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Newsline - November 13, 2007

President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed in Moscow on November 12 on the joint construction by the two countries of a MTA/Ilyushin-214 multipurpose transport airplane and on an unmanned scientific mission to the moon, Russian and international media reported. Much of India's Soviet-era debt, which is estimated at about $1 billion, will help fund the aircraft project, which has been on the drawing board since 2002, the daily "Kommersant" reported. Putin said: "today's cooperation agreement on the creation of a multipurpose transport aircraft, and an earlier [one on developing] a multipurpose fifth-generation fighter jet, opens new prospects for scientific and industrial cooperation in very sensitive areas.... We paid special attention [during the talks] to cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and the military-industrial sphere." Russia provides about 70 percent of Indian arms purchases, while India accounts for roughly 30 percent of Russian arms sales, making it Russia's second-most-important customer after China. Singh noted on November 12 that the two governments are preparing a deal to allow Russia to build four more reactors, in addition to the current two, at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. No contract was signed because India's nuclear program remains under international restrictions. Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), said that the contracts are ready. Reuters noted that the reactors are worth about $2 billion each. India wants to increase its investments, already valued at well over $1.7 billion, in the oil industry on Sakhalin and elsewhere in Russia's Far East. New Delhi is concerned about repeated Russian delays in fulfilling arms contracts, international news agencies reported. The Sevmash shipyard in Severomorsk is at least three years behind schedule in converting a 20-year-old guided-missile cruiser into an aircraft carrier for India. New Delhi plans to use the ship and its contingent of MiG-29 jet fighters as a counterweight to the growing power of China, which is India's main regional strategic rival. India was a reliable political, economic, and military partner of the Soviet Union during the Cold War but has since expanded its networks of partners and contacts. Like China, it sees itself as a booming, high-tech economy that is more dynamic than Russia's (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, August 2 and 6, and October 25, 2007). PM

Shortly before leaving for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels, General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the armed forces' General Staff, said on state-run Russia Today television on November 13 that the Atlantic alliance is "partly" responsible for the crisis in Georgia, and Interfax reported. He argued that "we are perfectly aware that this situation on our southern borders is to someone's benefit. I hope my Western partners will not take offense...[but] they somehow partially provoked the situation in Georgia." Baluyevsky also blamed "someone" for using the proposed U.S. missile-defense program against Russia. He said that "someone in the United States wants to solve [unspecified] tasks using weapons currently available in the United States. But to solve these tasks, one must be absolutely sure the use of these weapons will not trigger a retaliatory strike. [This is what drives] the people who advise the U.S. president to create a global antimissile defense. As for European missile defense, it is definitely not directed against Iran," as Washington claims. He added that Iran will not have an intercontinental ballistic missile "capable of reaching the United States until at least 2020." Baluyevsky again criticized the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), which the Kremlin wants to suspend, as "a real yoke for Russia, a treaty that Russia alone was observing" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). He nonetheless called for U.S.-Russian cooperation against unspecified "existing common threats," adding that "there is no need to be afraid of the Russian Army, [which has] just over 1 million servicemen, or 3 million fewer than in the early 1990s." PM

The Paris-based Capgemini consultancy firm argued in a study released on November 11 that energy-related tensions between Russia and the EU are likely to get worse, Reuters and reported. In its annual "European Energy Markets Observatory," published to coincide with the World Energy Congress in Rome, Capgemini noted that "with divergent strategies, one can easily predict that the EU-Russia battle for gas-supply and value-chain control is only beginning" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, October 11, and November 8, 2007). The study also questioned whether the EU's energy-market-liberalization program, which has negative implications for future European investments by the Russian state-run monopoly Gazprom, will result in lower prices for consumers. PM

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced in a statement on November 12 that company commander Captain Viktor Bal and platoon commander Warrant Officer Vadim Kalinin received 11- and 14-year prison sentences, respectively, for causing premeditated harm leading to the death of a conscript, news agencies reported. Conscript Sergei Sinkonen died in a hospital on August 27 as a result of injuries he received on August 14 at the hands of the two drunken officers at Plesetsk Cosmodrome (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 28, 29, and 30, 2007). Some Russian commentators noted that the attention Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov showed to the case, including sending condolences to Sinkonen's family and granting military honors for his funeral in the Republic of Karelia, stands in contrast to the behavior of his predecessor, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who tended to play down hazing incidents. On August 29, Serdyukov sacked Major General Konstantin Chmarov, who was acting head of the cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk Oblast. PM

The British authorities recently arrested Peter Stephen Hill, a former soldier in the Royal Armoured Corps, on suspicion of spying for Russia, the daily "Kommersant" reported on November 12, citing several British media reports. At the time of his arrest on November 7, Hill was allegedly planning to hand over unspecified military secrets to Russian intelligence. Relations between the two countries are strained as a result of several earlier espionage-related incidents and by Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the 2006 London poisoning death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20 and 22 and November 6, 2007). On November 12 in Moscow, the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) held a gala to mark the 85th birthday of George Blake, a Cold War-era Soviet double agent, news agencies reported. He was a British secret agent from 1941-61, when he received a 42-year prison sentence for spying for the Soviet Union. He escaped from prison in London in 1966 and has lived in Moscow since. Blake told Reuters he has lived a "full and happy life." At the gala, he received a medal and fulsome praise from several Russian leaders. A spokesman for the SVR said that Blake's services "cannot be underestimated." He was primarily part of an operation know as "the Berlin Tunnel." Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II honored Oleg Gordiyevsky, a high-level KGB official who defected to Britain in 1985. Russia recently honored its most important mole in the U.S. nuclear program, a man whose identity had been a long-kept secret (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 5, 2007). PM

The Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) and the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), both state-connected research agencies, are the only companies to have announced plans to conduct exit polling for the December 2 Duma elections, reported on November 9. The website reported that none of the political parties participating in the race intend to conduct or order exit polls. Central Election Commission member Igor Borisov told the website that he believes "at least 10 different sociological organizations" will ultimately conduct polls. A Just Russia Duma Deputy Igor Morozov commented that if the party did order an exit poll, it would not work with FOM or VTsIOM, since "we have no faith" in them. Regional-policy expert Aleksandr Kynev said the "main client" of these two agencies is the Kremlin. "Kommersant" reported on November 10 that most experts believe only "companies close to the government and representing its interests" will be allowed to conduct exit polling. Aleksei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the private Levada Center, told a roundtable in Moscow on November 9 that "exit polls [in Russia] have lost their function, except to legitimize the official voting results," the daily reported. RC

A Levada Center poll has found that 38 percent of Russians approve of a 2005 change to the election law that eliminated the minimum turnout required to validate an election, "Kommersant" reported on November 12. In 2006, 60 percent of the electorate spoke out against the change in a similar poll. In the latest survey, 44 percent said they oppose eliminating the turnout requirement, which de facto means that the opposition cannot protest by boycotting elections. The same poll found that 53 percent of respondents approve raising the minimum vote required for parties to gain seats in the Duma from 5 percent to 7 percent, while 21 percent preferred the lower standard. Although the survey found that 65 percent of respondents believe in a multiparty system and think Russia needs opposition political forces, 64 percent said they would vote for a party promising "to strengthen the role of the government in the economy," 53 percent said they would vote for a party promising to establish order even at the cost of "restricting some democratic freedoms," and 46 percent said they would support a party promising "to continue the current course." RC

The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations has released a report of its monitoring of Russian television news coverage that documents the massive coverage being given to President Putin and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 12. Center Director Oleg Panfilov said the state-controlled Channel One led the pack, devoting 96.5 percent of its coverage to state organs and pro-government political parties. Panfilov said the situation is perilously close to that observed under the Soviet Union when, according to a popular joke of the time, announcers could begin broadcasts by saying, "Stay tuned for news about [Communist Party General Secretary Leonid] Brezhnev and two minutes about the weather." The center found that central-television coverage of parties other than Unified Russia increased slightly after the Duma campaign got under way last month, but this was achieved by reducing coverage of the cabinet and the government. At the same time, coverage of Unified Russia and of Putin personally also increased. The Central Election Commission plans to release its own media-monitoring results "soon," commission Chairman Vladimir Churov said on November 12, "Vremya novostei" reported the next day. RC

Several opposition parties have complained that police and other officials in the regions are preventing them from distributing campaign materials, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 12. Earlier, the Union of Rightist Forces claimed that 15 million copies of its campaign newspaper have been seized or impounded in 24 separate regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). A printing plant in Omsk reported that police seized computers and other equipment as the company was preparing election materials for the Communist Party. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia reported that its campaign posters have been covered with cloth or newspapers in several cities across the country, while in St. Petersburg, buses carrying signs advertising opposition parties have not been put into service. RC

Workers at several major enterprises in and around St. Petersburg could stage labor actions in November, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 10. Workers at a Ford automotive plant near the city staged an overnight "warning strike" on November 6-7, although the protest was ended early after a court ruled it illegal. Last month, postal workers in the city held a similar action and several union activists were fired as a result. Activist Rim Sharifullin told RFE/RL that the law is written in such a way that strikes are virtually impossible, since a strike can only be called by a conference of all affected workers. Arkady Komissarov, an activist with St. Petersburg railway workers, said the law preventing strikes has forced workers to adopt "work-to-rule" labor actions. Railway workers have threatened such an action beginning on November 28. The unions are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. RC

The local edition of the independent newspaper "Novaya gazeta" in Samara has been closed down and a criminal case has been filed against Editor Sergei Kurt-Adzhiyev, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 12. Kurt-Adzhiyev told Ekho Moskvy on November 11 that all the paper's computers and financial documents have been seized and said the closure is in connection with the upcoming elections. He is being charged with helping to organize an illegal March of Dissent rally in the city in May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on November 13. RC

Zhaloudi Saralyapov, the Europe-based chairman of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) parliament, on November 11 addressed an open letter, posted on the Chechen website, to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Chairman Rene van der Linden, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering, and Organization of the Islamic Conference Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, accusing them of deliberately turning a blind eye to Russia's ongoing "policy of genocide against the Chechen people." Saralyapov described as lacking in objectivity the rare statements on Chechnya issued by those organizations, and he suggested that the "Chechen question" has become the subject of tradeoffs with Russia on other international issues. He appealed to the organizations in question to acknowledge their "previous errors" with regard to Chechnya and reaffirmed the readiness of the "new leadership of the ChRI" to engage in "constructive dialogue" with all interested countries and international organizations on ways to achieve a just solution to the conflict between Russia and Chechnya. LF

Federal Security Service (FSB) and Interior Ministry troops backed by tanks surrounded a building in Makhachkala early on November 12, called on the group of fighters living there to surrender, and then after several women and children left the building, subjected it to artillery and automatic-weapons fire, reported. Seven fighters, including one woman, were killed in the assault; one man and a second woman reportedly escaped from the building but were gunned down nearby. Daghestan's Interior Minister Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov and the head of the FSB's Daghestan division, Major General Vyacheslav Shanshin, told journalists later on November 12 that the dead fighters were members of the so-called Buynaksk jamaat. The Daghestan Interior Ministry subsequently identified them by name; one was the leader of that jamaat, Khizri Mamayev, reported. The daily "Kommersant" on November 13 identified the dead fighters as having formed the nucleus of a group code-named Seyfulla that was responsible for two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Magomedtagirov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2006, and February 5, 2007). The security forces learned of the fighters' presence in Makhachkala from a member of the Buynaksk jamaat apprehended in Kizilyurt on November 11, according to on November 12. LF

On November 9 a Makhachkala district court acquitted three men -- Said Sultanbekov, Magomed Radjabov, and Ramazan Umarov -- accused of plotting to blow up a police station in the city at the time of the Victory Day celebrations in May, reported. The three men, identified at the time of their arrest as members of an illegal armed formation headed by Shamil Gasanov, were detained at Salavatov's apartment where, according to the prosecution, police found explosives, a detonator, and a diagram indicating where a bomb in a parked car would inflict the greatest damage on the police station in question. The men claim those explosives were planted, and the court was unable to establish to which police department the three had been taken for questioning. Umarov was tried in absentia, having disappeared shortly after he was detained. His family received a phone call from him on May 9 in which he claimed to have been taken to Chechnya, but the prosecutor's office has been unable to trace him. LF

Special forces launched an operation early on November 9, surrounding a house in the village of Chemolga in Sunzha Raion where they suspected a militant named Makhauri was hiding and demanding that the residents leave the house one by one, reported. But according to the owner, Ramzan Amriyev, as soon as he opened the door the troops opened fire, then forced their way into the house, ordered the family to lie down on the floor, and then shot his 6-year-old son Rakhim in the head. Speaking on republican television on November 10, Ingushetia's prosecutor Yury Turygin claimed that the troops opened fire only after they were fired on from inside Amriyev's home, and that when they entered the building they found the body of the dead child. A committee has been established to convene a mass protest in Nazran on November 24 against ongoing reprisals against civilians by the security forces: the organizers hope that up to 10,000 people will attend, including the families of victims of such arbitrary killings, reported on November 11. LF

One Russian communications engineer was killed and two others seriously injured on November 12 when unknown gunmen opened fire on their car in Nasyr-Kort on the southern outskirts of Nazran, the website reported. The three men were engaged in repairing a mobile-phone transmission tower belonging to the Megafon company, which is owned by the brother of Belan Khamkhoyev, who heads the Unified Russia list of candidates from Ingushetia for the December 2 State Duma elections. LF

Acting on instructions from President Murat Zyazikov, Ingushetian Interior Minister Musa Medov has issued orders to two Ingushetian Internet providers to block access to the independent website, that website reported on November 13, citing unnamed sources within the ministry. Anyone who seeks to access from within Ingushetia is automatically routed to a site that features pornographic movies. LF

The prosecutor's office in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) has suspended the activities of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People in line with Russian legislation on extremism and has asked the republic's Supreme Court to dissolve the council, reported on November 10. The council was established in December 2005 to lobby for the annulment of legislation that subsumed two Balkar-populated districts on the outskirts of Nalchik into the municipality and to protect the interests of the Balkar minority, who account for approximately 12 percent of the KBR's population of 900,000. The prosecutor's office warned the council's leader, former Interior Ministry Colonel Ismail Sabanchiyev, against engaging in activities that could "fuel interethnic discord" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 16 and 23 and August 21, 2007). The council planned to stage a meeting outside the government building in Nalchik on November 10 to express support for Russian President Putin in the run-up to the December 2 Russian State Duma elections, but cancelled it after being warned that "extremist activity" is impermissible, according to Oyus Gurtuyev, who organized the planned meeting. Gurtuyev said some 30-40 people showed up on November 10 at the agreed venue but left on being informed that the meeting was banned. The ban has apparently triggered a split within the council, with one of its leaders, Ruslan Babayev, announcing later on November 10 plans to stage a "day of mass civil disobedience," a decision that Gurtuyev denounced as "ridiculous" and "probably made in the heat of the moment." LF

At a congress in Yerevan on November 10, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) elected Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian as its chairman and formally nominated him as its candidate in the presidential ballot to be held on February 19, 2008, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on November 12. Sarkisian devoted half of his 30-minute acceptance speech to responding to criticisms of Armenia's current leadership made by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian in late September and at a mass meeting in Yerevan on October 26 at which Ter-Petrossian announced that he too will participate in next year's presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 2 and November 1, 2007). Sarkisian alleged that Ter-Petrossian and his supporters "want to break up the state," but will not succeed, and advised Ter-Petrossian to "repent and apologize" for the "mistakes" he committed as president. During Ter-Petrossian's 6 1/2-year tenure as president, Sarkisian served from 1993-95 as defense minister and from 1996-97 as interior and national security minister; he was one of three cabinet members who pressured Ter-Petrossian to step down in February 1998. Responding indirectly to Ter-Petrossian's allegations that incumbent President Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian, and members of their close entourage have embezzled billions of dollars in taxes and kickbacks, Sarkisian also admitted on November 10 that bribery, nepotism, and tax evasion are widespread, and he pledged to crack down on such "disgraceful and reprehensible phenomena." On November 12, the Giumri-based independent Gala television channel that incurred the displeasure of the Armenian authorities by defying a warning not to broadcast Ter-Petrossian's September condemnation was accused by the State Tax Service of deliberately underreporting advertising revenue over the past two years in order to avoid paying 26 million drams ($80,000) in taxes, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23 and November 1, 2007). LF

Former President Ter-Petrossian released a statement in Yerevan on November 9 responding to allegations made earlier that day by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian that he requested in 1996 the files concerning the Soviet-era investigation into the Karabakh Committee created in 1988 of which Ter-Petrossian was a leading member, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). Ter-Petrossian confirmed that in 1995 or 1996 he asked then-Prosecutor-General Artavazd Gevorgian to send the files in question to the presidential palace for display at a museum it was planned to open in 1998, on the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Karabakh Committee, and said he still thinks such a museum would be the most appropriate place for them. Ter-Petrossian said that after he resigned, he kept the files in his personal archive. He said he has never been asked to return them to the Prosecutor-General's Office but would do immediately if asked. Several officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office collected the 50-odd volumes from Ter-Petrossian late on November 10, Noyan Tapan reported on November 12. LF

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack and U.S. Ambassador in Baku Ann Derse have issued separate statements expressing concern over the arrest on November 10 of Qanimat Zahidov, editor of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq," reported. Derse said she has the impression that pressure on the Azerbaijani media has intensified in recent months, and warned that this trend could have "very serious consequences." Zemfira Magerramli, a spokeswoman for Azerbaijan's ombudsman Elmira Suleimanova, who is currently on an official visit to Egypt, told on November 12 that Suleimanova is concerned at Zahidov's arrest. On November 7, Zahidov was assaulted near the entry to the Azerbaijan publishing house after a girl screamed that he was molesting her, but hit back at his assailant, reported. Zahidov was summoned late on November 10 to a Baku police station where he was charged with hooliganism and inflicting grievous bodily harm; he was sentenced the following day to two months' pretrial detention. LF

Having decreed the demolition of a market on the outskirts of Naxicevan deemed to be an eyesore, thereby depriving thousands of people of their livelihood in a region where unemployment is already high (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6 and 9, 2007), the republic's authorities have now imposed new regulations for an 1,000 private taxi drivers, reported on November 10. Taxi drivers will henceforth only be issued licenses for the use of two models of Russian-made automobile no more than three years old, or for foreign automobiles up to 10 years old. Drivers must re-register their vehicles and obtain special new license plates. LF

Following talks in Tbilisi on November 12, nine of the 10 opposition parties aligned in the National Council agreed to nominate businessman and independent parliament deputy Levan Gachechiladze as their joint candidate for the preterm presidential election on January 5, 2008, Georgian media reported. Gachechiladze told journalists that if elected, he will name former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili as prime minister and move to create a parliamentary system of government, reported. The 10th member of the National Council, the Labor Party, broke ranks and has nominated its chairman, Shalva Natelashvili, as its presidential candidate. Natelashvili was accused on November 8 of colluding with Russian intelligence and his whereabouts are unknown; President Mikheil Saakashvili guaranteed on November 10 that he will not be arrested if he emerges from hiding. Oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, whom the Georgian government has likewise accused of collaborating with Russian special services, said in a written statement on November 9 that he would run for president, but added that if opposition parties agree among themselves to field a single candidate he will withdraw and back that candidate. David Gamkrelidze, leader of the opposition parliamentary New Rightists (aka New Conservatives), which is not a member of the National Council, also announced his candidacy on November 9. Meanwhile, successive rounds of talks on November 10 and 12 between members of the parliamentary majority and of five opposition parties -- the Republican and Conservative parties, the New Rightists, Georgia's Path, and Industry Will Save Georgia -- failed to narrow the differences between them, Caucasus Press reported on November 12. Participants complained that the authorities refuse to lift the state of emergency and are continuing to intimidate opposition sympathizers. They said further talks are pointless unless the government lifts the state of emergency and permits Imedi-TV to resume broadcasting. LF

The U.S. State Department, the OSCE, and the EU have all dispatched senior diplomats to Tbilisi in recent days with the aim of persuading President Saakashvili to lift the nationwide state of emergency he imposed late on November 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told RFE/RL on November 9 that he planned to convey to the Georgian leadership the message from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the state of emergency should be lifted immediately, together with the associated restrictions on the media. Saakashvili told Georgian businessmen in Tbilisi the same day, however, that "we know best" how to proceed and that the state of emergency will be lifted when he sees fit. Josep Borrell Fontelles , the special representative of OSCE Chairman in Office and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, was similarly quoted on November 12 by Caucasus Press as saying that during "frank and open" discussions with the Georgian leadership, "I...relayed the chairman in office's call to immediately lift the state of emergency; to restore full freedom of the media, especially all broadcast media in Georgia; to respect the freedom of assembly; and to ensure all conditions for free and fair elections." EU special envoy Peter Semneby told RFE/RL's Georgian Service in Tbilisi on November 11 that "we would also expect that the state of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible. And that should of course involve all aspects of the state of emergency, including the possibility of the media to resume full operations." Semneby was permitted on November 11 to tour the headquarters of the independent television channel Imedi, which was ransacked on November 7 by Georgian Interior Ministry special troops who deliberately smashed broadcasting equipment, destroyed the station's archives, and manhandled and insulted staff, Imedi Director-General Lewis Robertson told RFE/RL's Georgian Service on November 10. LF

The trial of Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, began on November 8 in Almaty, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Aliev and and his 20 co-defendants are charged with forming an "organized criminal group" and engaging in corruption, money laundering, and extortion culminating in the alleged abduction of two employees of a leading Kazakh bank, in an attempt to coerce them to turn over sizable property holdings. After an initial reading of the full 500-page indictment, presiding Judge Nurdilla Seitov adjourned the trial until November 12. A former Kazakh ambassador to Austria, Aliev is accused of arranging the kidnapping of two Nurbank executives and remains in self-imposed exile in Austria after an Austrian court rejected a Kazakh extradition request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, and 13, and August 9, 2007). Two of Aliev's former bodyguards, Aydar Bektybaev and Sergei Koshlai, returned to Kazakhstan from Vienna in September and are expected to testify for the prosecution, confirming that Aliev ordered the kidnapping of the two bankers. Commenting on the trial of Aliev in absentia, Amirzhan Kosanov, a leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, argued that the government prefers to have Aliev absent from the courtroom, since his presence would be "undesirable for many of those in power" in Kazakhstan because "Aliev, having spent many years in power and around the president himself, has a lot of information" and "would definitely elaborate on many things -- giving detailed facts on very sensitive issues while in the courtroom." RG

Kyrgyz police in the capital Bishkek on November 10 broke up a small demonstration organized to "Say No to Dictatorship," and arrested nine protesters, AKIpress reported. The demonstrators, led by Maksim Kuleshov, the leader of the Tokmak Resource Center, said that four members of the youth wing of the Green Party and three "students who were simply standing nearby" were also arrested with him. The small demonstration was held in Bishkek's main Ala-Too Square and was a protest "against the usurpation of power by one particular person," according to Kuleshov. Police later released the protesters after holding them for several hours and declining to bring charges against them. RG

After holding their respective party congresses, two major Kyrgyz opposition parties on November 10 finalized their party lists of candidates for the December 16 parliamentary elections, according to the website. The opposition Social Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev, approved its party list of five candidates which included deputy Omurbek Babanov; Bakyt Beshimov, the vice president of the Bishkek-based American University in Central Asia; former parliamentarian Osmonbek Artykbaev; Irina Karamushkina, a department head in the Bishkek mayor's office; and Ruslan Shabotoev, a prominent Kyrgyz businessman. The opposition Ar-Namys party also finalized its five-person party list: party leader and former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov; Valery Dil, the head of the ethnic-German community; Bodosh Mamyrova, an ethnic Uzbek; Anvar Artykov, the former acting governor of the Osh region; and Emil Aliev, a senior Ar-Namys leader. The opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party also recently finalized its list of candidates for the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). Under the terms of the amended Electoral Code, political parties are allowed a total of 100 candidates on their party lists, although Central Election Commission member Bolot Malabaev recently announced that the party lists will be limited to showing only the first five names, arguing that ballots "will not have enough room for all 100 candidates" from each party. Ata-Meken, led by Omurbek Tekebaev, was only recently registered by the Central Election Commission, and has formed a new alliance with the opposition Ak-Shumkar party, seeking to present a united election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25 and 26, 2007). RG

The ruling Kyrgyz Ak-Jol (Bright Path) party announced on November 10 the approval of its list of candidates for the December 16 parliamentary elections, AKIpress reported. The party, which was only recently formed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev, chose Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova, State Secretary Adaham Madumarov, Kyrgyz-Russian Slavonic University Rector Vladimir Nifadyev, prominent doctor Ernest Akramov, and Elmira Ibraimova, the director of the nongovernmental Community Development and Investment Agency, as its five candidates. RG

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres arrived in Kyrgyzstan on November 11 on his first visit to Central Asia, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Guterres met on November 12 with President Bakiev and Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev before presiding over a ceremony marking the opening of the first-ever refugee reception center in the region. He also met with Prosecutor-General Elmurza Satybaldiev and Aigul Ryskulova, the chairwoman of the State Committee for Migration and Labor, to discuss the status of refugees and asylum seekers. During the meeting with Bakiev, Guterres expressed his agency's formal appreciation for the Kyrgyz government's efforts to naturalize some 9,000 refugees from neighboring Tajikistan. According to the UN refugee agency, Kyrgyzstan hosts several hundred refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Guterres left Kyrgyzstan on November 13 for Kazakhstan. He also plans to complete his regional tour with visits to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan next year, although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Uzbekistan was closed by the Uzbek government in April 2006. RG

Following a meeting in Dushanbe on November 10, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Iranian Energy Minister Parviz Fattah signed an agreement on setting up a consultative bilateral agency to coordinate projects in the energy and other economic sectors, Asia-Plus reported. The first priority of the agency is to design a feasibility study of new hydroelectric power-generation projects, specifically for the small Ayni and Shurob hydroelectric power stations, as well as for the Chormaghzak tunnel. RG

At a ceremony in Minsk's Holy Virgin Cathedral on November 10, Roman Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was named to head the Minsk-Mahilyou Archdiocese, Belarusian media reported. The ceremony was attended by representatives of the Belarusian government and guests from the Vatican, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka congratulated Kondrusiewicz and described him as a "compatriot who enjoys well-deserved respect and authority among representatives of different faiths." Kondrusiewicz urged the Roman Catholic clergy and believers, as well as Belarusian intellectuals, to participate "in the spiritual revival of the homeland." Pope Benedict XVI appointed Kondrusiewicz to head the Minsk-Mahilyou Archdiocese in September. Kondrusiewicz previously served as an auxiliary bishop of the Moscow Archdiocese. AM

The district court in Shklou on November 9 fined Zmitser Dashkevich $870 for refusing to testify against his friend, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Dashkevich, who is currently serving an 18-month term for heading an unregistered organization, the Youth Front, has refused to give testimony in a similar case against another Youth Front activist, Ivan Shyla. Dashkevich claimed that the law gives him the right not to testify against himself or those close to him. The trial was held behind closed doors in the correctional facility where Dashkevich is incarcerated. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union's commissioner for external relations and neighborhood policy, has condemned the fine imposed on Dashkevich, adding that it "utterly contradicts the principles and values laid down in the EU's message to Belarus which I released a year ago." AM

Following storms over the Kerch Strait linking the Black and Azov seas on November 11, at least 10 ships in the area sank or suffered damage, Ukrainian media reported. According to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, six ships have sunk and three seamen drowned, with another 20 still missing. The largest environmental damage was caused by the Russian tanker "Volgoneft," which broke up, dumping 2,000 tons of fuel oil into the sea. Two other Russian ships, the "Volnogorsk" and the "Kovel," also sank. One ship has spilled its cargo of 6,000 tons of sulfur into the sea, and rescuers are currently searching the seabed for the containers. However, cleanup operations have been halted due to new warnings of stormy weather. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych announced that Ukraine's government intends to tighten the regulations for the use of the Kerch Strait in order to prevent similar disasters in the future. AM

Viktor Yushchenko has said that passing the stage of discussions and forming a coalition is Ukrainian politicians' main task, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on November 10. Yushchenko expressed concern that Ukrainian policy remains in a state of an aggression. "I cannot see the politicians who would offer mutual dialogue," Yushchenko said. "The impression is that the elections are over, 'martial law' is canceled, but the people who were elected to the parliament once again propose war," he said. Yushchenko said he believes that the people voted the politicians into parliament with the obligation to negotiate. "Without dialogue, the answer for the key question of Ukrainian policy -- how to bring political stability first of all to the Ukrainian parliament -- remains impossible," Yushchenko said. AM

The committee preparing the opening session of the newly elected Verkhovna Rada gathered a quorum for the first time on November 12, but did not manage to make any decision, Interfax and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The representatives of the Party of Regions, the Lytvyn Bloc, and the Communist Party, who previously ignored the committee, attended the meeting but could not reach agreement with the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) on the date of the first parliamentary session, or even on a chairman for the committee. The BYuT and the NUNS have already initialed an agreement on a coalition that holds a slim majority in the new parliament. "There was not a single effective vote," BYuT leader Yulia Tymoshenko said after the committee meeting. The BYuT and the NUNS together have 15 votes in the committee, while the other participants have the same number. AM

President Fatmir Sejdiu has said that Kosova's government will not declare independence without first coordinating that step with the international community, Kosovar public television reported on November 9. A unilateral declaration of independence has been widely expected for the period immediately following December 10, when international negotiators will submit their report on talks between Belgrade and Prishtina to the UN secretary-general. The next round of talks under the so-called troika of negotiators representing the United States, Russia, and the European Union is scheduled for November 20 in Brussels. TV

A source in Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's office told the news agency FoNet on November 9 that in Kostunica's view, the planned EU mission in Kosova would only be able to deploy with the explicit authorization of the UN Security Council, and that such an authorization could only be provided on the basis of an agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina. Such agreement appears highly unlikely at present, however. The office of the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, is currently drawing up scenarios for the deployment of the EU's largest rule-of-law mission yet, which could include close to 2,000 personnel. A number of EU member states are uneasy about deploying a mission without Security Council authorization, but such authorization would likely to be vetoed by Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council that opposes Kosova's independence. TV

Haris Silajdzic, who represents the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) on the country's three-member presidency, has written to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to express his disappointment with the EU's decision to initial a preaccession pact with Serbia, local media reported on November 10. Referring to the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), generally considered a first step on the way to full membership, Silajdzic wrote, "The European Commission insisted for years that the SAA with Serbia would be possible only after all war crimes indictees and specifically [Bosnian Serb wartime commander] Ratko Mladic are arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia." He continued, "However, this week we could see that international obligations are a subject for interpretation because Serbia was allowed to initial the SAA without undertaking any concrete steps to arrest persons charged with committing the most heinous of all crimes -- the crime of genocide." EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn initialled the SAA with Serbia on November 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). Silajdzic suggested that the only explanation for this change of policy is the upcoming decision on Kosova's status. "I give myself the right to remind you that such a strategy does not promise to yield results because history has shown that concessions to Serbia in one area have never yielded results in other areas. More importantly, I am disappointed with the fact that the [European] Commission has effectively embraced a country which is continuing to violate its most important international obligations towards another potential EU member." He said that the EU's decision will encourage those who block the reform of Bosnia's police -- a precondition for the country to conclude its own SAA with the EU -- and will lead to further instability. At a press conference in Washington, D.C., on November 9, Silajdzic was even blunter, international news agencies reported. "Appeasement of the radicals in Belgrade never brought change," he told his audience. TV

Miroslav Lajcak, the international high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has rejected proposals by Bosnian Serb lawyers for amending his measures to streamline the country's decision-making structures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31 and November 1, 2007). The measures aim to make it more difficult for parliamentary deputies and ministers to stymie legislation by not showing up for sessions. Their announcement on October 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 2007) provoked Bosnian Serb outrage and led to threats by the prime minister of the Bosnian Serb entity, Milorad Dodik, that Bosnian Serb representatives would pull out of the country's central institutions unless Lajcak reconsidered the measures. Lawyers from Lajcak's Office of the High Representative (OHR) and from the Republika Srpska subsequently met for a number of sessions lasting several hours each, but failed to reach agreement on possible revisions, with the OHR insisting that Lajcak's decisions are in force and are not negotiable. A statement by the OHR on November 9 said, "The proposal from the [Republika Srpska] legal experts does not constitute a basis for further discussions" and added, "Instead of streamlining and improving the decision-making process in the Council of Ministers, the [Republika Srpska] proposal introduces new possibilities of blockage which did not even exist before the high representative's decision of October 19." Dodik's party reacted to the statement by saying it will make the work of Bosnia's common institutions "difficult," the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA reported on November 9. TV

Bosnia's three-member presidency on November 12 accepted the resignation of Nikola Spiric as prime minister, local media reported the same day. Spiric, a member of Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) that governs the Republika Srpska, announced his resignation on November 1 in protest at Lajcak's streamlining measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2007). Under Bosnian law, the resignation of the chairman of the Council of Ministers means that the entire cabinet has resigned, though it will continue its work on a technical mandate. It took more than three months to form the current government following general elections on October 1, 2006. In light of the current crisis in Bosnia over a Bosnian Serb threat of a walkout, Spiric's resignation could usher in a period of protracted uncertainty. TV

Iraq's Kurdistan regional government (KRG) continues to award contracts for oil exploration and development to foreign oil companies despite allegations by the central Oil Ministry that the contracts are not valid due to the absence of an oil law. The KRG has ignored the criticism and contends that the contracts are legal.

The KRG has awarded 12 new contracts to international firms over the past two weeks. On November 12, it said it approved five production-sharing contracts with European, U.S., and Korean companies. The contracts are for the exploration and development of fields in the region's Irbil, Al-Sulaymaniyah, and Dahuk governorates.

"In Kurdistan, we are setting the example: this is only the first post-Saddam framework for oil investment in Iraq that follows the democratic, federal, and free-market principles mandated by the Iraqi Constitution," regional Oil Minister Ashti Hawrami said regarding the contracts.

"It is the first and only constitutionally based legal framework to attract investments to Iraq, which is designed for Iraq-wide revenue sharing, an essential element of future stability in Iraq that the constitution also rightly mandates," Hawrami added, and that the KRG hopes a similar framework will be adopted throughout Iraq.

The KRG announced on November 6 that it has approved seven new production-sharing contracts (PSC) with foreign firms. It also awarded PSCs to the Kurdistan Exploration and Production Company, which is owned by the KRG, and awarded an integrated project to the Kurdistan National Oil Company, a government-owned development company, to build a refinery for the Khurmala oil field.

At the time, the KRG said another 24 blocks in the region were the "subject of intense interest from international companies."

There was little reaction from Baghdad to the announcement. Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani has repeatedly said that previous contracts concluded between the KRG and outside investors are illegal. Al-Shahristani contends that the KRG must wait for the central government to ratify a draft oil law.

Moreover, as Oil Ministry spokesman Assam Jihad has said, the federal draft oil law stipulates that all development agreements be awarded through an open and transparent public bidding process, and not through bilateral agreements, with final approval by Baghdad.

The draft federal law was approved by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet and sent to parliament for ratification months ago, but the Council of Representatives has yet to hold a vote, and the draft appears to be held up in the parliament's Oil Committee.

The Kurdistan regional parliament passed its own gas law in August, which the Kurds say is in line with the draft federal oil law. According to the KRG's November 6 announcement, the regional government's share of oil revenues will be 17 percent, while the remaining 83 percent will be redistributed throughout the country through the central government in Baghdad.

Following the KRG's decision to award three PSCs to foreign firms in October, al-Shahristani threatened to blacklist any foreign companies working with the KRG. Al-Shahristani said he would work to prevent those firms from doing business in Iraq in the future. "The federal government's position toward these new deals is that any contract signed without its approval isn't considered a contract," al-Shahristani told Dow Jones Newswires on October 5. "We warn these companies and hold them responsible for the consequences of signing such deals."

He added that under both the Hussein-era hydrocarbon law and the current draft law, the only Iraqi body authorized to export Iraqi crude oil and gas is the State Oil Marketing Organization. Any other exports would be considered "smuggled" by the central government.

According to media reports, one of the most controversial contracts awarded by the KRG is to U.S.-based Hunt Oil, because the territory under exploration falls outside the Kurdistan region, in the historically Kurdish-populated northern Ninawah Governorate -- an area the KRG hopes will eventually join the region, along with nearby, oil-rich Kirkuk Governorate. Baghdad will likely challenge the legality of the KRG-awarded contract for exploration outside its region.

Also at stake is the Kurdish claim to Kirkuk Governorate. The government was to hold a referendum on the status of Kirkuk next month, but it remains unclear whether the vote will go ahead. Under the constitution, revenues from existing fields such as those in Kirkuk, belong to the central government. Newly developed fields would fall under Kurdish control, but as the constitution stipulates, the revenues must be shared with Baghdad.

At the moment, it appears the central government can do little to prevent the contracts from being carried out, though Kirkuk could end up being the government's leverage issue. Some observers have also speculated that Baghdad could block export routes, a threat also voiced by Turkish leaders seeking to place an economic embargo on the Kurdistan region in retaliation for the KRG's failure to expel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants from Iraqi territory.

Should that happen, the KRG could theoretically sell the oil through smuggling routes to Iran and Syria, but such a move would be unlikely to sit well with their international investors. Regardless, there is little chance the KRG will halt or even slow its development of the oil industry. Investors have flooded the region in recent months, and the KRG intends to benefit from the boom.

Taliban insurgents killed six U.S. soldiers and three Afghan Army soldiers in an ambush on November 9 in mountainous Nuristan Province, news website reported, citing AP. Nuristan deputy police chief Mohammad Daoud Nadim said the ambush took place in Waygal district, about 40 miles from the border with Pakistan. A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Lieutenant Colonel David Accetta, said the troops were attacked from several enemy positions at once, and called the attack "a complex ambush." Afghan officials accuse Taliban-linked militants of taking refuge in Pakistan and launching cross-border attacks; foreign fighters from Arab countries, Uzbekistan, and Chechnya are also known to operate in Nuristan Province, but the province's governor, Tamin Nuristani, blamed the attack on Taliban militants. The attack brings the death toll for U.S. troops in Afghanistan to at least 101 this year, making this the deadliest year for U.S. forces there since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. MM

Hundreds of Nangrahar University students demonstrated on November 11 in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangrahar Province, against a recent publication of the Koran in the Dari language, the Bakhtar News Agency reported. Dari is one of Afghanistan's two official languages, along with Pashto. The students condemned the translator and demanded that those responsible for the publication be put on trial and punished. The demonstrators temporarily blocked traffic on major roads and threatened to hold further protests if their demands are not met. The publication has provoked an uproar because of rumors that the meaning of the holy book has been distorted. The Koran in its original Arabic is believed by Muslims to be the literal word of Allah as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. MM

Mohammad Nadir Watanwal, the head of the labor and social affairs department of Helmand Province, said on November 11 that severe unemployment in southern Afghanistan is driving young men to join the Taliban insurgency and the drug trade, the news website reported. With unemployment reportedly at over 50 percent in Helmand, thousands of young people are increasingly disaffected, while surrounded by a booming opium trade and a growing insurgency. Lack of security, education, and work opportunities creates conditions allowing the Taliban to recruit young men by offering to pay for basic needs such as food, clothing, medical care, transport, and communication, Watanwal said. Many young men see joining the Taliban as their only choice to survive and support a family. For 19-year-old Jaan Agha from Nawa district, the choice was stark -- join the Taliban or watch his family starve, reported. "I couldn't find a job anywhere," he said. "So I had to join the Taliban. They give me money for my family expenditures. If I left the Taliban, what else could I do?" MM

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a report on November 8 warning that "teachers and schools are under concerted and deliberate attack" in violence-prone areas of Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "As many as 190 bombing and missile attacks on educational facilities took place in Afghanistan in 2005-2006," Brendan O'Malley, a co-author of the study, said at a news briefing in New York. The UNESCO study analyzes the impact of conflict on education and catalogues assaults on teachers and schoolchildren. Calling attacks on educational institutions a war crime, the report stresses the need for urgent measures to preserve children's educational opportunities without risk of violence, and calls for an end to the climate of impunity in Afghanistan. The report is dedicated to the memory of Safia Ama Jan, who worked for many years to allow Afghan girls to attend school before she was shot dead outside her home in Kandahar in September 2006. MM

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on November 12 that he might reveal the identities of people he called "traitors to Iran's nuclear program," Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian media reports. He said, not for the first time, that these people have encouraged Western powers to intensify sanctions on Iran. Ahmadinejad told a university audience that he will name these people if they do not stop their "pressure." "These are traitors, and on the basis of the pact we have made with the people, we will not retreat and sit by and watch," he said. Ahmadinejad has in the past criticized the two previous presidents and their administrations for their foreign, economic, and nuclear policies, and accused them of corruption. His latest comments may have been alluding to officials associated with former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, or to the former head of Iran's nuclear negotiating team, Hasan Rohani -- both moderately conservative clerics -- or members of Rohani's team. Ahmadinejad said that "a case was brought and the person concerned went to court," but judges have been "pressured" to acquit the suspect. A former nuclear diplomat working with Rohani, Hossein Musavian, is currently facing espionage charges. VS

Javad Vaidi, the deputy head of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, said on November 11 that council head Said Jalili and EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana spoke that day and may resume talks on Iran's nuclear program in late November, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. Vaidi did not give details. Iranian and EU negotiators last met in Rome on October 23. Solana is the main EU negotiator trying to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear-fuel-production activities due to Western concerns that the fuel could be used to manufacture weapons. Iran says it has a right to produce fuel for a peaceful nuclear program. VS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President George W. Bush discussed Iran's contested nuclear program at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, on November 10, and concluded that diplomacy and sanctions remain the way to proceed with Iran for now, agencies reported. Merkel was quoted as saying that all permanent members of the UN Security Council need to participate in efforts to curb Iran's nuclear activities, and "work is under way to prepare" another UN Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on Iran, CNN reported. She said these might be imposed if talks between Tehran and Solana lead nowhere. Germany, she added, has limited its business ties with Iran, and may reduce them further. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, asked if his country would participate in possible military strikes on Iran, told Sky television on November 11 that "nothing should be ruled out," UPI reported. He accused Iran of violating nonproliferation commitments, and welcomed what he indicated is a convergence of opinions on Iran among the United States and Great Britain, France, and Germany, UPI reported. VS

Iran and Pakistan reached an agreement in Tehran on November 10 on building a pipeline to take Iranian gas to Pakistan, the daily "Etemad-i Melli" reported, quoting Iranian negotiator Hojjatollah Ghanimifard. Lawyers for both sides have reportedly reviewed the draft of a definitive agreement and approved its provisions, including items that were earlier disputed. Ghanimifard said some technical points must now be examined by experts or engineers, and that agreements will be drawn up in the next month. The agreement was reached without the participation of India, which was to have been the third party in an original plan for an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi is reportedly negotiating with Indian officials on potential cooperation. The price of gas and the opposition of the United States have been two of the issues that have prolonged talks. The United States is concerned that the revenues Iran will earn from gas exports may be used to finance the development of weapons of mass destruction. "Etemad-i Melli" reported that the sale price was not immediately available, but it cited unconfirmed reports that Pakistan would pay less than the market price. The pipeline is to transport 150 million cubic meters of gas daily over some 2,615 kilometers to Pakistan, reported. The deal is to be formally signed by the two states in a month, agencies reported. VS

Iran imported goods worth $25.84 billion in the first seven months of the Persian year from March 21 -- 6.6 percent more than in the same period the previous year, "Etemad-i Melli" reported on November 11, citing a report by Iran's state customs authority. The daily observed that the price of oil is up, but Iran is reinvesting its petrodollars in other countries, notably the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), a major re-exporting center, and China. The daily reported that non-oil exports rose 9.9 percent year-on-year in the same period, and were worth some $8.46 billion. It noted that gasoline was the most-imported product for the seven-month period, with imports worth just over $1.47 billion. Iran's customs body reported that 23 percent of imports in this period in terms of value were from the U.A.E., followed by Germany, China, and Switzerland. Iran's top export items in this period were petrochemicals, specifically liquefied propane and butane, worth a little under $943 million, followed by pistachios for just over $459 million. VS

Dozens of people were injured and hundreds more may have been arrested in the town of Borujerd in western Iran on November 10 after clashes reportedly erupted between members of the state-run Basij militia and Sufi dervishes or mystics, Radio Farda reported on November 11, citing domestic and foreign media reports. Iran's religious authorities disapprove of mystic orders due to their purportedly unorthodox practices and ideas that do not conform to the state-approved form of Shi'ite Islam. Dervishes have apparently faced increased restrictions since the election in 2005 of President Ahmadinejad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2006). Iranian news agencies reported that the clashes broke out in Borujerd when members of the Gonabadi order of dervishes attacked a mosque there and took six Basiji militiamen hostage. But this version of events was flatly contradicted by Mostafa Azmayesh, a member of the order abroad, who told Radio Farda that Basijis carried out a planned attack on a prayer hall belonging to the dervishes. Radio Farda cited unspecified websites related to mystic orders as reporting that police called to the scene in the evening of November 10 briefly stopped the Basijis from attacking the prayer hall, but then left at midnight, leaving the militiamen to burn and bulldoze the building. The Borujerd district governor told the Mehr news agency that 80 people were injured in the fights and 180 arrested, and confirmed that part of the building belonging to the dervishes was destroyed, Radio Farda reported. The broadcaster added that Iran arrested and imprisoned scores of dervishes and closed some of their premises in February and October 2006 in clampdowns on their activities. VS

United Iraqi Alliance member Humam Hammudi told Al-Sharqiyah television on November 12 that ministers from the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front (Al-Tawafuq) will have two weeks to return to work or else they will be replaced. The Sunni Arab ministers resigned their posts on August 1, complaining that their demands for reform were not met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). "The brothers in Al-Tawafuq have almost two weeks to return. If they do not return, the brothers in the Al-Anbar, Mosul, and Diyala governorates were asked to nominate replacements for the Al-Tawafuq" ministers, Hammudi said. The government asked Sunni tribal leaders to nominate candidates to fill the vacant portfolios several weeks ago. The request was strongly criticized by Al-Tawafuq leaders, who are apparently opposed to a government of technocrats. Al-Tawafuq leader Adnan al-Dulaymi said last week that tribal leaders cannot nominate people to fill the vacant positions because the leaders are not members of a political party and they were not elected to represent any constituency in government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 9, 2007). Hammudi also said that representatives from the Iraqi National List, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, have already expressed a desire to return to government. KR

Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf told the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on November 12 that ministry security personnel have used torture to force detainees to confess to crimes. Khalaf said ministry officials had no knowledge of the use of torture at the time it was carried out. "Resorting to violent means is an old method that is no longer necessary. There is no need for forced confessions now that we have other means," Khalaf said. "The Interior Ministry has the largest criminal evidence study center in the world. Even European states do not have anything similar or such advanced equipment. The United States is the only country that has a similar center." Funding for the center came from the British government, Khalaf noted. "With all the available equipment, there is no need for forced confessions. We are able to provide judges with all the evidence on which they can base their judgment," he said. The spokesman also said the government intends to carry out country-wide inspections to force households to surrender their weapons. "We will give every household the right to keep one pistol only, and we will confiscate the rest," he said. Khalaf also contended that "75 percent of the leaders of armed groups, particularly Al-Qaeda," have been killed in Iraq. KR

President Jalal Talabani met with representatives of Arab League member states in Cairo on November 12. Talabani said, "Iraq is against all violent operations against Turkey," in a reference to the ongoing crisis surrounding recent terrorist attacks launched by the Turkish-Kurdish separatist group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from inside Iraqi territory. "We consider any military act against the government of [Turkey] as an act against Iraq," he added. Talabani told reporters in Cairo that he still believes the Turkish-Kurdish crisis could be resolved through diplomatic means. Meanwhile, a delegation from the Supreme Council of Kurdistan Political Parties traveled to Ankara on November 11 for secret talks with Turkish parliamentarians and representatives of the ruling Justice and Development party, Iraqi media reported on November 12. KR

PKK leader Murat Karayilan told the Hamburg-based weekly "Der Spiegel" in an interview published on November 12 that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke his promise to resolve the conflict with the independence-seeking PKK. "The government came to an agreement with the Turkish Army and left [the issue of Turkish] Kurdistan to the generals," Karayilan said. Asked about the PKK's aims, he said: "We want to live freely as Kurds. Iranians tell us, 'You are Persians.' The Turkish state tells us, 'You are Turks.' And the Arab states tell us, 'You are Arabs.' However, we are neither Turks nor Arabs nor Persians. We are one of the oldest peoples in this part of the world and we want to assert our rights." Karayilan said the PKK has made several offers of a ceasefire and negotiations, and that the group has "never talked of attacks on civilians." He continued: "We said the war would not be restricted to [Turkish] Kurdistan. In Istanbul, there are about 2 million Kurds; there are also many in the Aegean region. They are facing repression -- and they have the right to [launch] resistance wherever they live." KR

PKK leader Karayilan also implied in his interview with "Der Spiegel" that the PKK has no intention of leaving its mountain hideout. Asked about the PKK's presence inside Iraq, he said: "We are in the Zagros Mountains. For centuries, nobody has been able to conquer this area -- not Saddam [Hussein], not the Turks, no one. We have been living in these mountains of freedom for 25 years; we were here before the Americans and the new Iraqi government came. This is where Kurdistan is. The PKK is not causing any damage to the state of Iraq; on the contrary, we are supporting its reconstruction." KR

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke told CNN on November 11 that he expects Turkey to launch a cross-border incursion into Iraq in the coming days. "I've followed the Turkey situation carefully, talked to government officials, private citizens, American officials. And I think that the odds are very substantial that within a week or so, you will see the Turks launch cross-border military activity. Air strikes, special forces, and so on," Holbrooke said. He added that the United States has done little to aid Turkey in its fight against Turkish-Kurdish separatists in recent years. "I think the U.S. has to understand that the Turks are facing a situation. What would the U.S. do if we were attacked across the Mexican border by terrorists? You know what we'd do, of course. We'd go after them. So I'm expecting that the Turks are going to take limited military action in the not-too-distant future," Holbrooke said. KR

The Turkish daily "Milliyet" reported on November 11 that Turkish military units have been deployed in the northern Iraqi towns of Begova, Kani Masi, Bamarni, and Amadiyah. The daily also reported that 10 Turkish tanks based at Bamarni Airport have deployed from the base. Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit told reporters in Ankara that he has sent his plans for a cross-border operation to the prime minister and the Foreign Ministry and is awaiting a response, "Milliyet" reported on November 10. "If [the government] concludes that a military operation is necessary, they will say that certain operations will be conducted," he said, adding, "Our units are capable of conducting an operation after completing final preparations on short notice." Asked about Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington last week, Buyukanit said: "I have certain opinions as a professional soldier. But, I do not think it would be appropriate to express those opinions. There are negative opinions among the public." KR

Norway's Supreme Court upheld a decision on November 8 to deport Iraqi terrorist Mullah Krekar from Norway to Iraq, Norwegian press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2007). Authorities said the government will not enforce the decision until the security situation stabilizes and the government is assured by Baghdad that Krekar will not be tortured or executed. Krekar, born Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, is the founder of the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam. He told Al-Jazeera television in a November 8 interview that he may appeal the case to the European Court. Asked about a possible response to the ruling, he said: "I do not expect to do anything or expect others to launch a preemptive war.... Based on our Islam, we are committed to the moral pledge we have made to Norway. It is the pledge of not encroaching on their blood, property, or honor. I certainly abide by this, but if something happens, [Norway] should expect a reaction that is proportional to what happens." KR