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Newsline - November 9, 2007

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a closed-door session of the Federation Council on November 8 that the structures on which international relations are based are incapable of resolving major problems and that a "moment of truth" has arrived for breaking the impasse, and the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on November 9. He blamed NATO, the OSCE, and the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) -- which Russia seeks to "suspend" -- but not the UN or the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1 and 8, 2007). Lavrov said that "Russia is on the rise, Western Europe lacks ideological unity, and the United States finds itself in a blind alley." He warned that Russia could "bring down" the international system based on NATO, the OSCE, and the CFE if it wanted to, which would force the creation of an unspecified "new system." Typically, Lavrov sought to highlight differences between the United States and Western Europe on Iran, missile defense, and other issues. He taunted Washington for not responding to repeated Russian requests for detailed, written proposals on missile defense, along the lines of those the proposals that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently made orally in Moscow. Lavrov stressed that it is no longer possible to solve European problems without Moscow. PM

On November 8, Igor Neverov, who heads the Foreign Ministry's North American Department, said that Russia wants the written proposals on missile defense before the meeting of the working group dealing with that issue scheduled for later this month, Interfax reported. He described the proposals as "pioneering." Neverov called the United States an old trade partner and noted that bilateral trade turnover doubled since 2002 to reach $25 billion. On November 7, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak denied persistent media reports that Washington seeks a "package deal" to resolve its main outstanding issues with Moscow, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22 and 31 and November 8, 2007). He stressed that "I have long worked on Russian-U.S. agreements and have never heard of any package of proposals from our American counterparts. Russia has an independent position on each issue." Kislyak also denied media reports that President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov made "secret" proposals to Tehran during recent visits to Iran. On November 8, Lavrov discussed bilateral and international relations with ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, reported. On November 9, the Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" reported that U.S. President George W. Bush recently told German television reporters that the EU has a problem with Russia's use of its energy resources, but that he does not see Russia as a military threat. Bush said that U.S.-Russian relations are complex for historical and other reasons. He noted that Putin listens to his views on some matters but not on others. Bush said that he has not yet had a good opportunity to discuss Putin's future plans with him, adding that Putin has told him that he will not seek a third term as president. PM

The Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee "unanimously" voted on November 8 to approve the nomination of veteran nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin as ambassador to NATO, replacing Konstantin Totsky, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). The nomination must now be endorsed by the corresponding committee of the Federation Council and by President Putin. Rogozin said after the hearings on November 8 that "the hottest issue is Kosovo. Serbia relies on Russia, the only country which defends international law.... If we stand firm, we will restore our positions in the Balkans." Reuters wrote that the appointment of Rogozin is "likely to be seen as a slap in the face for the Western alliance." Andrei Klimov, who is a member of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee from the Unified Russia party, told the news agency that Rogozin is fully aware that he must "change some aspects of his behavior" when he takes up his new post. Klimov added that Rogozin "must follow orders from the Kremlin" and not "speak out like some kind of exotic Russian." The daily "Vremya novostei" wrote on October 25 that Rogozin and the Kremlin have been at odds over the past year, and that Putin might welcome a chance to send him out of the country. The paper also argued that Rogozin can be expected to take a tough line with NATO, which he often criticizes as an aggressive tool of Washington. Such a stance would also be in keeping with Putin's recent aggressive rhetoric toward the West in general. PM

Unnamed EU officials in Brussels said on November 8 that the bloc and Russia agreed on November 7 to postpone a meeting to discuss Siberian overflight fees "to allow for a more detailed elaboration of the issues put on the agenda," dpa and Interfax reported. The talks were originally scheduled for November 16-17 in Moscow. An unnamed spokesman for the European Commission said that there has been "no real sign of backsliding by we hope we will receive a clear road map and calendar from the Russian authorities on the signing of an agreement as soon as possible." Russia charges EU airlines about $440 million annually for overflights en route to Asia. The EU has threatened to block Russian membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) unless an agreement is reached. Brussels wants the fees scrapped by 2014, which Russia refuses to do. The disagreement recently came to a head when Russia banned Lufthansa Cargo from overflights, although the airline was subsequently granted a temporary reprieve until November 15. German media suggested that, among other things, Russia is trying to bully Lufthansa Cargo into moving its Asian hub from Astana to Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31 and November 1, 2, and 5, 2007). PM

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said on November 8 that the government will not have time before 2008 to move through parliament the "strategic sectors" bill that will determine which areas of the Russian economy are off-limits to foreign control or investment, "The Moscow Times" reported on November 9. The paper noted that "among reasons for the delay are new proposals from the security services to designate more industries as strategic, made since the cabinet shake-up in September." The government also wants to add to the draft additional proposals regulating foreign investment in natural resources. Further delays in enacting legislation are likely to deter potential investors from putting their money in Russia, the daily noted. It quoted Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, as saying "I am surprised.... We expected the second and third reading to happen pretty quickly.... What we are looking for is clarity of the rules of the game and the sooner the clarity, the better." He said he is optimistic, but added that "the only concern I have is that the amendments to the subsoil law have taken forever. There've been hundreds of drafts." PM

A group of representatives of Moscow NGOs met on November 8 to form an organization to urge President Putin to remain as the country's leader following the end of his current term in March 2008, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported. The group also called for continuity in the country's domestic and foreign policies. According to the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta," some 200 "cultural figures and representatives of public organizations and the business elite" participated in the gathering. "The feeling is getting stronger that our country has begun confident movement along the road that will lead us to a good life," Moscow State University law student Nadezhda Larina told the paper. "Only a blind person couldn't see the positive changes that have happened in our country over the last seven years," added fellow student Olga Smirnova. The paper noted that a call by history teacher Ivan Yermolayev for "Russian society to find a political formula under which Vladimir Putin can remain at the helm of the country into the future" was met with a standing ovation. The event was described as a "dress rehearsal" for the All-Russian Forum of the For Putin! Movement, which is to be held in Tver on November 15. The leader of For Putin! in Tver, Irina Blokhina, told the daily that "citizens from all regions of the country without exception" will attend that event. The movement has created a website at Over the last three weeks, For Putin! groups have been holding meetings across the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 5, 2007). RC

A poll by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) has found that support for Unified Russia in the current Duma campaign has stabilized at some 43-45 percent, "Izvestiya" reported on November 9. The same poll found that 7 percent of voters support the Communist Party (parties must receive at least 7 percent of the vote in order to earn seats in the Duma), while 5 percent plan to vote for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), 3 percent for A Just Russia, and 1 percent for Yabloko. FOM President Aleksandr Oslon noted that these figures have been fairly stable since President Putin announced on October 1 that he will run on the Unified Russia list of candidates for the elections. He was unwilling to predict how currently undecided voters will ultimately vote. "Those who still need to decide for whom to vote might divide up along these proportions," Oslon said. "But they might -- if the campaign pushes them toward this -- all move along together according to the principle of collectivism." Many analysts expect Unified Russia to poll at least 75 percent in the elections. RBK reported on November 8 that Unified Russia is urging every party member to bring at least 10 people to the polls to vote for the party and for its platform, "Putin's Plan." RC

According to a study by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), 40 percent of Russians favor a planned economy, the highest among the 27 countries examined in the poll, "Vedomosti" reported on November 9. The same study found that only 36 percent of Russians favor democracy, while 33 percent prefer authoritarianism. According to the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2007), the percentage of Russians supporting democracy and a market economy has fallen from 48 percent to 42 percent over the last 10 years. A Levada Center poll, however, has found that 66 percent of respondents believe Russia needs a political opposition, "Vremya novostei" reported on November 8. Only 20 percent said that it does not. Forty-one percent said Russia already has "significant opposition parties," while 33 percent said it does not. RC

President Putin on November 8 met in Moscow with representatives of Russia's Muslim community and expressed the hope that large numbers of Muslims will participate in the country's December 2 legislative elections, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on November 9. Russian Council of Muftis head Ravil Gainutdin, chief mufti of Russia's Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate Talgat Tadzhuddin, and Northern Caucasus Muslim Coordination Center head Ismail Berdiyev participated in the talks. Putin said the Muslim community is playing a positive role in Russia's development, and that they "have done much to establish our country as a world power." According to official figures, Russia's predominantly Muslim regions voted overwhelmingly for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in the 2003 legislative elections and for Putin in the 2004 presidential ballot. RC

The case against three men accused of plotting to assassinate St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko in May has been handed over to the courts, "Kommersant" reported on November 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). The three men -- 29-year-old Timur Saidgareyev, 20-year-old Ravil Muratov, and 17-year-old Fyodor Baranov -- are accused of terrorism, illegally accumulating explosives, and plotting the assassination of a senior official. According to police, the three men were unhappy with the policies of local officials. Lawyers for the suspects reject what they say are trumped-up charges. Officials, however, say Muratov has confessed. RC

Speaking on November 8 at a conference in Moscow entitled "Russia-Abkhazia: Toward A Single Economic Space," Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov declared that "Abkhazia has long been a sovereign state," "Vremya novostei" reported on November 9. Luzhkov went on to argue that Russia "should take the bold step of recognizing Abkhazia's sovereignty." In recent years, the Moscow City government has purchased a sanatorium and a chemical plant in Abkhazia and provided the unrecognized republic's government with trams, trolleybuses, fire engines, and construction equipment. Also on November 8, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared three Georgian diplomats persona non grata in retaliation for an analogous move by the Georgian Foreign Ministry on November 7 with regard to three Russian diplomats accused of involvement in the mass demonstrations that began in Georgia on November 2, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). LF

A police officer was shot dead late on November 8 in his home in the village of Pokrovskoye in Daghestan's Khasavyurt Raion, reported. In Ingushetia, two policemen were seriously injured the same evening when gunmen opened fire on them in the center of Karabulak, northeast of Nazran, from a passing car. LF

Levon Ter-Petrossian met in Yerevan on November 8 for 1 1/2 hours with Raffi Hovannisian, who served as Armenian foreign minister in 1992-93 during Ter-Petrossian's first presidential term, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The two reportedly discussed the domestic political situation in the run-up to the presidential election due in early 2008. Ter-Petrossian announced two weeks ago he plans to run as a candidate in that ballot, which Armenia's Central Election Commission on November 9 scheduled for February 19, 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). It remains unclear whether Hovannisian, who now heads the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party, will back Ter-Petrossian's presidential bid or run himself. LF

Armenian Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian and his visiting Iranian counterpart Major General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar signed a memorandum in Yerevan on November 8 on bilateral cooperation between their two ministries, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The agreement apparently covers logistics and supplies and entails cooperation between companies subordinate to the two countries' defense ministries in supplying food and other unspecified commodities. Harutiunian told journalists that as yet no military-technical cooperation programs have been drafted. Najjar stressed that closer bilateral cooperation will contribute to strengthening regional stability. Najjar also met on November 8 with Armenian President Robert Kocharian. LF

Representatives of the several thousand traders at Naxicevan's Bazar 57 flew to Baku on November 8 to submit to the presidential apparatus an appeal against the regional authorities' recent decision to demolish the market, reported on November 9. Some 3,000 market traders staged a demonstration on November 5 to protest those plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). LF

Mikheil Saakashvili announced in a televised address on the evening of November 8 that preterm presidential elections will be held on January 5, 2008, together with a referendum to determine whether the next parliamentary elections should be held in the spring or the fall of 2008, Georgian media reported. According to the Georgian Constitution, the parliamentary ballot is due in the spring, but in December 2006 -- at Saakashvili's insistence -- parliament rescheduled it for the fall. Holding the elections in the spring is one of four key opposition demands to the president (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," November 5, 2007). Saakashvili explained that by bringing forward the date of the presidential ballot (due only in early January 2009), he is giving the opposition the chance "to be chosen by the people." Holding the presidential ballot in January 2008 rather than in the fall, as Saakashvili earlier demanded, precludes the participation of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who will turn 35 -- the minimum age for a presidential candidate -- only on November 6, 2008. Saakashvili admitted that the brutal police crackdown on November 7 on opposition protesters damaged Georgia's international image, but affirmed at the same time that the authorities' response to the protests was necessitated by the need to "defend statehood and order," Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili also hinted that the 15-day nationwide state of emergency he declared late on November 7 may be lifted "in the nearest future." Representatives of several of the 10 opposition parties aligned in the National Council said they hope to field a single candidate to run against Saakashvili, reported. David Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rightists (aka New Conservatives) party, which is not a member of the National Council, told journalists late on November 8 he is ready to put forward his candidacy, Caucasus Press reported. LF

In a statement posted on November 8 on the NATO website (, Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that "the imposition of Emergency Rule, and the closure of media outlets in Georgia, a Partner with which the Alliance has an Intensified Dialogue, are of particular concern and not in line with Euro-Atlantic values." He said he has asked NATO's special representative for the Caucasus, Robert Simmons, to inform the Georgian Foreign Ministry that all parties should "exercise restraint, avoid violence, and act within the law." Caucasus Press on November 8 similarly quoted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Lousie Arbor as expressing concern over the police use of force, especially against Georgian ombudsman Sozar Subar, and the closure of independent media outlets. Subar on November 7 deplored the police brutality, saying Georgia is no longer a "beacon of democracy," but closer to the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Amnesty International and Transparency International issued separate statements on November 8 deploring the police brutality and the media crackdown. Meanwhile, opposition Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili has not been seen since late November 7 and his whereabouts are unknown, according to a November 8 Eurasia View analysis. Deputy Prosecutor-General Niko Gvaramia said on November 8 that Natelashvili and Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, the half-brother of Tavisupleba (Liberty) party leader Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, are wanted on charges of spying for Russia and conspiring to overthrow the Georgian leadership, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Following a meeting in Astana with visiting Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on November 8 the signing of a number of new bilateral agreements on cooperation in the energy sector, ITAR-TASS and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. An agreement on the planned construction of a Kazakhstan-China natural-gas pipeline was signed on November 8 between the state-owned KazMunaiGaz company and the China National Petroleum Corporation. Following the fourth meeting of the Kazakh-Chinese Cooperation Committee, Wu told reporters that China has agreed to expand cooperation in the areas of biotechnology and the use of uranium resources, and welcomed the "steady and healthy development of bilateral relations." The agreement on uranium resources was concluded between Kazakhstan's state-owned nuclear-energy company, Kazatomprom, and China's Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (GNPC) on the joint use of uranium resources and the production of nuclear fuel and energy. That agreement comes in the wake of the formation of several earlier joint ventures between Kazatomprom, the GNPC and the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation, focused on exploiting uranium deposits in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). Kazakhstan possesses some 21 percent of the world's natural uranium reserves and, in a deal completed in August, Kazatomprom acquired a sizable share in the U.S. nuclear-power-plant maker Westinghouse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2007). A third agreement was also signed for the Kazakh import of $34 million worth of telecommunication equipment from China. RG

At a press conference in Shymkent, senior police spokeswoman Saltanat Karakozova announced on November 8 that the head of internal affairs in the South Kazakhstan region's Tolebiy district, Zhaksylyk Namazbaev, and his deputy Zhanasyl Nurashev, have been dismissed for their handling of a recent ethnic clash in the district, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Karakozova noted that the police chief for the region, Khibratulla Doskaliev, ordered the dismissals and stressed that the local police remain committed to carrying out a thorough investigation, adding that "more than 200 people have been questioned, and 18 suspects have been detained to date." The clash, which erupted on November 1 between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kurds, was triggered by an alleged sexual assault (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2007). RG

An undetermined number of demonstrators gathered on November 8 in front of the Bishkek headquarters of the Kyrgyz State National Security Committee demanding the release of a jailed opposition youth leader, AKIpress reported. According to one of the organizers of the demonstration, Adil Turdukulov, a member of the Forum of Young Politicians youth group, the protesters are seeking the immediate release of Adilet Aytikeev, a leader of the Kandzhar (Dagger) opposition youth organization. Aytikeev was arrested after he fled to Almaty to avoid trial after he was first arrested in April on charges of "inciting mass disturbances" related to an April 19 opposition rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2007). His Kandzhar group is the former youth wing of the now-defunct opposition movement led by Feliks Kulov, the United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, which was disbanded in September. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyz opposition leader Kulov on November 8 accused the authorities of taking "unlawful actions" prior to the elections for a new parliament and warned that "mass protests may erupt" in the event of "considerable violations" during the December 16 ballot, ITAR-TASS reported. Kulov added that illegal acts and violations of the election laws were also committed by the Central Election Commission, which "has assumed the right to interpret several laws" in the absence of a parliament, which was dissolved on October 22 following the adoption of a new constitution. He also argued that some members of his own Ar-Namys party "have already been offered large amounts of money to leave the party."RG

Kurmanbek Bakiev met on November 8 in Bishkek with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev for an organizational meeting related to Kyrgyzstan's recent accession to the rotating chairmanship of the CIS, Kabar and Kyrgyz Television reported. Lebedev reviewed the planned implementation of a "blueprint for the further development" of the CIS, but also discussed establishing a mission of CIS observers to monitor the early parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan set for December 16. In an earlier meeting with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev, Lebedev also discussed issues pertaining to "the transport policy of the CIS," which has been identified as a priority for the group in the coming year. Accompanying Lebedev to the meeting with Karabaev, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin also raised the broader issue of bilateral relations and promised to seek to expand greater trade and investment between Kyrgyzstan and the other CIS states. RG

During a meeting in Beijing with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan on the second day of an official five-day visit to China, Turkmen Defense Minister Agageldy Mametgeldiev agreed on November 7 to begin discussions over a possible new agreement on bilateral military cooperation between Turkmenistan and China, according to AKIpress. During the meeting, Cao pledged that "the Chinese armed forces are ready to develop the friendly and cooperative ties in various fields and at multiple levels with the armed forces of Turkmenistan." RG

The Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan issued a statement in Tashkent on November 7 denouncing any suggestion that Uzbek President Islam Karimov may run in the coming presidential election, in clear violation of the constitutional terms limits on his presidency, AKIpress reported. According to human rights activists Abdillo Tozhiboi ugli and Akhtam Shaimardanov, the group has filed a formal claim with the Prosecutor-General's Office seeking a formal statement on the legality of the recent nomination of Karimov as the presidential candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). According to the Uzbek Constitution, Karimov, now serving his second seven-year presidential term, is prohibited from running for another term, although he has already extended his term in office twice through national referendums in 1995 and 2002. RG

The Slovak Embassy in Minsk has issued a statement calling on the Belarusian authorities to end their "repressive practices" against civil society, respect the human rights of Belarusians, and release all political prisoners, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on November 8. Slovakia acts as the local EU president in Minsk, where EU president Portugal does not have diplomatic representation. The Slovak Embassy issued the statement after a November 7 meeting between the heads of EU countries' diplomatic missions in Minsk and Alyaksandr Milinkevich, a former presidential candidate and the leader of the unregistered Movement for Freedom. Milinkevich drew attention to the situation of Alyaksandr Kazulin, Artur Finkevich, Zmitser Dashkevich, and Andrey Klimau, all described as political prisoners. Milinkevich noted Klimau's deteriorating health, and added that Dashkevich is currently on trial behind closed doors. "The EU's local presidency expresses the deep concern of European diplomats in Minsk over the situation of Belarusians who are believed by the international human rights organizations to be political prisoners," the Slovak statement reads. AM

Belarusian journalist Volha Klaskouskaya was stabbed several times by an unknown attacker on the night of November 7 in Warsaw, Belapan reported. Klaskouskaya, who was granted political asylum in Poland two years ago, is involved in a dispute with her ex-husband, Vital Naumovich, over the custody of their 6-year-old daughter, Miraslava. A Warsaw court on November 6 heard a request from the Belarusian Justice Ministry for the girl to be returned to Belarus. Naumovich was detained after attending the hearing, questioned by the police, and released the same day. After the attack, Klaskouskaya reportedly said that the assailant resembled a man who was accompanying her ex-husband during the court hearing. Naumovich told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that he was accompanied during the proceedings only by his Polish lawyer and interpreter, and denied any connection to the assault on Klaskouskaya. AM

A group of Crimean Tatars has set up a tent city near the Crimean Council of Ministers in Simferopol, Ukraine, and is demanding the dismissal of the head of the Crimean police, Anatoliy Mohilyov, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on November 9. Ukrainian police clashed with ethnic Tatars, four of whom were injured, while dispersing vendors from illegal market stalls in Simferopol on November 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2007). Refat Chubarov, the deputy head of the Mejlis, the body representing the Crimean Tatars, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that "protest actions will break out all over Crimea." Chubarov said the authorities should hold talks with ethnic Tatars on how to prevent similar clashes in the future and, above all, punish those responsible for the violence on November 6. AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on November 8 called on political forces in the newly elected Verkhovna Rada to take the necessary steps toward forming a democratic coalition in the parliament, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Yushchenko said he expects an "orange" coalition to be formed, on the basis of election results and the announcements that have been made so far by the political forces. "You came to the Verkhovna Rada and your task consists of the creation as soon as possible of the majority leadership of the parliament," Yushchenko said. "Political stability is mission number one, and that task should be recognized by political forces in the parliament," he added. He noted, however, that the narrow majority held by the coalition of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc should not be regarded as stable. AM

First Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov has said that the Party of Regions will attend a November 12 meeting of the committee tasked with preparing for the first session of the newly elected Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported on November 8. Volodymyr Lytvyn has made a similar pledge on behalf of his bloc, according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. Azarov denied allegations that the Party of Regions is obstructing the work of the committee, claiming that his party is now drafting the document required for the group's work. The committee preparing for the first session of parliament could not gather a quorum during several consecutive meetings due to the absence of representatives of the Party of Regions, the Lytvyn bloc, and the Communist Party; the lack of a quorum threatened to delay both the committee's work and the opening of the next parliamentary session. AM

The death toll from the Macedonian authorities' attempt to capture a fugitive former militia leader is now officially six, rather than eight, as previously reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). Five of the six have now been identified. They do not include the key target of the operation, Lirim Jakupi, but among their number is one of the six other men who escaped in August from a Kosovar prison, Dubrava, together with Jakupi. He was named as Ramadan Shiti, a Saudi expelled from his homeland for plotting an attack on senior public figures and subsequently jailed in Macedonia for murder. He then escaped to Kosova, where he was captured and imprisoned. Relatively few details have been provided about the background of the other men: Fisnik Ahmeti, Fatos Aliu, Hasan Durmishi, and Amir Sopa. All had Albanian names, but they came from across the region. Sopa was from Kosova and Aliu from Albania, where he reportedly killed a member of parliament. Ahmeti and Durmishi were Macedonians. Jakupi reportedly escaped and is still being pursued. Four of the men were killed near a mosque in the village of Brodec, and two near the village of Vesala. Most of the weapons found by the police were mortars and rifles. Reports now indicate that one policeman was slightly wounded in the operation. Unofficial reports suggest 10-13 men have been arrested. A1 TV claimed that they were all members of a group of possibly 50 men who had been operating in the area since August, when the seven prisoners escaped from Kosova. AG

On the first day of his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Vojislav Seselj, the leader of Serbia's largest party, the Serbian Radical Party, indicated that he believes he will become a martyr in the eyes of the Serbian people. According to local and international media, Seselj said he regretted that the UN court is not empowered to sentence him to death, "so that proudly, with dignity, upright like my friend Saddam Hussein I could put the final seal on my ideology.... I have lived long enough but I want immortality for my ideology." He is accused of inciting genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, all of which he rejects. "If I encouraged [Serbs to fight], I encouraged them to win the war, I never encouraged them to commit crimes," he said. He also denied that Serbia committed any such crimes, saying: "We Serbs are a chivalrous people. We do not commit genocide." At the start of the trial, the prosecution dubbed Seselj "the man who gave the world ethnic cleansing," and showed recordings in which Seselj called for, among other things, the "annihilation of others." Seselj, who accused the court of "falsifying modern Serbian history," sought to portray the Balkan wars as part of a broader war in which other ethnic groups in the former Yugoslav state became embroiled. "Any war we waged was not against the Muslims and the Croats, or the Albanians for that matter but against their bosses: Germany, the Vatican, America, and NATO," he said. AG

For only the second time, a Bosnian court has opened a trial against a man accused of participating in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, local media reported on November 8. The case against Milorad Trbic, which opened in Sarajevo on November 8, was originally to have been heard by the ICTY, but it was transferred to Bosnia-Herzegovina's War Crimes Chamber in June, in part because the ICTY, which is winding down its operations, viewed Trbic as a relatively minor officer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2007). That was the 10th time that the ICTY has passed a case over to be heard in Sarajevo. At the time of the massacre, Trbic was a security officer in the Zvornik Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army. According to the news service Balkan Insight, the prosecutor, Kwai Hong Ip, said that, among Trbic's various crimes, he personally committed "at least 55 murders" and sought to ensure that the "systematic execution" of Bosnian Muslim men was carried out as efficiently as possible. After the massacre, Trbic is believed to have helped in efforts to cover up the crime. During his detention, which began in April 2005, concern has regularly been expressed about Trbic's state of health and mind, with one psychiatrist concluding it was "questionable" that Trbic was mentally fit to stand trial. In January, Trbic said he wished to be tried in Sarajevo, but since his return to Bosnia he has twice gone on extended hunger strikes. AG

Eight Croatian journalists face charges of contempt of court after the UN war crimes tribunal announced on November 7 that it has asked police to investigate whether they published confidential information about indictments brought against three Croatian generals who served in the 1991-95 war. The journalists include three senior reporters on national television as well as journalists from several of Croatia's main newspapers. According to local media, they include the columnist Ivan Zvonimir Cicak and Goran Rotim, a former deputy editor in chief at Croatian Television, as well as another editor from the same channel, Djurica Drobac. Two editors were questioned last month on similar grounds: Mladen Plese, editor of the local "Slobodna Dalmacija" daily, and Vladimir Roncevic, a former senior editor at Croatian Television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2007). The three generals -- Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak, and Mladen Markac -- are awaiting trial by the ICTY for crimes connected with Operation Storm, a decisive campaign that resulted in the exodus of several hundred thousand ethnic Serbs in 2005. AG

A civil servant who accused officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska of corruption was killed on November 7 when his car exploded. Milan Vukelic, a town planner for Banja Luka's municipal authority, accused both his boss of corruption and the police of threatening him. The explosion, which occurred as Vukelic was passing the Interior Ministry in Banja Luka, injured two other people. According to police, another car owned by Vukelic was bombed in May and his mother's home set ablaze in August. AG


In a UN General Assembly debate on Afghanistan on November 5, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad reiterated that the availability of external sanctuaries for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has undermined security and progress in Afghanistan, and he called on the insurgents to lay down their arms, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on November 6. "These sanctuaries should be eliminated and replaced by increased regional cooperation against extremists and terrorists," he said. Khalilzad also pointed out that a lack of good governance at the provincial and local levels remains a major obstacle to development and stability in Afghanistan despite successes in other fields. "Where officials are weak, ineffective, or abusive, the goodwill and support of the people is put at risk," he said. "And Afghanistan cannot succeed if its people do not actively support their government." Separately, the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin, expressed similar views, but Pakistani UN Ambassador Munir Akram argued that the problem is inside Afghanistan and there is no need to externalize the issue. MM

President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in Kabul on November 8 barring schoolchildren and university students from participating in ceremonial events across the country, the Bakhtar News Agency reported. The decree is in response to the deadly Baghlan Province suicide bombing on November 6 that killed and wounded dozens, including many children who were assembled to greet a high-level government delegation sent from Kabul to inaugurate a sugar factory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2007). The decree instructs the Afghan central and provincial authorities to cease sending children and young people to ceremonial and formal functions in order to avoid endangering their lives. Furthermore, the decree ordered the ministries of Education, Higher Education, and Interior to take additional administrative and security measures to ensure the safety and well-being of young people in Afghanistan. MM

Malalai Joya, a suspended member of the Wolesi Jirga, the Afghan parliament's lower house, alleged in an interview with CTV in Canada on November 7 that former Afghan warlords from the former Northern Alliance are "mentally no different from the Taliban," and are responsible for continued bloodshed and instability in Afghanistan, the news website reported. She accused her foes in parliament of having committed atrocities in the past and grabbing power at the expense of ordinary Afghans. Joya said that particularly women and children are suffering amid the rising violence and corruption, citing the recent suicide bombing in Baghlan Province. She pointed to former warlords serving in the government and parliament, saying: "Today, they control Afghanistan. Some of them are ministers, governors, commanders or ambassadors. They control Afghanistan and our people are like hostages. The Taliban make use of the situation and become powerful. And also countries like Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan make use of the situation, by either supporting the Taliban or the Northern Alliance. This is the reason why the situation becomes worse day by day." Joya, an outspoken female parliamentarian from Farah Province, is in Canada to rally support for her views, which have put her life and career inside Afghanistan in jeopardy. MM

Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of the main opposition party, the United National Front, claimed in a news conference in Kabul on November 7 that the six slain lawmakers presumed killed in the November 6 Baghlan bombing were instead shot dead afterward, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Furthermore, he accused the Karzai administration and its international allies of failing to establish security in Afghanistan, adding to the uproar and controversy in the aftermath of the tragic incident. Similarly, Syed Aqa Fazil Sancharaki, another member of the opposition front and head of the National Union of Journalists, raised the spectrum of a conspiracy to liquidate the legislators, asking, "Where were the hosts when the guests were visiting the province?" The opposition also called for the arrest of the Baghlan governor and police chief for interrogation in connection with the attack. President Karzai has promised a thorough investigation of the incident. MM

Interpol's general assembly voted on November 7 to put five senior Iranians and a Lebanese militant on the international law-enforcement body's wanted list for their suspected involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, international news agencies reported. Argentinian judicial authorities suspect Iran helped plan the bombing and had it carried out by operatives of the Lebanese Hizballah. Iran has rejected the charges and denounced the vote as "unprofessional" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006 and March 19, 2007); its delegates have sought in recent days to persuade other delegates not to vote against Iran. The assembly vote confirms the red notices issued last March by Interpol's executive board, which Iran has challenged. The red notices do not apparently constitute warrants for the arrests of the Iranians concerned, but effectively limit their international travel, AP reported on November 7, citing Interpol Secretary-General Donald Noble. The Iranians concerned include an intelligence minister in the 1990s, Ali Fallahian, and the current Expediency Council secretary and former Revolutionary Guards chief, Mohsen Rezai. Iran's Foreign Ministry has denounced the vote as unprofessional, unacceptable, and against international norms, Radio Farda reported on November 8. VS

Iranian agents arrested Ali Nikunesbati, a member of the nationwide student grouping Office for Strengthening Unity, in his Tehran home on November 8, Radio Farda reported. He was arrested months ago and released on bail after participating in a Tehran protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 10, 2007). His brother Mohammad Nikunesbati told Radio Farda the same day that seven or eight armed agents entered the house, conducted a thorough search, and were rude to the family. He said they had no warrant and declared, "we can do anything we like," or "we can even burn this place down if we like, so do not ask us for a warrant." The agents did not say anything about charges Ali Nikunesbati could face, his brother said, but the arrest was apparently ordered by the deputy prosecutor of Tehran, Hasan Haddad, who has in recent months handled student and dissident cases. He phoned the house to see whether the agents had arrested Nikunesbati, and spoke to the agents and to Nikunesbati's mother. She was told not to worry, Mohammad Nikunesbati told Radio Farda. VS

About a week ago, Iranian authorities also arrested Pedram Rafati, a student of Tehran's Amir Kabir University, Radio Farda reported on November 7. He was reportedly detained, then released, after a recent student protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2007), then arrested two days later when summoned by state agents to collect his confiscated mobile phone. The family recently told the Amir Kabir University newsletter that they were without news of Rafati for days until they enquired with the Tehran Revolutionary Court. The court told them that he was detained, but not where, or when he would be released, Radio Farda reported, citing the newsletter. The newsletter has also revealed that another Amir Kabir student, Babak Zamanian, has gone on trial, perhaps on security-related charges, following legal action taken against him by the head of the university, Alireza Rahai, Radio Farda reported on November 7. Zamanian was arrested on April 21 and held for 40 days, in which time a case was seemingly concocted against him based on his record of student activism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). The court is to announce a sentence for him by December 17, Radio Farda reported. VS

The "Iran" newspaper has reported that Iranian forces recently killed three members of the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) near its western frontier, Radio Farda reported on November 8. The daily cited an unnamed source who also accused the United States and other Western states of backing the group. The PJAK are thought to have links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), another guerrilla group that is battling Turkish troops from hideouts in northern Iraq's Kurdish region. VS

Iran's ambassador in Beirut, Mohammad Reza Sheibani, met on November 8 with Christian Lebanese politician Michel Aoun and told him the United States refuses to accept the wishes of the Lebanese people and does not wish to see an end to current political divisions in Lebanon, IRNA reported. Lebanese political forces are broadly divided now between the pro-Western government of Fuad Siniora and its parliamentary allies, and forces thought to enjoy the backing of Syria and Iran, notably Hizballah. Aoun is closer to the latter, though most Christian politicians oppose Syrian intervention in Lebanon. The important point, Sheibani said, is for foreign forces not to meddle in other countries' affairs. He voiced Iran's support for an agreement on the choice of the next president. Lebanese legislators are to meet to select a president on November 21, IRNA reported. VS

The U.S. military released nine Iranians held in U.S. custody in Iraq on November 9. IRNA reported that two diplomats detained in Irbil in January were among those released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2007). The two were accused of being members of Iran's elite Quds Force. Iran claims the other seven released from custody were pilgrims. "All nine individuals were determined to no longer pose a security risk and to be of no continued intelligence value," the U.S. military said in a statement. Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, director of communications for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, told reporters at a November 7 press briefing in Baghdad that the Iranians "were all detained for various different reasons and I won't...there's not a universal reason why they were detained except for one universal thing and that, of course, is their activities at the time of their detention suggested that there were obviously involved in a criminal activity, illegal activity, or were attacking or directly supporting the attack on coalition, Iraqi, or innocent civilians. All nine have now been judged to, again, not pose a current threat as individuals to the Iraqis' security and pose no continuing value as individuals in terms of intelligence." Asked why the United States would release members of what it considers a foreign terrorist organization, Smith said: "We should remind ourselves that the Iranian government has said it will do all it can to cease any activity that's maligned here in Iraq. So again, we look forward to those kinds of positive steps." Eleven other Iranian nationals remain in U.S. custody in Iraq. KR

The Interior Ministry announced on November 8 it will send an investigative committee to Karbala Governorate to look into allegations of torture of civilians by local security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2007). According to media reports, one incident involves the torture of an entire family, including the disfigurement of two female children who apparently died as a result of the abuse. The security officials under investigation include Karbala police commander Brigadier General Ra'id Shakir, Lieutenant Colonel Abbas Hamid Hashim, Governorate Council member Muhammad Hamid Hashim, and police Major Ali Hamid Hashim, who is considered the main defendant and perpetrator of the torture. All of the victims were supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Police commander Shakir called a press conference on November 8 to deny the allegations. He accused al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army of carrying out hundreds of assassinations over the past four years, and said the militia killed 606 people, including 69 women and 62 policemen. He also accused the Al-Mahdi Army of 37 criminal acts and 134 kidnappings in the governorate. Al-Sadr spokesman Liwa Sumaysim responded in an interview with Al-Sharqiyah television, saying Shakir is trying to change the media focus. "If these crimes were really committed [by the Al-Mahdi Army], we wonder why [the police] have been silent over the past three years," Sumaysim said. KR

Iraqi Accordance Front member Khalaf al-Ulayyan told Al-Sharqiyah television on November 8 that the front will object to any political appointments of members of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council. Media reports indicate Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may nominate at least one member of the council to an open ministerial portfolio. Asked what the front's response might be, al-Ulayyan said: "Of course we have reservations, because these people don't represent anyone. It is the Accordance Front that is representative, because it was elected by the people. It represents the citizens of Al-Anbar.... The others are not elected and they cannot represent anyone." The council nominated 15 candidates in August to replace ministers from the Accordance Front who resigned. Al-Ulayyan attacked the character of Al-Anbar Salvation Council Chairman Hamid al-Hayyis, calling him an opportunist. Al-Ulayyan said al-Hayyis does not hold an academic diploma. He added that al-Hayyis previously worked in Al-Anbar as a male nurse and performed circumcisions, and has no base of support. KR

The U.S. military released 500 detainees from prison on November 8, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The detainees were no longer deemed a threat to Iraqi security, the military said in a statement. Speaking at a ceremony marking the release of detainees at Camp Victory, Prime Minister al-Maliki said: "Out of an interest in the [detainees] and their families, we had to take action to ensure their release and return to a normal life. We want them to participate in the process of reconstruction, stability, and development." Al-Maliki said the release will aid the process of national reconciliation, and vowed to make 2008 the year of reconstruction. Nearly 26,000 detainees remain in U.S. custody awaiting charges. "The New York Times" reported on November 9 that 10,000 of the prisoners were detained in military operations this year, while AP put the number detained this year at 17,000. Some 6,300 other detainees have been released since January, AP reported. KR