally charged; both have an alibi for the time of the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). LF
ARMENIAN EX-PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS WITH OPPOSITION PARTY
Levon Ter-Petrossian, who on October 26 confirmed his plans to run in the presidential election due in early 2008, has met with People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian and HZhK activists in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on November 1. According to official returns, Demirchian lost to incumbent President Robert Kocharian in the second round of the 2003 presidential ballot, but Demirchian rejected those returns that showed him winning 32.5 percent of the vote compared with 67.5 percent for Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 2003). The HZhK's popularity has since plummeted and it failed to win a single parliament mandate in the May 2007 elections. Demirchian said after the hourlong meeting with Ter-Petrossian that the HZhK has not yet decided whether to back Ter-Petrossian's presidential bid. He said Ter-Petrossian undertook to provide answers "very soon" to specific questions about his past and future political activities. LF
OFFICIAL SAYS AZERBAIJAN CAPABLE OF DEFENDING OIL EXPORT PIPELINE
Kyamil Xasiyev, who heads Azerbaijan's representation at NATO, was quoted by day.az on November 1 as saying Azerbaijan is perfectly capable of guarding pipelines that cross its territory without any help from international organizations, including NATO. On October 31, the daily zerkalo.az quoted Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov as saying that NATO has rejected two successive joint requests from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey to provide unspecified technology needed to providing security for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline that crosses those three countries. Zerkalo.az further quoted opposition parliamentarian Sulxaddin Akper as saying Azerbaijan has neither the potential nor any experience in guarding pipelines, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibragim as affirming that the country is perfectly able to do so. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION, AUTHORITIES PREPARE FOR MASS PROTEST
Several thousand opposition supporters from various regions of Georgia congregated late on November 1 outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi, but dispersed around 2:00 a.m. local time on November 2, Caucasus Press reported. The opposition National Council that comprises 10 opposition parties hopes to mobilize 100,000 people on November 2 in support of its four most important demands to the Georgian authorities: holding of parliamentary elections in the spring of 2008, rather than in the fall of that year as demanded by President Mikheil Saakashvili; parity representation on election commissions; amendments to the election code; and the release of all political prisoners (see "Georgia: Opposition Unveils Political Manifesto," rferl.org, October 26, 2007). Former Minister for Conflict Resolution Goga Khaindrava, now a leading member of the National Council, told Caucasus Press the demonstrators will not demand Saakashvili's resignation. Former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, whose arrest in late September served as the catalyst for the creation of the National Council, was constrained to leave the country on October 31 and will therefore not be able to attend the November 2 demonstration, his lawyer Eka Beselia said in Tbilisi on November 1. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Khizhanishili said on November 2 that additional police will be deployed in the capital on November 2 to "maintain order" during the demonstration, but that they will not intervene unless an "urgent need" to do so arises. The website kavkaz-uzel.ru on November 2 quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry official as denying that army troops too are being deployed to the capital. As of 3 p.m. local time on November 2, some 30,000 people were gathered outside the parliament building, Caucasus Press reported. The protest began one hour later than scheduled due to malfunctioning loudspeakers. LF
U.S. OFFICIAL URGES GREATER DEMOCRATIZATION IN GEORGIA
Speaking in Tbilisi on November 1, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Georgia needs to raise the level of democracy and strengthen the independence of the judiciary, Caucasus Press reported. Visiting Georgia last month, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer similarly pointed to the lack of an independent judiciary as a possible obstacle to Georgia's accession to the Alliance. Fried noted that the political opposition, with whose representatives he met on November 1, is still weak, adding that "a strong and free nation needs a strong opposition. Democracy is healthy when both the authorities and the opposition are responsible for the country." At the same time, Fried said Washington has no intention of acting as a mediator between the Georgian opposition and the country's leadership. In a clear reference to the potential consequences of Georgia's demand for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Fried stressed that "any solution to the Abkhaz conflict must be peaceful, and acceptable to both the Georgian and the Abkhaz side," apsny.ru reported. LF
KAZAKH MINISTER FIRED OVER LAND DEAL
The Kazakh presidential press service reported on November 1 that President Nursultan Nazarbaev dismissed Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Khrapunov for involvement in an illegal land deal, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. The dismissal of Khrapunov, a former mayor of Almaty, follows a recent warning by Prime Minister Karim Masimov that officials would be accountable for any complicity in "illegal land transactions" involving the improper transfer of land in sensitive "ecological areas around Almaty." Masimov also named specific "individuals who approved illegal decisions on the allotment of land," including not only Khrapunov, but also State Agency for Land Resources Management chief Bakyt Ospanov and former Almaty Deputy Mayor Yakov Zayats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). RG
KAZAKH CONSTRUCTION WORKERS PROTEST UNPAID WAGES
A group of some 300 construction workers protested on November 1 in front of the Kazakh presidential palace in Astana, Kazakh television reported. The workers were protesting a three-month delay in wages and blocked a street leading to the residence of President Nazarbaev before police eventually dispersed the demonstrators. A senior executive from the Kuatgradstroi construction company, Aleksandr Krylov, met with the protesters and pledged to pay the workers the more than 100 million tenges ($830,000) in unpaid wages. Deputy Astana Mayor Sergei Khoroshin also met with the demonstrating workers and promised to resolve the situation. The protest was one of the first such demonstrations held near the presidential palace. RG
ETHNIC CLASHES ERUPT IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN
After an alleged sexual assault, a clash between local Kazakhs and ethnic Kurds erupted on November 1 in the southern Kazakh Tolebiy district, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The confrontation quickly escalated, with local residents setting fire to several homes and cars belonging to ethnic-Kurdish townspeople after an ethnic Kurd was accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old Kazakh boy. Local police responded to the clashes and regional Governor Nurgali Ashimov attempted to downplay the incident, asserting that although the families belonged to different ethnic groups, the conflict was not of an interethnic nature. Despite having over 100 ethnic groups, Kazakhstan has enjoyed relative stability, although five people died in "a mass brawl" between Kazakhs and ethnic Chechens in the southern Almaty region in March 2007. RG
NATO ENVOY PLEDGES TO ASSIST CREATION OF KAZAKH NAVY...
On the second day of an official visit to Kazakhstan, Robert Simmons, the special representative of the NATO secretary-general for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, pledged on November 1 to assist in the creation of "a Kazakh naval fleet" in the Caspian Sea, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Following a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov, Simmons explained that during his last visit to Kazakhstan, he toured the Caspian Sea port of Aqtau, which serves as the headquarters of the newly expanding Kazakh Navy, and told reporters that although "NATO cannot provide financial assistance," it would assist Kazakhstan in "consultation, planning, and overall technical assistance," as well as in forming the fleet's budget, and encourage individual states to allocate funds toward the formation of a modern Kazakh naval fleet. Kazakhstan's priority of developing a strong navy was also highlighted in a recent statement by Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, who announced the creation of a new "directorate for naval forces" within the Defense Ministry, and reported that the country is "currently working with Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and French companies" for the "purchase and production" of several large navy vessels and ships and a "coast-based infrastructure" to service the new navy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20 and October 31, 2007). Akhmetov has also recently said that the naval buildup in the Caspian Sea is specifically designed to guard and patrol Kazakhstan's vast offshore oil fields (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007) and is part of a broader strategic effort to expand and modernize its armed forces to become an "advanced military power" within five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). RG
...AND PROMISES NATO HELP IN 'DISMANTLING OBSOLETE WEAPONS'
Simmons promised on November 1 that NATO will assist Kazakhstan in "dismantling obsolete weapons," according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Speaking to reporters in Astana during the final day of his visit to Kazakhstan, Simmons added that NATO has the capability to finance the destruction of the country's stocks of outdated weapons, many of which date from the 1950s and 1960s. He also said that NATO could initiate the weapons-dismantling program with Kazakhstan next year, pointing to similar efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in eliminating toxic rocket fuel in Armenia. Simmons also met on November 1 with the chairman of the Kazakh parliament's committee on international affairs, defense and security, Sat Tokpakbaev, and offered to assist Kazakhstan in the implementation of military reforms, in developing and training its peacekeeping brigade, and in formulating joint emergency-response and crisis-management "action plans." Concluding his two-day visit to Kazakhstan, Simmons further noted that Kazakhstan has been successfully implementing the NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), a framework document laying out Kazakhstan's evolving relationship with NATO, signed by Kazakh and NATO officials in January 2006. RG
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST 'PROVOCATION' DURING UPCOMING ELECTION
In an address in Bishkek marking the anniversary of the formation of the Kyrgyz police force, President Kurmanbek Bakiev warned on November 1 against "provocations" during the upcoming parliamentary elections and vowed to ensure "law and order," Kabar reported. He added that the December 16 elections should not be allowed to "turn into a source of political and social instability or conflict," and he ordered that "law-enforcement agencies ensure that the parliamentary election is held in a calm atmosphere." Bakiev also said that "there are people who will not agree with the results of the election, especially if they lose," arguing that they may "organize all kinds of provocative actions," and warning that "we will not allow any major incidents or unlawful actions." Following the adoption of a set of new constitutional amendments in a national referendum on October 21, Bakiev dissolved the parliament and called new elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). RG
CHINESE ENERGY EXPERTS VISIT TURKMENISTAN
A group of experts from the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) arrived on October 31 in Ashgabat to inspect the planned construction site for a proposed natural-gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China, Turkmen television reported. The planned pipeline is to transport gas from the Bagtyyarlyk reserve in Turkmenistan's Lebap region to China through neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The project plans to provide China with 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas over a 30-year period. RG
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER BEGINS OFFICIAL VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN
Viktor Zubkov arrived on November 1 in Tashkent on the start of an official two-day visit to Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Although the visit is timed with the opening of a ministerial summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization set to open in Tashkent on November 2, Zubkov met with his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyaev, immediately after his arrival and reviewed plans to expand bilateral relations, with a focus on "energy, trade, and economic cooperation." Zubkov is also set to meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and plans to visit a local branch of Moscow State University in Tashkent on November 2. Russia is Uzbekistan's main trading partner, accounting for 27.8 percent of Uzbekistan total foreign trade last year. RG
UZBEKISTAN WARNS UN AGAINST USING HUMAN RIGHTS TO 'INTERFERE IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS'
In a speech to a session of the United Nations General Assembly, Uzbek Ambassador to the UN Alisher Vohidov warned on October 31 against the use of the issue of human rights as a "pretext" for interfering in countries' internal affairs, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Vohidov called on the UN to pursue international cooperation on human rights in a "transparent and fair" manner and said that such cooperation "must be based on equality, mutual respect, social and economic development, and historical and cultural traditions." The statement follows a record of criticism of Uzbekistan's human rights record by human right groups and Western governments since a clash between Uzbek security forces and hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005. RG
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG SEEKS RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS IN BELARUS
Souhayr Belhassen, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), called in Minsk on November 1 for the international community to "mobilize" to secure the release of four Belarusian detainees -- Zmitser Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich, Andrey Klimau, and Alyaksandr Kazulin -- who are widely considered political prisoners, Belapan reported. Belhassen said efforts by European politicians to deal with violations of human rights in Belarus are insufficient. "It is not enough to ban officials whom the international community believes to be involved in human rights abuses from entry to European Union member countries," she said. "It is necessary to support human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations that in fact operate underground in Belarus." Belhassen described as "ridiculous" new charges brought by the Belarusian authorities against Youth Front activists Dashkevich and Finkevich; Dashkevich faces new charges for refusing to testify against his friends, and Finkevich for violating the internal regulations of the correctional facility where he is detained. Belhassen also announced the establishment of a committee to support Klimau, who was sentenced in August to two years in prison for allegedly calling for the overthrow of the government in an article posted on the Internet. AM
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR DISMISSES NEED FOR SECOND LINE OF PIPELINE VIA BELARUS
The Russian ambassador to Belarus, Aleksandr Surikov, said on November 1 in Minsk that building a second line through Belarus of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, connecting Russia's Yamal peninsula with European markets, is unnecessary, Belapan reported. Surikov said that the construction of the trans-Baltic Nord Stream pipeline has already begun, and that pipeline will ensure direct gas supplies to Western Europe through the Baltic Sea, bypassing intermediary countries. In mid-October, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov promised that Moscow will consider the construction of another line of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka earlier offered free gas transit for five years if Russia abandons the idea of the trans-Baltic pipeline in favor of one crossing Belarusian territory. AM
UNESCO COMMEMORATES VICTIMS OF UKRAINE'S GREAT FAMINE
The General Conference of UNESCO on November 1 unanimously passed a resolution on the commemoration of the victims of Ukraine's Great Famine in 1932-33, Ukrainian media reported, quoting the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. The resolution states that the famine, orchestrated by the regime of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, took 7 million-10 million lives and was a national tragedy for Ukraine. UNESCO expresses sympathy for the victims of the famine in Ukraine, as well as those victims in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet republics. Ukraine is seeking to have the Great Famine recognized at the international level as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation, but the word "genocide" is not used in the UNESCO resolution. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has declared 2008 a year of remembrance for the victims of the famine. AM
THREE MEMBERS OF OUR UKRAINE-PEOPLE'S SELF-DEFENSE BLOC DELAY SIGNING COALITION DEAL
The Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) has completed gathering signatures supporting its agreement to form a new ruling coalition with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) in the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported on November 1. However, the document has not yet been signed by Ivan Plyushch, the national security and defense council secretary, and two members of the Our Ukraine People's Union, Ihor Kril and Vasyl Petyovka. The BYuT and NUNS, whose leaders in mid-October initialed the coalition accord, control 228 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada -- two votes more than the number required for passing most legislation. Kril said that he and Petyovka will sign the commitment on November 5, when the latter returns from a business trip, and added that there is no formal deadline for signing the document. AM
BOSNIAN PREMIER RESIGNS IN PROTEST...
Nikola Spiric, the head of Bosnia-Herzegovina's federal government, resigned on November 1 in protest at the international community's decision to streamline Bosnia's decision-making process, a move that Spiric and other Bosnian Serb leaders believe will undermine their community's rights and influence. Spiric's decision came in the immediate wake of a decision by a 55-member group of international agencies and countries, including Russia, to back reforms proposed by the international community's high representative, Miroslav Lajcak. Spiric had told the international community's Peace Implementation Council (PIC) he would resign if they offered their support to Lajcak, the news agency SRNA reported. "For 12 years, foreigners have been running this country and that is not good," Spiric told reporters, adding, according to Reuters, that "no one" asked him whether Lajcak's decision would help "my work in any way." "The international community cannot run the country and at the same time I have all the responsibility," he continued. Resignation was the "only right decision" in the circumstances, he argued. Spiric took up his post only in January following elections held in October 2006. The Bosnian Serbs' most powerful politician, Milorad Dodik, who leads the Republika Srpska and the party that Spiric belongs to, has previously warned that ethnic Serbs serving in the federal government and institutions would resign. Spiric's move raises the specter of further resignations, which could in turn lead to a crisis in government and a constitutional crisis, as the peace accords that ended the Bosnian war require cross-ethnic approval for many decisions. However, legal experts from the Republika Srpska are currently talking with Lajcak's office in order to clarify the high representative's planned changes and address Bosnian Serb concerns. AG
...WHILE BOSNIAN MUSLIMS, CROATS GIVE MUTED WELCOME TO INTERNATIONAL ROLE
While Bosnian Serbs were incensed by the PIC's support for High Representative Lajcak, Bosnian Muslims and Croats viewed it both as a threat and as a show of commitment to Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to national television, the Bosnian Muslims' senior politician, Haris Silajdzic, argued that the PIC's statement "resolutely endorsed the sovereignty and integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina" and showed "the international community has instruments at its disposal" to respond to "provocative statements," a clear allusion to the opposition voiced by his chief rival, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik. The same theme was highlighted by Sulejman Tihic, the head of the largest Bosnian Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), who said the PIC made a "last warning to those who are generating an artificial crisis and worsening the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina by using aggressive rhetoric." Bozo Ljubic of the Croatian Democratic Community-1990 (HDZ-1990) said that "the international community has clearly said that it is not giving up on Bosnia-Herzegovina and that it will watch closely how we work, especially how we fulfill our obligations under the Dayton peace agreement." AG
CALL FOR BOSNIAN MUSLIM HOMELAND RAPPED
In addition to a breakdown in relations with Bosnia's Serbs, High Representative Lajcak, had to contend on November 1 with a potentially incendiary comment by the country's top Muslim cleric, Reisu-l-Ulema Mustafa Ceric. According to a Bosnian public radio broadcast on November 1, Ceric told his audience -- Bosnian Muslims in Detroit -- that Bosnian Muslims "have a right to [their] own state." He also said that "the West cannot lecture us on morality because of our past." Ceric's reference was not explained, but presumably refers to the suffering of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 civil war. Lajcak immediately released a statement demanding that Ceric "not...launch out into political statements that call for the violation of the Dayton peace agreement and cause political instability." AG
SERBIA CRITICIZED FOR STANCE ON BOSNIAN CRISIS
Five countries have sent official notes of protest to the Serbian Foreign Ministry following criticisms of the international community's envoy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The news agency Beta reported on October 31 that the protests -- which were lodged by Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States -- took particular issue with attempts to link the political crisis in Bosnia with Serbia's effort to retain sovereignty over Kosova. Such comments have been made chiefly by members of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), most prominently by its leader, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). The DSS sees High Representative Lajcak's reforms as undermining rights secured by Bosnian Serbs in the Dayton accords, which brought peace to Bosnia in December 1995 and established the basis for its postwar constitution. AG
SERBIAN PREMIER DEFENDS HIS POSITION...
Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica on November 1 continued his attacks on the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, saying, according to AFP, that Lajcak "is responsible for the start of the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the most natural thing would have been for Lajcak to resign." Kostunica said that "Serbia, as a signatory and guarantor to the Dayton accords, has the complete right to insist that this international agreement is adhered to consistently and it cannot be violated to the disadvantage of Serbs." He called Lajcak's reform an "attempt to destroy the Dayton accords." Kostunica was joined in his protests by two other ministers from the DSS, Aleksandar Popovic and Slobodan Samardzic, the minister for Kosovar affairs. Samardzic told reporters on October 31 that "it was not Serbia that provoked the situation in which the Republika Srpska was stripped of its authorities, it was Miroslav Lajcak and his ambition to solve the problem in 15 days," the news agency FoNet reported. "To grant the high representative the possibility of changing such important regulations in Bosnia-Herzegovina's constitution at will means to grant him dictatorial authorities," Samardzic said, echoing the language of Bosnian Serb critics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). Samardzic also dismissed the letters of protest, saying that the questions relating to the Republika Srpska and to Kosova are "are connected per se. Anyone familiar with the region will very easily connect the two things." AG
...WITH SUPPORT FROM SERBIA'S LARGEST GOVERNING PARTY
In signs of cross-party concern in Serbia about the position of Bosnian Serbs, two leading members of the Serbian government's largest party, the Democrats (DS), have weighed into the dispute in recent days. On November 1, on account of Bosnian criticism of Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica, Serbian President Boris Tadic said that he will not host a gathering of nongovernmental organizations from Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, an event billed as an attempt to normalize relations between the three countries following the bloodshed of the 1990s. B92 reported that he was angered that the Bosnian Croat member of Bosnia's Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, had "insulted" Kostunica. Komsic said Kostunica's comments on Bosnia's internal affairs "revealed Belgrade's murky political games" and warned him to "keep his hands off Bosnia-Herzegovina," because he "might receive a rap on his wrist and nose" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). "I don't care," Komsic said in response to Tadic's reaction, B92 reported. According to the news agency FoNet, Tadic earlier, on October 27, stated that "the voice of the Republika Srpska must be respected and recognized, as the Dayton agreement requires any changes to be confirmed by a consensus of all three constituent peoples." Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic echoed his party leader on October 31, saying in comments aired by the Serbian broadcaster B92 that Serbia "will not support any form of isolation, any outvoting of any of the three constitutive peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina." Bosnian Serbs argue that Lajcak's proposal that only a quorum of votes present can influence the passage of laws and government initiatives leaves them open to being outvoted by Bosnian Muslims and Croats. On a related note, Jeremic, described the protest letters received from the United States and four European powers as "rather sharp in tone," adding that "I would not make too big a deal of that at the moment." AG
EU MEMBER BACKS SERBIA ON KOSOVA
"Cyprus will never recognize an independent Kosovo," Serbian media quoted Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis as saying on October 30. Kozakou-Marcoullis, who was visiting Belgrade, argued that international law and principles suggest Serbia should retain sovereignty and Kosova should seek a compromise deal. She did not, though, argue that the dispute could be a precedent for Cyprus, which remains governed by separate ethnic-Turkish and -Greek administrations despite the country's accession to the EU. However, Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic said, "Serbia and Cyprus are facing open threats to their respective territorial integrity." Like Cyprus, Romania has publicly stated its opposition to Kosovar statehood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). Some other EU countries -- including Greece -- are also thought to oppose independence for Kosova, a tension that makes it probable that the EU will be unable to meet its desired goal of adopting a unified position on Kosova's status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). AG
CONCLUSIONS OF KOSOVA MEDIATORS REJECTED
The gap between Kosova's and Serbia's leaders when they next meet for direct talks, on November 5, may prove even greater than previously thought, as both sides have now criticized the 14 preliminary conclusions reached by a troika of international mediators. The mediators' conclusions served as the basis of the last discussions, on October 22, and are also expected to determine the agenda at the upcoming meeting in Vienna (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). Kosovar leaders initially said that "the discussion paper of the troika does contain pretty much what Prishtina's position is on the future relationship between Kosova and Serbia," but, according to Kosovar media, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on October 30 that the Kosovar Albanian team said that they will only discuss the mediators' document if it addresses relations between Kosova and Serbia after independence. "The document proposes special relations between Kosova and Serbia, and we said that there is no need for that since we want to have normal relations," Radio-Television Kosova quoted Ceku as saying. Serbia made its differences with the mediators clear in a 14-point document outlining its own conclusions, but, according to the Kosovar Albanian daily "Express," Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic went further on October 29, saying that Serbia will not accept a document similar to the 14-point paper presented by the troika, which he said leaves open the possibility for a unilateral declaration of independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2007). Ceku also said on October 30 that "the only way forward" for discussions is on the basis of the plan for Kosova presented in March by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Serbia and Russia have rejected the Ahtisaari plan, and the troika now views the 14-point agenda as the basis for negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19 and October 23, 2007). However, the Kosovar negotiating team's spokesman has said Prishtina "has not received the slightest information that Ahtisaari's package has been abandoned," Kosovar newspapers reported on October 30. AG
KOSOVAR SERBS PULL OUT OF ELECTIONS UNDER PRESSURE
Kosovar Serbs who were thinking of running in parliamentary and local elections on November 17 are withdrawing under pressure, and would-be voters face "financial sanctions," United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) spokesman Aleksandar Ivanko said at a press conference held on October 31. He said the pressure is "probably" being organized by the Serbian government, which has urged the contested region's Serbian population to boycott the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, and September 4 and 12, 2007). "We have heard a lot of statements made by senior officials, especially the Ministry for Kosovo, that can be described as intimidating and threatening," Ivanko told reporters. He also cited several instances in which an unnamed Kosovar Serb official from Klina called up would-be voters, attacked them as "traitors," and "threatened them with lynching," and a case, in Vitina, in which employees were threatened with dismissal if they voted. A total of eight Kosovar Serb parties and groups registered for the parliamentary elections, and 25 for local elections, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said, though he did not say how many parties have since withdrawn, but that in one area, Strpce, all of them have asked to be taken off the ballot. It is not just Belgrade that has called for a boycott: the radical Kosovar Albanian movement Self-Determination has urged Kosovars not to vote because, according to a report by KosovaLive, it would be "only a vote for their new slavery, the legitimization of the talks with Serbia, and the forgiveness of war damages caused by Serbia." Self-Determination has been the most militant political force in Kosovar Albanian politics this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, March 26, April 5, and July 2, 2007). AG
KOSOVA FAILS TO STEM RISE IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING
"The number of local victims of human trafficking is growing, and improved mechanisms are needed to help identify and assist" victims, the Kosova mission of the OSCE said in a press release issued on October 31 to accompany a 68-page report. The OSCE identified two other principal failings: the absence of an independent body to analyze data on trafficking, and "the lack of compensation services offered to victims." Figures within the actual report say the Kosovar police identified 131 victims of trafficking in 2005 and 64 in 2006. Most were foreigners, with Moldovans being the predominant group in 2005. Child victims came overwhelmingly from within Kosova. AG
ICTY UPHOLDS SENTENCE IN RAPE CASE
A former Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader, Dragan Zelenovic, will have to serve out a 15-year sentence passed down on him for multiple cases of rape, the appeals court of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled on October 31. Zelenovic did not contest his guilt, but argued that his decision to plead guilty and his cooperation with prosecutors warranted a reduction in his sentence to seven to 10 years. The court ruled that Zelenovic failed to demonstrate that "his cooperation went beyond the scope of his obligations" under a plea deal that saw the number of charges against him reduced. Zelenovic eventually pleaded guilty to four counts of rape and three counts of torture, but he was found guilty in April of raping nine Bosnian Muslim women, four of whom were subjected to gang rapes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2007). The court ruled that in many cases the rapes also involved torture, including one instance when a gun was held to the victim's head. The crimes were committed between July and October 1992 after Bosnian Serb forces seized the eastern district of Foca in April 1992. Zelenovic spent a decade on the run before being deported from Russia in June 2006 after he was found working in Siberia for a construction company under an assumed identity. The ICTY said it has now closed its case book on crimes committed in Foca. The indictment brought against Zelenovic in 1996 was the first to classify rape and sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity. In all, the ICTY has sentenced three other men for rapes in the Foca area, for jail terms ranging from 12 to 28 years, and passed four cases over to be heard by Bosnia's War Crimes Chamber. AG
ECONOMIC HARDSHIPS IN UZBEKISTAN BELIE OFFICIAL GROWTH FIGURES
Although officials in Uzbekistan say the country's economy grew by 9.8 percent in the first nine months of this year, ordinary Uzbeks don't seem to be feeling the benefits of a growing economy.
Moreover, with the media and official statistics firmly in the hands of an autocratic president in an election year, observers caution against placing too much faith in claims of economic achievement.
The official statistics for Uzbekistan's gross domestic product regularly differ by several percentage points from those reported by international financial institutions. Depending on whom you ask, the discrepancies are blamed on anything from different accounting methodology to the government's political agenda. By exaggerating economic growth, the regime of President Islam Karimov could be well-positioned to tout its successes while avoiding genuine reform.
Ann-Louise Hagger, an editor and economist with the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), tells RFE/RL that growth for the first nine months of this year is actually likely to be lower than the nearly double-digit growth already announced, although she notes that the economy has indeed been expanding.
Hagger points out that recent growth is a trend throughout the CIS. "A lot of economies picked up quite strongly in the last few years. Obviously, there was quite a sharp fall in output in the post-Soviet period. In a way, the economies are bouncing back from that," she said. She adds that Uzbekistan and other energy-rich states have seen growth largely because of their huge exports of increasingly lucrative hydrocarbon resources.
The Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom, Uzbekistan's biggest partner, has injected millions of dollars into the country's energy sector in the last few years.
In addition to high demand for oil and gas, prices for Uzbekistan's other major export items -- cotton and gold ---- have also been on the rise. Uzbekistan is among the world's top 10 gold exporters, although officials do not announce gold output statistics.
In October, Uzbek authorities reported that the country exceeded its goal of 3.6 million tons for the cotton harvest. President Karimov on October 16 congratulated the Uzbek people on "a great victory" and said the harvest was the result of "selfless work" and "wide-ranging reforms being carried out in the country's agrarian sector."
Karimov claimed that the "bumper crop, for the first time in Uzbekistan's history, was 100 percent produced by private farms, which is an absolutely new type of ownership in the village."
But Uzbek farmers have complained of being forced to sell cotton to the government at a fixed price -- much less than a free market could offer. The practice has led to smuggling of cotton out of the country, mainly to Kazakhstan.
Hagger says it is unclear how reliable the government's output statistics are. "We know there is no market structure in place in the cotton sector, which [would] encourage farmers to increase output. They have to sell their output at artificially low prices. There are no market incentives there. And there is also environmental degradation, problems like that, which suggests that cotton output might not be as high as suggested by the authorities," she said.
Tashkent-based journalist Abduramon Tashanov also questions the published figures, noting that the achievement of this year's cotton-harvest goals was reported earlier than in previous years. He suspects it might be official propaganda ahead of December's presidential election, which is expected to hand incumbent Karimov a third term.
"A very weird thing happened this year. The earliest date in the country's history that [officials] have announced that the cotton-harvest plan was achieved was in 2000 -- on October 21. Suddenly this year it was achieved on October 10. If the current regime stays, we are going to hear similar reports by Independence Day" on September 1, he said. "Summer, spring, or autumn, they arrive at the same time every year -- they don't arrive earlier to help cotton farmers. But the statistics are turning into brazen lies."
Tashanov alleges that some journalists have received instructions from supervisory institutions to report such economic "achievements," including those in the cotton industry.
For ordinary Uzbeks, a growing economy holds little meaning. They are more concerned about low wages and high prices at the bazaars.
The International Monetary Fund put the inflation rate at more than 15 percent in 2006, the latest available figure, while the official minimum monthly salary languishes at just $12.
A woman from the southern Uzbek town of Qarshi told RFE/RL that she was concerned about the high price of flour -- which has risen dramatically since September. "A 50-kilogram sack of flour costs 45,000 sums [around $40] for flour produced here in Qarshi. It used to be 15,000-16,000 sums," she said.
Prices in the capital, Tashkent, are about 10 percent higher -- some 50,000 sums for a sack of flour. There has also been a shortage of vegetable oil in recent weeks -- despite a price hike. Now a liter of oil costs $3.50 in Tashkent.
The United Nations estimates that one-third of the country's 26 million people live below the poverty line. Some sources inside the country claim the figure is higher, and that half the population lives on less than $1 a day.
Hagger says the GDPs of commodity exporters like Uzbekistan are likely to be high in the short term, as world prices for natural gas, oil, cotton, and gold are likely to stay high in 2008-09 before easing slightly.
But she says the reliance of economies like Uzbekistan's on the export of natural resources makes them unsustainable. "The external conditions are very favorable for the Uzbek economy at the moment. But if, for example, commodity prices drop sharply, that would really hit growth quite badly, because the domestic market is not particularly well-developed, living standards are still very low. So the economy is very vulnerable to external conditions," she said.
Economists like Hagger suggest that the Uzbek outlook is bleak, with poverty remaining widespread and Uzbekistan remaining "quite a poor country" -- even though its population sits on some of the largest fossil-fuel deposits in the world.
(Gulnoza Saidazimova is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)
IRAN APPOINTS NEW AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki on October 31 announced the appointment of Fada-Hossein Maleki as Tehran's new ambassador to Kabul, PressTV reported. Maleki served as Iran's drug-control secretary and presidential adviser before his new assignment, and is reportedly close to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Iran has recently adopted more aggressive tactics to influence Afghanistan's political dynamics in favor of Iran's security interests and regional ambitions, and called for a withdrawal of foreign forces from the region. Regional media reports indicate that Iran's Afghan policy objectives are departing from the traditional policies of influence through cultural ties and economic assistance, and moving toward greater emphasis on defending the Iranian regime's security and regional agenda. Some observers attribute this to what the Iranian regime perceives as the threat posed by U.S. military activities in the region. MM
QANUNI CALLS FOR LONG-TERM U.S. COMMITMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
During a high-profile trip to the United States, Yunis Qanuni, the speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan parliament, met with top officials in Washington "to discuss important issues such as peace and security, counternarcotics, and capacity-building of Afghan democratic institutions," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 30. Qanuni met with officials including National Security Advisor Steven Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad. Qanuni delivered a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on October 26 in which he defined the process of Afghan democratization as in its infancy, and still lacking the political culture and mechanisms to enhance its growth. Throughout his trip, Qanuni highlighted the significance of international support, particularly U.S. commitments, for nurturing democracy, development, and security in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. MM
SENIOR CLERIC SAYS IRAN IN CRITICAL SITUATION
Expediency Council chairman and former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on November 1 that Iran faces "unprecedented" confrontation with the international community, and that the presence of U.S. and allied troops in the region is also unprecedented since Iran's 1979 revolution, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. The broadcaster observed that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's comments, which included a call for officials to be vigilant, contrast with some of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's statements expressing confidence about the improbability of any U.S. strike on Iran. Separately on November 1, Ahmadinejad responded to the possibility of EU sanctions on Iran beyond a UN Security Council resolution, saying that hostile moves would jeopardize Iran-EU trade ties, Radio Farda reported. He said the EU knows well what Iran's reaction to cooperation with Iran's "enemies" could do to economic relations. VS
IRANIAN LEGISLATOR SAYS IAEA, NOT SECURITY COUNCIL, TO ADDRESS NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel told reporters on October 31 that questions on Iran's contested nuclear program are being resolved "step by step," and that Iran's policy of cooperation has led to negotiations returning to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), instead of being held at the Security Council, ISNA reported. Haddad-Adel said IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei has said there is no proof that Iran is diverting its nuclear activities toward making weapons, as some Western states suspect, even though "American officials are telling him to be quiet." He said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent visit to Tehran was one of the positive results of the October 16 Caspian Sea summit in Tehran, though he did not elaborate on the subject of his discussions with Iranian officials. VS
FRENCH DAILY ANTICIPATES NUCLEAR RACE IN MIDDLE EAST
France's "Le Figaro" reported on October 31 that Arab states are taking an active interest in developing nuclear programs, both to ensure future fuel security and as an apparent response to Tehran's atomic program. The daily wrote that the Iranian program has fuelled fears of what it termed a "Shi'ite bomb." It identified the leading states in the nuclear race as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, though it added that French energy companies are already negotiating with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Qatar, among others, to ensure a profitable share of any future developments. Egypt, the paper reported, is reviving a program shelved in the 1980s after the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union, and it noted that President Hosni Mubarak has stated a goal of acquiring four nuclear reactors to be built and operated under IAEA supervision. Jordan is reportedly aiming for a nuclear power plant to start operating by 2015. Saudi Arabia is apparently relying on Pakistani know-how and technicians for its program, while the daily added that the Saudis may have helped finance Pakistan's own nuclear program. Washington-based security analyst Jon Wolfsthal has told "Le Figaro" that in spite of the countries' ostensible goal of generating nuclear energy, they are essentially "political and strategic" programs, and a response to Iran's nuclear activities. VS
IRANIAN CENTRAL BANK CHIEF URGES UPDATED BANKING LAWS
Central Bank chief Tahmasb Mazaheri told a seminar in Tehran on October 31 that Islamic banking grew by 15 percent worldwide in 2006, and is a sector to which Iran should pay special attention, ISNA reported. He was referring to banking practices that, among other regulations, avoid high interest rates, banned by Islamic laws. He said Iran's banking system is the only one that has strictly respected Islamic banking laws in the past 30 years, but added that these now need to be updated. Iran's banking system is based on three laws, he said, including the Law of Banking Without Usury. Mazaheri said the Central Bank is working to increase the private sector's share of banking activities, including by accelerating procedures for foreign investment in banks. He said the Central Bank will provide Iran's state-sector banks with $10 billion to increase their capital and help boost their financing facilities for customers. VS
TURKEY DENIES CLOSING ITS AIRSPACE FOR FLIGHTS TO NORTHERN IRAQ
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on November 1 denied reports that his country has decided to close its airspace to flights to and from northern Iraq, the Anatolia News Agency reported. Erdogan rejected a report by NTV that the flight ban is part of broader sanctions against Iraqi Kurdish groups that support Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters based in northern Iraq. Erdogan stressed that any economic sanctions or other measures taken by Turkey are aimed at the PKK and its training camps, but he also indicated that Turkey will seek to punish any party that assists the PKK. "Those aiding and abetting the terrorist organization will be considered the same as terrorists. We will impose sanctions on them," Erdogan added. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Ankara has already started imposing some sanctions on northern Iraq, but did not give details. On October 31, Erdogan issued a statement indicating that Turkey may seek to impose economic and political sanctions against the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) in a bid to pressure it to move against the PKK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2007). SS
IRAQI KURDISH LEADER URGES PEACEFUL RESOLUTION TO PKK CRISIS...
Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani issued a statement on November 1 calling for a peaceful solution with Turkey to the problem of PKK fighters based in northern Iraq, the KRG website reported. Speaking at a joint press conference with British Defense Secretary Des Browne in Irbil, Barzani said: "Military action to solve the current tensions between Turkey and the PKK will benefit no one. We believe that only dialogue can secure a long-lasting solution." He also stressed that the KRG will do everything it can to foster a peaceful outcome to the ongoing tensions along the Turkey-Iraq border. Browne's visit was his first to Irbil, and he praised the region as a model of stability for the rest of Iraq. "The Kurdistan region shows what can be achieved when people cooperate and work together," Browne said. "With better security, the rest of Iraq can follow this model," he added. Browne also held talks with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. SS
...AS IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT CALLS ON IRAN TO HELP
During a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki in Baghdad on November 1, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi urged Iran to help defuse the PKK crisis with Turkey during a conference in Istanbul starting on November 2, the independent news agency Voices of Iraq reported. At the meeting, "al-Hashimi called on the Iranian government to offer complete support for Iraq during the conference and help resolve the Iraqi-Turkish border crisis," according to a statement from al-Hashimi's office. Mottaki stressed that "terrorism is a problem for the whole region, including Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran." Iranian forces have been battling fighters from the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), an ethnic-Kurdish group with links to the PKK that operates along the Iran-Iraq border. SS
UN CHIEF HOPES FOR PRODUCTIVE ISTANBUL CONFERENCE
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on October 31 expressing hope that Iraq's neighbors will offer more assistance to help Iraq overcome instability and political obstacles, KUNA reported on November 1. "I hope that through the active participation and cooperation of all the countries in the region, we will be able to find some good ways to assist and help the Iraqi people and government to overcome this very difficult situation," Ban said. His comments were in reference to the upcoming two-day conference on Iraq in Istanbul that will bring together the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries. However, there are concerns that discussions of the crisis between Turkey and the PKK may dominate the conference. SS
IRAQI TRIBAL LEADERS MEET U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY
A delegation of Sunni tribal leaders from Al-Anbar Governorate met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on October 31 in Washington, and urged him to help expand the Iraqi police force in the region, international media reported. The delegation is led by Sheikh Ahmad Abu Rishah, the leader of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council, a coalition of tribal sheikhs that has driven some Al-Qaeda elements out of the region. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell said the delegation requested that the Al-Anbar police force be expanded to 30,000. "The conversation focused on how to sustain the success that they have won thus far in Al-Anbar, how to sustain it in Al-Anbar, and how to replicate it throughout the country," Morell said. "They wish to have a larger police force, and wish to be able to outfit their local police more effectively," he added. During the nearly two-week visit, the delegation is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, high-ranking White House officials, and members of Congress. It is unclear whether they are scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush. SS
UNESCO CONDEMNS KIDNAPPING OF IRAQI JOURNALIST
Koichiro Matsuura, the director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement on November 1 condemning the kidnapping of a Baghdad correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the murder of her driver on October 22. "I am also deeply concerned about the fate of the correspondent. Harassing, intimidating, kidnapping, and killing journalists and those brave enough to work with them in extremely dangerous environments represent an attack on the human rights of entire societies," Matsuura said. He also condemned the murder of Shihab Mohammad al-Hiti, the editor of the Iraqi weekly "Al-Youm," on October 28. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 122 journalists and 42 media support staff have been killed in Iraq since the start of U.S.-led invasion in 2003. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq has lost two journalists this year; in late May, Nazar Abd al-Wahid al-Radhi was killed in the southern city of Al-Amarah, less than two months after his colleague, Khamail Muhsin Khalaf, was abducted and found dead in western Baghdad. SS