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Newsline - November 7, 2007

In Moscow on November 6, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Viktor Zubkov failed to resolve outstanding differences related to supplies of Russian crude oil to China, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2006, and July 20 and November 6, 2007, and End Note, March 23, 2006 and September 12, 2007). China wants Russia to commit to constructing a branch of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline (ESPO) to the Chinese border, so that more oil can be shipped than is currently possible by rail links. Russia wants China to pay market prices for the oil it is currently receiving, while China is opposed to renegotiating the prices set down in the existing 2005 contract. Recent articles in the Russian press suggest that many Russians are angry about Chinese manufactured goods flooding into their country and want protective duties imposed on them. Many Russians are also concerned that most of their exports to China consist of raw materials -- such as oil, petroleum products, and timber -- and that the role of Russian technological sales in economic relations with China is declining. Wen and his hosts nonetheless oversaw the signing of a number of commercial agreements during his two-day visit on November 5-6. The biggest deal involves about $6 billion worth of contracts for Atomstroieksport and Tekhsnabeksport to construct a third and fourth unit at the Tianwan Nuclear Plant in Jiangsu Province on China's eastern coast, the daily "Kommersant" reported on November 7. The paper pointed out that the recently completed first two units of the plant cost Beijing only $750 million each. "Kommersant" wrote on November 6 that "in short, Wen is being invited to buy more Russian goods and commodities, instead of the cheap oil he had counted on." The daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" noted on November 7 that Wen expressed an interest in winning construction contracts for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics site, saying that "China has experience, while Russia has huge markets." The paper commented that "it's a pity that it's not the other way around." PM

President Vladimir Putin and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende signed an agreement at a Kremlin ceremony on November 6, under which the Dutch gas company Nederlandse Gasunie NV took a 9 percent stake in the Russian-German Nord Stream gas pipeline project, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2 and 6, 2007). Putin said that the pact makes the project "multilateral," while Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller argued that "today's deal is a step forward in strengthening Europe's energy security." Gasunie CEO Marcel Kramer said that the "project is of crucial importance for stable energy supplies to Europe, especially when the region's own production is declining." Nord Stream will pipe Russian gas along the floor of the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing Poland and the Baltic states and traversing an area of seabed that contains much chemical and military waste, including poisons and live explosives. Poland, Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic states all object to Nord Stream on political or ecological grounds or both. In Warsaw on November 6, Donald Tusk, who is widely regarded as Poland's prime minister-in-waiting, told reporters that "this initiative, this project, has not been prepared well," news agencies reported. He added that he hopes Nord Stream will soon undergo "serious corrections." AP reported that "he refused to elaborate," while Britain's "Financial Times" on November 7 quoted unnamed Gazprom officials as saying that they "do not understand" Tusk's comments. The Russian daily "Trud" wrote on November 7 that "Russia has an interest in gaining 'political friends' [for Nord Stream] with an interest in removing obstacles [presented by neighboring countries]. The Netherlands should be a powerful ally, since this country stands to receive gas via Germany's gas transport system. The Czech Republic, which also needs stable gas supplies, already has similar plans.... The battle continues, but we are gaining more and more allies." The EU obtains 30 percent of its energy supplies from Russia. Nord Stream is expected to go online in November, 2010. Interfax quoted Putin as saying on November 6 that "the Netherlands is the country in second [place] as to the volume of trade and [overall] economic relations with Russia. This year, our trade is likely to exceed $42 billion.... [The Netherlands] holds second place for accumulated investments in Russia, which amount to $34 billion." PM

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman said on Czech Television in Prague on November 6 that "there has been some misunderstanding" about recent remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding a possible Russian "presence" at any U.S. missile defense site on Czech territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 24, and 25, 2007). Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John Rood said on November 6 that U.S. and Czech negotiators reached an agreement that day that "will require both approve a visit from an official of any other country" to the proposed radar site. Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Tomas Pojar added that Czech officers will be stationed at the base, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency headquarters, and its Colorado-based command center. He added that the agreement permits only "brief monitoring visits" by officials from other NATO countries and, possibly, Russia. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek previously ruled out the presence of any Russian military personnel on Czech territory and allowed only for brief visits by Russian civilian "experts." In Warsaw on November 6, incoming Prime Minister Tusk told reporters that Poland will "be open to negotiations" with the United States on possibly stationing 10 interceptors on its territory "if we decide that missile defense will unambiguously increase Poland's security," news agencies reported. Tusk added that "if we decide, jointly in talks with our partners in the European Union and NATO, that this isn't an unambiguous project, then we are definitely going to think it over." He said that he is "more skeptical" about missile defense than President Lech Kaczynski. Deutsche Welle suggested on November 7 that Tusk's remarks mean that "there will be no more Polish solo adventures" in security policy and that the EU -- including Germany -- will effectively have a veto over Warsaw's involvement in missile defense. Topolanek previously ruled out a veto role for any other country in Prague's dealings with Washington, saying that Germany never asked Czech permission for any of the U.S. bases it has on its territory. PM

In Damascus on November 6, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who was one of the Soviet Union's top Middle East experts and the first director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), gave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a message from President Putin on the "the situation in the region and bilateral relations," AP reported, citing the Syrian news agency SANA. The United States is expected to host a peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Annapolis, Maryland, before the end of 2007. Syria has been invited to that gathering but has said it will take part only if its concerns regarding the Golan Heights are on the agenda. Primakov frequently speaks out on Middle East issues and reflects a strong mistrust of the United States in his interviews and published remarks. Putin sent him to Baghdad shortly before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to deliver a message to President Saddam Hussein, in which he urged the Iraqi leader to step down. PM

At a press conference in Moscow on November 6, Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov explained the government's decisions regarding monitors for the December Duma elections, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported the same day. Churov said the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) may send up to 70 observers, as may the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In addition the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly may send up to 30 observers each. No U.S. organizations were invited to observe. The total number of international observers will be 330-350, down from 1,168 during the 2003 legislative elections. "You tell me, please, in what international document or in what domestic document is it written that the legitimacy of elections depends on the number of international observers," Churov said. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" noted on November 7 that the OSCE will have a total of 100 observers in its two delegations, while the organization sent 92 observers to the United States in 2006. RFE/RL also reported that observers from Russian nongovernmental organizations will not be accredited to monitor the vote. Only parties will be able to send official observers. RC

Deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov on November 6 met with Unified Russia Duma deputies who are running as candidates in the December legislative elections, and other Russian media reported. Surkov coordinates the Kremlin's political and regional policies. Unified Russia deputies who are not on the party list were excluded from the meeting. Several deputies who attended the meeting told that Surkov urged them to be more active in their campaigning in the regions. Surkov also reportedly told them that they must do even more to associate the campaign and the party with President Putin and to emphasize to voters that the only way for them to show their support for the president is by voting for Unified Russia. RC

Unified Russia official Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, who coordinates the party's national and religious policies, has posted an article on the party's website calling for a "public assembly" that would anoint President Putin as the country's "national leader," and other Russian media reported. Sultygov notes that the public does not have confidence in political parties, but that an assembly of "tens of thousands" of public organizations could legitimately adopt a "Pact of Civic Unity," which Sultygov says Unified Russia is in the process of drafting. The pact will "formulate the institute of the national leader as the basic element of a new configuration of power." He says the Civic Assembly could be instituted following the December Duma elections and could eventually become "a permanent platform of communication between the leader and the Russian people and the 'politically educated class.'" Many analysts have speculated that the Kremlin is counting on a Unified Russia landslide in December to serve as a mandate for some major unspecified changes in the country's power structure. RC

An investigative report published in "Novoye vremya" on November 6 has accused the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) of allowing its polling results to be influenced by the Kremlin administration and the Unified Russia party. VTsIOM is a state enterprise and is the country's largest social-research company. According to the report, presidential administration staffer Aleksei Chesnakov, who is deputy head of the domestic politics department, regularly consults with VTsIOM Director Valery Fyodorov regarding poll questions, and the Kremlin approves VTsIOM's press releases. The VTsIOM website lists the presidential administration and Unified Russia as "partner organizations." The investigation accuses the Kremlin of using push-polling techniques -- asking leading questions in order to leave negative impressions in respondents' minds -- regarding the A Just Russia party and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The magazine also charged that the agency's finances are particularly opaque for a state organization and that it uses offshore accounts to mask its financial status and avoid taxes. VTsIOM was founded in 1987 as part of the Soviet Labor Ministry. In 1999, it became a separate scientific institution, but in 2003 it was reformed as a joint-stock company wholly owned by the state. In protest against that move, VTsIOM Director Yury Levada quit the agency and formed his own competing research center. In recent polls regarding the December Duma elections, VTsIOM has found that four parties have a chance of surmounting the 7 percent barrier needed to pick up seats, while the Levada Center and other agencies have found that only Unified Russia and, perhaps, the Communist Party seem likely to do so. RC

A new Levada Center poll has found that 51 percent of Russians believe President Putin has decided who the next president will be, "Novyye izvestia" reported on November 6. Twenty-three percent said the president is still thinking about the matter and 26 percent gave no answer. Prime Minister Zubkov remains the most-named successor (32 percent), followed by First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov (23 percent) and Dmitry Medvedev (17 percent). RC

The parliament in exile of the unrecognized Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) issued a statement on November 6, posted on the website, saying that ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov has been formally stripped of his powers as president, given that he relinquished that authority by proclaiming a North Caucasus emirate of which he considers himself the leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). In an interview on November 6 with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, ChRI parliament First Deputy Chairman Selim Beshayev explained that Umarov's proclamation violated the ChRI constitution, and thus constitutes a crime. The presidential oath of office obliges the president to strengthen and defend the sovereignty of the ChRI. Under the ChRI constitution adopted in 1992, the powers of the president and government chairman now devolve to the parliament. LF

Sergei Ivanov accompanied recently appointed presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Grigory Rapota on November 6 on the latter's first visit to one of the North Caucasus republics for which he is responsible, reported. The two men inspected several industrial enterprises in North Ossetia together with that republic's president, Taimuraz Mamsurov. Ivanov noted North Ossetia's contribution during the Soviet period to the military-industrial complex and pledged funding from the federal budget to revive defense-sector enterprises. The two men also toured North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion. Rapota told journalists that the Federal Migration Service is making every effort to create adequate living conditions there for Ingush displaced persons. He noted that the settlement Novy, home to some 300 Ingush families, now has mains electricity, gas and water supplies, and a transport connection. That was not the case a few months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 25, 2006, and June 13, 2007). LF

Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov said on November 6 that the killing of nine hunters whose bodies were discovered on November 4 on the outskirts of the village of Lechinkai, northwest of Nazran, was a tragedy for the entire republic, and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 5 and 6, 2007). He said the way in which the crime was committed -- the men were found shot in the back of the head with their hands tied -- indicates that the killers were Islamic militants who have declared war not only on the police and security organs but the entire republic's population, and who will be sentenced to death once they are apprehended. Kanokov said he will personally monitor the investigation into the killings. LF

Meeting in Yerevan on November 6, leading representatives of two of the oldest Armenian political parties, the Ramkavar-Azatakan (Liberal Democratic) party (RAK) and Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), affirmed their common position on how to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and on securing international recognition of the 1915 killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Leading HHD member Hrant Markarian noted that the two parties both have strong presences in the worldwide diaspora and thus "have the task of representing Armenia and Armenian problems in the West." At the same time, both Markarian and parliament deputy speaker Vahan Hovannisian acknowledged that the two parties' positions on domestic political issues diverge. RAK Deputy Chairman Asatur Devetian did not, however, exclude the possibility that his party might back the HHD's candidate in the presidential election due in early 2008. Devetian also said no decision has yet been made on the rumored merger of the RAK with the Dashink party headed by Samvel Babayan, the former defense minister of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, and former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan's National Rebirth party (see "Armenia: Three Parties To Merge In Opposition,", August 22, 2007). LF

In a statement released on November 6, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry claimed to have apprehended in a special operation on November 2-3 an Arab known by the nom de guerre of Abu Jafar and seven other members of a group of "religious extremists" with links to Al-Qaeda and Al-Jihad, which he headed, Azerbaijani media reported. Firearms, ammunition, and explosives were found in the apartment in Sumqayit where the men were apprehended. Three other members of the gang were apprehended earlier, on September 26 and October 10, according to It is not clear whether any connection exists between the men arrested in Sumqayit and the group of "Wahhabi" militants whom the Security Ministry claimed to have rounded up late last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). LF

Hundreds of police armed with shields, batons, and guns used tear gas and water cannons early on November 7 to disperse the protesters gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi and took into custody at least three of the protest organizers, including former Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, whose whereabouts remain unknown, Georgian media reported. Police also confiscated or destroyed the cameras of television journalists who tried to film the police intervention, according to Caucasus Press. Several dozen protest participants sought shelter either in the parliament building or the nearby Koshueti Church. Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, a close associate of President Mikheil Saakashvili, said police intervened "at the request of the population" who did not wish to see the opposition set up tents on the city's main thoroughfare and obstruct traffic, Caucasus Press reported. Ugulava added that the protesters have had ample time to make known their demands on the Georgian leadership, and so there was no need for them to continue their protest. Opposition leaders condemned the police intervention as unjustified, as did ombudsman Sozar Subar, who told Caucasus Press that the plans to erect tents were not unlawful. Police prevented several hundred protesters from returning to the parliament building after the initial intervention. LF

On November 6, the pro-government television channel Rustavi-2 broadcast what it claimed was a 15-second telephone conversation between former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was forced to leave Georgia last week, and Bacho Akhalaya, head of the Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Department, who is notorious for his alleged sadistic ill-treatment of prison inmates, Caucasus Press and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31 and March 27 and 28 and June 6, 2006, and End Note, March 30, 2006). The conversation was said to have taken place on November 3, the day after the Georgian opposition began its protests outside the parliament building. A man whose voice sounds like Okruashvili's asked his interlocutor to tell President Saakashvili that Okruashvili is ready to call off the protests in return for being named prime minister. Speaking from Munich later on November 6, Okruashvili told the television channel Imedi that the recording was a fake, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili recalled that a similar faked recording of a telephone conversation served as the crucial evidence in the conviction earlier this year of former Intelligence Service chief Irakli Batiashvili on charges of "intellectual support" for an insurrection in western Georgia in July 2006. LF

Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko was summoned in November 6 to the Georgian Foreign Ministry to explain Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's description of the Georgian leadership's reaction to the opposition demonstrations as "a farce," RIA Novosti reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili was quoted by Caucasus Press as telling journalists after his meeting with Kovalenko that Lavrov's observation was "not entirely correct." LF

Meeting in Sukhum(i) on November 4, the presidents of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester -- Sergei Bagapsh, Eduard Kokoity, and Igor Smirnov, respectively -- pledged in a joint declaration to continue political cooperation aimed at "preventing the tensions engendered by Georgia from erupting into full-scale conflict" and to draft a joint strategy for countering external aggression, reported on November 5. They also signed agreements on economic, financial, humanitarian, and cultural cooperation. Bagapsh told journalists after the meeting that the three republics share a single goal, namely to gain formal international recognition and to strengthen cooperation with the Russian Federation, according to a statement posted on his website ( Kokoity for his part said that the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones should remain there until those conflicts are resolved. Georgia has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31 and November 1, 2007). LF

Kazakh Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Kuandyk Turgankulov met on November 5 in Astana with Christian Strohal, the visiting head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), to review the newly released OSCE final report on the Kazakh parliamentary elections in August, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax Kazakhstan reported. Turgankulov welcomed the OSCE report but noted that "some conditions and conclusions in the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR mission are ambiguous, and we have questions," adding that "the CEC has its own opinion about them." He also pledged that "violations of the [August 2007] election process that were made will be thoroughly investigated" in order to prevent any future voting irregularities. For his part, Strohal reiterated the OSCE's readiness to "continue cooperation" with Kazakhstan, and noted ODIHR's ongoing efforts to assist Kazakh legal reforms. He also identified as priority issues for Kazakhstan provisions of the laws on peaceful meetings and the media, the Criminal Code, and the representation of ethnic minorities in the country's parliament. In comments to reporters after a meeting between Strohal and Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, the head of the presidential administration, Deputy Foreign Minister Kayrat Sarybay affirmed that the Kazakh government is "interested in further cooperation" with the OSCE, especially "in the sphere of legal culture." The OSCE-led election observer team that monitored the August parliamentary elections concluded that the vote reflected welcome progress, but did not meet a number of international standards, particularly concerning elements of the new legal framework and the vote count. The ruling Nur Otan (Light of the Fatherland) party received some 88 percent of the vote, making it the only party to win seats in the lower house of parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). Kazakhstan is in line to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009, and OSCE foreign ministers are due to decide on the Kazakh application at a meeting in Spain later this month. RG

At a press conference on November 5 in Shymkent, Nadir Nardirov, the head of the Kurdish Association of Kazakhstan, denounced a recent clash between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kurds on November 1 in the southern Kazakh Tolebiy district, triggered by an alleged sexual assault, Kazakhstan Today reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2007). Trying to ease the tensions, Nardirov said that if "crimes have been committed, there is no need to escalate these into interethnic disagreements" and affirmed that "everyone who has committed a crime should be accountable for their actions, regardless of their nationality." But Nardirov also criticized the local authorities and law enforcement agencies for their handling of the clashes, and accused them of "setting Kazakhs against Kurds." According to official statistics, there are some 46,000 Kurds in Kazakhstan, but Malikshah Gasanov, the first vice president of the Kurdish Association of Kazakhstan, claims there are more than twice that number, and that many Kurds deported from Georgia at the end of World War II were registered in Kazakhstan as ethnic Turks and Azeris (see "Kazakhstan: Ethnic Minorities Guaranteed Seats In Parliament," June 29, 2007, RG

At a November 5 press conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyz ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu said that the country's upcoming parliamentary elections require "the presence of no less than 4,400 international observers," AKIpress reported. He said he appealed on November 2 to "the European Union, the OSCE, and other international organizations" to increase the number of international observers for the December 16 parliamentary election, in which 2.7 million voters are eligible to take part. He said that the "presence of international observers will contribute to the honesty and transparency of elections," adding that "if these elections are fair and honest, the people's trust in the government and all branches of power will return," with a positive impact on the country's human rights situation. RG

The head of the U.S. Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, arrived in Dushanbe on November 6 to discuss bilateral military cooperation, AKIpress and Asia-Plus reported. On his one-day visit, Fallon met with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev. Fallon reaffirmed that the United States is ready to provide "assistance of every kind" to Tajikistan, including helping to train and equip the Tajik Army's peacekeeping force, ITAR-TASS reported. After his meetings with the Tajik president and defense minister, Fallon said his visit to the region "is about ensuring security and stability on the border and fighting terrorism and drug trafficking." Responding to a question about U.S. military plans involving Tajikistan, he dismissed reports that the United States is interested in using the refurbished Ayni military aerodrome, located 15 kilometers from Dushanbe. The visit is Fallon's second to Tajikistan, after an earlier tour of the region in June 2007, and coincides with a national holiday on the 13th anniversary of the adoption of Tajikistan's constitution. Fallon arrived in Tajikistan from Kyrgyzstan, where he reassured his Kyrgyz hosts that although the United States seeks to expand bilateral cooperation due to the need to support operations in nearby Afghanistan, there is no need to increase the size of the Western contingent deployed at the Manas air base outside of Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). RG

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs David Kramer said on November 5 that Washington will soon impose new sanctions on Belarusian government officials, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Kramer said that in April he visited Minsk and met with Natalia Pyatkevich, deputy head of the presidential administration, and informed her of the conditions for the improvement of relations between Belarus and United States, which include the release of all persons whom Washington considers political prisoners. Kramer also handed Pyatkevich a list of such persons to avoid ambiguity. Kramer admitted that the Belarusian authorities have not released political prisoners and, in fact, "the regime increased pressure on the opposition and activists of nongovernmental organizations." "We extended visa sanctions and within the next week you will hear about additional steps we will take," Kramer added, providing no further details. AM

A court in Shklou on November 6 postponed until November 9 the trial of imprisoned opposition activist Zmitser Dashkevich, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The official reason for the delay was that the defendant had not been notified of the time and venue five full days before the trial as required by Belarusian law. Dashkevich, who is serving an 18-month term for operating the unregistered organization Youth Front, is charged with refusing to testify in a similar case against his friend, Ivan Shyla. Under the new charge, Dashkevich could face a prison sentence of up to three years. Hearings in Dashkevich's case are being held behind the closed doors in the correctional facility where he is incarcerated. AM

Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of the bloc bearing her name, said on November 6 that the Party of Regions is deliberately delaying the work of a group preparing the opening session of the Verkhovna Rada elected in the September 30 elections, Interfax reported. The group, consisting of party representatives in numbers proportional to the number of seats won by their respective blocs in the new parliament, met for the first time on November 6. The representatives of the Party of Regions left the meeting, arguing that they will only attend preparations for the opening of the Verkhovna Rada after the Central Election Commission officially registers new lawmakers. Tymoshenko said that the reason for the absence of the Party of Regions is "evident." "They want to retain their government for as long as possible, and during this time, they are continuing the shadow privatization of property," she said, adding that the first session of the new parliament will be held with or without the Party of Regions. AM

Around 1,000 police officers clashed on November 6 with Tatars in Simferopol in Crimea while executing a court order to remove the illegal market buildings and a fence that were erected by the Tatars, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. During the scuffle, four Tatars were injured and hospitalized, and some 30 were arrested. Anatoliy Hrytsenko, the head of the Crimean Supreme Council, described the police operation as a "step toward introducing order" in the area of the illegally erected marketplace. AM

Serbia is ready to take its first step towards EU membership and should soon be invited to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the international media on November 6. "This marks a real turning point for Serbia," Rehn said, and indicated it was a third such point in Serbia's post-1989 history. "After a long nationalist night in the 1990s, a democratic dawn broke in 2000; now a new European dawn is in the making in Serbia," he said, referring to the 11-year rule of Slobodan Milosevic and his ouster in 2000. Before an SAA can be signed, officials in Brussels must give their approval, which is expected to happen on November 7 with Serbian President Boris Tadic and Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic in attendance, and leaders in the EU's 27 capitals must then ratify the accord. Rehn said he does not expect the agreement to be signed this year. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica presented the decision as an accolade for the government, saying, according to the news agency FoNet, that "the Serbian government is showing, in the best possible way, that it can, at the same time, successfully handle European integration..., and defend the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty" in talks on the status of Kosova. AG

The decision to open up Serbia's path to the EU followed a second positive assessment of Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) by the UN court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. Serbia's failure to capture the wanted Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic prompted the EU to suspend SAA talks with Serbia in May 2006, and it was not until this summer -- when Serbia helped in the arrest of two ICTY indictees -- that Serbia won its first positive appraisal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 4, 6, and 28, 2007). According to EU Commissioner Rehn, Del Ponte "considers there is now the political will and intensified action by the Serbian government to arrest and transfer the remaining fugitives to The Hague tribunal." Del Ponte has also, he said, reported improvements in Serbia's hunt for the four suspected war criminals still on the run, and in its willingness to provide access to documents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). Rehn said it remains a condition for Serbia to capture Mladic before the SAA is fully endorsed, Reuters and the BBC reported. While the European Commission's approval of Serbia's SAA bid is a turning point, Rehn said "Serbia has to go the last mile and achieve full cooperation" with the ICTY. Serbia has so far handed over 20 people indicted by the ICTY. AG

Although the European Commission's decision to sign an SAA with Serbia rests on the independent assessment of the UN-appointed Del Ponte, the Bosnian Muslim member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Presidency said on November 6 that he believes the EU's decision is fundamentally political. "We view the decision of the European Commission to initial the agreement with Serbia to be in connection with the status of Kosovo," Haris Silajdzic was quoted by the news agency SRNA as saying. Silajdzic said he hopes that Serbia "will not see this as a reward for its role in the aggression [against Bosnia], war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." The cases against two of the men still being sought by the ICTY -- Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic -- rest heavily on their suspected roles in the massacre at Srebrenica, which was recognized as an "act of genocide" by the UN's top court in February. AG

In an otherwise downbeat assessment of the western Balkans' progress, the EU's annual enlargement report, which was published on November 6, said that it expects all countries in the region to have taken the first step toward membership of the bloc by the end of the coming year, with both Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina likely to sign an SAA by the end of 2008. Other countries, though, will be disappointed by the report. Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro have all signed SAAs already, but only Croatia is likely to join the EU by 2012. Croatia may join as early as 2010. Others can expect entry only in 2012-15 or later. Macedonia, which has been a candidate for full membership since 2005, has particular reason for disappointment, as it hoped to start negotiations on membership in 2008. The report is also highly critical of the pace of reform, despite the region's "steady, though uneven progress" toward the EU. As reports based on a leaked copy of the report previously indicated, the report concluded that the region faces multiple "major challenges," including corruption and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2007). Among other problems, the EU highlighted divisive politics in Bosnia and Macedonia, bureaucracy in Serbia, and a lack of "administrative capacities" in Montenegro. Positive features were the economic performance of Albania, progress toward the creation of a market economy in Macedonia, Albania's role in maintaining stability in the region, and Montenegro's adoption of a new constitution. "The region as a whole needs to move forward in building modern democracies and further develop a political culture of dialogue and tolerance," Rehn concluded. AG

The EU's enlargement report reserved some of its sharpest criticisms for Kosova. The European Commission said corruption is notably prominent in Kosova "due to a lack of clear political will," legislation, and "the composition of the government anticorruption council." "Little progress can be reported in the area of organized crime and combating of trafficking in human beings," it concluded, though it noted "some" progress in dealing with money laundering. The region's institutions remain weak, including the judiciary, and "political interference" is influencing the region's "weak and inefficient" civil service. Kosova's record on the handling of war crimes also came in for criticism. Several hundred war crimes trials dating from the 1998-99 war have yet to be heard, in part because a lack of "specific legislation on witness protection" means members of the public are unwilling to testify. Ethnic minorities encounter major problems, particularly Kosovar Serbs, who "still see their freedom of movement being restricted," and Serbian homes and cultural monuments have been attacked. Kosova is governed by local politicians but it has been overseen since 1999 by UN officials with significant executive rights. The report also said members of the public have no adequate way to lodge complaints against the UN. AG

A report on the position of women in Kosova has concluded that, despite a paucity of job opportunities and problems created by the uncertainty over Kosova's status, 89 percent of women in the contested region believe the situation in Kosova will improve in the year ahead. The report, which was released on November 5 and compiled by Women for Women International and the Public International Law and Policy Group, found that this sense of optimism comes on a background of widespread unhappiness with the current state of affairs in Kosova (54 percent expressed dissatisfaction) and an overwhelming sense of marginalization on the job front. Some 84 percent described their employment prospects as "poor or nonexistent." Unemployment was twice as important as the uncertainty about Kosova's chances of independence as a cause of dissatisfaction among women, even though the report maintained that "women are bearing the brunt of the uncertainty brought on by the uncertainty about Kosovo's status." Kosovar women appeared overwhelmingly to favor a multiethnic society, with 80 percent saying that minorities should be able to stay in Kosova with no restrictions. However, tolerance falls with proximity: only 64 percent said they could imagine working with a woman of another ethnic background. The EU's enlargement report released on November 6 found that "awareness of women's rights in [Kosovar] society is low." It also noted that "civil society organizations remain weak." Like the EU report, the survey commissioned by Women for Women contains disappointing news for the UN administration in the region, where overall, "people feel like there has been tremendous investment in international administration without much return," Hamide Latifithe, the head of the nongovernmental organization's Kosova program, said in a press release. A UN Development Program report published in March found that around 60 percent of women in Kosova are without work, compared with 38 percent of men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). AG

In a wide-ranging interview published by RFE/RL on November 6, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said that international mediators have drafted a plan that would reunite Moldova by granting substantial, guaranteed autonomy to the breakaway region of Transdniester. He did not elaborate, but said that "all sides have agreed upon the draft as a viable plan to be brought up in talks with Transdniester" and that he is optimistic that negotiations based on the plan will soon resume. He added that the decision on Kosova's final status cannot serve as a model for Transdniester, because "each conflict...has its own roots, its own history, and its own evolution, as well as its own solution." AG

In the same interview, Moldovan President Voronin rejected charges that Moldova's communist government is motivated by political opportunism in its foreign policy, saying that "geographically and politically, Moldova has the role of a span between East and West" and that Moldova's "good relations" with former Soviet republics and successful implementation of "the EU-Moldova action plan" are both in Moldova's national interests. Despite Russia's long ban on wine and other imports from Moldova, he maintained that relations between Chisinau and Moscow are "good." By contrast, relations with Romania "are not particularly good right now" and he warned that "if Romanian authorities continue to base the relations with us on questioning the Moldovan state's national identity, I am not convinced that they will improve." He described Romania's relaxed citizenship rules for Moldovans, of which many Moldovans have taken advantage, as a cause of "very serious" problems and a reason to complain to "all European and international bodies, because this concerns Moldova's statehood." AG

President Vladimir Voronin has announced that mediators have drafted a plan to be proposed to Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region that would grant separatists large autonomy and achieve reunification. During a wide-ranging interview in Chisinau, Voronin expressed optimism that negotiations based on the plan will soon resume. He also had high praise for the OSCE's mediating role, said Kosovo should not be seen as a model for other frozen conflicts, and accused EU member Romania of trying to undermine Moldova's efforts to develop its national identity.

RFE/RL: The negotiations to resolve Moldova's 15-year conflict with Transdniester have been lagging for some time. Has Moldova altered its position toward the withdrawal of Russian troops and armaments from the region? Are there any moves toward pushing the process forward?

Vladimir Voronin: I wouldn't confirm that the negotiations have stagnated. On the contrary, consultations are taking place -- we have the notion of negotiations, and we have the notion of consultations -- the basis for negotiations always consists of projects that resulted from prior consultations among the sides involved in the process. I highly appreciate the bilateral consultations which have already taken place between Moldova and the Russian Federation, the United States, the European Union, Ukraine, the OSCE, but I also have high regard for the ongoing consultations on the Transdniester dispute between the United States and the Russian Federation, and between Ukraine and the European Union. As a result of these consultations, a draft of the future status of Transdniester's autonomy has already been agreed upon. A mechanism of guarantees for implementing this status and work toward reunification has also been convened."

RFE/RL: When you say "agreed upon" should we understand that the two sides -- Moldova and Transdniester -- have come to an understanding on these issues?

Voronin: All the sides [involved in the negotiations process] -- with the exception o f Transdniester. All sides have agreed upon the draft as a viable plan to be brought up in talks with Transdniester."

RFE/RL: You have mentioned the OSCE as one of the sides involved in the process. The OSCE has actually been moderating the negotiations process for many years. However, the OSCE itself has recently come under criticism for lacking both the tools and the political will to intervene decisively in resolving the "frozen conflicts" of Transdniester, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. How does Moldova regard the OSCE's role in resolving its dispute with separatist Transdniester?

Voronin: OSCE may have indeed its shortcomings, but the OSCE is the body that has continuously been organizing the consultations with Transdniester. The OSCE is actually the organization that has been permanently involved in monitoring the situation of the frozen conflicts [in the former Soviet Union] and Kosovo, and that is a very important fact, because individual states have other problems too, and they have various interests, both domestic and foreign. And then I am asking myself, what other organization could unite us all and make us focus on these issues? There is no other such organization. [The OSCE] may come under criticism for its shortcomings, but its shortcomings are not caused by its staff's incompetence, but by its statute, which was voted on by all member states. All in all, the OSCE is undertaking a huge job, if I were to mention only the Transdniester dispute.

RFE/RL: You also mentioned Kosovo, where a deadline for an agreement between the two sides is drawing near. Are you apprehensive that an independent Kosovo would prompt Russia and separatist leaders in Transdniester to call for the breakaway region's independence?

Voronin: I don't think that a resolution of any frozen conflict should be set as an example for others, because each conflict -- the Transdniester one, if you like, or Kosovo -- has its own roots, its own history, and its own evolution, as well as its own solution, which can apply only to that conflict. There can't be a just one solution for all conflicts.

RFE/RL: Some commentators have criticized Moldova's communist leadership for what they call political opportunism -- courting either the West or the East, depending on its momentary interests. I will start with the East: after an obvious cooling in its relations with Moscow, Moldova's government seems to be getting closer to Russia again. How good are your ties with Russia during the hectic preelection period there?

Voronin: For commentators it is easy to criticize and draw conclusions. For us politicians, the situation is much more complicated. Geographically and politically, Moldova has the role of a span between East and West, if we are to consider only the fact that since January 1 it has become a neighbor of the European Union while remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We have certain advantages from CIS membership -- why should we give them up? On the other hand, we have some advantages resulting from our new role as EU neighbors. Western investors seem more interested in Moldova now that we are on the EU border. It is in our own interests to make the most of these new opportunities, especially since they are a gift for which we did not have to work. It was high time we had some luck, too. We have no natural resources, we have no economic power, how else could we develop? That is why I am satisfied that we have good relations with the CIS states, and at the same time we have managed to successfully implement the EU-Moldova action plan. This doesn't mean that we are shifting from one side to the other, we are pursuing our national interests. I am glad that Russia lifted the ban on Moldovan wine imports, that we have a solid five-year agreement for gas deliveries, and that we have resolved other bilateral issues. This good relationship with Russia does not contradict our strategic goal of European integration.

RFE/RL: You've mentioned the fact that Moldova lacks natural resources. You have mentioned a new contract with Gazprom. With winter approaching, can Moldova afford to pay for gas at market prices? Is there any connection between the lifting of the wine ban and gas issue?

Voronin: We have no choice but to negotiate the gas price with Russia. Of course we would like the price to be much lower, but there are no other options. We need gas, so we will have to tighten our belts a little more and pay for it. As for the wine, the Russian ban has actually prompted us to penetrate more aggressively into other markets as well. Now that the ban has been lifted, we shouldn't leave those new markets, but consolidate them even more. This was a very important lesson that paid off. In just the first nine months of this year, our exports to the EU grew a handsome 36 percent."

RFE/RL: You have just spoken about the advantages that Moldova is supposedly enjoying from its membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States. I'd like to ask you to elaborate on your opinion about regional groupings of former Soviet republics such as the CIS and GUAM. Do they have a future?

Voronin: I will reiterate what I said at my first news conference after becoming president in 2001. Moldova has to be where its interests are, and where it can have advantages. Now, regarding our CIS membership, at the last CIS summit in Dushanbe I had the impression that the newly adopted strategy to develop the organization is more viable than previous ones. In fact, the changes in the CIS strategy are meant, I believe, to make it function more like the European Union. If this line is maintained, I believe that the CIS will become a viable organization that will benefit the member states. As for GUAM, the situation seems darker, because this group's future direction for development has not yet been clarified. There are wide-ranging discussions, but there has been no definitive decision on the principles and the fields of action for this organization.

RFE/RL: Let's turn now to the West. Are you satisfied with your current relations with the European Union? Since you now have a common border with the EU, do you and your government still have a clear political objective of becoming an EU member?

Voronin: It is clear that the strategy adopted by Moldova's parliament in July 2005 has the final objective of joining the EU. But we know it's a long road and not an easy one. That's why the first step -- the three-year Moldova-EU action plan, which is about to come to an end in December -- was tough for us. We had no experience, no trained staff, no previous experience. We made extraordinary efforts to honor the obligations we assumed under the plan. I am glad to tell you that during the recent meetings we had in Brussels with the European Commission our diligent efforts were praised by the EU, and we can say the three-year plan was implemented successfully. But this is just the first step. We have to implement European standards and criteria here, in our society, before knocking on Europe's door and asking to join the great European family.

RFE/RL: Then you still have a lot of work to do.

Voronin: Absolutely. The more we advance, the more difficult the challenges we face."

RFE/RL: How about relations with your new -- and only -- EU neighbor, Romania? There was a lot of tension after Bucharest earlier this year announced efforts to establish a fast-track procedure to grant Romanian citizenship to Moldovans who can prove they or their ancestors were Romanian citizens before World War II -- thus giving them access to the EU labor market. How would you rate your relationship with Romania now?

Voronin: Our relations are not particularly good right now, and we are worried about this evolution. These differences emerged now, but they have been brewing for many years. If Romanian authorities continue to base the relations with us on questioning the Moldovan state's national identity, I am not convinced that they will improve. This is our discontent right now. Our position should be understood by Romania and supported by the European Union. We should have normal relations with our neighbors -- whoever they are -- not relations that are to one side's disadvantage.

RFE/RL: Do you believe Romania's initiative to grant citizenship to some Moldovans has caused problems for Moldova?

Voronin: Yes, and very serious ones. Furthermore, the problems continue, and the changes in Romania's citizenship law are clear proof of that. We are very worried, and will complain to all European and international bodies, because this concerns Moldova's statehood. No matter how placid we Moldovans are by nature, we can't remain oblivious to our state's future.

RFE/RL: Moldova's ruling Communist Party, as well as the president, are already in the last half of their second term. What has happened to the reform of the Communist Party, which you announced in 2005? Is it still under way, and what do you envision it will be like? A 21st-century perestroika?

Voronin: We are not into perestroika anymore, we don't even use the word anymore, because we've had enough of perestroika during the Soviet era. The party is a living organism, and the reform we talked about two years ago has been in the making. In two weeks' time, on November 17, we will publish the draft of the new party program, which then will be debated until March 15, when it is due to be voted on during an extraordinary congress of the Communist Party. It is a European program, a new program that I am sure will stir not only an internal debate in our society, but also be of international interest."

RFE/RL: Could you give us a hint about the future direction of Moldova's Communist Party? Might it turn into a Western European-style social-democratic party, for instance?

Voronin: I am absolutely against classifying political parties according to such [doctrinal] connotations -- communists, social-democrats, etc. Our goal is to build a welfare state, which would ensure the welfare of our citizens. We want to build a state where citizens' rights and security are guaranteed.

(Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

A devastating suicide bombing on November 6 in the northern province of Baghlan killed 41 people, including six members of the Afghan National Assembly and three children, AP reported. The death toll, if confirmed, makes the attack the deadliest in Afghanistan since the Taliban was overthrown by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack in a statement and "expressed his deep sorrow at the martyrdom of a number of Afghan MPs." Among the lawmakers listed as dead in the president's statement is Sayed Mustafa Kazemi, the former commerce minister and a spokesman for the opposition, the United National Front. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashari blamed the attack on the "enemies of Afghanistan, the enemies of the people of Afghanistan," a term often used to refer to Taliban militants. But a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, denied responsibility for the attack, charging that "these parliamentarians were all mujahedin in the past, and killed a lot of civilians. Maybe someone was trying to take revenge." MM

The United Nations passed a resolution on November 3 that "strongly condemns the upsurge of violence, including the rising trend of suicide attacks, in Afghanistan, in particular in the southern and eastern parts, owing to the increased violent and terrorist activity by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, other extremist groups, and those involved in the narcotics trade," Bakhtar News Agency reported. The resolution, co-sponsored by over 100 countries, stressed "the urgent need" to tackle the wave of violence and criminal activity. It also backed the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year blueprint adopted by the Afghan government and the international community in January 2006 to help rebuild the country's government institutions and promote the rule of law, human rights, and national reconciliation. While the resolution is not legally binding, its support by the 192-member General Assembly reflects strong international backing for Afghanistan. MM

The Czech Defense Ministry said on November 5 that it will hand over the first in a fleet of helicopters to the Afghan military authorities in mid-November, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Responding to a NATO request for further assistance to Afghanistan, the Czech Republic has agreed to donate six transport Mi-17 helicopters and six Mi-24 combat helicopters by the end of 2008. In addition, the Czech government has pledged 30,000 automatic rifles and 650 machine guns to Afghanistan, which should be delivered by the end of the year. Some 224 Czech troops deployed in Afghanistan operate a field hospital in Kabul and serve in Helmand Province. The Czech Defense Ministry has proposed raising the number of troops to 415 in 2008. MM

Afghan and international narcotics experts on November 5 denounced a proposal to turn opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan into a legal business supplying narcotics for medicinal use, the website reported, citing the BBC. The proposal made by the Senlis Council, a think tank working on security, development, and counternarcotics issues, has the backing of the European Parliament and will go to EU foreign ministers for consideration at a meeting later this month. The Senlis Council argues that efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation haven't worked in Afghanistan, and have instead driven farmers to cooperate with the Taliban, but some officials argue that Afghanistan is not ready for such a plan in light of the current instability. Afghanistan's acting counternarcotics minister, Khodaidad, said that "the Senlis Council and the European Parliament are supporting insecurity in Afghanistan." Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the Europe and West and Central Asia chief for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said separately that "in the Afghan context, any proposal should be taken with utmost caution." "Where will the precursor chemicals [needed to convert raw poppies into opiates] come from, and who will control them? Who would ensure they're not diverted to other frameworks?" Lemahieu asked. Opium is banned under the Afghan constitution, and the government and religious authorities oppose any form of legalization, fearing that it would fuel terrorism, corruption, and criminal activities. MM

A French-Iranian documentary film producer, Mehrnush Soluki, has told Radio Farda she is being prevented from leaving Iran, faces charge of engaging in propaganda against Iran's political system, and is to face trial on November 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). She has run into trouble with the Iranian authorities in the past year, apparently for researching the Iranian government's alleged mass killings of imprisoned communists and guerrillas in 1988, Radio Farda reported on November 7. She said she came to Iran on September 10, 2006, with the necessary credentials and permission to conduct research for a program on religious minorities, and that the Iranian Culture Ministry gave her a permit after a three-week investigation into her background. In recent months she has been interrogated and says she has been living in fear for her life. "I do not usually go out of the house," she said, indicating that she has divided her time between her home, her parents' home, and the French Embassy in Tehran. She said that the topic of her research "has remained under silence for 19 years" and that it "may be too early to talk about or even refer to it," Radio Farda reported. VS

Senior Israeli intelligence official Yossi Baidatz on November 6 voiced serious concerns over Iran's nuclear program, telling the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Iran might have atomic bombs by "the end of 2009" if its program is not curbed, AP reported. Iran does not recognize Israel, and its leaders have called for Israel's elimination as a state. Separately, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told AFP in Jerusalem on November 6 that some International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials are "playing" the Iranian game of wasting time with negotiations and inspections. He added that the IAEA and its directors are "guilty" of aiding Iran in that strategy, and suggested that the IAEA may be complicit in Iran's policy of procrastination. Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitz also accused the IAEA on November 5 of working to defeat the international community's efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program, AP reported from Jerusalem. Israel and the United States have been the most vocal opponents of Iran's nuclear ambitions. VS

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a gathering in Birjand, eastern Iran, on November 7 that Iran now has 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz plant to be used for enriching uranium, a key part of the nuclear fuel-production process. Specialists believe these could produce enough enriched uranium to create a bomb within a year, and agency reports suggest they are already operating or ready to operate. Iran insists it plans to make fuel only to produce nuclear energy, but Western states fear the potential military applications of Iran's nuclear pursuits. Until now it has been unclear how many functioning centrifuges Iran has built. Iranian officials have said that this benchmark is the first step toward "industrial scale" enrichment, which would require 50,000 or more centrifuges. In his speech, Ahmadinejad advised Western states to stop "wasting their time" and end their "bad behavior" toward Iran and become friends instead, IRNA reported. "Do not be fooled by America," he said, addressing EU states with a reference to European support for sanctions on Iran, which he said are ineffective. However, he continued, "it is not important if one or two European countries go with America; they are imposing sanctions on themselves." He said Iran will not provide details of its program to anybody but the IAEA. VS

U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said on November 6 that the United States this month will release nine Iranians arrested in Iraq, apparently including two detained in a raid in Irbil, northern Iraq, last January, Radio Farda reported, citing agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). Smith said none of the Iranians is now considered a threat to U.S. forces. Some Iranians detained by U.S. troops in Iraq have been suspected of belonging to the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps that is now on the U.S. State Department terrorism blacklist. U.S. forces detained five Iranians in January in Irbil, accusing them of supporting militants, but Iraqi authorities later said they were there to open a consulate. U.S. troops also detained Mahmud Farhadi, apparently an Iranian trade envoy or liaison officer, on September 16 in a hotel in Al-Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq. Iran has reacted angrily to the arrests, and briefly closed its border with Iraqi Kurdistan, partly in protest against the detentions. VS

Detained prisoners' rights activist Emadeddin Baqi met with visiting relatives at Tehran's Evin prison, apparently on November 6, ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24 and 25, 2007). Baqi told his relatives that he has been interrogated 14 times since his mid-October arrest, but said he has rejected the validity of all the charges against him as well as the one-year prison term he is now serving, ISNA reported. VS

The Iranian Supreme Leader's representative to the Tehran volunteer Basij force, Rasul Jalilzadeh, told a gathering of Basij militiamen in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, on November 6 that the "enemy" has found an opening in Iran's next parliamentary elections, set for mid-March, and is trying to gain access to the chamber, ISNA reported. "Reformists are trying to take parliament. They have said that this time, we have to bring moderate and respectable people forward, but we say, respectable or not, moderate or Participation or Mujahedin of the Revolution, they are no different and all cut from the same cloth," Jalilzadeh said. He was referring to the Participation Front, a relatively liberal grouping, and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization, a more left-leaning party, both of which have stated their interests in forming an electoral coalition for March. Jalilzadeh said moderates are worse than reformist radicals, and accused them of paving the way for public disrespect for Iran's religious and revolutionary values. He accused reformists of becoming incensed whenever anyone speaks against freedom, but never protesting against insults to religion. He said Iran's struggle against "world arrogance" -- the term often used by Iranian politicians for Western powers, especially the United States -- will continue as long as "we follow our religion," ISNA reported. VS

The Iranian government reopened its consulates in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, in northern Iraq, on November 6, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Kurdistan regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani called the reopening of the Irbil consulate an important step toward strengthening the region's diplomatic, economic, and political relations with Tehran. "During times of hardship, the Islamic Republic of Iran helped the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. They accepted us in their country as their own citizens. They helped us out and gave us sanctuary. They opened their doors to our people during the tragedy of the chemical bombardments of Halabjah and other areas," Barzani recounted. He said the region wants strong relations with its neighbors, adding, "We do not want, by any means, for the Kurdistan region's territory to be used against any of our neighbors, be it the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, or any other country." Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi noted the detention in January of five Irbil consulate staffers by U.S. forces, saying, "We had two consulates in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, but unfortunately the U.S. forces arrested five personnel from our consulate in Irbil and [they] are still in custody." Qomi called the detention of the consulate staff an illegal action that "ran counter to Iraq's sovereignty." Iraqi officials have said the Iranians were not consulate officials at the time of the arrests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12 and 19, 2007). KR

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters on November 6 that Iraq "rejects" an Iranian plan to stabilize the country, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). "The Iraqi government rejects the Iranian initiative on Iraq and considers it interference in Iraq's internal affairs. However, we respect the ties between [Iraq and Iran] and seek distinguished relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran," al-Dabbagh said. "We believe...the Iraqi national security forces are the substitute for any military forces that might withdraw from Iraq. We will never accept that the multinational forces be substituted by any [other foreign] forces... If an agreement on the withdrawal of any foreign forces is reached, the Iraqi national forces will replace them," he said. KR

Aides to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have provided Al-Sharqiyah television with videotaped footage allegedly depicting security forces in Karbala Governorate attacking al-Sadr's male and female supporters, the news channel reported on November 6. Al-Sharqiyah reported that the footage shows severed body parts and women and children being subjected to severe torture. One woman interviewed in the video claimed she was tortured by an Iraqi army officer she identified as Major Ali. Meanwhile, a human rights organization in nearby Al-Qadisiyah Governorate accused local security agencies of committing torture and rape against male and female detainees, also loyalists of al-Sadr, being held at the Directorate for Combatting Crime, the Al-Baqir Brigade facilities, and police detention centers, Al-Sharqiyah reported on November 6. A spokesman for the Human Rights Office said the organization has registered seven cases of rape against female detainees. One detainee died under torture. KR

Al-Sadr-affiliated parliamentarian Salih al-Uqayli told Al-Sharqiyah in a November 3 interview that Iraqi security forces are responsible for attacks against al-Sadr loyalists. He implied that the perpetrators are carrying out directives from the Badr Organization, the former armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, now known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). "What is happening in Al-Diwaniyah [in Al-Qadisiyah Governorate] is that there are militias affiliated with the governor that seek to target members of the Martyr Sayyid al-Sadr Office, the Al-Mahdi Army, and the al-Sadr trend. There were assassinations and some [members] were detained and later killed... The same thing is happening in Karbala Governorate, where a member of a militia recruited by government security services leads arbitrary arrest campaigns," al-Uqayli contended. "It is enough to be a follower of Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr to be arrested or tortured." Iraqi parliamentarian and Badr Organization member Diya al-Din al-Fayyad responded to the allegations, telling Al-Sharqiyah, "We do not have corrupt members. Whoever breaks the law must be punished...this is a normal issue." Al-Fayyad said the al-Sadr "trend" is facing problems because it cannot control rogue members of the group. KR

Al-Najaf Governor As'ad Sultan Abu Kulal told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in an exclusive interview on November 6 that it is necessary to push the federalist experiment in Iraq. Speaking at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, Abu Kulal said: ""Federalism is a solution for several problems. We have tried during the last few years to practice a tiny part of decentralization, and you could see the huge change that happened when the state gave [us] a little bit of authority, and a little funding. Despite the lack of local resources and human resources, there was development. But the problem that we face is that some of the Iraqi people lack knowledge of federalism." The governor told RFI that the Governorate Council is working to build a strong, self-sustaining economy in the south. "Our theory as a provincial council and civil administration is to build complementary, self-sufficient institutions for this purpose. For example, we are building the health sector to have hospitals and medicine depots. For energy, we are building power stations so as not to depend on power transferred from other provinces. We are building oil refineries, so as not to be obliged to bring fuel from outside the province. Regarding nutrition, thank God, our agricultural production was successful last year -- we produced some 100 tons of amber-type rice -- and this year the season is promising." KR