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Newsline - November 5, 2007

President Vladimir Putin told military cadets on November 4 in Moscow "there are those who would like to build a unipolar world, who would themselves like to rule all of humanity," Russian media and reported. Speaking on National Unity Day, which commemorates the 17th-century defense of Russia from the forces of Poland-Lithuania, Putin did not mention the United States by name but included several swipes at Washington in his address. Alluding to a comment attributed to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the effect that Russia has too much natural wealth for one country, Putin said that "some people are constantly insisting on the necessity of dividing up our country and are trying to spread this theory.... They themselves have no wish to share their own riches, and we should take that into account" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2007). He also noted that "some minor countries, under pressure from larger ones, are having a hard time figuring out how to defend their own interests. Russia has played and will continue to play a positive, stabilizing role in the world." A new Levada Center poll of adult Russians indicates that only about 25 percent of adults can correctly say why they have November 5 off work, Reuters reported. An additional 48 percent have no idea whatsoever, while the remaining respondents confuse the holiday with the National Day of Reconciliation or Halloween (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). The holiday was first observed in 2005 as a replacement for the Soviet Union's October Revolution Day. PM

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on November 3 and 5 quoted Germany's Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as having said on November 2 that the Russian authorities have restored Siberian overflight rights for Lufthansa Cargo, which is Lufthansa's freight subsidiary, and that Berlin is now discussing with Moscow how to move Lufthansa Cargo's Asian hub from Astana to Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31 and November 1 and 2, 2007). But over the weekend, Lufthansa officials repeatedly rejected any idea of moving to Krasnoyarsk. They stressed that Russia must observe its agreements "as is customary especially among countries that belong to the Group of Eight" (G8) industrialized countries, and added that they do not understand why Russia recently banned overflights. The Frankfurter daily reported on November 5 that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) has meanwhile taken charge of the German side of the negotiations. The daily added that unspecified informed circles in Berlin point out that the outcome depends to a great extent on whether "Lufthansa is prepared to pay a political price under certain circumstances." Several legislators from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) called on the SPD to send a clear signal to Russia that Germany will not be bullied. The opposition Free Democrats (FDP) want parliament to discuss the imbroglio, which has become a domestic as well as a foreign-policy issue. Lufthansa officials said repeatedly that they have a valid, open-ended contract with Astana, where the airline has already invested much money in infrastructure. The officials also noted that it would take at least two years to develop Krasnoyarsk as a hub, partly because its airport cannot currently operate in bad weather. Spokesmen for the airline also suggested that it has had many "dubious experiences with Russian [airport] officials." The Frankfurt daily wrote on November 3 that Lufthansa's troubles might have begun when it recently announced plans to move its Moscow operations as of 2008 from the state-run Sheremetevo airport to the privately owned Domodedovo. Transportation Minister Igor Levitin heads Sheremetevo's oversight body. The Frankfurt paper noted on November 5 that the cut-rate airline Germanwings is under pressure from Russian officials to move its Moscow operations from Vnukovo Airport to Sheremetevo and to raise its fares to the level of Aeroflot's. PM

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier appealed to Russia on November 4 not to make good on its threat to "suspend" participation in the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty on December 12, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 17, and 24, and October 29, 2007). Speaking on the eve of an informal conference of CFE signatory states in Paris, he called on all parties to "participate in developing a solution," and noted that Washington has offered "helpful" proposals aimed at resolving the dispute. Steinmeier nonetheless said that "if we want to establish the essential features of a solution over the next few weeks, everyone will have to show a willingness to compromise." PM

President Putin has posthumously awarded George Koval, who died in 2006 aged 94, the Gold Star medal and the title Hero of Russia for his role in obtaining U.S. atomic secrets for the Soviet Union in the 1940s, and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on November 2 and 3 respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). Putin said that Koval operated under the code name Delmar and was the only Soviet spy with direct access to installations that produced plutonium, enriched uranium, and polonium. Putin noted that Koval's work enabled the Soviet Union to catch up with the United States in nuclear weapons technology. The medal will be displayed in Moscow's museum of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). During his lifetime, Koval insisted that his name and activities be kept secret. PM

National Unity Day was marked in Russia on November 4 with numerous rallies and marches in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other Russian media reported. In Moscow, the largest demonstration -- up to 10,000 people -- was held by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, while nationalist political groups held smaller marches. The liberal Yabloko party held a small rally against extremism. The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) was denied permission to hold a demonstration in Moscow against what the party describes as a growing cult of personality developing around President Putin. Nationalist groups attracted some 500 demonstrators in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. RC

The SPS on November 2 alleged that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is waging a dirty-tricks campaign of placing paid articles in the press, reported the same day. SPS leader Nikita Belykh said that, according to his party's research, up to $500,000 was paid in the month of October alone for articles and television spots discrediting the party. He said that some of the articles allege that the party is paying for its Duma election campaign through electricity price increases, since Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatoly Chubais is associated with the party. Belykh said only Unified Russia has the resources to wage such a campaign, adding that SPS has been targeted because it is the only party actively running against the so-called Putin's Plan, Unified Russia's vague campaign platform. Belykh told journalists SPS has ordered campaign billboards with the slogan, "Putin's Plan Is The Road To The Past." Among the media outlets allegedly involved in the campaign are "Moskovsky komsomolets," "Komsomolskaya pravda," and Rossia state television. Spokespeople from all three companies denied the allegations. RC

President Putin has signed a decree granting national status to the Petersburg television channel (Channel Five), reported on November 4. The decree gives the channel the right to expand nationally, potentially to reach a par with Channel One and Rossia. Channel Five is owned primarily by Bank Rossia co-owner Yury Kovalchuk, who has long-standing and close ties to Putin from Putin's days in the mayor's office in St. Petersburg. RC

Regional meetings in support of a third term for President Putin continued over November 3-4, reported on November 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29 and November 2, 2007). On November 3, about 1,000 people gathered at North Ossetia State University in Vladikavkaz. However, many of the students at the demonstration told the website that they had been summoned there by university officials and had no idea that a political event was planned. Representatives of the republican government and the Unified Russia party were present at the meeting, but denied that they had organized it. Meanwhile, an initiative group in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, issued a statement on November 3 announcing the establishment of a new public organization named "For Putin!" reported. The founders expressed support for President Putin's policies aimed at strengthening Russian statehood and security, raising living standards, and "defending Russia's interests at the international level." They called for broad public support for Putin, but it is not clear whether they also advocated amending the Russian Constitution to enable him to serve a third consecutive term. In Vladivostok the same day about 200 people gathered at a local drama theater to support Putin under slogans such as "Putin, you started something, now finish it!" and "We will not allow another Time of Troubles," referring to the period between 1598 and 1613 when Russia was engulfed in lawlessness and foreign occupation. The meeting in Vladivostok lasted just 13 minutes, reported. One organizer who was not identified told the website the meeting was called to a close "because everything was perfectly clear." RC

Zhaloudi Saralyapov, chairman of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) parliament elected under President Aslan Maskhadov in 1997, has formally requested from the current ChRI president and resistance commander, Doku Umarov, clarification of his recent proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate of which Umarov has declared himself amir. Saralyapov's request, reported on November 5 on, notes that the ChRI constitution does not make provision for the post of amir. He further appeals to Chechens not to take sides in the dispute triggered by Umarov's proclamation, which he confirmed last week in a video e-mailed to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30 and 31, 2007). It is not clear whether Saralyapov was acting on an appeal dated the same day and signed by a dozen ChRI diplomatic representatives in Europe and three respected field commanders. That appeal argued that Umarov's proclamation is an attempt to abolish Chechen statehood and stressed Saralyapov's moral duty to intervene, assuring him they will support any "sensible legal steps" he undertakes. LF

Police in Kabardino-Balkaria found the bodies of nine hunters from Nalchik and outlying villages near the village of Lechinkay, northwest of the capital, at midday local time on November 4, reported the following day. All nine had their hands tied and had been shot in the back of the head. Their abandoned car was found nearby. The commander of the Kabardino-Balkar section of the North Caucasus resistance has not claimed responsibility for the killings, the website reported on November 5. LF

Police in Daghestan last week apprehended eight members of a "terrorist group" that allegedly planned to assassinate unofficial religious leader Sheikh Said-Afandi Chirkeisky and the head of the republic's criminal expertise center, Nabi Akhadov, and reported on November 2. Chirkeisky, an Avar, is reputed to have up to 300,000 murids (disciples) (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 13, 2001). LF

Some 100 members of the Union of Slavs of Adygeya congregated on November 4 in Maikop on the occasion of Russia's National Unity Day, reported. They carried banners proclaiming "Russians will not capitulate" and calling among other things for the release of political prisoners. Vladimir Karatayev, a leading member of the union, argued that the Russian Constitution should guarantee the right of ethnic Russians to self-determination within the Russian Federation. Russians account for almost two-thirds of Adygeya's population of 445,000. The union supported the ultimately unsuccessful campaign in 2005-06 to subsume Adygeya into the surrounding Krasnodar Krai (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," January 7 and April 22, 2005 and March 10 and April 13, 2006, and "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12 and 18, May 3, and December 11, 2006). LF

Eleven Armenian opposition parties released a statement in Yerevan on November 1 condemning as "a blatant violation of human rights and civil liberties" the detention by police one week earlier of five supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on November 2. The five, who include the editors of two opposition newspapers, have been formally charged with assaulting police who sought to prevent them from alerting passers-by to a planned rally by Ter-Petrossian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 25 and 31, 2007). Two further opposition parties that have strained relations with Ter-Petrossian -- Vazgen Manukian's National Democratic Union and Artashes Geghamian's National Unity Pary -- issued separate statements condemning the police action. LF

Rafael Ghazarian, an atomic physicist who was one of the original 11 members of the Karabakh Committee formed in February 1988 to lobby for the transfer of the then-Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast from Azerbaijani to Armenian control, died in Yerevan on November 3 at the age of 84, Noyan Tapan reported on November 5. Together with the other members of the committee, including Ter-Petrossian and Manukian, Ghazarian was arrested in December 1988 and held for five months in a Moscow jail. He served as deputy chairman of Armenia's first postcommunist legislature in 1989-90 when Ter-Petrossian was its chairman, but fell out with him in the mid-1990s, and subsequently played a leading role in the ruling body of Armenia's Forum of the Intelligentsia. Ter-Petrossian visited him several weeks ago and the two reportedly resolved their long-standing differences and parted on amicable terms. LF

The National Council comprising 10 Georgian opposition parties staged a mass demonstration in Tbilisi on November 2 that was attended by some 40,000-50,000 people, Georgian and international media reported. The organizers and participants originally focused on four demands to the Georgian authorities: holding parliamentary elections in the spring of 2008 in accordance with the constitution; changes to the election law; parity representation on election commissions; and the release of those persons the opposition considers political prisoners. Georgian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, who on October 28 offered financing for opposition parties, returned on Tbilisi on November 2 saying he did not plan to address the planned demonstration, but then changed his mind. He urged participants to pressure the government to embark on a dialogue that would pave the way for elections that would result in a "people's government," and left Tbilisi for London again later that day. Five opposition leaders met on the evening of November 2 with parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, who rejected categorically the demand for elections in spring 2008 but said talks on the other three demands would continue. In response to that refusal, a smaller number of demonstrators -- some 10,000 -- convened in rainy and cold weather on November 3 and began demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Between 20,000-30,000 people congregated again outside parliament on November 4; as of November 5, the protesters plan to picket unspecified government buildings in Tbilisi. In a live broadcast on the pro-government television channel Rustavi-2 on the evening of November 4, Saakashvili dismissed the protests as a "pale imitation" of those in November 2003 preceding the so-called Rose Revolution that culminated in the peaceful ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze and Saakashvili's advent to power. He implied that the protests are being orchestrated from Moscow, but at the same time stressed that such protests "are part of the democracy we fought for." Opposition leaders rejected as insulting Saakashvili's allegation that they are acting at Moscow's behest, Caucasus Press reported on November 5. Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, son of the late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and leader of the Tavisupleba (Liberty) party, compared Saakashvili's address to the rhetoric of the Leonid Brezhnev, who served from 1964-82 as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. LF

The Georgian Defense Ministry released a statement on November 4 claiming that three Russian Su-24 fighter aircraft entered Georgian airspace from the north at midday that day, and left after approximately one minute after penetrating some 3-4 kilometers, reported. But Russian Air Force spokesman Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevsky denied the Georgian allegation, stressing that "given the present situation in Georgia" and the training maneuvers under way in the North Caucasus, all Russian Air Force flights are being "strictly monitored," reported on November 5. LF

A formal probe of corruption within the Kazakh armed forces widened with the arrest on November 2 of the former head of army intelligence, who was detained in Almaty while attempting to bribe an official of the National Security Committee, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The press service of the National Security Committee's Almaty department released a statement reporting the arrest of the unnamed retired colonel by military counterintelligence and confirmed that the man tried to give a $30,000 bribe to a security official in order to thwart an investigation into corruption within the armed forces. The same day, Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov also dismissed the deputy head of the ministry's Department for Information Technology and Communications, Colonel Kasymkhanov, according to Kazakh television. Although the dismissal was said to be due to "poor discipline among the department's staff," the case was part of a broader investigation targeting corruption within the officer corps. RG

Speaking to reporters in Astana, Kazakh Deputy Finance Minister Daulet Yergozhin warned on November 2 that if "there is no specific agreement" in talks over the operations of the offshore Kashagan oil field, Kazakhstan will "take appropriate measures to protect economic interests of the country," according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Yergozhin also announced that talks between Kazakhstan and the Italian-led international consortium running operations at the Caspian field will end by the end of the month, regardless of whether a final agreement can be reached. He further stressed that all future operations at the offshore field must conform to Kazakh legislation, including the recently amended energy law, which grants Kazakhstan greater authority over the work of international energy companies in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). After the personal intervention of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 9, 2007), a round of talks last month reached "an agreement in principle" by official stakeholders in the Italian-led Agip international consortium developing Kashagan to provide Kazakhstan with an unspecified greater share in the project, to be granted to the state-owned KazMunaiGaz energy company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007). The between the Kazakh government and the consortium stems primarily from the consortium's decision to push back the start of production at the oil field from 2008 to late 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31 and August 22, 2007). In August, the government suspended work at Kashagan for three months due to alleged violations of environmental-protection laws, as well as repeated delays and cost overruns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). The projected total cost for developing the oil field has more than doubled from initial estimates of $57 billion to $136 billion. The Kashagan field holds between 7 billion and 9 billion tons of proven reserves, making it the largest oil field discovered in the last three decades and the fourth- or fifth-largest deposit in the world. RG

Some 50 workers at the Kashagan oil field staged a demonstration on November 2 in Atyrau demanding higher pay, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The workers, employed by two Turkish subcontractors, are seeking "at least" a 50 percent pay raise from the Italian-led international consortium operating Kashagan. A second demonstration, involving some 70 workers from an Italian subcontracting firm, erupted later that day, with protesters demanding a similar pay raise. RG

In an announcement in Bishkek, an unidentified official of the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office announced on November 2 that criminal charges have been filed against former parliamentarian Sultan Urmanaev for his role in a violent clash between police and opposition demonstrators, according to the website. Urmanaev faces a possible prison term of between eight and 15 years if convicted for complicity in the March 2002 deaths of at least six people in the town of Aksy in the southwestern region of Jalal-Abad, of which he was then governor. The criminal charges are the latest in a larger case that includes the sentencing of several other former officials, ranging from the former police chief to the region's former prosecutor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). The events in Aksy triggered widespread protests throughout the country, with demonstrators blocking the main highway linking the north and south of the country. The reaction was further exacerbated by the release of a video showing riot police firing on unarmed demonstrators and as protests and demonstrations mounted, led to the eventual resignation of the government (see "Kyrgyzstan: New Aksy Probe Could Reach Current Circles," June 28, 2007, RG

The Tajik parliament voted unanimously on November 2 to approve the government's draft state budget for 2008, Asia-Plus reported. In a report to parliament during the debate on the budget proposal, Finance Minister Safarali Najmuddinov explained that the priority for the government in the 2008 budget is to maintain the "socio-economic development of the country" while expanding tax collection and keeping inflation low. The 4.5 billion-somoni ($1.3 billion) budget is some 36 percent larger than the 2007 state budget and includes about $500 million in planned social spending, with increases of 44 and 41 percent on health care and education, respectively. The budget also allocates 732 million somonis ($212 million) for the energy sector, an increase of roughly 16.5 percent, to be largely spent on expanding hydroelectricity production. RG

A car bomb exploded on November 2 in Dushanbe, destroying the vehicle belonging to the head of Tajikistan's National Guard, Major General Rajabali Rahmonaliev, Asia-Plus reported. The explosion went off while the unattended car was parked in a garage near Rahmonaliev's office and no one was hurt in the incident. The Interior Ministry later announced the launch of a full investigation, although no motive was cited for the attack. Rahmonaliev was appointed to head the National Guard in early 2004, replacing the currently imprisoned Ghaffor Mirzoev. A former head of the Drug Control Agency, Mirzoev was sentenced to life in prison in August 2006 for murder and attempting to overthrow the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9 and 14, 2006). Rahmonaliev previously served as the commander of a special airborne assault battalion within the Tajik Army. RG

A two-day ministerial conference of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) ended on November 3 in Dushanbe, with delegations from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Uzbekistan, as well as representatives from six multilateral institutions, Asia-Plus and Tajik television reported. In his opening address to the conference on November 2, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon stressed the priority of regional integration as a path toward greater "participation in the world economy in order to achieve and accelerate economic growth, ensure stability and improve the well-being of citizens." Rahmon also warned of the need to find a solution "to the problem of [the] use of the region's water and energy resources," pointing to the "unequal and irrational use of water resources in the region" and defining the use of water resources as a "strategic issue" for achieving sustainable development. Founded in 1997, the CAREC is supported by the Asian Development Bank and seeks to forge greater regional integration of the trade, transport and energy sectors. RG

Meeting on the sidelines of the conference, President Rahmon on November 3 discussed the need for greater investment in the country with Masaru Honma, the director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for Central Asia, and welcomed the nearly $30 million in new investment projects initiated by the EBRD in the country every year, according to Tajik television and Asia-Plus. The EBRD portfolio in Tajikistan currently totals some 23 investment projects with an estimated value of $85.6 million, mainly focused on strengthening and developing Tajikistan's emerging private sector and supporting its commercial banks. Rahmon also met on November 2 with Shigeo Katsu, the World Bank's regional vice president for Europe and Central Asia, to discuss plans for increased World Bank assistance for the construction of hydroelectric power stations in Tajikistan, the development of a regional energy market, and the export of electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The World Bank has some 17 investment projects in Tajikistan, totaling over $254.4 million, although it also has invested a total of nearly $468 million in the country to date. RG

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov met on November 4 with visiting Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS and Turkmen television reported. They reviewed several issues related to the planned construction of new natural-gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan and China. The planned pipeline, which is to transport gas from the Bagtyyarlyk reserve in Turkmenistan's Lebap region, through neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, before reaching western China, is intended to provide China with 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas over a 30-year period. Wen's two-day visit was preceded by a recent visit to Turkmenistan of experts from the China National Petroleum Corporation to inspect the planned construction site (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2007). RG

A prime-ministerial summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) formally ended on November 3 in Tashkent, Interfax reported. The Chinese, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik, and Uzbek prime ministers signed a set of closing agreements covering cooperation in the areas of customs, trade, and energy. In his welcoming speech to the summit on November 2, Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev heralded the summit's first-ever meeting in Uzbekistan and praised Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev's call for the SCO to lift "artificial restrictions" on trade and economic cooperation, Kabar reported. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov also called on November 2 for the formation of a new SCO "energy club," which he argued could foster greater regional integration and cooperation among SCO members. Zubkov added that Moscow is "ready for cooperation" in the area of emergency response and voiced his support for the proposed "establishment of an SCO center for preventing and dealing with emergency situations," which would be based in Kazakhstan. RG

Around 1,000 people took part in the so-called Social March, organized by the Belarusian opposition, on November 4 in Minsk, Belapan reported. The participants protested against government plans to abolish the current state benefits and privileges received by certain categories of people, including retirees, people with some disabilities, Chernobyl cleanup veterans, blood donors, and students. Under a new law that will come into force on December 17, some beneficiaries will lose the benefit of paying half-fare on public transportation. The demonstrators adopted a resolution demanding that that legislation be repealed, along with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree barring small-business owners from hiring employees other than three family members. The resolution also called for the government to convene a "public council" for representatives of political parties, independent trade unions, and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the government's economic and social policies. AM

On November 3-5, Minsk is hosting an international communist forum on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, Belapan reported. At the government-supported forum, Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, called on Russia's leadership to stop "blackmailing" Minsk and fulfill its obligations regarding the formation of a union state with Belarus. On the same dates, the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) held its own forum in Minsk to condemn the communist regime that ruled in Soviet Belarus. Participants demanded that the Belarusian government recognize that the communist regime's policy in Belarus between 1919 and 1956 amounted to genocide against Belarusians, and appealed to the Supreme Court of Belarus to ban all political parties and organizations that are based on what they called "criminal communist ideology." AM

Several pro-Russian organizations held a "Russian march" with more than 1,000 participants in Simferopol on November 4, coinciding with Russia's National Unity Day, UNIAN and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Participants holding Russian flags and portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Russian be designated an official language in Ukraine, criticized Ukrainian government policies, and chanted "Russia, Ukraine, Belarus -- unity!" The previous day, a Simferopol court banned any mass events from taking place on November 4 in the city, but law-enforcement bodies did not interfere with the march. AM

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on November 2 criticized Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin for remarks he made about the World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, stating that the ambassador's comments were inconsistent with his diplomatic role, Interfax reported. In an interview with "Vremya novostei," Chernomyrdin responded negatively to Ukraine's efforts to recognize the UPA's role in World War II, as well as to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's initiative to introduce criminal prosecution for the public denials of the Great Famine. "Ukrainian political and academic elites, as well as the public, are capable of qualifying socio-historical events in the lives of their people on their own, without additional comments based on ideological and stereotypical principles," the ministry said in a statement. AM

Serbs will not go to the polls to vote for a new president before December 10, the three parties in Serbia's governing coalition decided on November 3. That baseline date was chosen because, as the official statement said, that is when "the current round" of negotiations on Kosova's future status will end. The agreement carries the important proviso that the presidential election will be held "provided the territorial integrity of the country is not jeopardized." The United States and the EU agree with Kosova that the current round of talks should be the last, and Kosova has threatened to declare independence shortly after December 10, a move that might be supported by Western powers. The timing of the election has been an issue of debate for months, with the largest governing party, the Democratic Party (DS), and the junior party, the G17 bloc, arguing that the election should be held this year, as required by the constitution, and the second-largest governing party, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), demanding a delay until Kosova's future is decided. Speaking to the broadcaster B92 on October 31, a senior DS figure, Nada Kolundzija, warned that the DSS "could look for another coalition partner" if its demands are not met. The news service Balkan Insight on November 5 quoted an unnamed official as saying that there is a tentative agreement for the first round of the presidential election to be held on January 13. AG

The heat of the political debate over the timing of the parliamentary elections contrasts with coolness in the broader population: the newspaper "Politika" on October 31 cited a poll showing that only one in three Serbs plan to vote in the presidential election. Another third say they might vote, while the remaining third were already firmly decided against casting a vote. In the last elections, in 2004, turnout was a little over 48 percent. Turnout could have a critical impact in overturning the narrow opinion-poll lead of President Boris Tadic in favor of Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the ultanationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), the country's largest party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). "Politika" said the poll found that Tadic would finish just two percentage points ahead of Nikolic in a direct runoff (38.3 percent to 36.2 percent). AG

Serbia exported arms worth $102.5 million between April 2005 and December 2006, Serbia's "Official Gazette" reported on November 1. Licenses to sell another $400 million in weaponry have been issued, according to the news service Balkan Insight. The United States accounted for $14 million of the sales, and over 50 percent of the licenses issued. The Middle East is also a significant market, with exports to Libya totaling $11.4 million and sales to Israel amounting to $8.5 million. Serbia's third-largest market was Myanmar (Burma), to which the former Yugoslavia and now Serbia have been exporting weapons since the 1950s. Sales to Burma totaled $9 million. AG

The organizers of a concert due to be held on the site of a German extermination camp on November 2 canceled the event after "pressure from foreign and domestic media," local and international media reported. The members of British band that was scheduled to play, Kosheen, issued a statement on its website that "if Kosheen had known its true history, they would never have agreed to play the venue, and as such Kosheen have canceled their show there." Over the course of three years, some 48,000 people were killed at the Sajmiste camp, initially principally Jews, but by the time it closed, in September 1944, the overwhelming majority of its victims were Roma and ethnic Serbs. The camp originally lay on the outskirts of Belgrade, but the Serbian capital's subsequent development means it now occupies a relatively central position. While the site's history is marked by a plaque, Sajmiste is not protected from development and the long-derelict hall that was to have been used for the concert has been bought by a businessman. A campaign began in April 2006 to turn the site into a memorial center. AG

The Montenegrin Orthodox Church on October 31 applied for recognition as an official church in Serbia, a move that sets the stage for a fresh clash with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian daily "Glas javnosti" on November 1 quoted an official of the Montenegrin church, Nenad Stevovic, as saying he is confident of registration. Stevovic, who believes there are 30,000-40,000 followers of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church in Serbia, said he expects Serbia to emulate the "religious freedom that exists in Montenegro, where the Serbian Orthodox Church is allowed completely free operation." Stetovic's comment was dismissed by a representative of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Velibor Dzomic, who, according to the November 2 edition of "Glas javnosti," said Stevovic is making "a cheap attempt to misrepresent Serbia as a country that does not respect religious freedoms." Dzomic, who described Stetovic as an "expert on pubs," said he believes Serbia will reject the application. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church has yet to be recognized as an official church by the communion of Orthodox churches, and Serbia has refused registration to or restricted the activities of other Orthodox communities, including the Romanian and Macedonian Orthodox churches. The Serbian Orthodox Church's relations with the Montenegrin Orthodox Church have been particularly strained this year. The two are locked in a dispute over property in Montenegro, and some Serbian church officials suspect the involvement of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church in an attack on a Serbian Orthodox Church in Podgorica and the restrictions imposed by the Montenegrin government on a Serbian Orthodox bishop accused by the UN's war crimes tribunal of aiding fugitive war crimes indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13 and 16, July 31, August 13, and September 7 and 10, 2007). AG

A Montenegrin journalist, Tufik Softic, was hospitalized on November 1 after being beaten with baseball bats by two unknown assailants in the northern town of Berane. Softic is the head of the local radio station, Radio Berane, and contributes to the regional news service Balkan Insight. Softic told Balkan Insight that he has received a number of threats, but the last was three or four months ago. This is the second attack on Montenegrin journalists in two months. On September 1, Zeljko Ivanovic, the director of Montenegrin daily "Vijesti," was beaten on what he believes were the orders of a former prime minister and president, Milo Djukanovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). Police arrested three men in mid-September in connection with the attack on Ivanovic, but "Vijesti" has voiced skepticism that the men, whom it described as "minor criminals," were responsible. The editor in chief of another prominent national daily, Dusko Jovanovic of "Dan," was killed in May 2004. The case remains unsolved. Another prominent writer, the novelist Jevrem Brkovic, survived an attack in October 2006, but his driver, Srdjan Vojicic, was killed. The failure to find the killers of Jovanovic and Vojicic prompted parliament to call in the country's chief police commander, Veselin Veljovic, for a hearing on November 1, reportedly the first time that a police chief has been called in for a grilling of this kind. Among other statements, Veljovic reportedly said that investigations into the Ivanovic case have now been halted. AG

Mirko Sarovic, the ethnic-Serbian member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Presidency from October 2002 to April 2003, has been questioned by prosecutors from the UN's war crimes tribunal searching for the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, local media reported. According to the Bosnian daily "Fokus," Sarovic was questioned for several hours on November 1 about the network supporting Karadzic, whose whereabouts have been a particular mystery in recent years. Sarovic, who lives in Sarajevo, was questioned in Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska. The news agency SRNA reported that Republika Srpska officials also took part in the questioning. Sarovic was previously questioned in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). Sarovic resigned in April 2003 after allegations that he was implicated in the illegal arms trade with Iraq, of which he was eventually cleared in 2006. Sarovic, who was once the deputy leader of Karadzic's party, is one of 33 people barred from entering the EU and the United States because of the help they are suspected of providing Karadzic and another suspected war criminal, Ratko Mladic, and his assets have been frozen in the United States and Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007).

A convicted terrorist and jailbreaker, Xhavid Morina, was killed in a gun battle in northwestern Macedonia on November 1, Macedonian police reported. Morina, a militia commander, was one of seven men to escape in August from a high-security prison in Kosova, where he was serving a 12-year sentence for murdering two police officers. Four of the escaped remain on the run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 22, 23, and 31, September 5, and October 3, 2007). Morina died from three gunshots to the abdomen and bore traces of injuries to his head. The motive remains unknown. However, it is thought that two other men who were hospitalized with gunshot wounds at around the same time may have some connection with the crime. According to the news agency MIA, the two are thought to be members of a group formed by Agim Krasniqi, an ethnic Albanian controversially acquitted of terrorism charges in February. The charges against Krasniqi, a separatist commander during Macedonia's brief civil war in 2001 and subsequently a representative of the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh), relate to a long standoff with the Macedonian authorities after he seized control of a village, Kondovo, in 2004 and threatened to shell Skopje, the Macedonian capital, if police tried to arrest him. Morina's body was found outside the village of Odri, near the town of Tetovo, an area where a policeman was killed by an armed gang on October 25 and in which armed men have been reported to be stopping cars and checking passengers' identity on a road leading toward Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, and November 1, 2007). AG

Reports of an armed gang operating around Tetovo in northwestern Macedonia were supplemented on October 31 by footage broadcast by Croatian television that showed armed men in Kumanovo, an area in northern Macedonia and, like Tetovo, a center of separatist violence in 2001. According to the news service Balkan Insight, one of the men said the group was forced to take up arms as the Macedonian government "has launched a tough offensive against the former National Liberation Army [UCK]." The group's members, who wore uniforms with UCK insignia, were armed with rocket launchers, machine guns, and rifles. Macedonia's National Security Council voiced concern on October 31 about the security situation in the country, but also concluded, local media reported, that the country currently faces no serious threats. In a statement issued after the meeting, the council urged police to remain vigilant and "not to underestimate criminal groups and individuals" in the country, an appraisal that matches the responses of government officials, who argue that recent violent incidents were caused by criminal gangs, rather than politically motivated militias. The council nonetheless warned that violence could be exploited for political reasons, and President Branko Crvenkovski noted that the incidents have occurred in areas populated by ethnic Albanians and "which in 2001 we called crisis regions." Differences between the majority population and the Albanian minority have been exacerbated in recent days by a Constitutional Court decision barring the official use of the Albanian flag, a ruling that led to the resignation of the court's chairman on October 30 and, subsequently, of a second ethnic-Albanian judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). The Security Council also warned of "challenges in the context of regional events," a reference to ongoing talks about the status of Kosova. As a neighbor and as a country where one in every three or four people is of Albanian origin, Macedonia fears it could be affected by bloodshed in Kosova. The deputy leader of the largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), Jani Makraduli, told reporters on November 1 that the killing of Xhavid Morina and the other "latest events in the Tetovo region indicate that the statements...blaming criminal groups are nonsense." The largest ethnic-Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), warned on November 1 that these "extremely disturbing" events "are leading the country into a state of emergency." AG

The opposition National Council mobilized between 30,000-50,000 sympathizers from across Georgia on November 2 in a demonstration in Tbilisi in support of its demands to the country's leadership, which in turn categorically ruled out any concessions. The demonstrations continued on November 3, 4, and 5, but whether the opposition can maintain its cohesion and sustain the pressure on the authorities remains unclear.

The National Council, composed of 10 opposition parties with widely disparate ideologies and agendas, was established in early October following the arrest of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili 48 hours after he publicly leveled a series of damaging accusations against President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The National Council includes the People's Party, the Labor party, the Republican party, the Conservative party, Georgia's Way, Tavisupleba, Chven Tviton (We Ourselves), and Okruashvili's For a United Georgia, and is headed by a five-person Emergency Committee whose members include former Minister for Conflict Resolution Goga Khaindrava and parliamentarians Levan Gachechiladze (New Conservatives/New Rightists) and Koka Guntsadze, who defected from the New Rightists and is now a leading member of Okruashvili's party.

On October 17, the National Council unveiled a joint manifesto that repeated many of the criticisms of the Saakashvili regime expressed on September 25 by Okruashvili. It characterizes the social, political, and economic situation in Georgia as "grave," accuses Saakashvili and his "corrupt team" of "usurping power," and claims that "political terror...reigns, and basic human rights and freedoms are neglected." It called for the consolidation of Georgian society to elect in free and fair elections in the spring of 2008 a new leadership that would enjoy public trust and prove capable of tackling the serious problems the country faces. It further enumerated 12 "fundamental principles" to which the 10 signatories pledged to adhere.

Those principles are holding democratic elections without interference from state institutions; creating a European-style system of checks and balances between the branches of power; ensuring the independence of the judiciary; restoring Georgia's territorial integrity by peaceful means; strengthening local self-government and abolishing the post of presidential representative introduced by Saakashvili; releasing all political prisoners and launching an investigation into high-profile crimes committed under Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze and Saakashvili, including the deaths of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1993 and of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in February 2005; guaranteeing media freedom; strengthening property rights and compensating those whose property was summarily confiscated under Saakashvili; promoting a free business climate, attracting investment and creating new jobs; providing adequate financial support for the more disadvantaged segments of the population; ending state interference into the affairs of the Georgian church; and pursuing a pro-Western foreign policy that would include Georgia's disengagement from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The manifesto did not, however, explicitly advocate the abolition of the presidency. "Georgia Without Saakashvili" was one of the slogans under which Georgians initially flocked to protest Okruashvili's arrest.

Later on October 17, the opposition addressed a letter to Saakashvili and to parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze highlighting its four most crucial demands: that parliamentary elections be held on schedule in spring 2008 (Saakashvili decided last year to postpone them until the fall to be held concurrently with an early presidential ballot, technically not due until early 2009); the creation of new election commissions that would not be monopolized by representatives of Saakashvili's United National Movement; the abolition of the majoritarian election system; and the release of all political prisoners.

Throughout October, leaders of the parties aligned in the National Council toured Georgia in a bid to mobilize public support in advance of the planned November 2 rally in Tbilisi. That rally was intended to highlight only the opposition's four most crucial demands. But after leading parliamentarians, including speaker Burjanadze and Maia Nadiradze, categorically rejected late on November 2 the demand for parliamentary elections in the spring of 2008, demonstrators began on November 3 also demanding that Saakashvili resign. Statements by the various leaders on November 2 and 3 also highlighted differences between them as reflected in their rhetoric and the tactics they advocate.

One of the more moderate representatives, People's Party leader Koba Davitashvili, who quit Saakashvili's United National Movement in early 2004, affirmed that "We do not want a revolution, we want elections. We are leaving the authorities room to make a face-saving decision.... I am sure the authorities will compromise.... Our demands are not ultimatums," reported on November 2. The BBC similarly quoted Kakha Kukava, a lawmaker from the opposition Conservative Party, as saying: "We are not calling on people to stage a revolution, we are calling for protest. We are demanding fair elections, and we think it's very important for Georgia to set a precedent by replacing the government on the basis of elections, not of a revolution."

A second Conservative parliamentarian, Zviad Dzidziguri, was more categorical, telling demonstrators "the four-year illness of the National Movement has ended and it has passed away. The verdict has been pronounced: this government should go, it should be thrown into the political garbage can." And veteran oppositionist Irakli Tsereteli, who began his career in the 1980s alongside then-dissident leader, later President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, warned that "if Saakashvili does not make concessions, we shall declare national protests [and] blockade the parliament, government, and Interior Ministry buildings."

The response of the Georgian authorities has to date been measured. In a live television address on November 4, President Saakashvili implicitly argued that the opposition protests are being orchestrated from Moscow. That argument is less than convincing given that the 12th principle enshrined in the opposition manifesto is unswerving adherence to Euro-Atlantic integration, and in light of the recent visits to Paris, Brussels, and Washington by the leaders of several of the parties aligned in the National Council to outline their concerns over many of the actions and policies of Saakashvili's government.

Saakashvili further dismissed the ongoing protests as a pale imitation of those in November 2003 that culminated in the so-called Rose Revolution that brought him to power. Like parliamentarian Nadiradze, he categorically rejected bringing forward the parliamentary elections to the spring of 2008. Nadiradze's rationale for that rejection was that "a country at war" should not hold elections, while Saakashvili implied that Tbilisi will fully restore its control over the breakaway unrecognized republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia before those elections take place.

Other representatives of the Georgian leadership are apparently also counting on the opposition protests gradually losing momentum: parliamentarians Giga Bokeria and Givi Targamadze were both quoted on November 4 as affirming that police will not intervene to disperse the protest as long as it remains peaceful. But the room for compromise between the two sides is minimal, and neither appears prepared to back down. In the event of a protracted standoff, foul play in the form of a deliberate provocation to incite a clash between protest participants and police that would discredit the opposition cannot be definitively ruled out.

Despite continuing instability in southern Afghanistan, recent developments in Musa Qala district, in Helmand Province, indicate a potential breakthrough for the government of President Hamid Karzai, reported on October 30, citing the "Daily Telegraph." Nine months after insurgents took over Musa Qala's district center, serious splits have developed between the foreign jihadi fighters and the tribal Taliban-linked militants operating in the area. Leaders of the largest Pashtun tribe in Helmand, the Alizai, are engaged in secret peace negotiations with the government, under the leadership of Mullah Abdul Salaam, a powerful Soviet-era mujahedin commander and former Taliban commander who reportedly survived an assassination attempt ordered by the Taliban leadership after he fell out with them, the news website reported. If the negotiations succeed, thousands of armed tribal fighters loyal to Mullah Salaam will refrain from insurgent activities against the Afghan government and international forces, potentially meaning a major setback for the resurgence of the Taliban movement in the province. MM

Pajhwak Afghan News on November 3 quoted Afghan political analysts as strongly rejecting speculation that the Taliban insurgency is a product of Pashtun tribal politics and culture. The observers contended that the rise of Taliban radicalism is not limited to Pashtun communities, and stressed that the harsh economic realities of the tribal areas in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have contributed to alienation, unrest, and militancy in the region. Afghan lawmaker Kabir Ranjbar cited the lack of economic development and public services as the major factors that have turned the tribal areas into fertile ground for extremist operations and recruitment. Political analyst Wahid Muzhda argued that the Taliban does not represent a single Afghan faction. "Being an ethnic Tajik myself, I was with the movement for half a decade. They listen more raptly to Chechens than they did to me, or other Pashtuns, for that matter." MM

Afghan Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi and Alastair McKechnie, the World Bank country director for Afghanistan, held a joint press conference in Kabul on October 31 to outline measures being taken to fight corruption, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on November 3. Ahadi pledged to push for the prosecution of corrupt officials, but said that "half the battle is already lost" because of widespread corruption in government circles. He stressed that preventing corruption must be a key part of a long-term anticorruption strategy. McKechnie stressed the need for effective budgeting and sound public financial management to minimize corruption, acknowledging that Afghanistan has shown significant progress over the past six years in strengthening public financial oversight. MM

Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Pur Muhammadi, addressing the fourth conference of interior ministers from Iraq's neighboring countries, alleged on October 24 that the United States "has set up terrorist training camps in Afghanistan over the past few years," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 27. Pur Muhammadi's statement was apparently a response to comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressing concern over the flow of Iranian arms to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on October 26 dismissed the Iranian accusation as "baseless," asserting that U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan have a mandate from the United Nations, and are there to facilitate stabilization and recovery. Afghan officials and analysts also rejected the allegation, describing it as groundless and a reflection of rising tensions and rivalry between the United States and Iran. MM

Iran on November 3 effectively rejected a proposal for key nuclear-fuel-making activities to be carried out abroad, and reiterated its determination to continue with what it insists is a peaceful nuclear program, agencies reported. The proposal to produce nuclear fuel for Iran was reportedly made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in an interview with the "Middle East Economic Digest." Iranian Supreme National Security Council vice-secretary Javad Vaidi said in Tehran on November 3 that the offer was similar to a Russian proposal Iran has already rejected, AFP reported. He said Iran welcomes the idea of a consortium to make fuel abroad, provided Iran can continue with its own fuel-making activities. Reza Talai-Nik, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told the Fars news agency on November 3 that the proposal would "politely" terminate "Iran's peaceful fuel cycle." He said that in spite of Iran's recent cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the political wrangling over Iran's nuclear program has "once more reached a peak in recent weeks." He said Western governments' demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment and related activities "are not in keeping with our country's nuclear rights." Western powers are waiting for a November 19 IAEA report on Iran's cooperation with the agency before deciding whether to push for a third round of UN sanctions intended to curb its nuclear program. VS

Iranian and U.S. diplomats may resume talks on Iraqi security in the near future, according to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Radio Farda reported on November 4, citing agency reports. Crocker said in Istanbul on November 3 that he may soon meet again with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hasan Kazemi-Qomi, Radio Farda reported, adding that Crocker's statement followed recent expressions of interest in resumed talks by Iranian officials. Iranian and U.S. diplomats met in May and July in Baghdad to discuss Iraq. The two sides agreed to form a three-party committee with Iraq to discuss security issues; that committee met once in August, but it remains unclear what it achieved, Radio Farda observed. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Baghdad on October 31 that Iran would positively consider a request for a renewal of talks, Radio Farda reported. VS

Police arrested 11 girls and 21 boys at a house party organized by students in the Jahanshahr district of Karaj, a city outside Tehran, ISNA reported on November 3. Iran's religious laws forbid girls and boys from interacting outside their immediate families, and outlaw dancing and drinking alcohol. A police official, Nader Sarkari, told ISNA that police entered the apartment in Karaj after a tip-off, apparently with a court order, and found the guests "in an unnatural state and half-naked, because they had been drinking." The detained, described as students from various Tehran universities, were taken to a police station, Sarkari said, adding that the party was held to celebrate one student's winning a prize in an international academic competition. VS

The Iranian authorities have executed four convicted drug traffickers in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on November 4, citing ISNA and the Hormozegan provincial judiciary. Police arrested the gang members on two unspecified dates, seizing 8.6 kilograms of heroin, 508 kilograms of opium, and one or two Kalashnikov rifles, ISNA reported. Separately, a 27-year-old man named Asghar, who was convicted of killing a man in a fight on October 11 in a village near Isfahan, central Iran, was hanged in Isfahan on November 3, "Kayhan" and "Iran" reported on November 4. He was initially slated for execution on October 16, but the victim's family agreed to a reprieve if the killer's family left the village. The family either refused or had not left by November 3, "Iran" reported. Iran publicly hanged another man, apparently on November 2, in the town of Kahnuj in southeastern Kerman Province, AFP reported on November 3, citing "Kayhan." The unnamed man was convicted of killing his fiancee's brother four years ago. AFP reported that at least 244 convicts have been executed in Iran so far this year. VS

The Intelligence Ministry arrested 23 suspected drug traffickers and discovered over 6,800 kilograms of various drugs in Iran's eastern and central provinces in a nine-day period to November 3, "Iran" reported on November 4. The ministry was acting in coordination with the governmental Drug Control Headquarters. It also confiscated ammunition and weapons from the suspects, including RGP-7 rocket launchers and Kalashnikov rifles. VS

A Baghdad correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who had been missing for nearly two weeks has been released by her captors, RFE/RL announced on November 4. Jumana al-Obaidi, 29, works for RFE/RL's Arabic-language service, Radio Free Iraq. RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin said "all of us at RFE/RL are very relieved Jumana's ordeal is over." Gedmin added that "journalists like Jumana put their lives on the line every day. They are dedicated journalists, brave people, and Iraqi patriots. We are proud to know them." Al-Obaidi was kidnapped from her car on October 22 while on her way to an interview at the Iraqi Environment Ministry. Her driver, a young man identified only as Abdullah, was shot and killed that morning and his body found dumped in the street. He was in his late twenties and recently married. On behalf of RFE/RL, Gedmin thanked the authorities in Baghdad and media groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, for their support during al-Obaidi's kidnapping ordeal. KR

Turkish soldiers held captive by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were released and handed over to the Turkish government through Iraqi and U.S. mediators on November 4, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Militants from the PKK, a Turkish-Kurdish separatist group hiding out in the mountains of northern Iraq, captured the soldiers during a battle with Turkish forces in southeastern Turkey two weeks ago. Fu'ad Husayn, the head of the Kurdistan regional president's office, told RFI that the release was made possible by the intervention of regional leaders and efforts by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Husayn said in press statements on November 4 that the efforts exerted by the Kurdish leadership showed the Iraqi Kurds' commitment to dialogue and strong relations with neighboring Turkey. KR

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he was pleased with the outcome of the November 3 meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, of Iraq's neighboring states, RFI reported on October 4. Al-Maliki told reporters in Istanbul that the crisis between Turkey and the PKK did not dominate the talks, which instead focused on international and regional support for improving security and the economy in Iraq. The conference also addressed the Iraqi refugee crisis. Addressing the conference on November 3, al-Maliki told participants, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Iraq today is much better than the period during which the Sharm el-Sheikh conference was held six months ago. This is thanks to ongoing efforts to constantly revive national reconciliation, the improvement in the armed forces' capabilities, the cooperation of citizens with our security services, and the effective support of multinational forces." Al-Maliki called on neighboring countries to strengthen their ties with Iraq, respect its sovereignty, and stop favoring one component of Iraqi society over another. The prime minister also asked Iraq's neighbors to stop holding conferences of a sectarian or provocative nature. He reiterated past calls for debt forgiveness, and thanked countries that have moved to reopen their embassies in Baghdad. KR

Prime Minister al-Maliki told participants at the November 4 Iraq neighbors' meeting that Iraq has taken concrete steps to eliminate the threat the PKK poses to Turkey. Al-Maliki said Iraqi "is very determined" to ensure that its relations with Turkey remain strong. "We made a firm decision to shut down all the bureaus of the PKK in Iraq.... We announce today that we have taken strict measures to prevent any facilities from reaching this organization via airports and border crossing points," and have decided to pursue PKK elements in the areas where they operate, al-Maliki said. "We affirm here that the Iraqi constitution obligates us to respect our relations with neighboring states and not to allow our territories to be used as a base or passage for attacks against any states in the region," he added. KR

The security forces of the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) closed the offices of a political party affiliated with the PKK on November 3, Iraqi media reported. The Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party's (PCDK) offices in Irbil were raided and closed on the grounds that it cooperates with and supports the PKK. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) cited unconfirmed reports on its website that the party's Dahuk and Al-Sulaymaniyah offices were also closed on November 3. The PUK said in its report that the PCDK is "an Iraqi Kurdish party, but its ideology and views are similar to the PKK's." The Kurdish daily "Aso" quoted the head of the Kurdistan region's presidential office, Fu'ad Husayn, as saying the PCDK "has no official license from the Kurdistan regional government." Meanwhile, Fayiq Gulpi, the secretary-general of the PCDK, told "Aso" that the party has been requesting registration since 2004, but received no response from the KRG. "According to the law, a party can operate [legally] if it receives no response three months after submitting an application for a license," Gulpi contended, adding: "We do not cooperate with the PKK and they have no member in our offices. The only thing is that we do not consider [the group] terrorists." Gulpi questioned why the PCDK was allowed to participate in two Iraqi national elections and one regional election if the party is considered illegal by the Iraqi government and the KRG. KR

Shi'ite lawmaker Salam al-Maliki announced his resignation from parliament on November 4, citing personal and professional reasons, Iraqi media reported. "I declared my resignation one year ago, but some parliamentarians urged me to postpone my decision," said al-Maliki, who served as a minister in the transitional government. "It was for this reason that I retracted my resignation. I have had a strong conviction that I should not continue [working] in this confusing political situation," Iraqi news agencies quoted al-Maliki as saying. "The opportunity to work for building a new Iraq has been fading," he said in an interview with the Kuwait News Agency. KR

U.S. forces operating in southwest Baghdad found 3,000 liters of nitric acid during an October 30 raid, according to a November 5 U.S.-led coalition press release. Soldiers believed the nitric acid was being used to make homemade explosives. The military said the acid was poorly stored and leaking, making it a threat to the local population and their livestock. Coalition forces uncovered what appeared to be a terrorist detention facility and several weapons caches on October 31, the coalition announced in a separate November 5 statement. The operation, carried out in western Samarra, uncovered several weapons caches and a large stash of logistical supplies. Meanwhile, November 4 raids led to the detentions of 23 suspected Al-Qaeda insurgents, including the brother of an Al-Qaeda in Iraq military leader. The coalition also announced several instances of locals coming forward to reveal weapons caches in their communities in recent days. KR