UNIFIED RUSSIA SECURES TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY IN NEW DUMA...
Preliminary results from the December 2 legislative elections, with 98 percent of the ballots counted, give the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party 64.1 percent of the vote and a constitutional majority in the next State Duma, Russian media reported on December 3. According to various forecasts, Unified Russia will have 311-315 seats in the 450-seat lower chamber, giving it the two-thirds majority needed to initiate constitutional changes. Three other parties overcame the 7 percent hurdle to pick up seats. The Communist Party polled 11.6 percent (for an estimated 57 seats); the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) picked up 8.2 percent (40 seats); and the left-leaning, pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party polled 7.8 percent (38 seats). The turnout for the vote was officially put at 63 percent, compared to 55 percent in 2003. Although Unified Russia received up to 99 percent of the vote in some regions, doing particularly well according to official results in the North Caucasus, its poorest result came in President Vladimir Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, where the party polled just 51 percent. The party also fared relatively poorly in Moscow, polling 54 percent. Gazeta.ru noted that the composition of the new Duma will be similar to the last one, where Unified Russia had 304 seats, the Communists had 47, A Just Russia and Rodina (Motherland) together had 33, and the LDPR had 30. Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov told RIA Novosti on December 3 that the new Duma will represent 91.7 percent of those who voted, compared to the previous Duma's 70.7 percent. Strana.ru contrasted Unified Russia's strong showing with that of the so-called party of power in the 1995 Duma elections: at that time, Russia's Democratic Choice failed to poll the 5 percent needed to gain party-list seats in the legislature. RC
...AS LIBERAL OPPOSITION PARTIES DEALT CRUSHING BLOW
According to preliminary official results from the December 2 Duma elections, Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and other liberal parties each polled less than 2 percent of the vote, Russian media reported. Yabloko polled 1.6 percent, while SPS received 1 percent, and the Democratic Party of Russia polled just 0.1 percent. The Agrarian Party attracted 2.3 percent and the nationalist Patriots of Russia party picked up 0.9 percent of the vote. Under Russian law, parties that receive less than 3 percent of the vote in a national legislative election are not eligible for federal financial support. Parties that pick up more than 3 percent qualify for 5 rubles ($0.20) per vote per year. In addition, parties that receive less than 2 percent of the vote must reimburse the state at commercial rates for the free broadcast airtime and space in state newspapers that was allotted to them during the campaign. This provision of the law gives the state considerable legal leeway to initiate actions against these parties. In addition, parties that failed to receive 4 percent of the vote will forfeit the 60 million-ruble deposit that they submitted to participate in the elections. The St. Petersburg-based daily "Delovoi Peterburg" predicted that the LDPR will occupy the "rightist" part of the political spectrum now and will modify its strident, pro-Kremlin nationalism in an effort to appeal to liberal voters. RC
WINNING PARTIES REACT TO DUMA VOTE
Outgoing Duma Speaker and Unified Russia party head Boris Gryzlov on December 2 hailed the party's strong showing in that day's national elections, Russian media reported. Speaking on national television, Gryzlov said, "Considering that the Duma elections were practically a referendum in support of the course of President Vladimir Putin, we can say that Vladimir Putin won in the first round." Gryzlov said the party has no plans to alter the constitution, while fellow party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told journalists that the government will work closely with the new legislature. Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who also heads the A Just Russia party, also called the vote "a victory for Vladimir Putin," gazeta.ru reported. Mironov added that his faction in the new Duma plans to introduce legislation on extending the term of the president of the Russian Federation to five or, possibly, seven years. Mironov also called on the Communist Party to merge with A Just Russia. LDPR leader and outgoing Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky expressed satisfaction with the results of the vote and predicted that the LDPR's final tally will be several percentage points higher than the preliminary results indicate. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov expressed skepticism about the fairness of the vote, noting that the official preliminary results corresponded "100 percent" with predictions made by Kremlin analysts "two weeks ago." Communist Party legal experts told journalists on December 2 that the party is preparing to contest the results of the elections in the Supreme Court. RC
OBSERVERS CHARGE WIDESPREAD VIOLATIONS DURING DUMA VOTE
Independent election monitors and opposition parties have complained of numerous violations of election laws and procedures during the December 2 Duma vote, "The Moscow Times" and other media reported on December 3. The independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) Golos reported that it has received some 3,000 calls on its complaints hot line. Golos said alleged violations included intimidation, premarked ballots, and attempted vote-buying. Golos observers claimed to have seen police officers in Moscow offering voters 700 rubles ($29) to vote for Unified Russia. Luc van der Brande, who is heading a delegation of election monitors from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, was quoted as saying the elections were "technically good," although he added that "it's not enough to have free elections; you also need to have fair elections." The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) main election-monitoring agency declined to send observers to the elections, citing Moscow's failure to cooperate. However, Kimmo Kiljunen, deputy head of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, told AFP that "the executive branch acted as though it practically elected the parliament itself." Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on December 3, Kiljunen said the elections were "normal," although he noted "national peculiarities." He said he did not observe any election violations. Western election observers have scheduled a press conference for December 3 at which they are expected to give a negative assessment of the vote. Nauryz Aidarov, the head of the monitoring mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), declared the elections to be "open and free," Interfax reported on December 3. "During the elections in Russia, all legal and organizational conditions for open and free national elections were ensured and all discriminatory limitations were eliminated," Aidarov said. Communist Party leader Zyuganov told Interfax that his party observed "numerous gross violations" during the voting. The party has called for a demonstration in Moscow on December 3 to protest the preliminary results, electorat.info reported. A Communist Party lawyer told gazeta.ru that the party on December 2 alone filed 700 complaints with prosecutors and 8,000 with local and national election officials. RC
SECURITY OUT IN FORCE IN MOSCOW AS VOTE COUNT CONTINUES
As soon as polls closed and preliminary results were announced at 9 p.m. Moscow time on December 2, a massive police presence took up positions in Moscow's main squares, gazeta.ru reported on December 3. Police cordoned off all the main squares where opposition demonstrations take place, as well as the Central Election Commission and the headquarters of the Unified Russia party. On November 30, RFE/RL reported that the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi printed up fliers calling on Putin's supporters to come into the streets in the event that oppositionists, who Nashi claimed are supported by the CIA, attempt to overturn the results and create an "Orange Revolution" in Russia. The Other Russia opposition group told gazeta.ru that it has scheduled a "mourning service" for outside the Central Election Commission building on the evening of December 3. RC
CHECHNYA CLAIMS HIGHEST TURNOUT FOR DUMA ELECTIONS
Over 99 percent of Chechnya's registered voters participated in the December 2 State Duma elections, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on December 3, quoting Central Election Commission data. That figure is the highest for any federation subject. But SPS candidate Timur Aliyev challenged that figure, saying his party calculated that turnout did not exceed 30 percent. In Grozny, 99 percent of voters cast their ballots for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, according to Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Ismail Baikhanov. Baikhanov further said that the referendum on changes to the Chechen Republic constitution can be considered valid, as more than 50 percent of registered voters participated. Finnish parliamentarian Kimmo Kiljunen, the deputy president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and a member of its election monitoring mission in Russia, questioned the accuracy of the reported Chechen election results, saying that it is "impossible that all voters come and vote for one and the same party," newsru.com reported on December 3. LF
MOST VOTERS IN INGUSHETIA REPORTEDLY BOYCOTT DUMA VOTE
In Ingushetia, the discrepancy between official turnout claims and the actual number of people who voted was reportedly even greater than in Chechnya. The republic's Election Commission claimed 98 percent voter participation, of whom 98.9 percent voted for Unified Russia, while the embattled website ingushetiya.ru estimated that no more than 8 percent of voters cast ballots. It reported that at many polling stations it monitored, not a single voter showed up over a two-hour period. Of 4,218 voters who participated in a poll conducted by ingushetiya.ru between October 19 and November 30, 32.7 percent said they intended to vote for Yabloko, 8.8 percent for Unified Russia, 7.6 percent for the SPS and 7.3 percent for the KPRF. Although that option has been abolished, 34.4 percent said they would vote against all candidates. LF
OTHER NORTH CAUCASUS REPUBLICS REGISTER ABOVE-AVERAGE VOTE FOR PRO-KREMLIN PARTY
Daghestan registered 92 percent turnout in the December 2 State Duma elections, of whom 89 percent voted for Unified Russia, and some 8.6 percent for the KPRF, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on December 3. Other parties all polled less than 1 percent. In the election for the district administration head in Dakhadayev Raion, two of the 14 candidates -- Djarullakh Omarov and Nukh Nukhov (SPS) -- will participate in a runoff, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on December 3. Nukhov remains in pre-trial detention in Makhachkala on charges of hooliganism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28 and 29, 2007). Voter turnout in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic was estimated at 94 percent, of whom over 96 percent voted for Unified Russia, regnum.ru reported on December 3. Turnout in North Ossetia was 63 percent, less than the 80 percent predicted one day earlier by republican Central Election Commission Chairman Konstantin Kadiyev; no results are available yet for either the State Duma vote or the republican parliamentary elections. Adygeya had the lowest turnout among the North Caucasus republics at 54.7 percent, of whom 74.5 percent voted for Unified Russia and 12.28 percent for the KPRF. LF
U.S. CALLS ON RUSSIA TO INVESTIGATE ELECTION FRAUD CHARGES
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said on December 2 that "early reports from Russia include allegations of election-day violations" in the parliamentary vote the same day, news agencies reported. He added that "we urge Russian authorities to investigate these claims." He repeated the White House's long-standing concerns about the "intimidation" of opposition leaders and "lack of equal opportunity encountered by opposition candidates and parties." Johndroe argued that "we also regret that limitations Russia imposed on election monitors prevented the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office For Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [ODIHR] from fielding an election-monitoring mission" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 27, 28, 29, and 30, 2007). In Berlin on December 3, EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she will wait for election monitors' reports before commenting on the election results, Reuters reported. She argued nonetheless that "we saw some violations of basic rights, notably free-speech and assembly rights," and she described as "very unfortunate" the circumstances surrounding ODIHR's decision not to monitor the vote in the face of Russian obstructions. Ruprecht Polenz of Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU), who heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Deutsche Welle on December 3 that the Russian vote "was not what we would call a democratic election." He stressed that the Kremlin, not Russian citizens, make the important choices in Russia, where the stability is "deceptive." Polenz noted that "we don't know what kind of Russia we'll be dealing with the day after tomorrow." In Riga, the daily "Diena" wrote on December 3 of President Putin that "Tsar Vladimir's personality cult is the same as [Soviet leader Josef] Stalin's." PM
LAW 'SUSPENDING' CFE TREATY COMES INTO FORCE
The federal law on suspending the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty came into force on December 3 with its publication in that day's issue of the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Interfax reported. The actual suspension takes effect on December 12. The treaty limits the deployment of tanks and other conventional weapons west of the Urals and was amended in 1999. Russia considers the pact outdated and no longer corresponding to its interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 14, 19, 21, and 30, 2007). On November 30, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) ministerial conference in Madrid that "meetings of CFE countries on the level of directors of departments were held yesterday and today," news agencies reported. He added that "we have noticed that there's a wish, albeit a belated one, to find a solution to some of our concerns, [but] that there's no such wish with respect to other [of our concerns].... Our moratorium comes into force December 12, but it doesn't mean that [our] efforts will be suspended." U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said at the same gathering that "Russia has made a mistake in this unilateral behavior of walking out of a major arms-control treaty in Europe," Britain's "Financial Times" reported on December 1. The daily quoted an unnamed "senior official from a NATO government" as saying that "we will therefore see a gradual degradation in the application of the treaty. By March or April of next year, we will have to decide whether we start to suspend the application of the treaty to our own forces." The paper also quoted an unnamed "senior U.S. official" as saying that Russia wanted "flank limits" restricting the movement of Russian troops to be lifted, while leaving in place those curtailing movements of NATO forces. The official noted that Moscow's proposal "is so one-sided that it really isn't workable." The official suggested that the Russian legislation means that prospects for the CFE Treaty's survival are "close to vanishing point." At the close of the OSCE meeting on November 30, Lavrov said that the gathering failed "to overcome a serious crisis" and noted that some unnamed countries did not change their position "by a single millimeter," dpa reported. PM
PUTIN SIGNS LAW ON ROSATOM
On December 3, President Putin signed into law a measure setting up a state nuclear corporation named Rosatom, which will be based on the current Federal Nuclear Power Agency, which is also known as Rosatom, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2007). He introduced the bill on October 4. It was passed by the State Duma on November 13 and the Federation Council on November 23. The new firm will include the current Atomenergoprom company and all civilian and military nuclear facilities and installations. Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the current Rosatom, said in October that the new firm will place great weight on security and safety matters and help prevent nuclear waste from being brought into Russia from abroad. PM
PARTY OF POWER TO NAME PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ON DECEMBER 17
The Unified Russia party will name its candidate for the March 2008 presidential election at a party congress in Moscow on December 17, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko told journalists on December 2, Russian media reported. Speaking on Rossia television the same day, Unified Russia official Andrei Isayev confirmed Matviyenko's statement and said the party will follow President Putin's lead in naming its candidate. "We will support the candidate that he proposes," Isayev said. A Just Russia head Mironov told journalists on December 3 that his party will determine its position on the presidential election at a congress on December 22. He said the party will either nominate its own candidate or will decide to support a candidate from another party. Mironov, who came in sixth place in the 2004 presidential election with 0.8 percent of the vote, has said he will not run again in 2008. Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais, who is a member of the SPS Political Council, told journalists on December 3 that the party will nominate former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov for president despite the party's poor showing in the Duma elections. RC
REGIONS MINISTRY TO PROPOSE CREATION OF ECONOMIC ZONES
"Gazeta" reported on December 3 that the Regional Development Ministry, headed by Putin loyalist Dmitry Kozak, has prepared a draft plan that would create several "macroeconomic regions" and might lead to a further redrawing of the boundaries of subjects of the Russian Federation. At a meeting on November 30, President Putin said, "The alteration of administrative-territorial boundaries, although not a problem to be solved today, deserves consideration, and we are slowly -- without hasty moves -- continuing this work." One innovation of Kozak's plan, according to the report, will be moving the offices of the presidential envoys to the federal districts from the presidential administration to the Regional Development Ministry. Kozak told journalists in Sochi on December 1 that the goal of the plan is to identify specific economic strengths of each region in order to promote regional and national economic development. He said the plan will cover the period until 2020 and "will be a leap forward in the development of various territories." RC
TWO REGIONAL FRONTS AFFIRM SUPPORT FOR NORTH CAUCASUS EMIRATE
The Ossetian jamaat and the Ingush sector of the North Caucasus front have issued separate statements, posted on the resistance website kavkazcenter.com on December 1 and 2 respectively, expressing support for resistance commander Doku Umarov's proclamation in late October of a North Caucasus Emirate he claims to head. The Ingush statement noted that its members, and those of other North Caucasus jamaats, pledged loyalty to Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev in 2005 and to Umarov in 2006 in their capacity as amirs of the mujaheds of the Caucasus, not as the Chechen Republic Ichkeria president. The Ingush fighters reaffirmed their loyalty to Umarov as leader of a North Caucasus Islamic state and called on other North Caucasus jamaats and all Muslims to do the same. LF
AZERBAIJAN DENIES VIOLATING CFE LIMITATIONS
Azerbaijan has not exceeded its quotas for the amount of heavy weaponry it may deploy under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, even though those quotas are "unfair" in view of the country's size, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Eldar Sabiroglu told journalists in Baku on November 30. Speaking at the OSCE foreign ministers' conference in Madrid earlier that day, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Armenia is "deeply concerned" that Azerbaijan is "blatantly and unapologetically" exceeding its limitations for various categories of arms, according to the text of his speech posted on the Armenian Foreign Ministry website (http://www.armeniaforeignministry.am). LF
AZERBAIJANI OMBUDSMAN PROPOSES AMNESTY FOR JAILED JOURNALISTS
Elmira Suleimanova has appealed to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to consider declaring an amnesty pegged to International Human Rights Day (December 10) and the religious holiday of Gurban Bayram (December 21), day.az reported on December 1. Suleimanova suggested that imprisoned journalists should be eligible for amnesty, along with elderly prisoners, women, invalids, and those who are seriously ill. On November 30, Azerbaijan's prosecutor general rejected an appeal by opposition parliament deputies to release Ganimat Zaxid, the editor of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq," from pretrial detention, zerkalo.az reported on December 1. Zaxid faces apparently fabricated charges of grievous bodily harm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13 and 20, 2007). LF
SIXTEEN 'ISLAMIC RADICALS' SENTENCED IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes passed sentence on November 30 on Said Dadashbeili and 15 other men arrested by the National Security Ministry in January, day.az and kavkaz-uzel.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18, 2007). They were charged with conspiring with "radical" Islamic organizations with the aim of establishing an Islamic state based on Sharia law; several of them were said to have founded a "Northern Army of the Mehdi" that maintained clandestine contact with an Iranian intelligence service. Dadashbeili and three other men were each sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment; the remaining 12 received jail terms ranging from three to 14 years. Lawyer Elcin Qambar was quoted by kavkaz-uzel.ru as saying that the prosecution failed to provide any evidence, or a single witness, to substantiate the charges. LF
GEORGIA'S RULING PARTY REJECTS CRITICISM OF ITS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Members of the United National Movement on December 1 shrugged off allegations made by opposition candidates that Mikheil Saakashvili is unfairly using state resources to push his candidacy in the pre-term presidential election scheduled for January 5, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2007). Addressing the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Madrid on November 30, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Behzuashvili said that Georgia will "spare no effort to hold the elections in a fair, transparent, and democratic manner," Caucasus Press reported. LF
NUMBER OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES FALLS TO 18
Fazail Aliyev, a representative of Georgia's half-million-strong Azerbaijani minority, has withdrawn his candidacy for the pre-term presidential election on January 5, but pledged at the same time to form a new political party to participate in next year's parliamentary ballot, Caucasus Press reported on December 1. His election campaign head, Dashgyn Gulmamedov, was arrested on November 27 and remanded in pre-trial detention for two months on charges of propaganda aimed against a specific ethnic group. The Central Election Commission has rejected the initial applications for registration submitted by Avtandil Pilauri, Giorgi Gakhkidze, and Gia Chikhvadze on the grounds that they failed to provide the requisite supporting documentation, civil.ge reported on November 29. But Chikhvadze, who heads the St. Ilia the Righteous Society, told journalists on December 3 that the Central Election Commission deliberately "lost" the documents he submitted and that he will appeal the rejection in the Supreme Court, Caucasus Press reported. LF
MEDIATOR SETS DEADLINE FOR GEORGIAN TV STATION TO BE ALLOWED TO RESUME BROADCASTING
Adam Michnik, a co-founder of Poland's communist-era Solidarity trade union and the current editor of the newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza," arrived in Tbilisi on November 29 at the request of the EU to conduct talks with the Georgian leadership on allowing the independent television channel Imedi to resume broadcasting in the runup to the January 5 presidential election, Caucasus Press and civil.ge reported. Imedi's broadcasting license was suspended for three months in late November on the grounds that it incited civil unrest during the antigovernment demonstrations in Tbilisi in early November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 26, 2007). Michnik told journalists on December 1 that failure to allow Imedi to resume broadcasting within one week will be interpreted as a clear indication that democracy in Georgia is in danger. On December 3, parliament speaker and acting President Nino Burjanadze said the Georgian authorities have asked the prosecutor-general's office to unfreeze the station's assets, and that staff will be permitted to enter the building on December 5 to prepare to resume broadcasting, civil.ge reported. Whether it will be unable to do so is unclear, given that Interior Ministry troops ransacked the premises on November 7, destroying broadcasting equipment. LF
ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA VOTE IN DUMA ELECTIONS
Those residents of Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia who have Russian passports cast ballots on December 2 in the Russian State Duma elections, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. In Abkhazia, Unified Russia garnered 86 percent of the vote, followed by A Just Russia (4.3 percent), the LDPR (3.8 percent) and the KPRF (3.3 percent). In South Ossetia, Unified Russia polled 92 percent, the KPRF 3.03 percent, the LDPR 2.3 percent, and A Just Russia 1.39 percent. Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the outgoing Duma, was quoted on December 3 as saying the new parliament will consider in January the formal requests submitted earlier by the legislatures of the two unrecognized republics to join the Russian Federation. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity predicted that the new Duma will "help" South Ossetia to achieve that goal, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. LF
KAZAKHSTAN TO ASSUME OSCE CHAIRMANSHIP IN 2010...
On the closing day of their annual meeting in Madrid, the foreign minsters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced on November 30 that Kazakhstan will assume the organization's rotating chairmanship in 2010, become the first former Soviet republic to head the OSCE, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Kazinform reported. Greece will head the OSCE in 2009 and and Lithuania will follow the Kazakh chairmanship in 2011. After expressing reservations over Kazakhstan's desire to lead the 56-nation OSCE, the United States finally dropped its reservations over Kazakhstan's eligibility after receiving a Kazakh "pledge" to "protect" the OSCE's election-monitoring mandate. The Kazakh bid to chair the OSCE was also opposed by human rights groups due "its poor rights record" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2007) and the country's most recent parliamentary elections also prompted some critics to question its commitment to the democratic and electoral values of the OSCE (see "Kazakhstan: Flawed Polls Enter Equation over OSCE Bid," rferl.org, September 4, 2007). The OSCE postponed a decision on the issue of the Kazakh chairmanship in 2006 after failing to reach a consensus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006). RG
...PROMPTING KAZAKH OFFICIALS TO REITERATE PROMISES TO STRENGTHEN OSCE
Welcoming the OSCE decision to give Kazakhstan the chairmanship of the organization in 2010, Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin on November 30 reiterated Kazakhstan's commitment to bolstering the OSCE as a pillar for "a new architecture of European security" based on "equal rights and [the] absence of dividing lines," Kazinform and Kazakhstan Today reported. He added that Kazakhstan sees "itself as a supporter of active participation in resolving the problems of international security," and stressed that "we believe that the fact that Kazakhstan has been chosen to hold the OSCE presidency" will have a positive impact on "the comprehensive modernization of our county and the region as a whole, as well as on the revitalization of our common organization for the benefit of all its participants." Speaking at a news conference in Astana, State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev on December 1 hailed the decision and said that as OSCE president, Kazakhstan "will do everything possible to strengthen trust and unity in this respectable organization, and strengthen cooperation and security in Eurasia," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Saudabaev further noted that the OSCE presidency is "not only a high honor, but also a great responsibility," and stressed that "our partners -- the OSCE member states -- are expecting from Kazakhstan, above all, further steps along the path of democratizing the country, and of course, efficient work as the OSCE president to strengthen the unity of this organization, to increase its prestige." RG
KAZAKHSTAN ANNOUNCES NEW OIL TAX
Speaking in Astana, Deputy Finance Minister Daulet Yergozhin announced on November 30 that the Kazakh government is planning to introduce a new tax on oil production, Kazakh Television reported. He explained that the new tax, aimed at boosting budget revenue, will come into effect in 2009 and is to be based on production output and world oil prices, rather than the current method of calculating taxes on export volume. The new tax, which the government plans on presenting to the parliament in the coming months, will mainly target foreign energy companies operating according to production-sharing agreements. In a meeting the same day, President Nursultan Nazarbaev reviewed the planned acquisition of oil refineries in Romania with the head of the state-owned KazMunaiGaz energy company, Uzakbai Karabalin. Karabalin informed Nazarbaev that the company has completed the acquisition of some 75 percent of Romania's Rompetrol group, giving KazMunaiGaz ownership of some 630 filling stations in six European countries, in addition to two oil refineries in Romania. Karabalin also said that a new offshore oil deposit was discovered in the Meruert sector in the northern part of the Caspian Sea. RG
KYRGYZ MINISTRY INVESTIGATES MEETING BETWEEN SLAIN JOURNALIST, UZBEK ISLAMIST LEADER
An unnamed official of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry confirmed on November 30 that the ministry has launched an official investigation into reports that slain journalist Alisher Saipov met secretly with Tohir Yoldoshev, the leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), in Iran prior to his killing, AKIpress reported. Saipov, a prominent journalist who routinely covered corruption-related stories linked to the Uzbek government, was killed in Osh on October 24 by an unknown gunman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007), and although initial suspicion centered on Uzbekistan, some unidentified Kyrgyz security officials later suggested that members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group may have ordered Saipov's killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2007). In late October, an Interior Ministry official said that the ministry has uncovered "close links" between Saipov and both Hizb ut-Tahrir and the IMU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2007). RG
KYRGYZ RIGHTS ACTIVISTS PROTEST NEW RESTRICTIONS ON PUBLIC RALLIES
An undetermined number of Kyrgyz human rights activists held a rally on November 30 outside the Bishkek municipal administration to protest against the city council's decision to impose new restrictions on public gatherings and rallies in the Kyrgyz capital, the 24.kg website reported. The demonstrators noted that the new restrictions, under which such gatherings may be held at only three main locations in Bishkek, are in violation of the Kyrgyz Constitution's guarantee of the right of citizens to hold peaceful public gatherings and rallies. Aziza Abdirasulova, the head of Kylym Shamy, a local human rights center, and a representative from the Youth human rights group, Nazgul Turdubekova, added that the city council's decision is "illegal" and infringed on the rights of citizens, and they vowed to challenge the restrictions in court. Bishkek Mayor Daniyar Usenov defended the decision, saying that the new restrictions are aimed at ensuring that public demonstrations and rallies are peaceful and orderly. The restrictions on the venue for such demonstrations also come in the wake of other measures, including a requirement calling for the traffic police to monitor and approve the use of loudspeakers in vehicles. RG
TURKMEN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR NEW ANTISMOKING CAMPAIGN
In a meeting with municipal authorities in Ashgabat, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on December 1 called for a new, more assertive campaign against smoking, ITAR-TASS reported. There has been a ban on tobacco advertising in effect in the country since the mid-1990s and, after a presidential decree in 2000, a ban on smoking in all public places and on all types of transport. Meanwhile, on November 30 Berdymukhammedov ordered the removal of satellite dishes from rooftops in Ashgabat, to "improve the look" of the Turkmen capital, according to Turkmen Television. Berdymukhammedov also criticized Ashgabat Mayor Orazgeldi Esenov for "the city's dirty appearance," saying that the city's streets are "extremely dirty and there are tree leaves everywhere." He further criticized electricity cuts and problems with traffic jams in Ashgabat, noting that some $8 billion has been invested in the city's municipal services since independence, and demanding that "every newly built apartment block should be provided with separate car parks and playgrounds." RG
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION READY TO ASK U.S. TO LIFT SANCTIONS
Belarusian opposition leaders on November 30 agreed on a statement to the government promising that they will ask the United States to lift its sanctions against Belarus if the Belarusian government takes steps toward democratization, Belapan reported. The petition was signed by former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich; Anatol Lyabedzka, the chairman of the United Civic Party; Syarhey Kalyakin, the leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists; Anatol Lyaukovich, acting chairman of the Social Democratic Party; youth activists Zmitser Fedaruk and Pavel Sevyarynets; and Enira Branitskaya. All of them will visit the United States between December 2 and 8. "We call on the Belarusian government to start abiding by generally accepted democratic principles and release all political prisoners, stop the persecution of opposition activists, and create equal conditions for the media," the statement said. In exchange, the opposition leaders promised to appeal to the U.S. government to encourage investment in the Belarusian economy, give a loan to the Belarusian government to carry out market reforms, and alleviate the consequences of higher energy prices, as well as to ask Washington to lift the sanctions against Belarusian officials and state-run enterprises. "Our abilities in Washington, Berlin, Vilnius, Warsaw are far greater than the Belarusian authorities have, this is unquestionable," RFE/RL's Belarus Service quoted Lyabedzka as saying. AM
BELARUSIAN COURT SENTENCES OFFICERS FOR BEATING SENIOR OFFICIAL
The Supreme Court on November 30 sentenced state security officers Syarhey Narkevich to five years in a medium-security correctional institution and Alyaksandr Arlouski to two years in a minimum-security institution for beating Zyanon Lomats, the chairman of the State Monitoring Committee, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The court sentenced two another state security officers, Yury Zahorski and Syarhey Manayeu, to "restriction in military service" for one year. Lomats was beaten in the eastern city of Mahilyou on July 12 by eight men who claimed to be officers of the Interior Ministry. They were subsequently arrested by city police. Seven of the attackers reportedly turned out to be State Security Committee (KGB) officers, and one was an officer of the Security Council. The incident with Lomats caused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to replace Stsyapan Sukharenka with Yury Zhadobin as the head of the KGB. AM
OSCE COMMEMORATES VICTIMS OF GREAT FAMINE IN UKRAINE
The Council of Ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has approved a joint statement titled "About the 75th anniversary of the 1932-33 Great Famine in Ukraine," RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on November 30, commemorating the victims of the events orchestrated by the regime of Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The document acknowledges the efforts undertaken in recent years toward raising awareness of the famine, including in the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and in the OSCE's member states. The document also welcomes Ukraine's efforts to hold events devoted to the 75th anniversary of the famine, as well as the participation in these events of the OSCE's member states. AM
TWO MORE GAS BLASTS OCCUR IN DANGEROUS UKRAINIAN COAL MINE
There were two gas explosions on December 1 at the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk Oblast, killing five rescuers and injuring over 100 another miners, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. A November 18 gas blast at the same mine killed a total of 101 miners, the worst such accident in Ukraine's deadly mining industry. A total of 156 miners are currently hospitalized as a result of three three blasts. AM
BOSNIAN LEADERS AVERT SHOWDOWN AT LAST MINUTE...
The leaders of Bosnia's Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian communities on November 30 avoided a full-blown confrontation with the international community by accepting reforms of voting rules in the federal parliament and government. The international community's representative, Miroslav Lajcak, previously threatened to impose the changes if by December 1 the leaders of the three communities did not voluntarily adopt the reforms, which reduce the chances of decisions being blocked by any of the communities. The Bosnian Serbs were the most adamantly opposed to the reform, threatening to boycott federal institutions. In the Bosnian Serbs' most significant actual act of protest, Nikola Spiric stepped down as head of the federal government and meetings of the federal cabinet ended. The institutional crisis was rooted in the Bosnian Serbs' belief that the reforms erode rights and guarantees granted them in the country's constitution. In another sign of normalization, federal ministers met in cabinet on November 29 for the first time since Lajcak announced his reform plans. The meeting was chaired by Spiric, who has nominally been acting as a caretaker prime minister. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has been deeply critical of Lajcak's plans, but he said on November 29 that "at this moment in time the most important thing for Bosnia-Herzegovina was the signing and initialing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, which will direct Bosnia-Herzegovina permanently towards European integration." The deal was hailed by Lajcak, who said in a statement issued on November 30 that "this agreement opens the door for the [Bosnian] institutions to return to the European agenda and formally adopt the action plan for police reform" agreed by Bosnia's leaders on November 23. "This would bring Bosnia and Herzegovina back to the European integration process," Lajcak said. The EU has made police reform a condition of progress toward membership. Bosnian Serb radio also quoted Lajcak as saying that "every decision that the high representative passes due to the inability of the domestic politicians is pushing your country backward. We have made today a big step forward." AG
...BRINGING DEAL WITH EU CLOSER
The EU may within days reward Bosnia's leaders for their 11th-hour deal by initialing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Bosnia. According to local and international media, High Representative Lajcak said the agreement on voting rules is "a strong positive message to Europe from Sarajevo," adding that he is "sure that the reaction of the EU will be very positive," with an SAA deal possibly being struck "as early as next week." Evidence that that might happen came on December 1 with an EU statement that Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will fly to Sarajevo on December 3 to discuss with Bosnian leaders "whether there is sufficient agreement on the police reform to initial the Stabilization and Association Agreement." According to eubusiness.com, Rehn's diary was cleared of prior engagements, a further indication of the importance Brussels ascribes to the breakthrough. To date, the EU has made the SAA conditional on a formal agreement on reform of Bosnia's police forces, but, as the crisis triggered by Lajcak's reforms is widely seen as the worst since 1995, the EU may conclude that this is an appropriate time to show once again that it is committed to bringing Bosnia into the EU. Signing an SAA would be just the first of a number of steps before the agreement would be fully adopted. Bosnia's three largest ethnic communities have already taken significant steps toward police reform by adopting a framework agreement and drawing up an action plan. AG
BOSNIAN SERB LEADER REJECTS HOLBROOKE CRITICISM
In a letter published by "The Washington Post" on November 29, Bosnian Serb leader Dodik rejected the portrayal of him as a lackey of Moscow, emphasized his commitment to the peace accords, and declared that he will "prevent any political or security destabilization in Republika Srpska, regardless of the final status of Kosovo province." Dodik's letter was prompted by an article by a former U.S. envoy to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke, published in "The Washington Post" on November 24 in which Holbrooke depicted him as a man transformed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and "his petrodollars" from "a mildly pro-Western leader" into a "nasty nationalist who began threatening secession." Dodik described himself as a "strong partner" of the United States "who supports American goals in the region" and maintained that he is a greater defender of the Dayton agreement, which ended Bosnia's civil war in 1995, than Holbrooke himself. "Contrary to Mr. Holbrooke's recent regrets regarding Dayton, the agreement is widely viewed by my constituents not only as an American policy success but as sacrosanct," he wrote. "With some modernization," the agreement "will serve as the structure under which Bosnia can join the European Union," Dodik concluded. AG
GLOBAL FACTORS, NOT PROFITEERING, BEHIND BOSNIAN PRICE RISES
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have joined the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in saying that the recent surge in some basic commodities in Bosnia-Herzegovina is attributable to global factors. The statement, which was issued on November 29 before Bosnia's domestic leaders moved to defuse the political crisis, counters claims that profiteering retailers have seized on Bosnians' concerns about the political situation to raise prices. Stockpiling by consumers has led to a run on several staple goods (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2007). Among the goods whose prices have been most inflated are cereals and cooking oils. "It is important to explain the underlying reasons for these prices rises: they are primarily the result of higher prices on world markets," the OHR and the financial institutions said, pointing out that "international food prices have risen over the course of this year as a result of surging demand in fast-growing developing countries, a growing use of cereals in biofuel production, and bad harvests caused by drought in the summer of 2007." "Price rises, which have been dramatic for some products, are not above those on the world market," they continued. Figures released on November 15 by the Muslim-Croat Federation showed big increases over the past four weeks in many staples, with the biggest increase -- of 14.7 percent -- being for cooking oil. The OHR, the World Bank, and the IMF said the price surge highlights "once again the need for a serious review of the current social-transfer system to include well-targeted and sufficient support for the poorest members of society." AG
EU GIVES SERBIA LARGEST SUM YET
Serbia is set to receive 1 billion euros ($1.46 billion) in assistance from the European Union, following an agreement signed on November 29. This is the third recent agreement to bring Serbia closer to the EU, following the signing of agreements relaxing visa requirements and the initialing of an SAA (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2007). At a press conference announcing the deal, the European Commission's director for the western Balkans, Pierre Mirel, said the agreement is a "an indication that the EU wants to see Serbia as its member, that we are helping it, and we will be helping it in the years to come." The money is not a loan and, as Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic pointed out, is not subject to political conditions. By contrast, the full adoption of the SAA depends on Serbia arresting the Bosnian Serbs' wartime commander, Ratko Mladic. The aid, which will be provided over a five-year period, comes from the Instrument for Preaccession Assistance (IPA) fund, which has $11.5 billion to disburse in the western Balkans between 2007 and 2013. Since 2000, when Serbia's longtime authoritarian leader Slobodan Milosevic was deposed, Serbia has received billions of euros from the EU in the form of grants, loans, and trade credits, but Djelic said that this is the largest single sum received to date. Djelic also said that the money will primarily be used to spur economic development, reduce poverty, support education, and address social issues, but some will also be spent on improving Serbia's institutions -- the civil service, police, and judiciary -- and on encouraging regional cooperation. Serbia says it has halved poverty levels in the past five years, but roughly half a million Serbs continue to live near or below the poverty line (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2007). AG
SERBIA RULES OUT EU MISSION IN KOSOVA...
Serbia appears set to try and block the transfer of responsibility for administering Kosova from the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) to the EU, with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica saying on November 30 that "it is out of the question to replace UNMIK with a mission of the European Union contrary to [UN Security Council] Resolution 1244." That was the resolution that placed Kosova under international administration in 1999. The same resolution is one key basis for Serbia's argument against Kosova's independence, since it also stated that Kosova remained part of Serbia. Kostunica's comment, which was reported by AFP, was part of a broader attempt to underscore Serbia's position that independence for Kosova would contravene international law. He focused particularly on the role played by the United States, saying that "it is obvious that full responsibility [for the preservation of peace in the Balkans] rests on the United States and its choice, on one hand, for law and order and, on the other, long-term instability." "If the U.S. confirmed its respect for Resolution 1244...a compromise would no doubt be found, satisfying the interests of both Serbia and Kosovo Albanians," he continued. The possibility of the EU replacing UNMIK was included in a set of recommendations presented to the Security Council in March by the UN's special envoy to Kosova, Martti Ahtisaari, and rejected by Serbia and Russia on account of the former Finnish president's suggestion that Kosova should be given "supervised independence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5 and March 28, 2007). The EU is preparing to assume responsibility for administering Kosova, but the legal basis for the mission remains in question because of the uncertainty over Kosova's status. The deployment of a mission would also face obstacles within the EU, as an official EU mission would need the support of all 27 members. AG
...JOINS RUSSIA IN BLOCKING OSCE DECLARATION...
Serbia and Russia on November 29 vetoed a declaration by the 56 foreign ministers of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) supporting the extension of the OSCE's mandate in Kosova by a year. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said, "there can be no new OSCE mission, or any other international mission in Kosovo without a UN Security Council resolution," Serbian media reported. The debate will now move away from the ministerial level to the Permanent Council of the OSCE. Radio-Television Serbia reported on November 29 that Russia is proposing that the mission's mandate be extended a month at a time until Kosova's status has been resolved. Jeremic and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, reportedly warned that any attempt to decide Kosova's status outside the UN Security Council -- which seems almost certain to happen -- would shake the main foundation of the OSCE, the Helsinki Final Act, a document signed in 1975 that touches on the inviolability of state borders. Jeremic criticized the OSCE's mission in Kosova, saying that it has done too little to meet the demands made by UN Security Council Resolution 1244. AG
...AGAINST WISHES OF EU, U.S.
Serbia's and Russia's decision to oppose the OSCE's mission was made in the face of strong support for the organization by the EU and the United States. Luis Amado, foreign minister of Portugal, the current holder of the EU Presidency, said the OSCE should renew its mission for one year "irrespective of the outcome of the current negotiations on Kosovo," while U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the OSCE's mission in Kosova "played a crucial role in the protection of minority groups and noncontinuation of the mission would be a grave mistake. Irrespective of what happens during the transition phase, it is important that the mission stays there." The OSCE's mission in Kosova is one of its largest, with roughly 1,000 employees. AG
SERBIAN MUSLIMS' RIFT IMPACTS RELIGIOUS SCHOOLING
The deep rift that has emerged this year within Serbia's Muslim community is now affecting the community's centers of religious teaching, madrasahs. Six students were forced to withdraw from their madrasah on November 7 on account of the position adopted by their parents on the leadership battle within the community, prompting them to hold a protest rally in Novi Pazar on November 30. The rally attracted a crowd of about 200, local media reported. Their madrasah, Gazi Isa-beg, is run by supporters of Muamer Zukorlic, who was until October the sole leader of Muslims in the southwestern region of Sandzak, of which Novi Pazar is the capital. The students' parents supported Adem Zilkic in his formation of a rival structure loyal not to Sarajevo, as Zukorlic is, but to Muslim leaders in Belgrade. The dispute has resulted in several violent incidents and arrests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 12, and November 19, 2007). The director of the madrasah, Nedzad Hasanovic, said the students were removed temporarily from the boarding school for security reasons and for the "welfare of the students and their parents," the news service Balkan Insight reported on November 30. "The moment their parents revert to the legal course of the Islamic community, the students will be allowed to return to school," Balkan Insight quoted Hasanovic as saying. The Belgrade leadership called on November 30 for talks between the two factions, the news agency FoNet reported, but in the same report it quoted an official loyal to Belgrade as accusing Zukorlic and his supporters of adopting a luxurious lifestyle and surrounding themselves with bodyguards at believers' expense, some indication of the width of the divide between the two sides. AG
TENSIONS INCREASE IN IRAQ OVER KIRKUK REFERENDUM DELAY
November 15 was supposed to be an important date in Iraqi history. It was the initial date planned for a referendum to decide whether the oil-rich region of Kirkuk will be incorporated into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Although that date was scrapped and replaced with the directive that the referendum be held before the end of 2007, the passing of that date without any sign of a vote was indicative of how this process, outlined in Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, is proceeding.
Article 140 calls for a three-step process of "normalization," which seeks to reverse the Arabization policies of the former regime, when thousands of Kurds and non-Arabs were forcibly evicted from Kirkuk and replaced with Arabs from central and southern Iraq. This is to be followed by a census and then a referendum.
The original deadline for the census was to be the end of July, but Kurdish officials acknowledged that due to "technical problems," the normalization process was still far from complete, thereby pushing back the census, and it seems the referendum as well.
While the Kurds have steadfastly held to the belief that the referendum will go forward, as constitutionally mandated, by the end of 2007, it is extremely unlikely that this will happen. In fact, Qadir Aziz, the spokesman for Kurdistan regional President Mas'ud Barzani, told the Kurdish newspaper "Awena" on November 13 that the deadline for conducting the referendum needed to be extended because the normalization and census were not carried out in time.
However, some Kurdish officials have accused the government in Baghdad of deliberately trying to delay the referendum.
On November 17, the leader of the Kirkuk city council accused the Baghdad government of intentionally stalling the implementation of Article 140, AFP reported. There have also been complaints from Kurdish officials that foot-dragging by Baghdad has been mostly responsible for delaying the normalization process.
Indeed, Babakir Sdiq, the director of the Kirkuk office for the High Committee for Implementing Article 140, told pukmedia.com on November 20 that he was informed by the Iraqi Interior Ministry that the delivery of important internal migration forms would be delayed by up to 15 days.
These forms are needed for Arabs who want to voluntary leave Kirkuk and return to their original districts in exchange for a compensation package of approximately $15,000 and a plot of land. The delay has created a backlog in the normalization process, complicating any attempt to carry out a census, and by extension a referendum.
In response to the accusations, the Baghdad government immediately ordered an investigation into why the referendum has been delayed. The swift response was clearly meant to placate simmering Kurdish anger and frustration on an issue many Kurds describe as "the red line."
This frustration was summed up by Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Uthman: "Four years have passed, and the referendum should have been held by now, but successive governments have done nothing. Yet, we do understand that there were obstacles, such as security challenges and bureaucracy."
There has also been near-universal opposition among Iraq's non-Kurdish leaders to holding the referendum, with many warning of widespread violence if it is held. The governorate has sizable Arab and Turkoman populations, and both groups have voiced concern that if the Kurds end up controlling Kirkuk, they may be forced out.
The Turkomans have said that they prefer being under the authority of the Baghdad government, but warned that they would seek regional autonomy if Kirkuk were incorporated into the Kurdistan region. Abas al-Bayati, an Islamic Turkoman Union leader, told "Al-Hayat" on November 18 that Kirkuk should be declared an independent region, run jointly by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans -- a proposal that the Kurds have rejected.
Muhammad al-Dayini, a deputy for the Sunni-led Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told the "Al-Ahram Weekly" on November 22 that his group wants to see Kirkuk run by a strong central government. "The issue of Kirkuk is very major. We cannot allow one political group to integrate Kirkuk into its region," al-Dayini said. He also accused the Kurds of actively changing the demographics of the governorate by moving an estimated 600,000 Kurds into the region since 2003.
Iraq's neighbors have also entered the fray, with Turkey repeatedly voicing its opposition to the referendum, expressing the fear that if Iraqi Kurds control Kirkuk and its oil resources, this could fuel Kurdish separatism in Iraq and then in Turkey. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki voiced similar concerns in a statement on November 3 calling for a two-year postponement of the referendum.
What Iraqi Kurds fear is that the delay in holding the referendum may become an open-ended postponement without any concrete resolution. That potential scenario could lead the Kurds to take a more aggressive route to acquire Kirkuk.
In a veiled threat after the November 17 parliamentary session, Kurdish lawmaker Fu'ad Massum warned that the Kurds may resort to other measures if Article 140 is not fully implemented. "If the concerned parties [non-Kurdish parties in government] act irresponsibly, the Kurdish parties will then have their own way."
Going even further, the Kurdish daily "Rozhnama" reported on November 21 that the Kirkuk Governorate Council approved a proposal stating that if Article 140 is not implemented on time, then it will advocate unilaterally merging Kirkuk with the Kurdistan region.
Such a move would undoubtedly result in violence among the disparate factions within the governorate and quite possibly lead Turkey to intervene on behalf of the ethnic-Turkish Turkomans. Hadi al-Amiri, a member of the Shi'ite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, told AFP on November 17 that any attempt by the Kurds to incorporate Kirkuk by force would "open the gates of hell" and quite possibly lead to civil war.
However, leaving the fate of Kirkuk unresolved also creates a dangerous predicament for the governorate and the rest of Iraq. There has been a marked increase in violence in the region, though it is unclear whether the tensions over Kirkuk were the cause. Regardless, without a comprehensive political solution, the situation in Kirkuk could quickly spiral into the kind of violence that has gripped the rest of Iraq.
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT DENOUNCES AL-QAEDA LEADER'S LATEST MESSAGE
In a statement on December 2, President Hamid Karzai's administration denounced the latest audio message by Osama bin Laden in reference to the presence of international security forces in Afghanistan as "ludicrous and inconsistent with Islamic culture and core human values," Bakhtar News Agency reported. The presidential press office accused the leader of Al-Qaeda of "terrorist acts," and "responsibility for "untold suffering of the Afghan government and people." Furthermore, the statement asserted that bin Laden "has no right to speak on behalf of the sovereign Afghan government and people or comment on the casualties resulting from military operations." The statement concluded: "The Afghans, being devout Muslims, understand that the Al-Qaeda leader's actions are absolutely against the injunctions of Islam. The alleged terrorist mastermind has brought a bad name to Muslims and Islam because of his contemptible deeds." In a new audio message aired on Al-Jazeera television on November 29, bin Laden accused the European governments of blindly following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and called on them to withdraw their forces fighting the Taliban insurgency in the country. MM
OSCE TO ASSIST WITH AFGHAN BORDER SECURITY
At the end of its 15th annual meeting of foreign ministers in Spain on November 30, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) promised "the launch of a new mission to ensure Afghanistan's frontier security," Bakhtar News Agency reported on December 2. Spanish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters that "the OSCE would help Afghanistan in the sphere of promoting control on its borders with neighbors including Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and China." While the OSCE conference failed to issue a joint declaration due to policy differences among its members, it endorsed a Spanish proposal for forging closer ties among member states and the private sector to secure infrastructure and nuclear facilities in Europe against potential terrorist attacks. MM
ACTIVISTS CALL FOR REINSTATEMENT OF AFGHANISTAN'S OUTSPOKEN FEMALE LAWMAKER
In a press release to Pajhwak Afghan News on November 25, a group of international activists and writers whose governments have deployed troops to stabilize Afghanistan and bolster the Karzai administration called for reinstating the suspended Afghan parliament deputy from Farah Province, Malalai Joya, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on December 1. The statement asserted that "Joya has been an outspoken critic of the heavy presence of warlords and other antidemocratic forces in the Afghan parliament, and for this she has won widespread support," adding "Such is her popularity that when she was suspended from parliament, spontaneous demonstrations took place throughout Afghanistan to show support for her reinstatement." The Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) suspended Joya in early spring after an interview in which she allegedly compared the members of the parliament to animals in a zoo. Her international and domestic supporters fear for her life and depict her as a victim of government corruption and ineffectiveness that allowed for her expulsion from the parliament when "she spoke truth to the power" MM
AFGHAN ARMY TO REACH TARGETED STRENGTH AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi announced at a news conference on December 2 that the Afghan National Army will reach its targeted strength of 70,000 troops ahead of schedule, by the end of 2007, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Furthermore, he said, "We think we need 200,000" troops, which would be in the interest of both Afghanistan and the international community. Azimi explained that tripling the size of the army "would be cheaper than using foreign forces to deal with the insurgency inside Afghanistan," and that "it would also dissuade Afghanistan's neighbors from interfering," thus creating a better balance of forces in the region. According to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Afghan security forces need continued training and better equipment to fight effectively on their own. MM
GREAT POWERS DISCUSS SANCTIONS FOR IRAN...
Senior officials from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the 5+1 powers, held a "positive" but inconclusive meeting in Paris on December 1 to discuss a possible third UN sanctions resolution for Iran, international news agencies reported. The Russian representative was reportedly unable to attend due to flight problems. The Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran to force it to curb its nuclear program, though Iran has refused to abide by the chief demand, to stop enriching uranium. The meeting followed talks on November 30 between the EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Said Jalili, which were described variously as "disappointing" or "disastrous." Reuters quoted an unnamed French diplomat as saying on December 1 that the 5+1 powers' meeting in Paris made progress on drafting a new resolution. The 5+1 powers previously agreed to delay a third set of sanctions on Iran until a recent report by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei on Iran's cooperation with the IAEA and another from Solana. Another unnamed French diplomat in Paris on December 1 said the great powers may have a sanctions resolution for Iran within weeks, which he said is aimed at coercing Iran to negotiate over its program, AP reported. VS
...AS IRAN'S NEGOTIATOR GOES TO MOSCOW
Iranian envoy Jalili was expected in Moscow for talks on December 3, in what Radio Farda reported may be an attempt to discuss Russia's role in any new set of sanctions against Iran. Russia and China have so far been the powers most reluctant to impose punitive measures on Iran. Jalili said in Tehran on December 1 that Solana's report to the 5+1 powers should be "rational, in keeping with Iran's rational conduct," IRNA reported. He said recent IAEA reports have created a "positive atmosphere" and effectively confirmed Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, "and the international community expects a positive response to this conduct." For a "very small number" of powers, Jalili said, it makes no difference whether or not Iran cooperates with the IAEA. He said he agreed with Solana on November 30 to speak by phone in mid-December and plan for a meeting in late December. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the media in Tehran on December 2 that the contents of Solana's reports are not yet public, but added that further sanctions on Iran could not thwart Iran's efforts to continue its nuclear program, Radio Farda reported. VS
LAWMAKER ANTICIPATES NEGATIVE REPORT ON IRAN FROM DIPLOMAT
Shahrud representative and member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Kazem Jalali told Fars news agency in Tehran on December 2 that Iran will adjust its cooperation with the IAEA on the basis of the report EU foreign-policy chief Solana presents to the great powers. He said Iran has "been as cooperative as possible" in recent months, following a summer agreement to clarify its activities to UN inspectors, and that Iran expects reports from Solana and el-Baradei to reflect the facts and findings, not "the political pressures of the great powers." He said he does not expect a positive report from Solana. Tehran-based academic Davud Hermidas-Bavand separately told ISNA on December 2 that a negative report will likely affect Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, but he suggested that new proposals by Iranian diplomats could potentially keep open the path to a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. VS
IRANIAN EDUCATION MINISTER RESIGNS
Education Minister Mahmud Farshidi, whose performance has been sharply criticized by teachers and parliamentarians in recent months, has resigned, news agencies reported on December 2. The resignation was announced the same day by an adviser to the Education Ministry, Mirvali Musavi, who said Farshidi has tendered his resignation to the president and will cease to attend all functions in coming days, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian media reports. Musavi did not give a reason for the resignation. Iranian news agencies have named Alireza Ahmadi, the head of the Payam-i Nur University -- described as an open or long-distance university -- as a leading contender to succeed Farshidi. Farshidi described himself in March, at a time of teacher protests over working conditions, as a perfectly competent minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 15 and May 17, 2007). Legislators questioned him in May, citing numerous instances of mismanagement, but failed to sack him, apparently in part due to the president's firm support at the time. VS
BRITISH REPORT CRITICIZES TROOP PERFORMANCE IN IRAQ
A House of Commons report published on December 3 criticized the performance of British forces in Iraq, saying the military has failed to establish security there. "The initial goal of U.K. forces in southeastern Iraq was to establish the security necessary for the development of representative political institutions and for economic reconstruction," the report stated, adding, "Although progress has been made, this goal remains unfulfilled." The report, written by the Parliament's Defense Committee, credited the current stability in Al-Basrah "more to the dominance of militias and criminal gangs, who are said to have achieved a fragile balance in the city, than to the success of the multinational and Iraqi security forces in tackling the root causes of the violence." The British government announced it will transfer authority for security to Iraqi forces in Al-Basrah by mid-December. It pulled its forces from the city in September to its base at the Al-Basrah airport. The government has said it intends to halve its current troop level of 5,000 by spring. KR
IRAQI AIRLINES BEGIN FLIGHTS TO IRANIAN CAPITAL
Iraqi Airlines will operate its first direct flight to Tehran in 30 years on December 2, IRNA reported. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on November 17 designating Iraqi Airlines and the Iranian airline Mahan to operate direct flights between the two capitals. Iran credited its ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, with orchestrating the agreement. KR
IRAQI LAWMAKER MOVES TO HOTEL IN GREEN ZONE, RETURNS TO WORK
Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaymi has been allowed to move from his home in Baghdad's Al-Adl neighborhood to a hotel inside the Green Zone, Iraqi media reported on December 2. Iraqi forces placed al-Dulaymi under house arrest after his son and some 30 other staffers were arrested in connection with the discovery of two booby-trapped cars parked near al-Dulaymi's compound last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2007). One of al-Dulaymi's bodyguards had the keys to one of the vehicles rigged with explosives, and media reports indicated that several of the men arrested had traces of explosives residue on their hands. Lawmakers from the Iraqi Accordance Front, to which al-Dulaymi belongs, walked out of parliament on December 1 after Iraqi forces prevented al-Dulaymi from attending the session. National security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Al-Arabiyah television on December 2 that the government does not have any evidence implicating al-Dulaymi in the incident. KR
U.S. GENERAL CITES REDUCTION IN ENTRY OF FOREIGN FIGHTERS TO IRAQ
U.S. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno told CNN on December 2 that the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has dropped by 25-30 percent in recent months. Odierno said much of the reduction is due to steps taken by Syria. "We think they can do a bit more but we're pleased with the fact that they are taking some additional responsibility with their own internal security measures," said Odierno, the U.S. military's second-in-command. Regarding Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq, Odierno said, "We've seen some decline in activity," but added that he is not ready to say Iran has completely stopped supplying weapons to Iraq. The military has seen a slight reduction in attacks carried out with Iranian-made weapons, the general noted. KR
KURDISH REBELS HOLED UP IN IRAQ ISSUE DISARMAMENT DEMANDS
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has announced conditions that must be met for the militant group to agree to disarm, the Iraqi Kurdish weekly "Chawder" reported on December 2. The demands are: Turkey's formal recognition of Kurdish ethnicity through an amendment to the constitution; recognition of the Kurdish language as a second language in Turkey; upholding the principle of freedom of speech and an end to ethnic discrimination; the release of political prisoners and the start of a reconciliation process; a withdrawal of Turkish forces from Kurdish areas, including the dissolution of village guards; the establishment of economic and social projects in Kurdish areas; local government reform; and the setting of a deadline for the PKK to abandon arms and join the political process. The demands were announced one day after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered Turkish special forces to attack a PKK base in northern Iraq. KR
SYRIA REOPENS BORDER CROSSING WITH IRAQ
Syria has reopened a third border crossing with Iraq, the country's state-run news agency reported on December 2. The Abu Kamal crossing, which connects to the Iraqi town of Al-Qa'im, will only be open to passenger vehicles and pedestrians. Mass transit and cargo vehicles must use one of the other two border points to enter Iraq, Syrian Finance Minister Muhammad al-Husayn announced. KR
IRAQI SHI'ITE LEADER MEETS TOP U.S. OFFICIALS
Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on November 30, according to his party's website. Al-Hakim reportedly expressed his concerns to Gates over the U.S. military's arming of Sunni tribesmen affiliated with various awakening councils, saying the armed men should be subordinate to the central government. Al-Hakim also stressed the need to properly arm the Iraqi military. In his meeting with Rice, al-Hakim reportedly discussed national reconciliation, relations with other Arab countries, and the security situation in Iraq. Al-Hakim also raised the issue of removing Iraq from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which gives multinational forces the legal authorization to "take all necessary measures to preserve peace and security." Al-Hakim also stressed the "necessity of regaining Iraq's full sovereignty." KR