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Newsline - November 14, 2007

Major-General Vladimir Zaritsky, who commands the artillery and missile forces for the Russian Ground Troops, said in Moscow on November 14 that Russia might deploy an unspecified number of short-range missiles in Belarus if the United States goes ahead with its planned missile-defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic, reported. Zaritsky was referring to Iskandr missiles with a range of up to 500 kilometers. He argued that "every action meets with an opposite reaction, and this is the case with elements of U.S. missile defense." Asked about a recent statement by his Belarusian counterpart, Mikhail Puzikaw, about stationing Iskandr systems in Belarus, Zaritsky replied: "Why not? Under the right conditions and with the corresponding agreement of Belarus, it is possible." He noted that the Iskandrs could be modernized if Russia quits the 1987 U.S.-Soviet Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), with which it is dissatisfied. "What the motherland demands will be done," Zaritsky concluded. In June, President Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov threatened to target European sites with missiles if the United States proceeds with its program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 19, 26, and 27, and October 29, 2007). On November 12, independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgengauer wrote in the newspaper "Novaya gazeta" that it would be unwise for Russia to carry out its planned "suspension" of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) lest it frighten its neighbors into making new security arrangements among themselves. Felgengauer believes that the removal of the CFE structure from the security landscape would ultimately lead to further NATO expansion, which is precisely what Moscow wants to avoid. PM

In a newly released report, a group of independent Russian experts said that despite President Putin's repeated pledges to modernize and improve the military, the decline characteristic of the post-Soviet period is continuing, the "International Herald Tribune" reported from Moscow on November 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2007). The study argues that the Russian military "continues to suffer from rampant corruption, inefficiency, and poor morale.... The Kremlin has also failed to deliver on its promises to modernize arsenals." Stanislav Belkovsky, who head the Institute for National Strategy, said in Moscow on November 12 that "the revival of Russia's military might under Putin is merely a myth. The Russian armed forces have degraded completely under Putin." The report notes that Russia's arsenal will shrink "from about 680 intercontinental ballistic missiles now to between 100 and 200 missiles over the next 10 years" unless massive investments are made. Aleksandr Khramchikhin, an expert with the Institute for Military and Political Analysis, said on November 12 that the decline, if it continues, will bring Russia's nuclear forces down to the level of China's. He also noted that "because of corruption, the military gets a lesser number of weapons at a higher cost" than it would otherwise. PM

Between November 11 and 13, Russian officials deployed at least 600 rescue workers and soldiers to help clean up a 2,000-ton oil spill in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and Sea of Azov and forms part of the border between Russia and Ukraine, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). An unusually severe storm on November 11 wrecked at least 12 ships in what several Russian officials called an "environmental catastrophe." At Port Kavkaz in Krasnodar Krai, Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of the Natural Resources Ministry's Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources Use (Rosprirodnadzor), said on November 13 that "we have two environmental problems today: fuel oil and light oil products that spilled into the sea, and high levels of contamination [from oil washed up onto] the Tuzla and Chushka spits." On November 13, President Putin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to fly to the region to assess the disaster and clean-up efforts. Upon arriving in Port Kavkaz, Zubkov said that the shipwrecks in the Kerch Strait amounted to the "biggest mass sinking of ships in the history of modern Russia." He called for prosecutors to determine how much of the damage was unavoidable due to the weather and how much was the result of negligence. The sunken tanker "Volgoneft-139" was over 30 years old and did not have a double hull for safety, as is common on such ships nowadays. Furthermore, it was designed for use on the Don and Volga Rivers and not for stormy seas. Much of its fuel oil is believed to have hardened and sunk to the bottom of the sea, which will further complicate cleanup. Some estimates put the toll of dead birds from the oil at over 30,000. RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on November 14 that neither Moscow nor Kyiv has responded to the European Commission's offer of assistance. PM

On November 12 in Moscow, the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) signed an agreement for cooperation on nuclear projects with the German technology company Siemens, dpa reported. The two companies have worked together before. Rosatom wants to use Siemens technology in building power plants and modernizing older reactors in Russia and abroad. PM

On November 12 , the State Duma passed in its third and final reading a bill placing restrictions on the employment of foreigners by Russian military and security agencies, Interfax reported. The legislation bars Russian citizens with dual citizenship from working for the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). PM

Sources in several regional administrations have confirmed that the presidential administration is controlling the growing "popular" movement to persuade President Putin to retain political power after his current term expires, according to a special report in on November 13. The unnamed sources said the governors of their regions last week received detailed instructions from the Kremlin on how to select delegates and send them to participate in the national forum of the For Putin! movement in Tver on November 15. A source in one region in southern Russia told the website that his region has been ordered to send 10 delegates from a wide range of public organizations and to pay for their travel to Tver. The sources told the website that delegates will be housed at the Verkhnevolzhsky resort, and officials at the resort confirmed that the entire facility has been rented, although it refused to confirm by whom. For Putin! activists have insisted that their movement is a spontaneous national initiative that has no connection to the Kremlin, the Unified Russia party, or local administrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). RC

Police continue training activists from the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi to counter possible demonstrations by opposition forces, "The Moscow Times" reported on November 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). According to the daily, about 1,000 activists from at least three cities gathered in Moscow on November 9 for training "to familiarize the activists with central Moscow so, come [December 2], they can mobilize more quickly should protests spring up," the paper wrote. The Other Russia opposition coalition plans a protest in Moscow on November 24, although permission for that rally has not been granted to date. The youth wing of the liberal Yabloko party is planning a demonstration in the capital on November 18. RC

President Putin on November 13 made his first open campaign appearance for Unified Russia, meeting with road-construction workers in Krasnoyarsk, Russian media reported on November 13 and 14. Putin offered some criticism of the party, telling listeners that it lacked a "solid ideology and principles" and that some of its members are working "not for the good of the people, but for their own enrichment." However, he added, he agreed to head the party's list because "all the same we don't have anything better." Putin said he has relied on the party's control of the Duma in recent years to push his agenda forward. Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who heads the A Just Russia party, on November 14 urged Putin to head the upper chamber of parliament after his term as president expires, ITAR-TASS reported. "The post of chairman of the Federation Council is not a bad place for the head of state after March 2008," Mironov said, noting that the upper chamber has the power to reject legislation passed by the Duma and has some power to control the government by summoning ministers. Mironov, who ran for president against Putin in 2004, also told reporters he will not run again in 2008 and said he is not sure whether A Just Russia would nominate a candidate. RC

A growing number of leading regional candidates from the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) for the December 2 Duma elections are quitting the campaign, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on November 13 and 14. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on November 13, top candidates of the SPS regional lists in Udmurtia, Penza Oblast, Tyva, Daghestan, Bryansk Oblast, Ingushetia, Ulyanovsk Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, and other regions have all left the party since the last week of October. The Krasnodar candidate, Yury Tebin, told the daily that he quit because of the "absence of a mechanism for realizing our goals." Political analyst Dmitry Gusev commented that some of the defections were because the party's national leadership has taken a turn to the left, emphasizing its plan to control inflation and help pensioners. SPS national leader Nikita Belykh was quoted in "Kommersant" on November 13 as urging candidates "to hang on until the end." He blamed the defections on pressure from the authorities. SPS Political Council member Boris Nadezhdin said the party has come under particular attack because "we are the only party that is harshly criticizing Unified Russia and Putin himself." RC

SPS leader Belykh announced on November 13 that the party will participate in March of Dissent opposition actions scheduled for November 24 and 25 in Moscow and St. Petersburg, reported. The decision marks the first time the SPS has participated in the series of protest actions, although Belykh emphasized that the SPS is not joining the Other Russia coalition headed by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov. The website speculated that the decision was prompted by the difficulties SPS is having in connection with its Duma campaign, including harassment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007) and the confiscation of its campaign materials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). RC

Beginning in January, the Central Bank plans to take active measures to combat inflation, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on November 14. Central Bank Deputy Director Aleksei Ulyukayev said the bank will reduce its ruble emissions in the coming year and buy less foreign currency. At the same time, Ulyukayev said the bank has agreed with the government that in 2008 it will begin converting some of the funds in the Stabilization Fund from rubles to foreign currency. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak, however, told the daily that the Finance Ministry opposes large-scale conversions from the fund, which could lead to unpredictable consequences on currency markets. RC

The Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) parliament has released a statement addressed to resistance fighters in connection with the proclamation last month by ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov of a North Caucasus emirate which he claims to head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). The statement, posted on November 13 on, recalled that while the ChRI Constitution adopted in March 1992 designated Islam the state religion, it also guaranteed freedom of belief for members of other confessions, thereby establishing a "balance between the profound religiosity of our people and the civilized forms of our sovereign statehood." The statement argued that the proclamation of a North Caucasus emirate inflicts serious damage on Chechen statehood and the constitution, and that Umarov's rhetoric carries the risk that the Chechen national liberation struggle will be classified as an offshoot of international terrorism, and strips the armed resistance of its legitimacy. It noted that a group of Chechen Islamic scholars has already condemned Umarov's proclamation on those grounds, and it appealed to all those who value freedom and Chechen statehood to reject that proclamation as the product of pressure on Umarov from the "anti-Islamic and anti-Chechen grouping" centered on ideologues Movladi Udugov and his half-brother Isa Umarov (no relation to Doku). LF

The human-rights organization Memorial released a statement on November 13 expressing concern at reports that former Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov will soon be appointed to a senior defense minister post, reported. Shamanov, 50, served in 1999-2000 as commander of the western group of Russian forces fighting in Chechnya, in which capacity he oversaw the storm of Grozny in early 2000. Memorial recalled that forces under his command committed serious human-rights violations, including opening fire on fugitives in October 1999 and on the civilian population of two villages in December 1999 and February 2000. On retiring from the military, Shamanov served from December 2000-04 as governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast, and then as an aide to First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov. "Moskovskiye novosti" in its most recent edition (November 9-15) carried an interview with Shamanov in which he argues that while Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has succeeded in restoring order and stability to Chechnya, corruption, cronyism, poverty and unemployment continue to destabilize neighboring republics and to drive disaffected young men to join the armed resistance. To counter that instability, Shamanov advocated a crackdown on "extremist" religious tendencies and the gradual replacement of corrupt local leaders. LF

The website on November 13 quoted representatives of Ingushetia's two main Internet providers, ITT and Telekom, as denying having undertaken any measures to block access by Internet users to the independent website, which has incurred the anger of the republic's leadership by its relentless coverage of corruption and mismanagement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). Also on November 13, Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of, said he believes the orders to block access to his site were issued by Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, who, according to Yevloyev, is afraid that the true situation in Ingushetia will otherwise become known not only to most of the republic's population but also to the federal authorities in Moscow. LF

In a statement dated November 13 and reposted on, the UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) condemned as "a gross violation of child rights" the shooting of a six-year-old child by security forces on November 9 in his family home in the Ingushetian village of Chemulga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). The statement urges "all parties involved [to] take utmost care to uphold all rights of all children, particularly the right to survive." LF

Three days after harshly criticizing former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and calling on him to "repent and apologize" for his policy errors, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian adopted a more conciliatory note on November 13, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). Outlining the draft budget for 2008, Sarkisian told parliament on November 13 that Armenia's political forces should "not get petty and squander our resources in debates on the mistakes and omissions of the past.... Let us debate and cooperate on issues relating to the future." He said his cabinet will work over the next five years to promote an atmosphere of solidarity, cooperation, magnanimity, and mutual respect. Also on November 13, several opposition newspapers printed a joint statement by Ter-Petrossian and former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun party leader Aram Sargsian accusing the authorities of resorting to "frantic" and "illegal" measures to minimize attendance at a planned rally in Yerevan on November 16 in support of Ter-Petrossian's candidacy in the February 19, 2008, presidential ballot. Meanwhile, tax inspectors and police have launched a further raid on a company owned by Khachatur Sukiasian, a millionaire businessman with close ties to Ter-Petrossian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on November 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). LF

Parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze called on November 13 for the UN to send international observers to assess the Russian military presence in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. On November 12, Burjanadze and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze claimed in separate statements that Russia has dispatched heavy armaments, including five tanks and five armored vehicles, to the Abkhaz district of Ochamchira, together with some 200 Russian servicemen, tentatively identified as Chechens from the Russian Defense Ministry's Vostok battalion, which reports to the GRU (military intelligence). Russian and Abkhaz officials have rejected those allegations as untrue. Also on November 12, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed that during their meeting in late November 2006 on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Minsk, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to replicate "the Cyprus model" in Abkhazia, the website reported. Saakashvili did not explain why he waited almost one year to divulge that information. At the time, he characterized his meeting with Putin as a positive step (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006), and on February 23, he described it as "a very pleasant talk" even though the two men did not agree on everything, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. LF

The Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, and the Georgian chapter of Transparency International released a statement on November 10 listing 10 preconditions that they believe must be met for the preterm presidential election scheduled for January 5, 2008, to be considered free and fair, Caucasus Press reported. The first of those conditions is the lifting of the nationwide state of emergency President Saakashvili imposed on November 7. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told journalists in Tbilisi on November 13 that "it sounds like the state of emergency will be lifted in the next two or three days, in fact I think on [November] 16," RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported, while parliament speaker Burjanadze was similarly quoted by Caucasus Press as saying it will be lifted "by the end of the week." Other conditions include the restoration of media freedom and the right to freedom of assembly, and clarification of the legislative framework for the ballot. Meanwhile, Georgian ombudsman Sozar Subar told Caucasus Press on November 13 that official harassment of persons who participated in the Tbilisi protests between November 2-6 continues. Seven of the 22 people apprehended during the police crackdown on November 7 remain in detention, Caucasus Press quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying on November 13. LF

The Tbilisi City Court on November 13 sentenced Giorgi Barateli to 27 years' imprisonment for the murder six months ago of Guram Sharadze, an academician notorious for his sometimes radically nationalistic views, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). Barateli pleaded guilty, saying he killed Sharadze in retaliation for having been robbed years ago by Sharadze's son. Sharadze's daughter voiced suspicions shortly after his death that he was murdered for his political views, and that Barateli was merely a scapegoat. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree dismissing Finance Minister Natalya Korzhova on November 13 and replacing her with Bolat Zhamishev, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Khabar TV reported. A second decree also named Vladimir Bozhko as the new minister of emergency situations. Prior to the appointment, the 58-year-old Bozhko served as a deputy chairman of the National Security Committee. Nazarbaev also appointed Zautbek Turisbekov as the new ambassador to Uzbekistan. Turisbekov formerly was the chairman of a state agency on "the issues of state service." RG

During a visit to Washington, State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev discussed on November 12 Kazakhstan's bid to chair the Organization for Security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Khabar TV reported. Saudabaev also met with various senior U.S. officials, including Senator Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana). RG

President Kurmanbek Bakiev met on November 13 in Bishkek with Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin to finalize discussions of a new bilateral agreement on the demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Following the meeting, Bakiev said that the new agreement will be submitted to the parliaments of both countries for ratification, and he predicted that the agreement will be swiftly adopted and expects it to be implemented next year. The border-demarcation agreement is actually a framework treaty consisting of some 150 articles and legal accords. Bakiev also said that Kyrgyzstan strongly supports Kazakhstan's bid to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009 and pledged to increase efforts with Kazakhstan within various international organizations, including the OSCE, the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He also welcomed Kazakh investment in Kyrgyzstan, noting that during the first six months of this year, Kazakh investment reached $90 million, a level some 2 1/2 times greater than the same period last year. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev also met on November 13 with Tazhin and stressed that Kyrgyzstan also supports Kazakh efforts aimed at "forming a single space" in the region, referring to Kazakh President Nazarbaev's proposal to form "a union of Central Asian countries," according to AKIpress. RG

A rally organized by leading Kyrgyz human rights activists was held on November 13 in Bishkek with about two dozen demonstrators warning that civil rights are "under threat" and demanding the protection of the right to hold public gatherings and meetings, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. The rally was held outside the main government building in the Kyrgyz capital and was organized by Aziza Abdyrasulova, the head of the Kylym Shamy (Torch of the Century) human rights center; Dinara Oshurakhunova, the director of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society; Tolekan Ismailova, the head of the Citizens against Corruption civic group; and civil society activists Chinara Aytbaeva and Maksim Kuleshov. Speaking at the rally, the organizers stressed that "citizens' rights for freedom of gathering in public, speech, and expression are under threat" in Kyrgyzstan, noting that over the past month, police have arrested members of the Green Party three times, and searched the headquarters of the party. The rally was also aimed at protesting the arrests of six demonstrators on November 10 during a peaceful demonstration organized by youth groups in central Bishkek. Those demonstrators were later released, but face charges of "attending an illegal gathering." Tursunbek Akun, the chairman of the presidential human rights commission, said that the detentions were an outrageous move by security forces, adding that "even our commission is saying that the detention of these young men is regarded as an abuse of the freedom of speech." RG

Marat Abdrakhmanov, the chief of seismic monitoring for the Kyrgyz Ministry for Emergency Situations, announced on November 13 that a team of scientific researchers has issued a new report predicting a series of powerful earthquakes, ITAR-TASS reported. The report, based on data collected by the Seismic Research Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, specifically pointed to a risk of severe tremors striking the areas along the borders with Tajikistan and China. It also noted heightened seismic risks in the Jalal-Abad and Osh regions, located in the Ferghana Valley. Several serious earthquakes have been registered in the Naryn and Batken regions in the past year, resulting in substantial property damage but with few casualties. RG

An early-morning explosion on November 14 damaged a government building complex in the center of the Tajik capital Dushanbe and killed at least one person, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and ITAR-TASS reported. The explosion targeted the building housing the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party and killed a nearby street cleaner in the blast. The site is located near the Uzbek Embassy and only a few hundred meters form the presidential palace. The complex was to host a conference attended by Deputy Prime Minister Aqil Aqilov later in the day. Tajik police launched an immediate investigation, saying that the bombing is being treated as "an act of terrorism," the Avesta website reported. RG

During a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov announced on November 12 the dismissal of three of Turkmenistan's five regional governors, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Berdymukhammedov fired the governors of the Ahal and Mary regions, citing "serious shortcomings" in their work, and "accepted the resignation" of the Lebap province governor for "health reasons." The three regional governors were all appointed by the late President Saparmurat Niyazov prior to his death in December 2006. Kakageldy Gurbanov was named as the new governor of the southern Mary region, Caryyarguly Odeberdiev was appointed as the governor of the eastern Lebap region, and Mammetnyyaz Nurmammedov was promoted to become the governor of the central Ahal region, Turkmen Television reported. Berdymukhammedov also replaced the deputy chairman of the cabinet of ministers and the minister of trade and foreign economic relations. According to a subsequent presidential decree, Hojamuhammet Muhammedov was named as the new deputy chairman of the cabinet of ministers, and Tuvakmammet Japarov was appointed as the head of the Supreme Supervisory Chamber, a post formerly held by Muhammedov. Nokerguly Atagulyyev was also appointed as the new minister of trade and foreign economic relations. RG

In an announcement from Brussels, the European Union said on November 13 that it will temporarily lift its visa ban for Uzbek officials, ITAR-TASS reported. The ban on visas, which was imposed on 12 specific Uzbek officials, will be suspended for a six-month period, allowing the officials to enter the European Union. The initial EU decision to impose a visa ban on the dozen Uzbek officials was imposed for their complicity and the "disproportionate use of force" during clashes between police and unarmed demonstrators in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005 that left an estimated 187 people dead, although human rights groups report several hundred deaths. In a statement accompanying the announcement of the temporary suspension of the visa ban, the EU noted that its embargo on the supply of weapons to Uzbekistan will remain in force, however. RG

Uzbek human rights activist Surat Ikramov said on November 13 that a detainee recently died while in police custody, reportedly after being tortured by police in the city of Andijon, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The body of the prisoner, Fitrat Salohiddinov, was returned to his family for burial in Tashkent on November 12. Salohiddinov was arrested in 2000 for his alleged membership in the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. His death and the allegations of torture come only a week after the release of a Human Rights Watch report that contended that torture is "endemic" to the country's criminal justice system. RG

The U.S. Treasury Department on November 13 announced financial sanctions against Belneftekhim, a Belarusian state-owned petrochemical company, stating that it is controlled by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The move by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control freezes any assets under U.S. jurisdiction belonging to Belneftekhim, and bars U.S. citizens from doing business with the company. The measures apply to Belneftekhim's offices in Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia, China, and its wholly owned U.S. subsidiary, Belneftekhim USA.. Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the "action tightens sanctions against Lukashenka by imposing financial sanctions against a massive conglomerate under the regime's control." In a statement, the Treasury Department noted that "today's action follows the 2006 blocking of the assets of Lukashenka and nine other senior officials of his administration. In February 2007, Treasury blocked the assets of another six high-ranking Belarusian officials, bringing the total number of designated officials to 16." U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs David Kramer recently warned of new sanctions against Belarus because of the pressures its government places on civil society and its violations of democratic standards. AM

Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Viktor Zubkov on November 13 in Anapa, Russia, set up a joint group to deal with the recent environmental disaster in the region of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, Interfax reported. A storm on November 11 sank several ships and damaged others, causing spills of oil and other toxic cargo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). The joint group, which will convene for its first meeting on November 15, will be based in the ports of Kerch, Ukraine, and Kavkaz, Russia, and will be led by Russian Deputy Transport Minister Boris Korol and Ukrainian First Deputy Transport Minister Volodymyr Korniyenko. Zubkov said that the spills should be cleaned up within 40 or 45 days. Yanukovych proposed that both sides establish principles governing the future use of the Kerch Strait to bring transport there in line with international regulations. AM

The European Parliament on November 13 ratified agreements with Ukraine on simplifying visas for Ukrainians entering and re-entering countries in the Schengen zone, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The measures limit the period of time in which a visa must be issued, and reduce or eliminate visa fees for students, journalist, pensioners, children, and participants of cultural and educational projects. For those who are not entitled to discounts, visas will cost now 35 euros ($51). The agreements will now be considered by the Council of the European Parliament, where a final decision will be made. Romania and Bulgaria have threatened to block the ratification of the agreements. AM

A senior British official has said that 22 of the EU's 27 member states are ready to recognize the independence of Kosova, the news service Balkan Insight reported on November 13. Balkan Insight noted that major EU countries are now considering recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence even without waiting for a consensus within the EU. Other reports indicate that the five doubters are Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Spain, and Slovakia. Recognition by the EU heavyweights is unlikely to come before the second half of next year, however, while the United States is expected to recognize an independent Kosova without much delay. Balkan Insight quoted an EU source who suggested that the recognition would come during next year's French EU Presidency, which starts on July 1, since the French are eager to resolve the Kosova status and advance Serbia's EU integration during their half-year term. TV

Kosova's Central Election Commission has announced that the province is prepared for the November 17 local and parliamentary elections, local media reported on November 12. The commission said some 620 polling stations are ready to accommodate the more than 1.5 million citizens who are eligible to cast their votes, and that ballots have been printed. Voters outside Kosova can still register until the day of the vote, hence no definitive figures are available. The parliamentary and municipal elections were called by the head of the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), Joachim Ruecker, at the end of August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007) and are being boycotted by some ethnic-Serbian parties in line with calls from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2007). TV

In a letter made public on November 13, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nominated Belgian lawyer Serge Brammertz as the new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. If Brammertz is indeed approved by the Security Council, he will succeed Carla Del Ponte, who has been named Swiss ambassador to Argentina and who will step down from the ICTY at the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2007). Brammertz, who currently heads the UN's investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, was widely expected to be named to the post, prompting senior ICTY lawyers to urge Ban to appoint Del Ponte's deputy, David Tolbert, instead. Many human rights groups also backed Tolbert. TV

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has warned the Bosnian Muslim member of Bosnia's tripartite Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, not to aggravate the controversy over a bridge Croatia has begun building on the Adriatic, the Bosnian Croat daily "Dnevni list" reported on November 11. The bridge will span the bay separating the Dalmatian mainland and the Peljesac Peninsula and is scheduled for completion in 2011 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007), making it possible to travel to the southern Croatian seaside city of Dubrovnik without crossing a short strip of Bosnian territory around Neum, which lies on the bay. Bosnia fears that Neum might be cut off from the open sea and Bosnia's territorial waters. Sanader said that Croatia has changed the design of the bridge to allay Bosnian fears that Neum might be cut off, but the row escalated in recent weeks with a Bosnian threat of a lawsuit against Croatia over the bridge. Referring to Silajdzic, Sanader told "Dnevni list," "I think that it is dangerous to seek Croatian territory, and I advise him not to do so." TV

During talks with Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski last week, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, suggested that Macedonia ranked last among the three Balkan countries seeking membership in the alliance, local media reported on November 8. Macedonia is hoping, together with Croatia and Albania, to be invited to join the alliance during a NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008. "My president wants to see you in NATO, but unfortunately, among the three candidate countries you come third now," Nuland said, according to excerpts from a transcript made public by Crvenkovski's cabinet. Crvenkovski was subsequently criticized by Macedonia's prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, who accused him of trying to "demoralize" Macedonians and to "discourage" the government's progress by making Nuland's statements public. The United States also criticized the publication of parts of a conversation it considered confidential, according to a report by Macedonia's TV A1 on November 9. The country's entry into NATO could yet be vetoed by Greece, a current alliance member and neighbor which says that the name "Macedonia" is unacceptable and implies territorial aspirations on the part of Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). TV


Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the UN, said on November 12 that "there is a serious problem of governance in Afghanistan," and called for governmental reform, news website e-ariana reported, citing AFP. Khalilzad was speaking at a meeting of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.. Khalilzad, an Afghan-American and a former ambassador to Kabul, expressed concern that deteriorating security conditions and corruption are undermining reconstruction and economic development in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces. He also cited the growing drug trade, widespread unemployment, and the slow pace of reconstruction as among the serious problems Afghanistan faces. Khalilzad said key reforms should include "making appointments based on merit, countering corruption, implementing programs for institutionalizing the rule of law, and working systematically to [impose] state authority and good governance at the provincial and district levels." MM

In his November 12 comments, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Khalilzad stressed the need for unity among political leaders in Afghanistan, Ariana Television Network reported. He said "political polarization" is endangering the ability of Afghan leaders to unite behind their "national interests." "There is nothing wrong with debating different perspectives or with political competition, provided that this takes place within a framework of national unity that serves the nation's interests and does not harm Afghanistan's long-term interests," he said. "Leaders should be concerned about all Afghan people regardless of their ethnic or sectarian background, and should reject the approach of seeking to divide Afghans because of ethnic and sectarian issues," he said. In his concluding remarks, he linked success in Afghanistan to wider international efforts to stabilize the region and spur progress and development. MM

Amnesty International said in a report on November 13 that scores of Afghan detainees are being held incommunicado, without access to lawyers, courts, or their families, Al-Jazeera reported. Detainees "have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including being whipped, exposed to extreme cold, and deprived of food," the report says. Amnesty senior research director Claudio Cordone called on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) "to suspend handing over prisoners to Afghanistan's intelligence services until effective safeguards are in place." He noted that "ISAF states are under an international obligation not to hand over detainees to Afghan authorities where they will be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment." International law prohibits the transfer of prisoners if they will be at risk of abuse or torture. Reacting to the report's findings, Afghan presidential spokesman Homayun Hamidzada said: "The laws of Afghanistan do not allow torturing of prisoners. If they're tortured, we take this issue very seriously." MM

President Hamid Karzai on November 12 addressed a national conference of village councils, or shuras, in Kabul to promote rural development projects, Bakhtar News Agency reported. "Rural development leads to national progress and economic success in Afghanistan," Karzai said, adding that the majority of Afghans live in villages, which have for years lacked opportunities for education and development. He said that today rural development projects affect more than 15,000 villages across the country, improving the lives of rural populations. Karzai also observed that Afghanistan has historically been governed through consultation and coordination with village leaders, and that rural development projects therefore fit well into the traditional Afghan governance and development mold. MM

Rights activist and journalist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi was arrested at the Tehran chief prosecutor's office on November 11, "Etemad" reported on November 13, quoting his family. Tabarzadi was the head of a reformist grouping, the Democratic Front, and ran several now-banned publications, including "Report of the Day" (Gozaresh-i Ruz). He was previously jailed for 14 years for his activism, but a higher court reduced the sentence to seven years and he was released on parole toward the end of the sentence (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," June 10, 2005). He was summoned for questioning at the security department of the Tehran prosecutor's office on November 11, then sent to jail on the orders of Tehran's deputy chief prosecutor Hasan Haddad. The charges were not immediately clear. Separately, three students had their jail sentences commuted to fines, their lawyer Mahmud Alizadeh-Tabatabai told ISCA News in Tehran on November 12. The students -- Mehdi Tajik, Yaser Zohrei and Mohammad Hossein Kamali -- were each sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail on unspecified charges, but have now instead been fined a little over $3,000 each. They are also banned from starting post-graduate courses for which they had won places at Tehran University, "Etemad" reported on November 13. VS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran on November 13 that discussing Iran's nuclear program with the United States is "not an option" while Washington maintains its "hostile policies" toward Tehran, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian state television. He was responding to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's suggestion, made on ABC television on November 11, that she will hold talks with Iranian officials if Iran suspends its nuclear fuel-making activities. Hosseini said this is not the first time the United States has made such a suggestion while at the same time maintaining a "negative" attitude toward Iran's "development and progress," Radio Farda reported. VS

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi told British lawmakers in Tehran on November 13 that Iran is currently answering the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) questions on its nuclear program, IRNA reported. He said it has answered questions on experiments with plutonium and is responding to others on the P1 and more advanced P2 centrifuge models used for uranium enrichment -- areas of concern to the IAEA and the West. Araqchi said other questions will be duly answered. He told the British delegation that the IAEA is satisfied with Iran's cooperation, and Iran expects the next IAEA report to its governing board to convey a "suitable assessment." The visiting lawmakers are reportedly members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. They met on November 12 with members of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Fars reported. Its spokesman, Kazem Jalali, told Fars the British lawmakers said Great Britain is not trying to close down Iran's nuclear program, and considers access to modern technology a right for Iran. He said committee members had a "clear and frank" two-hour meeting, in which the British said confidence-building is the main issue with Iran's nuclear program. Jalali said the Iranians said confidence-building is not a "one-way street," and that they too have questions to ask British and U.S. lawmakers. VS

Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, the spokesman for the Guardians Council, the body of jurists that must validate election results in Iran, said on November 12 that the body will formally decide by November 20 or 21 whether votes in parliamentary polls set for mid-March should be counted by hand or with the help of computers, ISNA reported. Many Iranian politicians and the Interior Ministry favor computerized vote-counting to avoid the bitter wrangling and accusations that often accompany the final stages of Iranian elections. Kadkhodai indicated on November 10 that there will be no computerized elections in March, causing frustration among politicians. But he said on November 12 that the Interior Ministry has not given it specific proposals or identified the necessary software for computerizing voting. "We cannot drive with our eyes shut," he said. "We need the necessary guarantees that the process would be accurate." He continued, "Until we are given these assurances and programs...we cannot take risks here, and...hold elections when we have no information on the conditions." He suggested that it is now too late to plan computerized voting for March, and expressed hope that subsequent polls will be computerized. VS

Turkish aircraft on November 13 reportedly bombed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions in northern Iraq, international media reported. CNN Turk and NTV, citing an unnamed Iraqi military official, reported that Turkish helicopters attacked an uninhabited village in the Zakho district in northern Iraq near the Turkish border. But a spokesman for the Kurdistan regional government, Jamal Abdallah, denied that the village had been bombed, and said that Turkish helicopters had only dropped flares while flying over the village. Meanwhile, the Turkish military announced earlier that four soldiers were killed in clashes with PKK fighters in Turkey's Sirnak Province near the Iraqi border. Turkey has approximately 100,000 troops stationed near the Iraqi border, and Turkish military sources have said that hundreds of special forces are also being deployed to the border region, Reuters reported. The latest casualties in Sirnak are likely to increase public pressure on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch a major military campaign inside northern Iraq to root out PKK fighters. SS

Baha al-A'raji, a leading figure in the political bloc of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, on November 13 called on Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to dissolve the Iraqi parliament and hold new elections, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Al-A'raji said the parliament has become weak and politicized instead of fulfilling its purpose of helping to rebuild Iraq. He described the parliament as "an obstacle to democracy," noting that key pieces of legislation vital to Iraq's future, such as a comprehensive oil law and revision of the de-Ba'athification law, have yet to be passed. "This parliament is a source of worry to the Iraqi people. The sectarian differences are evident among its members, and that is affecting the people," al-A'raji said. But another prominent member of the al-Sadr bloc, Ali al-Mayyali, stressed during an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television that al-A'raji's comments were his own personal opinion, and do not reflect the official position of the al-Sadr bloc. SS

The "Los Angeles Times" reported on November 13 that the U.S. military will continue to maintain physical custody of three officials of the former Iraqi regime until the Iraqi government decides whether to execute them. The military informed the Iraqi government of its position in a statement on November 12. "The coalition forces are not refusing to relinquish custody," the statement said. "We are waiting for the government of Iraq to come to consensus as to what their law requires before preparing a physical transfer." The three men are former Ba'ath Party official Ali Hasan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali"; former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad; and Hussein Rashid Muhammad, the former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces. The three men were sentenced to death in June for their roles in the 1987-88 Anfal campaign, which killed an estimated 180,000 Kurds. According to the Iraqi Constitution, the three-man Presidential Council must sign off on all executions. President Talabani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi -- two of the three leaders on the Presidential Council -- have both refused to sign off on Ahmad's execution, creating a constitutional impasse. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has repeatedly said the executions will take place even without the consent of the presidential council. SS

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki said on November 13 that the government might commute the death sentence of former Iraqi Defense Minister Ahmad if it is lawful to do so, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. Asked by a reporter whether he would commute Ahmad's death sentence if it would help foster national reconciliation, al-Maliki responded, "I have no objection." However, he stressed that the decision must be made in accordance with the law and within the framework of the constitution. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh added that the government does not object to working out a legal framework to commute the sentences, as long as no laws are violated. SS

Guards from the U.S.-based private security firm DynCorp killed an Iraqi taxi driver in Baghdad on November 10, international media reported on November 13. Gregory Lagana, a spokesman for DynCorp, said one of the guards fired at the taxi to disable it after it approached a convoy the security firm was protecting in a "threatening manner." Iraqi officials reported that the driver was shot in the chest and died on his way to the hospital. Police at the scene said that a search of the taxi found no weapons or other signs of threatening activity. U.S. Embassy spokesman Philip Reeker said DynCorp reported a "security incident" involving one of its teams, and that the embassy's regional security office is "following this closely." Reeker could not confirm any details of the incident, including whether anyone was killed or wounded. The shooting is the latest in a series of incidents in which private security firms in Iraq have injured or killed civilians. The most infamous occurred on September 16, when security contractors from the U.S. firm Blackwater killed 17 Iraqis in a shoot-out on Baghdad's Al-Nusur Square (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007). SS

"The Wall Street Journal" reported on November 12 that the U.S. Navy is building a military installation atop an oil platform in Iraqi territory to protect Iraqi oil exports. The installation, once complete, will house U.S., British, and Australian forces deployed in Iraqi waters at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon stressed, however, that the construction of the facility does not mean that the United States is planning to keep a permanent military presence in Iraq. U.S. Navy officials were quick to point out that they intend to hand over the facility to Iraqi forces once they are prepared to operate it on their own. "Iraqi forces are a long way from being able to take over the mission," said Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf. "They are going to need help for years to come." According to Cosgriff, the main purpose of the installation will be to monitor and protect oil exports out of the Khawr and Al-Basrah oil-producing facilities, which are expected to supply approximately 2.4 percent of current world oil requirements once they reach full capacity. "As a contributor to an increasingly inelastic supply, that is a significant percentage. That isn't just an Iraq issue, that's a global economic-stability issue," Cosgriff said. SS