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Newsline - November 19, 2007

The Federation Council voted unanimously on November 16 to suspend Moscow's participation in the Conventional Forces In Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits the deployment of tanks and other conventional weapons west of the Urals. RFE/RL reported that the bill, which was passed earlier this month by the State Duma, effectively confirms a presidential decree issued in July announcing Russia's intention to suspend its participation in the treaty after a 150-day waiting period. Russia's chief of the General Staff, Yury Baluyevsky, told Federation Council members on November 16 that Russia's decision to suspend participation in the CFE treaty as of December 12 was correct and logical and that NATO also clearly understands the reasoning behind Russia's decision. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the Federation Council vote that Russia is seeking to "restore strategic stability and the military and political balance on the European continent" and expects "a reaction that would allow putting arms controls in Europe in order." This can only be done, he said, "by adopting an agreement on adjusting the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty and, in general, by modernizing what is a hopelessly outdated [arms control] regime." In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the Federation Council vote to suspend CFE compliance "an unfortunate decision," Agence France Presse reported on November 16. Russia has "some deeply held concerns about implementation of the treaty," he said, adding that the United States and other CFE signatory states "are working in good faith to try and address their concerns in a constructive way, within the confines of the treaty." JB

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said that Russia will not "cry" over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's decision not to send election observers to monitor Russian parliamentary elections on December 2, reported on November 19. Those elections will in any case "testify to the strengthening of democracy in Russia," the ministry said in a statement. Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office For Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), blamed Russia for the decision not to send election observers, telling RFE/RL on November 16 that despite having received assurances from Moscow that an invitation for 70 ODIHR election monitors was "forthcoming," the invitation took two months to arrive, which was not enough time for the observers to receive visas before the election. The only other time that the OSCE has called off an election-observer mission was in 1996, in Albania. During Russia's last State Duma elections in 2003, ODIHR dispatched 450 observers to monitor the poll, but this year Russia's Election Commission said only 70 monitors from the OSCE would be allowed. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in its statement that it was ODIHR's own "confusion" and the "disparaging manner of the actions of its leadership," which did not pay attention to "universally accepted" procedures, which kept ODIHR observers from coming to Russia. Responding to criticism over Russia's decision to cut the number of international observers for this year's parliamentary elections, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said on November 18 that "all countries, including Russia, have only one obligation, written in the OSCE documents of 1990, and that is the obligation to invite international observers to elections," reported. JB

The United States said Russia is to blame for the fact that ODIHR will not send observers to monitor the December 2 parliamentary elections. AFP on November 16 quoted U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe as saying, "We are troubled that Russia imposed conditions that forced ODIHR to make this decision." According to AFP, Johndroe said Washington fully supports the OSCE decision. "The Russian government should honor its commitments as an OSCE member, lift any constraints on ODIHR and permit them to observe in a manner consistent with free and fair elections," he said. Earlier on November 16, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement posted on the State Department's website,, that ODIHR's decision "was made as a result of what ODIHR termed 'unprecedented' restrictions on its mission, which included limits on the number of observers and the duration of their stay in Russia, as well as other constraints." AFP quoted McCormack as telling reporters "I am not sure that you can find a case in the past where a member country put up such obstacles to the OSCE conducting such a monitoring mission. We ourselves had hundreds of OSCE monitors in the U.S. during our last presidential election." JB

Russia's state-owned nuclear-fuel producer, TVEL, said on November 16 that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, will later this month start sealing nuclear fuel bound for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, Reuters reported. The news agency described the move as "a major step toward shipping the fuel" to Bushehr and "the clearest indication" yet from Russia that it is "ready to send uranium to fuel Iran's first atomic power station." In a report issued on November 15, the IAEA said it has "made arrangements to verify and seal the fresh fuel" on November 26 "before shipment of the fuel from Russia to Iran." The IAEA inspectors will go to Russia's Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant, which is preparing the fuel, and will work there through November 29, Reuters quoted plant officials as saying. While in Tehran last month, President Vladimir Putin refused to promise that Russia will supply nuclear fuel for Bushehr before he steps down from the presidency in 2008, telling an Iranian journalist, "I only gave promises to my mom when I was a small boy." Putin said IAEA rules dictate that fuel "is to be supplied for such a facility several months before the nuclear reactor is put into operation," but indicated that it remains unclear when the Bushehr reactor will be put into operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). JB

Pavel Astakhov, one of the leaders of the national For Putin! movement, told Interfax on November 19 that the country can expect "surprises" when his movement and Unified Russia hold a joint rally in Moscow's Luzhniki stadium on November 21. President Putin is expected to participate in that rally and, according to numerous media reports, may agree to become the head of the Unified Russia party. Astakhov admitted that his movement is working closely with Unified Russia because of their shared views and goals and said that Unified Russia has paid to have the For Putin! movement's recent national resolution printed in newspapers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2007). In that resolution, the organization called for Putin to remain as the country's "national leader" following the end of his current term as president. Astakhov said the concept of "national leader" does not need to be incorporated into the constitution and that Putin's formal position will become clear on December 3, the day after the Duma elections. reported on November 19 that Unified Russia officials have said the party plans an all-out national campaign over the next two weeks, including numerous campaign appearances by Putin. According to the website, the campaign will end two or three days before the voting, with a major concert and fireworks show in Murmansk. RC

The latest opinion poll by the Levada Center concerning the December 2 State Duma elections shows the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party with 66 percent of the vote and the Communist Party coming in second with 14 percent, reported on November 16. No other parties so far surmount the 7 percent barrier needed to earn mandates in the new lower chamber. The poll showed the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 6 percent and A Just Russia with 5 percent. All other parties polled less than 3 percent of the vote. According to those results, Unified Russia would have 371 seats in the Duma, and the Communists would have the remaining 79. Three hundred seats are needed for a constitutional majority. The results of the November poll are virtually identical to those the Levada Center published in mid-October; that poll gave Unified Russia 68 percent (369 seats) and the Communist Party 15 percent (81 seats). RC

Unified Energy Systems (EES) CEO Anatoly Chubais, who is a founding leader and a national Political Council member of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) political party, on November 19 rejected media reports that he will quit the party, Interfax reported. "I have not planned and do not plan to take such an action," Chubais said. "Kommersant" reported in its November 19 morning edition that Chubais planned to leave the party, citing SPS officials. "Chubais had a choice between [President] Putin and the SPS," fellow SPS Political Council member Boris Nemtsov told the daily. "And he chose Putin, because he works for him" in his role as EES head, Nemtsov said. Boris Nadezhdin, who is also an SPS Political Council member, emphasized that Chubais has not participated in the management of the party for some time now, as did SPS Political Council Deputy Chairman Leonid Grozman. The SPS has been actively positioning itself as an anti-Putin party in the Duma campaign and has appealed to the Supreme Court to disqualify Putin from participating as a candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2007). RC

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak was arrested on November 15 on suspicion of large-scale corruption, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on November 19. The arrest was announced publicly on November 17. Storchak is a close aide of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and has been Russia's main foreign-debt negotiator. He also oversees the country's $148 billion Stabilization Fund, "The Moscow Times" reported on November 19. A source close to the investigation told Reuters on November 17 that more arrests can be expected and that "a number of banks are involved." The case apparently involves the calculation and repayment of Soviet-era debt to a firm called Sodeksim. Sodeksim General Director Viktor Zakharov and Interregional Investment Bank (MIB) board Chairman Vadim Volkov, who served as deputy finance minister in 1999-2004, were also arrested. Speaking to reporters during a trip to South Africa, Kudrin defended Storchak as someone who "every day struggled for every kopek," "The Moscow Times" reported. "Vremya novostei" speculated that the arrest is the latest twist in the emerging conflicts among Russia's ruling clans as the country's power transition proceeds (see " Political Environment Dooms Bid To Fight Corruption,", September 21, 2007, and "Uncertainty Over Putin Succession Fuels 'Siloviki War,'", November 9, 2007). RC

Police surrounded and stormed a house in the settlement of Stepnoi on the southern outskirts of Makhachkala, killing two of a group of militants ensconced there, reported on November 15. Also on November 15, police exchanged fire with two men in a parked car on the Makhachkala-Kaspiisk highway, killing both of them. They were subsequently identified as Kamil Musalieyv and Roman Shirinbekov, both suspected of belonging to, or maintaining ties with, illegal armed formations, according to Daghestan Interior Ministry acting spokesman Mark Tolchinsky. On November 17, police again stormed a private home in Makhachkala, killing Ulluby Balatkhanov, a suspect in the murder of several policemen, reported. LF

Unidentified gunmen late on November 14 opened fire on Colonel Salman Arapkhanov, the head of Ingushetia's transport police, in the yard of his home in Ordjonikidzevskaya in Sunzha Raion, Arapkhanov died shortly afterwards in hospital. The website on November 16 quoted his friends as expressing doubt that he was killed by armed militants; they pointed out that his position was considered a lucrative one, and one of several criminal groups could have ordered his murder with the objective of engineering the appointment of one of its members to succeed him. Also in Ordjonikidzevskaya, Russian Interior Ministry troops stopped three young Ingush men and then opened fire on them without any pretext late on November 15, killing one and seriously injuring the other two, reported. LF

Internet providers in Ingushetia on November 14 stopped rerouting users within Ingushetia from the independent website to a site featuring pornographic movies, but instead blocked access to the independent website, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13 and 14, 2007). The website appealed to Internet users to annul contracts with the providers in question, Telekom and ITT. On November 16, claimed to have obtained, and said it will soon post, video footage showing Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov consorting naked with prostitutes in Moscow. Magomed Mutsolgov, the head of the human rights organization Mashr, condemned that website's intention as incompatible with the Ingush concept of honor, reported on November 17. Ingush oppositionist Musa Ozdoyev, the sole parliament deputy to oppose Zyazikov's appointment in June 2005 for a second presidential term, appealed on November 18 to's owner Magomed Yevloyev and its editors not to post footage of what he termed "an orgy," arguing that doing so would reflect negatively on both the website itself and on the Ingush people. LF

Police in the suburbs of Nalchik halted and searched a car driven by Zeitun Gayev, 29, late on November 15, and arrested him after finding hand grenades, ammunition and explosives in his car, reported, quoting a police spokesman. Gayev was refused access to a lawyer, and police announced late on November 16 that he jumped to his death from a fourth-story window during interrogation. Also on November 15, police found and defused a powerful bomb in a Nalchik park, reported. Two weeks earlier, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) police claimed to have found a powerful explosive device at the home of an unemployed man in the village of Yanikoy in Chegem Raion, reported, quoting RIA Novosti. KBR police on November 15 also named nine suspects in the killing earlier this month of a group of hunters near the village of Lechinkai, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 5, 6, and 7, 2007). The nine include Anzor Astemirov, a.k.a. Seyfullah, leader of the Kabardino-Balkaria jamaat. LF

Speaking on November 16 to some 20,000 supporters at a rally in Yerevan, Levon Ter-Petrossian admitted to having made major errors during his tenure as president from 1991-1998, for which he expressed "belated but sincere" apologies, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Ter-Petrossian singled out as his gravest error of judgment having appointed two Armenians from the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian, to government positions in Yerevan. The two men were instrumental in forcing Ter-Petrossian to resign in February 1998, whereupon Kocharian was elected to succeed him. Sarkisian, now prime minister, is widely expected to win the presidential election on February 19, 2008, in which Kocharian is barred from seeking a third term. Ter-Petrossian has said he will run in the presidential election. He noted that Sarkisian, who on November 10 challenged Ter-Petrossian to "repent and apologize to the Armenian people" for his errors, never criticized the regime's policies prior to 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). Ter-Petrossian also rejected out of hand claims by Kocharian that his leadership "ruined" the Armenian economy. He admitted that government corruption was a problem during his tenure as president, but argued that his leadership team, in contrast to Kocharian's, was not "criminal." Ter-Petrossian called on three potential rivals to back his presidential bid, including his main challenger in the 1996 presidential ballot, opposition National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, and he vowed that if elected, he would step down after three years and "leave the political arena for good." He appealed to the international community to monitor closely the preparations for and conduct of the February 2008 election, claiming that the parliamentary ballot in May 2007 was marred by fraud "disguised with such ingenuity that no observer could detect" it. Ter-Petrossian further called for the immediate dismissal of Yerevan police chief Major General Nerses Nazarian, whom Ter-Petrossian's supporters identified as one of the police officers responsible for the beating the previous day of youth activist Narek Galstian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2007). LF

Imran Gaziyev, the first deputy head of the now closed representation in Azerbaijan of the unrecognized Chechen Republic Ichkeria, was shot dead while parking his car outside his home in Baku late on November 18, Azerbaijani media reported. The weapon used in the killing was reportedly identical to those issued to senior members of Azerbaijan' National Security Ministry. LF

President Mikheil Saakashvili on November 16 dismissed Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli due to his deteriorating health, less than 24 hours after Noghaideli's office rejected as untrue reports that he would step down, Georgian media reported. Noghaideli, who is 43, underwent open heart surgery in the United States in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19 and May 2, 2007), but on a visit to RFE/RL's Prague headquarters two months later appeared to have made a remarkable recovery. Saakashvili named as the new prime minister Vladimir (Lado) Gurgenidze, 36, a career banker who worked from 1998-2002 for ABN AMRO. Saakashvili assured journalists that Gurgenidze will remain in the post after the presidential election scheduled for January 5, 2008. Gurgenidze told journalists his primary focus will be the social sphere, in particular reducing unemployment. (Meanwhile, Caucasus Press reported that a new state program to create 100,000 new jobs at a cost of just 8 laris [$4.9] each -- originally scheduled to launch on November 19 -- has been postponed.) The dismissal of the prime minister automatically entails the resignation of the entire cabinet, but Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze told Caucasus Press on November 17 that he expects all "key ministers" will retain their posts in the new cabinet. He praised Noghaideli as "one of Georgia's best prime ministers." LF

The trial opened in Tbilisi on November 16 of former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was forced to leave Georgia on October 31 and is reported to be seeking political asylum in Germany, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili was arrested on September 27 and charged with dereliction of duty and extortion; he was released on bail of 10 million laris ($6.17 million) on October 8 after publicly retracting damaging allegations he made against President Saakashvili in a live interview with the independent Imedi television channel two days prior to his arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and October 9, 2007). LF

Kazakh Minister of Culture and Information Yermukhamet Yertysbaev said on November 16 that a new agreement was reached at a recent meeting with representatives from the country's non-state media, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Yertysbaev explained that he had "a normal conversation" with "opposition" media officials, who he characterized as "sensible people," and agreed "to observe certain rules of the game and adhere to ethical norms." Some of the opposition media officials disputed the minister's claims, however, and the editors of the opposition "Respublika," "Taszhargan," and "Vzglyad" newspapers published an address to their readers describing the meeting as "an attempt to interfere in editorial policy." The opposition editors went on to stress that "no one -- not even the information minister or the government or the parliament -- has the right to dictate to the independent press what it should publish." The head of Kazakhstan's Union of Journalists, Seitkazy Mataev, also dismissed the minister's claim of an agreement, adding that Yertysbaev was attempting to impose "censorship" by pressuring the media not to publish materials based on "audio recordings of telephone conversations of high-ranking Kazakh officials" recently posted on the Internet (see "Kazakhstan: More Leaked Recordings Target Presidential Party," November 15, 2007, RG

Kazakh Minister of Culture and Information Yertysbaev called on November 16 for "state regulation" of the Internet, arguing that "rules of behavior in Kazakhstan's virtual space should be clearly specified," Kazakhstan Today reported. He went to recommend that "certain problems" related to the improper use of the Internet should be subject to "criminal punishment," just as cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism are defined as criminal acts. Although the minister's comments are seen as a response to the posting of audio tapes allegedly of telephone conversations of several senior Kazakh officials on several opposition websites (see above), it also follows a recent "cyber attack" that disrupted the main computer network used by the Kazakh police department in Almaty for almost two days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2007). RG

Daniyal Akhmetov announced on November 17 new plans to adopt "space technology" and apply it to the Kazakh military's command and control system, with a specific focus on military communications, navigation, cartography, and surveillance, according to "Kazakhstan Today." Akhmetov added that the planned application of the technology is the latest element in Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's goal of developing more advanced armed forces and would supplement additional measures of introducing "new systems of armaments and military equipment" and "modern forms and methods of combat operations" to the Kazakh military. Akhmetov further cited the recent adoption of "a number of measures on strengthening air defense, providing the troops with missiles, air and armored equipment, communications and command systems," as well as the formation of a Kazakh navy and the establishment of new "military infrastructure" assets on the Caspian Sea coast. RG

Tolekan Ismailova, the head of the Citizens against Corruption human-rights center, announced on November 16 that the Kyrgyz delegation to the United Nations voted the day before to join the UN convention banning the use of the death penalty, according to Although the resolution is not binding, Ismailova welcomed it as "a real step towards humanizing life" and called on the Kyrgyz government to introduce "the practice of reviewing convicts' cases every five years" in order to "relieve our prisons and reduce the number of convicts." RG

A district court in Bishkek convicted on November 16 the leaders of two prominent Kyrgyz civil society groups for committing an "administrative offense" stemming from their participation in a recent "unsanctioned" demonstration, AKIpress reported. The deputy leader of the Greens Party, Anara Sultangazieva, and the leader of the Tokmak Resource Center, Maksim Kuleshov, led a rally in central Bishkek's Ala-Too Square called "Say 'No' to Dictatorship" on November 10 protesting "the usurpation of power" by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007). The court found the two guilty of "defying" police requests to "remove caricatures containing obscene gestures." The court also issued a formal warning to four other participants. Defense lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov criticized the conviction and promised to submit an appeal to the Bishkek city court challenging the district court's decision. The conviction follows a recent rally organized by leading Kyrgyz human-rights activists protesting that civil rights are "under threat" and demanding the protection of the right to hold public gatherings and meetings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007). RG

The Kyrgyz Central Electoral Commission (CEC) formally registered on November 16 the opposition Ata-Meken party's 98 candidates for the upcoming December 16 parliamentary election, AKIpress reported. The CEC also endorsed the application of Erika Iriskulbekova, from the Adilet human-rights group, as the party's authorized representative. On the same day, the leadership of the Patriotic Party of Kyrgyzstan's Unity announced the dissolution of the party, with its members pledging to join the pro-government Ak-Jol party. The CEC also approved a request by Toygonbek Kalmatov, the head of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, to allow Kyrgyz voters leaving for the annual hajj to Saudi Arabia to cast their votes before the elections, with voting booths to be established at Kyrgyz airports on December 10, ITAR-TASS reported. The CEC also confirmed that some 48 political parties will field party-list candidates in the December parliamentary election, which the CEC recently said would cost an estimated 151.5 million soms ($4.2 million), including more than 43 million soms ($1.19 million) for the operation of precinct election commissions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 29, 2007). RG

Hamrokhon Zarifi met on November 13 in Berlin with European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner to discuss the development of Tajikistan's "water and energy potential" and border-security issues, Asia-Plus reported. Ferrero-Waldner noted that the EU is actively engaged in assisting Tajikistan in "border management" and "creating conditions for developing border trade," and said that she will consider Zarifi's request for "further technical and financial assistance" to the Tajik border and customs services. Ferrero-Waldner also stated that the EU sees a necessity to implement "projects aimed at developing the transport infrastructure" of the region, with a focus on joint efforts to link Tajikistan and Afghanistan and to develop greater trade between those two countries. She also welcomed a recent Tajik proposal to open a Central Asian research institute for alternative and renewable energy sources in Dushanbe, and noted that the problem of water resources is a vital issue for the region. Zarifi also met on the same day with German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and discussed measures to expand bilateral "political, economic, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation." RG

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov met on November 16 in Ashgabat with visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Steven Mann, Turkmen Television reported. Mann praised Turkmenistan's energy policy for being "open to foreign investment" and for its "efficient use" of its natural resources. Berdymukhammedov also stressed that the country's agricultural and industrial sectors are similarly "priority areas" for foreign investment and discussed a proposal to establish a "tourism zone" in western Turkmenistan. The meeting follows a recent international energy conference in Ashgabat, where EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs also welcomed what he called Turkmenistan's "openness" to foreign investment in its energy sector and pledged that the EU is "ready to work with Turkmenistan" as one of the major exporters of energy to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2007). RG

The Initiative Committee of Independent Human Rights Activists in Uzbekistan released a statement on November 17 detailing the recent death of a second Uzbek inmate from alleged torture, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The inmate, Tohir Nurmuhammedov, was a suspected Islamic extremist and reportedly died of torture on November 13 while in prison in the eastern city of Andijon. Uzbek human-rights activist Surat Ikramov said members of Nurmuhammedov's family reported that his body "bore multiple traces of torture, numerous wounds, grazes, and bruises." Nurmuhammedov was sentenced to eight years in prison in April 2002 for his membership in the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Another alleged member of the group, Fitrat Salohiddinov, also reportedly died recently of torture while in prison in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2007). Both deaths and the similar allegations of torture follow the release of a recent Human Rights Watch report that contends that torture is "endemic" in the country's criminal justice system. RG

The founding conference of the pro-presidential nationwide movement Belaya Rus (White Russia) on November 17 elected Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkou as the movement's chairman, Belapan reported. The conference in Minsk brought together 380 delegates representing all regions of Belarus. They adopted a charter for the movement stating that the mission of Belaya Rus will be to "contribute to the building of a strong and prosperous Belarus and participate in matters of the development of the country." Radzkou promised that the movement will soon develop into the "most numerous public force" in Belarus, and will certainly take part in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Radzkou also said that all of independent Belarus's achievements are closely linked to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "Today it's obvious to all that the course chosen by the president has proved its viability," Radzkou said. AM

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs David Kramer told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that the United States will maintain its sanctions against Belarus unless the government releases all political prisoners, the service reported on November 16. Kramer said that there is a small number of political prisoners in Belarus, but "all of them are important." As long as they are incarcerated, Kramer continued, U.S. authorities will be forced to take steps against Belarus. "It is time for Belarus to act as a respectful member of the OSCE," he added. The United States has imposed financial sanctions and travel bans on Belarusian officials over Minsk's violations of human rights and democratic principles. In the latest financial sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department on November 13 froze all assets under U.S. jurisdiction belonging to Belarus's largest petrochemical company, Belnaftakhim, and its representatives, and forbids Americans from doing business with the company on the grounds that it is controlled by President Lukashenka. AM

A gas blast at the Zasyadko coalmine in the Donetsk region on November 18 killed at least 69 miners and injured many others, 28 of whom were hospitalized, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Rescue workers are searching for another 30 miners. Around 450 miners were working in the vicinity when the explosion occurred at a depth of 1,000 meters. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said that an expert committee is currently investigating the cause of the blast. The Ukrainian government has offered the families of the slain miners $20,000 each in compensation. Donetsk authorities have designated November 19-21 as days of mourning in the region. Nearly 140 miners have died in disasters at the Zasyadko coalmine since 1999. AM

Nearly 5,000 Crimean Tatars demonstrated on November 18 in Simferopol, demanding that Ukrainian authorities investigate the clashes that broke out two weeks ago between police officers and market vendors, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. While attempting to clear illegal market stalls in Simferopol on November 6, Ukrainian police clashed with ethnic Tatars, four of whom were injured. Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Mejlis -- the body representing the Crimean Tatars -- addressed the demonstration, and cited "a new spiral of discrimination against Crimean Tatars" and "Crimean authorities' undermining the process of reinstating rights for Crimean Tatars." The Mejlis recently called for protests to be held throughout the peninsula. Crimean Tatars have also erected a tent city in downtown Simferopol as part of their protest. AM

Unofficial results show that Kosova's largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), won parliamentary elections held on November 17. The PDK's share of the vote rose from 28 percent in 2004 to 35 percent, while the leader of the governing coalition and the strongest party in each of the past two parliamentary elections, the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), saw its support slump from 45 percent to 22 percent. Current figures suggest that a new party, the New Kosova Alliance (AKR), came third with 12 percent, followed by an alliance of the Democratic League of Dardania (LDD) and the Albanian Christian Democratic Party of Kosovo (PShDK) with 10 percent, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) with 9 percent. The AAK is led by Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister currently awaiting trial in The Hague for war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). The official results are due to be published on November 20 and certified by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which oversees the province, on December 4. AG

As in the last elections, in 2004, Kosovar Serbs chose to boycott the vote, a decision that will mean that the 10 seats reserved under the constitution for ethnic-Serbian representatives in the 120-seat assembly will not be occupied. A November 17 report by the Serbian broadcaster B92 said that just five ethnic Serbs voted in the north of the region, their main base, and that in central Kosova turnout "was somewhat higher but still extremely low, with 3 percent of the 5,000 Serbs registered" going to the polls. Kosovar Serbs were split on the wisdom of a boycott, with some moderates arguing that the previous boycott did nothing to improve the everyday lot or the political position of Kosovar Serbs. But the extremely low Serb turnout indicates that ultimately almost all Serbs heeded the call for a boycott made by the Serbian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, August 9 and 20, and September 4, 12, and 19, 2007). The boycott was criticized by Western powers, UNMIK, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which organized the vote. AG

There was also concern -- voiced most publicly in a statement by an "alarmed" Council of Europe -- that just 43 percent of the Kosovar electorate voted, 10 percentage points lower than in the 2004 elections and the lowest figure yet in elections in the region. Snow and cold temperatures may have dissuaded some voters, but analysts quoted in the local and international media attributed the drop chiefly to apathy, disappointment with living standards and politicians, and a protest vote against the LDK. Election monitors said there were some minor incidents but concluded that the elections met international standards. However, one Kosovar Albanian party, the AKR, has complained of "many irregularities," and a senior figure in Serbia's Ministry for Kosovo Affairs, Dusan Prorokovic, claimed on TV Pink on November 18 that "too many people were registered on voter lists," which, he asserted, was one of several explanations for the low turnout. Mobile voting stations were used in some Serb-populated areas as local officials refused to allow polling stations to be set up. The Serbian news agency FoNet reported that at two polling stations in Strpce, former policemen threatened would-be voters. AG

The leader of the victorious PDK, Hashim Thaci, said on November 17 that Kosova will declare independence "immediately" after December 10, when international mediators seeking to broker an agreement on Kosova's final status are due to report to the UN's secretary general. Thaci, who has repeatedly said that a declaration of independence should be coordinated with the international community, did not indicate whether his putative government would take unilateral action and whether "immediately" means days, weeks, or months. Parliamentary support for independence is assured, but the uncertainty about the status talks, about international support for Kosova's independence, and about regional security is widely expected to result in the rapid formation of a new government. Since the PDK and the LDK have previously said they will not enter a coalition with the AKR or the LDD-PShDK alliance, a coalition between the two largest parties is highly probable. Unofficial comments by PDK officials quoted in the local and international media suggest the PDK is already planning to pursue a partnership with the LDK, which has been in the region's government since the end of the 1998-99 war. A deal could involve the seat of prime minister. Although Thaci on November 17 described himself as Kosova's new prime minister, the post of premier has traditionally not been occupied by a member of the largest party. The post-election rebalancing of power may also have an effect on the composition or strength of the five-member "Unity Team" representing Kosova in the talks on the region's status. The serving prime minister, Agim Ceku, did not contest the election; one of the Unity Team's members, Veton Surroi, heads a party that may not clear the 5 percent hurdle needed to enter parliament; and the new parliament will also choose a new speaker, a post that also brings with it membership in the Unity Team. Thaci was already a member of the team in his capacity as leader of the opposition. Thaci was a military commander during the Kosovar Albanians' war with Serbia in 1998-99, as were two of Kosova's previous prime ministers, Agim Ceku (premier since March 2006) and Ramush Haradinaj (December 2004-March 2005). AG

Three "explosive devices" were thrown at the home of a Kosovar Serb politician on November 16, the Serbian news agency B92 reported. The news agency quoted the target of the attack, Stojanka Petkovic, as saying ethnic Serbs were responsible. "Albanians didn't do this; this was the work of Serbs and I want the public to know this," Petkovic said in comments also carried by the news agencies Beta and Tanjug. Petkovic is a member of the G17 Plus coalition, which is part of the Serbian government. Petkovic did not link the attack to Kosova's parliamentary elections, from which G17 Plus withdrew several weeks ago, but instead to previous threats connected to her "fight against corruption and crime, and for truth and justice." No one was hurt in the incident, which is currently being investigated. In contrast to Petkovic, Serbia's minister for Kosovar affairs, Slobodan Samardzic, pointed the finger at Kosovar Albanians. "Just as before, Serbs live in fear and uncertainty, and with this act, the perpetrators want to intensify those feelings among Kosovo Serbs," he said in comments carried by Serbian media. "Now that everyone, especially the Serbian side, wants to prove that it is possible to resolve the issue of Kosovo's status, it is very important to see clearly who causes these incidents and intimidates Kosovo Serbs," Samardzic said. AG

The Serbian authorities last week staged four operations in an effort to find suspected war criminals, Serbian Labor Minister Rasim Ljajic told the Serbian daily "Blic" on November 18. Ljajic, who heads the committee that oversees cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said that during one of the operations "enough weapons to arm a platoon" were found. He said one operation was in Belgrade, one in central Serbia, and two in the northern province of Vojvodina, but provided no other details. Ljajic also said that Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, had in the preceding days visited the ICTY in The Hague to question former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and wartime Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik about allegations that Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. envoy in the Balkans, had offered Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, immunity from prosecution if he left the political stage in post-war Bosnia. Serbia began investigating this longstanding allegation against Holbrooke earlier this year following the publication of a book by a former ICTY spokeswoman alleging that Russia and Western powers systematically prevented the capture of Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 12, and 21, and October 5 and 17, 2007). Holbrooke has dismissed the claim. AG

Four people were injured on November 16 when supporters of two rival factions in the Muslim community in Sandzak clashed in a mosque in the southern region's capital, Novi Pazar. Reports indicate the violence erupted when about 200 supporters loyal to a Belgrade-based community leader, Hamdija Jusufspahic, tried to enter a mosque in which 60 people were attending prayers led by Muamer Zukorlic, a Muslim leader who continues to defend Sarajevo as the spiritual center of Serbia's Muslims. Jusufspahic's supporters had reportedly been praying outside the mosque for much of the past two weeks. Three people -- including two policemen -- were injured by stones and bricks, and another by a gunshot, a police commander told the Serbian news agency Tanjug. The violence is further evidence that tensions continue to simmer after they boiled over into violence in early October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2007). AG

The political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is deteriorating and the EU's military force in the country, EUFOR, should remain there, Bosnia's outgoing Prime Minister Nikola Spiric and the international community's High Representative Miroslav Lajcak warned the UN Security Council on November 15. EUFOR's mandate runs out on November 21. The assessment of the general trend and the need for continued security guarantees were isolated points of agreement between the two men. Spiric resigned in October after Lajcak won international backing for his plan to streamline decision-making in the country, a move that Spiric and other Bosnian Serb leaders believe undermines the rights guaranteed for ethnic Serbs in the peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1995. Although Russia ultimately backed Lajcak's reforms, it repeated its criticisms of Lajcak on November 14, when, according to the news agency STA and the news service Balkan Insight, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Slovenia that the "crisis" was "created by High Representative Lajcak's actions." It is highly likely EUFOR's mandate will be renewed, as it has been in previous years. EUFOR cut its presence in Bosnia from 6,000 troops to about 2,500 earlier this year, but its commander recently warned of the possibility of war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). Lajcak was in New York to review developments between April and September this year, prior to the crisis triggered by his reforms. AG

Switzerland wants to send back to Bosnia seven North African asylum seekers who fought in Bosnia's civil war in 1992-95, Swiss and Bosnian media have reported. Details are scant, but the seven men, who are said to be Tunisian and Moroccan in origin, are believed to have been granted Bosnian passports for fighting alongside Bosnian Muslims in the 1992-95 civil war. Bosnia this summer began to review the citizenship of hundreds of foreigners who fought in the war as part of a broader review of naturalization procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, April 12, June 28, and August 22, 2007). The Bosnian daily "Nezavisne novine" on November 16 quoted an official in Bosnia's Security Ministry, Dragan Mektic, as saying that Bosnia is "now checking the citizenship of those persons as well as their stays here. We have not replied yet to the Swiss." Mektic also said the men are married to Bosnian women and have five to six children each. The Swiss authorities told AP on November 17 that the case is "pending," but gave no details. AG


Five Afghan policemen who were abducted by suspected Taliban insurgents were found mutilated and hanging from trees on November 17 in Oruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan, presumably as a warning to other Afghan security forces and locals, the Bakhtar News Agency reported on November 18. Provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemmat said "the Taliban told people that whoever works with the government will suffer the same fate as these policemen." The victims were apparently among 32 police officers who were kidnapped in Dehrawod district by Taliban militants two months ago. Violence is widespread in southern Afghanistan, where two Canadian soldiers and dozens of Taliban militants were killed in clashes in recent days. Afghan and international sources estimate that the number of insurgency-related casualties in Afghanistan has reached 6,000 this year. MM

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on November 18 said the Taliban insurgency will pose no threat once the Afghan Army reaches full strength and acquires the necessary training and weapons, Bakhtar News Agency reported. At a news conference in Kabul, he appealed for perseverance in fighting the Taliban insurgency, and reassured the U.S.-led coalition forces that "the enemies have resorted to fighting in small groups and conducting guerrilla warfare and ambushes, but they do not pose any threat to long-term security in Afghanistan." Wardak described Taliban tactics and strategy as undermining domestic and foreign confidence in the Afghan government, and as such, "the psychological effects...are to make people think that the situation is getting worse." He suggested that U.S. and NATO forces should conduct house-to-house searches alongside Afghan forces, and make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. MM

Amid growing tensions between independent media and conservative forces in Afghan government and society, Tolo TV on November 18 provoked sharp criticism from the Culture Ministry and key Muslim clerics by broadcasting a hip-shaking performance by Colombian pop star Shakira, the U.K.'s "Daily Telegraph" reported. Tolo TV, Afghanistan's largest commercial station, has often faced condemnation for broadcasting Western-style programs including versions of MTV, Oprah, and Pop Idol. Afghan authorities have warned Tolo that it faces possible legal action for offending the religious sensibilities of the Afghan public. The incident is the latest sign of a growing backlash by the country's powerful conservative forces against the tide of liberalization since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. President Hamid Karzai's government is under increasing pressure from lawmakers and Muslim scholars who consider such shows indecent and condemn the media's perceived excesses for providing "inspiration to suicide bombers." MM

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said during his first trip to the United States on November 16 that he supports the international community's efforts to ensure that Afghanistan does not fall back into the hands of extremists, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "We should never allow Afghanistan to once again become a hotbed for terrorism," Fukuda said in Washington, D.C. Fukuda added that he "communicated to President [George W.] Bush that I shall do my level best to achieve an early passage of a bill for the early resumption of refueling activities in the Indian Ocean by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force." Japanese naval forces recently stopped refueling supply ships bound for Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom due to domestic opposition to Japanese participation in the operation. MM

A Tehran court had feminist and writer Mariam Hosseinkhah arrested on November 18 after she was called in for questioning, Radio Farda and Iranian papers have reported. She helped run the "Zanestan" website, which reported on the privately run Women's Cultural Center, and which was blocked days ago, "Etemad" reported on November 19. The daily quoted her husband, Shahab Mirzai, as saying that the security department of the Tehran Revolutionary Court summoned her on November 17 and 18 for questioning in relation to charges of inciting public opinion, publishing false reports, and engaging in propaganda against the Iranian polity, after which she was arrested and sent to Evin prison in Tehran. VS

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, has said that inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will arrive in Iran within the next two weeks to examine the sources of traces of highly enriched uranium -- usable in nuclear bomb-making -- in "one of Iran's technical universities," Radio Farda reported on November 17, citing ISNA. The broadcaster was apparently referring to remarks made by Aqazadeh in Tehran late on November 15. He said this was part of the "modalities" for the clarification of Iran's nuclear program under terms agreed with the IAEA in late August. The IAEA presented a report of Iran's cooperation on November 15, observing that Iran is cooperating, but continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of UN demands. Iranian officials have warned that more punitive measures against Iran may jeopardize its cooperation. Javad Vaidi, a deputy secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, told Mehr news agency on November 17 that Iran's continued cooperation depends on "rational and lawful" conduct by the 5+1 powers, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. VS

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Deputy Secretary Vaidi told reporters in Tehran on November 17 that he will meet with Robert Cooper, a deputy to Javier Solana, the top EU diplomat dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue, on November 21 in Vienna. He said the two will plan for the next meeting between Solana and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Said Jalili. He said he will not discuss IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei's recent report with Cooper. Vaidi said Iran has in past years cooperated with the IAEA and the IAEA is now in a position to reveal "some of the facts" about Iran's program. Vaidi accused hostile Western powers of seeking to disrupt Iran's cooperation with the IAEA. He said the past postures and "illegal wishes of" the United States and "some Western states" have shown that "reporting on [Iran's] lawful and responsible" conduct seems to have no effect on their "problematic" behavior. VS

Iran and Bahrain signed three cooperation agreements during a visit there by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on November 17, the daily "Jomhuri Islami" reported on November 18. The agreements concern expanding cooperation in the gas and fishing sectors and avoiding double taxation. A joint statement was issued calling for enhanced bilateral cooperation. The daily quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during his talks with Bahraini King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa that regional states should assure their own security without foreign interference. He later told a news conference that Iran does not anticipate any new conflict in the region, but said the enemy likes to maintain "the shadow of threats" over Iran. He said Iran has not encouraged tensions, but "our response will be clear" if "enemies" commit a "mistake." He told a reporter that Iran does not feel there is any crisis brewing on the nuclear issue, even if the United States does. "There is no nuclear issue as far as we are concerned, and the matter is over, and the Americans are not happy about this...ultimately we think the crisis is in Washington, not in the region," Ahmadinejad reportedly said. He accused Western powers of "plotting" in the region to avoid having to "evacuate," "Jomhuri Islami" reported. VS

President Ahmadinejad went from Bahrain to Riyadh, where he attended the third-ever meeting of OPEC heads of state on November 18, Radio Farda reported, citing agency reports. Ahmadinejad said the oil producers' cartel should start charging for oil in currencies other than the dollar, given the U.S. currency's recent and steady depreciation. Iran and Venezuela had reportedly asked for the session to consider exchanging the dollar for one or a basket of alternative currencies, a request opposed by Saudi Arabia, the world's largest single producer. Ahmadinejad told OPEC leaders that while the nominal price of oil might have risen, a 45 percent drop in the value of the dollar in the past couple of years had dented an apparent rise in OPEC members' revenues, Radio Farda reported. He said the United States is trying to hide the damage the dollar's slide can do, presumably to states earning dollars. He also urged members to work on starting a regional oil bourse. Ahmadinejad accused "certain forceful powers" of disrupting the energy market with talk of war in the Middle East or threats of action against Iran. The "selfishness and incorrect decisions" of one unnamed power, he said, are having increasingly negative effects on the world economy. Ahmadinejad said OPEC should resist raising its production level in response to an "often artificial increase in demand" for crude oil, Radio Farda reported. VS

Authorities on November 15 hanged three men convicted of murdering three children in apparent family feuding in the western city of Hamedan, "Jomhuri Islami" reported on November 18. Manuchehr Tork, Mohammad Reza Tork, and Sefrali Varmaziar had been convicted of stabbing children aged 10, 12, and 15 to death in November 2005 in the village of Zamanabad near Malayer, a district of the Hamedan Province. The three were hanged in the Hamedan city prison in the presence of judiciary and police officials and the victims' relatives. Iran's supreme court has separately approved the death penalty given to a "young boy" or "young man" convicted of "abusing" and killing an 8-year-old boy on an unspecified date, in a dump or wasteland outside Shahedshahr in the Tehran province, "Iran" reported on November 18. The daily said the convict is awaiting execution, but did not give his age. VS

The remains of about 33 bodies were discovered in a mass grave on November 17 in a predominantly Sunni district in southern Baghdad, international media reported. Local police sources said the mass grave in the Al-Daura neighborhood was discovered by members of the Hawr Rajab Awakening Council, a coalition of former Sunni insurgents allied with U.S. and Iraqi forces to rid the region of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Daura was once under the control of militants loyal to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Police estimated that the victims in the mass grave, some of whom were reportedly women and children, were killed about seven months ago. The remains were later taken to the Al-Kazimain mosque where locals who had lost relatives gathered to try to identify the bodies. However, police indicated that some of the bodies were so decomposed that it would be difficult for relatives to determine their identities. It was the third mass grave discovered in Iraq this month. SS

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced on November 17 that two former Health Ministry officials will stand trial for alleged sectarian abductions and killings, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The two officials were identified as former Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili and Hamid al-Shammari, the former commander of the ministry's security forces. Al-Zamili and al-Shammari, supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, were arrested in February on suspicion of using the health ministry to funnel money to al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army to carry out sectarian killings. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the trial "shows the government wants to implement the rule of law for these two people." "There have been a lot of problems in the Ministry of Health during the period in which they served. There is no favor because they are Al-Sadrists," al-Dabbagh said. SS

During a November 16 interview with the Qatari daily "Al-Sharq," Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi said that the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni political bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, does not aim to bring down the Iraqi government. Al-Hashimi, who is also the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the main members of the Iraqi Accordance Front, insisted that the front's current boycott of the Iraqi government is meant to help reform the government, not to topple it. "The front's stance should not be misinterpreted," Al-Hashimi said. "It does not seek to create a constitutional or political vacuum in the country. Had we had the intention to topple the government, we would have made that clear.... What concerns us is reforming the current situation." In August, the Iraqi Accordance Front withdrew six ministers from Prime Minister al-Maliki's government to protest the government's failure to meet the bloc's demands for reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). The front currently holds 44 seats in the 275-seat Iraqi Parliament. SS

At a press conference on November 18, Iraqi government spokesman al-Dabbagh said Iran is helping to curb the flow of weapons and fighters into Iraq. Al-Dabbagh said that while elements in Iran had previously sent people and weapons to destabilize Iraq, Tehran is now trying to fulfill its pledge to prevent such transfers. He said that the shift in Iran's stance came after Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's visit to Tehran in August, where he received assurances from the Iranian leadership that they would clamp down on the flow of weapons, fighters, and money from the Islamic Republic. Al-Dabbagh said Tehran has also persuaded Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr to call on his militia to freeze its operations. "The freezing of the [Imam] Al-Mahdi Army makes us feel there is a good intention. Iran has played a role in this one and we definitely think Muqtada al-Sadr should be thanked," he said. Al-Sharqiyah television also reported the same day that Ali al-Mayyal, a member of al-Sadr's political bloc, revealed that security forces discovered a large cache of weapons belonging to a company in Al-Diwaniyah that transports Iranian pilgrims to Iraqi holy sites. Al-Dabbagh stressed that there is no doubt that Iran has influence in Iraq, but he urged Iran to use its "influence in a positive way." SS

The provincial governor of Al-Muthanna Governorate, Ahmad Marzuk, said U.S. forces on November 18 opened fire on several civilian cars, killing two Iraqis and wounding six, international media reported. Marzuk described the incident near the town of Al-Rumaitha as "barbaric, brutal, and illegal," and demanded a full investigation by the Iraqi government. He also called on officials in the governorate to stop working with the U.S. military, including members of provincial reconstruction teams. The U.S. military issued a statement expressing regret that an incident occurred in the governorate that resulted in the deaths of two Iraqis and the wounding of four. "Coalition forces will work closely with the families and tribal and government leaders in Al-Muthanna to convey our deep regret and ensure that the families of those killed, and those who were injured, are properly cared for. This incident is being fully investigated," the statement said. SS

A senior official in Iraq's Finance Ministry escaped an apparent assassination attempt in central Baghdad on November 18, Iraqi media reported. Iraqi security officials said a car bomb exploded near the motorcade of ministry official Salman Mukoter near Al-Hurriyah Square in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Karradah, killing five people and wounding 10. Two of those killed were Mukoter's bodyguards. Local police immediately sealed off the area and rushed the wounded to nearby hospitals. Among those injured in the attack was Sattar Jabr, the editor in chief of the "Al-Bayana Al-Jadida" newspaper, who was accompanying Mukoter. SS