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Newsline - December 5, 2007

President Vladimir Putin told Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, in Novo-Ogaryovo on December 4 that Iran should make sure that its nuclear program is transparent, "The Moscow Times" reported on December 5. Putin said that he is "very pleased to note that your contacts with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have become more active. We welcome this expanded cooperation and we expect that all your nuclear programs will be transparent and will be pursued under the control of this international organization." In his public remarks, Putin did not refer to the recent U.S. report suggesting that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see "Iran Seizes On U.S. Nuclear Turnaround,", December 4, 2007). Before meeting with Jalili, Putin had a 40-minute telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush, during which the two men discussed Iran, among other topics. After the Putin-Jalili talks, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Jalili "told us about their cooperation with the IAEA and elaborated on the plans of the IAEA and Iran to close all outstanding issues in the nearest time possible.... We are taking note of Tehran's determination to fully cooperate with the IAEA. We also appreciate Iran's the treaty on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and observing all of its content." Jalili said later that his visit gave a new impetus to bilateral relations, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the recent U.S. report created "a good atmosphere for resolving many other questions concerning cooperation between Iran and the IAEA." The daily "Kommersant" observed on December 4 that Putin intended to convince the Iranians to at least appear to be cooperating with the international community in order to deter the UN Security Council from taking further actions against Tehran. The paper added that "defending Iran is becoming more and more difficult because it does not show any flexibility and refuses to even discuss any concessions." The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" commented on December 5 that Iran's stubbornness makes matters more complicated for Russia. On December 5, Lavrov said that "data that we have seen don't allow to say with certainty that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program.... We have no information that such efforts had been conducted before 2003, even though our American colleagues said it was so," news agencies reported. PM

President Bush told reporters in Washington on December 4 that he told President Putin in their telephone conversation of his "sincere...expressions of concern about the [recent Russian] elections," news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3 and 4, 2007). Putin's press spokesman, Aleksei Gromov, said in Moscow, however, that Bush "did not express his concern" about the elections, but that Putin himself brought up the subject, AP reported. "The Russian president informed his American colleague of the results of the elections, and the U.S. president remarked that the popularity of Vladimir Putin in Russia is well-known," Gromov said. He added that Putin "criticized several of the actions and statements of the U.S. State Department" regarding the elections. At this, George Bush noted that the [department] sought to sincerely express its feelings to the Russian people." PM

Reuters reported in Brussels on December 4 that the EU "was in disarray...over Russia's widely criticized parliamentary election after French President Nicolas Sarkozy telephoned...Putin to congratulate him. The French leader's gesture put him at odds with close ally Germany...and most other EU governments," which question the legitimacy of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3 and 4, 2007). The news agency added that "after two days of wrangling over the wording, the EU's Portuguese presidency issued a mild rebuke over the conduct of the election." The statement said that "the EU regrets...that there were many reports and allegations of media restrictions as well as harassment of opposition parties and [nongovernmental organizations] in the run-up to the elections and on election day, and that procedures during the electoral campaign did not meet international standards and commitments voluntarily assumed by Moscow. The EU hopes that investigations will clarify the accuracy of these allegations." On December 4, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi likewise congratulated Putin on his victory in the course of a telephone conversation, Interfax reported. PM

The pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (Ours) announced in a statement on December 5 that it will soon begin picketing the British Embassy to demand that Queen Elizabeth II dismiss Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton, Interfax reported. Nashi claimed in a statement that Brenton gives over $2 million annually to civil society and several opposition leaders, primarily in the Other Russia group, whom Nashi called "politically insolvent populists." The group charged Brenton with "unprofessional conduct and misuse of British funds." Nashi said they will file a lawsuit in an unspecified court against the ambassador for violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which forbids interference in the affairs of other states. Nashi and similar groups, which have been called "President Putin's storm troopers" by some Western media, previously harassed Brenton, as well as some Estonian diplomats, for weeks or months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 8 and 16, 2006, and August 15, 2007). In Moscow on December 4, Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov said that the liberal opposition, including Other Russia, is willing to sell Russia's sovereignty and natural wealth to foreigners for their own political gain, Interfax reported. He stressed that "there is no room for [such people] in Russia.... We will not let Western predators and their obedient puppets take power." PM

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said at Harvard University on December 4 that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is due to expire in 2009, should be preserved, rather than replaced by a less formal agreement between Washington and Moscow, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2007). He argued that "it is totally wrong to declare that this system is obsolete and unnecessary after the end of the Cold War." Gorbachev and U.S. President George H.W. Bush signed the pact in 1991. Gorbachev also spoke out in favor of preserving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which he and President Ronald Reagan signed in 1987. PM

The state-run gas monopoly Gazprom announced on December 4 after months of negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow that it will increase the price that Ukraine pays for Russian natural gas by 38 percent beginning in 2008, which means Ukraine will pay about $180 per thousand cubic meters of gas instead of the current $130, Russian media reported. The daily "Kommersant" noted on December 5 that on November 28, Ukrainian Economy Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said that $180 would be a "catastrophic" price for Ukraine. The paper suggested that "the price of gas within Ukraine next year is now expected to be $230-$240 per thousand cubic meters." PM

Britain's "Financial Times" reported on December 5 that "General Motors is ready to bid for a stake in OAO AvtoVAZ, Russia's largest carmaker, in a move to bolster its position in one of the world's fastest-growing car markets." The daily added that "GM is expected to join the fray alongside other carmakers, including Fiat, for a minority stake in the Russian company, based on the Volga River city of Tolyatti.... AvtoVAZ has seen its formerly commanding market position crumble amid ownership changes, questions over corporate governance, and the influx of more experienced foreign carmakers. However, company and Kremlin officials are said to be interested in rebuilding it as a national champion. GM is already the largest foreign carmaker in Russia." PM

The daily "Trud" reported on December 5 that "LUKoil Overseas, a subsidiary of the LUKoil corporation, had its Tripoli office searched [on December 4]. The search was sanctioned by the Libyan authorities. The company's assets have been frozen, and police confiscated its computers." The paper added that a first-ever "tender for 12 gas fields in Libya is scheduled to be decided on December 9. Thirty-five corporations, including three Russian companies, have submitted bids. Libyan intelligence alleges that the Russians used bribery to find out the contents of rival bids, enabling them to adjust their own offers with a view to winning the tender." reported on December 4 that police detained Aleksandr Tsygankov, an official of the subsidiary, in Tripoli on November 25. He has not been charged with any offense. PM

Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov told journalists on December 4 that he does not agree that the December 2 legislative elections were a referendum on President Putin, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on December 5. "Voters voted for lists of candidates from 11 political parties," Churov said, "and the number of votes reflects the rating of the party, not of any specific candidate included in the lists." Churov said the commission intends to look into the extraordinarily high voter turnout reported in some regions, particularly in the North Caucasus. However he noted that the official turnout of 64.4 percent was higher than for Duma elections in 1999 and 2003 and credited the Central Election Commission for its organizational work. He said the success of the elections was ensured by the harmonious cooperation of the political parties, civil society, the mass media, and the regional election commissions. Churov dismissed as politically motivated and subjective the criticisms of the Western election monitors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). Churov pledged that turnout for the March 2008 presidential election will be at least 50 percent. RC

The Communist Party, Yabloko, and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) are considering filing a joint complaint with the Supreme Court against the official results of the December 2 Duma elections, "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on December 5. The Communists believe that their official result -- 11.59 percent -- is about 10 percent lower than what they actually received on election day. Communist Party lawyer Vadim Solovyov told the daily the party was particularly surprised that it polled just 0.7 percent in Chechnya since the party received 11 percent of the vote in republican legislative elections there just one year ago. The parties also said they will likely appeal the election results to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, even though a Yabloko-filed case contesting the results of the 2003 elections is still pending there. "We will be fully satisfied if the court points out the undemocratic nature of the Russian election system," Solovyov said. "A decision of the Strasbourg court is binding and based on it the authorities would have to change our election laws." RC

The independent NGO Golos on December 4 made public an analysis of the 1,329 complaints that were filed during the December 2 Duma elections on the organization's special election hotline and of the observations of its 2,500 election monitors, reported on December 5. According to the report, 23 percent of all complaints involved officials and police hindering the work of election monitors, and 22 percent involved reports of illegal campaigning. Fifteen percent involved purported manipulations of the voter lists. Eleven percent of complaints involved pressure on voters and 9 percent involved alleged violations of regulations protecting voter privacy. One Yabloko observer in Moscow was reportedly detained by police for allegedly being drunk, although a judge soon ordered him released, "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on December 5. RC

On December 4, former candidates in the Duma elections began the process of refusing their mandates, "Trud" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on December 5. The most prominent figures who headed the regional lists of the Unified Russia party -- federal ministers and governors, mayors, and other local officials -- are all expected to refuse their Duma seats. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast Governor Valery Shantsev, and Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Viktor Tolokonsky were among the first to say they will decline their seats. According to election law, on the day the official results are confirmed, all candidates elected to the Duma will be notified and they have five days to confirm that they will take up their seats in the lower chamber. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported, however, that a new provision of the law allows deputies-elect to inform the commission that they are "not appointing their mandates," which in practice would mean that they remain on the party's list of candidates although they are not taking a seat in the Duma. If, during the Duma's term, a seat becomes vacant, they would have the right to occupy it. Analysts expect that some leading Unified Russia candidates, including President Putin, are likely to choose this option. Among those mentioned by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" as likely to do so is Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. The paper speculated that many governors of regions where Unified Russia fared relatively poorly -- Yaroslavl Oblast, Smolensk Oblast, Primorsky Krai, and others -- are also likely to choose this option in case they are unable to produce Kremlin-desired results in the March presidential election and are removed from their current posts. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who won a seat with his A Just Russia party, has also said he will not serve in the Duma. Former Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov tried unsuccessfully to have the law changed so that mandates refused by candidates would be given to other parties. RC

Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service on December 3 that he is satisfied with his party's campaign, although it failed to attract even 2 percent of the vote according to official results. "We are very satisfied with our work, as strange as that might sound," he said. "We warned society about a serious, looming threat. We were able to issue tens of millions of leaflets warning people to watch out for a life-long dictatorship. We think this was a very important part of our work and we did it." Yavlinsky went on to assess the Russian political system. "We do not have a parliament in the sense of an elected organ," he said. "The results of this election were not counted, were not analyzed, were not gathered. They were ordered." "It was important [to the authorities] to form a one-party parliament," he added. "A one-party parliament has been formed, since we know perfectly well that neither [A Just Russia], nor [the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia], nor [the Communist Party] differs in any way from Unified Russia." Yavlinsky also issued a warning to Yabloko supporters: "Be very careful. We are entering a time when, if something happens, there will be nowhere to turn. A single-party system is built in such a way that there is no court, no law, no defense of any kind." RC

Four parties won representation in the new North Ossetian parliament elected on December 2, quoted republican Election Commission Chairman Konstantin Kadiyev as announcing on December 4. Unified Russia garnered 75 percent of the party list vote, the Communist Party 12 percent, and A Just Russia and the Agrarian Party of Russia 7 percent each. The exact allocation of mandates in the 70-member legislature will not be known until after repeat elections are held in two of the 35 constituencies. LF

Members of a new organization entitled Legitimate President-2008, established to support former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's candidacy in the presidential election scheduled for February 19, 2008, argued on December 4 that Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the current leadership's presidential candidate, should step down in order to create "a level playing field" for the election campaign, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Garnik Markarian, one of the organization's leaders, said it will stage rallies aimed at coercing Sarkisian to resign; he said it will also take unspecified actions to prevent the vote-rigging which Ter-Petrossian has publicly predicted. On December 3, Armenia's Economic Court reversed a decision it made one week earlier and at the request of the State Tax Service froze the assets of the Giumri-based independent Gala TV channel, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on December 4. Gala ignored an official warning not to broadcast Ter-Petrossian's September 21 indictment of the present leadership, after which the Tax Service accused Gala last month of withholding 26 million drams ($80,000) in taxes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23 and November 1 and 13, 2007). LF

Parliament deputies approved on December 4 by a vote of 79 in favor and 10 against with 11 abstentions a request submitted by Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian on behalf of President Robert Kocharian to extend for a further 12 months the mandate of the military personnel serving as part of the international peacekeeping force in Iraq, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The 46 servicemen are all sappers, medical personnel or other non-combat specialists. LF

In a statement released on December 5, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian dismissed as "absurd" and "fabricated" recent reports in the Turkish media that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) plans to relocate its military bases from northern Iraq to the territory of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani news agencies and and Russia's have reported those Turkish allegations. Citing the Turkish daily "Hurriyet," on December 4 alleged that the Kurds, who are presumed to hold Turkish passports, will travel first to an unnamed European country and from there to Armenia. Meanwhile, opposition Azerbaijani parliament deputies continue to pressure the legislature to pass a resolution designating the PKK a terrorist organization. Several top Azerbaijani officials are rumored to be ethnic Kurds. LF

Presidential administration International Department official Gusein Mamedzade told a December 5 meetings of experts in Baku that the latest report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on the Karabakh conflict failed to incorporate recommendations and proposals made by the Azerbaijani side and consequently does not objectively reflect the situation on the ground, reported. He cited as an example of bias the concern expressed in the report at the level of arms spending by Azerbaijan and the concomitant failure to note that Armenia buys weaponry at a favorable rate from Russia. The ICG report, entitled "Nagorno-Karabakh: Risking War," suggests that as oil revenues peak in 2010-12, Azerbaijan may launch a new offensive to deflect public attention from deteriorating economic conditions. The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has likewise criticized the report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). LF

The Naxicevan Municipal Court on December 4 dismissed a case brought by Naxicevan police chief Sabuxi Novruzov, who accused RFE/RL journalist Ilgar Nasibov of offending his honor and dignity, after it became clear that the complaint was unfounded, and reported. Novruzov's complaint was based on an e-mail Nasibov sent to President Ilham Aliyev complaining about a standoff between Novruzov's deputy Ashraf Ibragimov and journalists who sought to report on the destruction by police one month ago of an unofficial market in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6 and 9, 2007). Nasibov alleged that the police violated citizens' rights and media freedom. LF

French-born former Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili was quoted by Caucasus Press on December 4 as saying in London that the campaign for the preterm presidential election to be held on January 5 is the worst she has ever seen. She claimed that the authorities are using every means available, including intimidation and the threat of physical violence against opposition candidates, to lobby the candidacy of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili, whom she accused of using budget funds to wage his preelection campaign. Leading members of the opposition Labor party similarly told journalists in Tbilisi on December 4 that they have asked the Central Election Commission to strike Saakashvili's name from the list of registered candidates because he has violated the Election Law by using budget funds to finance his campaign, Caucasus Press reported. Also on December 4, parliament speaker and acting President Nino Burjanadze and National Security Council Secretary Aleksandre Lomaia both advised presidential candidates to coordinate their campaign appearances to avoid possible clashes between their respective supporters. On December 5, Caucasus Press quoted Green party presidential candidate Giorgi Gachechiladze as announcing that he has withdrawn from the race in favor of Levan Gachechiladze, the candidate of the nine-party opposition National Council, to whom he is not related. Meanwhile, the Georgian authorities have released from pretrial detention Dashgyn Gulmamedov, who headed the election campaign staff of Fazail Aliyev, the only presidential candidate who is not an ethnic Georgian, Caucasus Press reported. Aliyev withdrew his candidacy last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007). LF

Sergei Bagapsh has signed the law on the state language passed by the unrecognized republic's parliament on November 14, according to a statement posted on his website ( on December 4. In that statement, Bagapsh described the law as "balanced" and said it will promote the more extensive use of the Abkhaz language. The law requires that beginning in 2010, all parliament and cabinet sessions and all meetings chaired by the president will be conducted in Abkhaz, and by 2015 all parliamentarians and heads of government bodies will be required to demonstrate fluency in Abkhaz. The print media will be required to publish at least 50 percent of their materials in Abkhaz within six months. Izida Chania wrote on November 20 in "Nuzhnaya gazeta," of which she is editor, that this requirement will deter the overwhelming majority of readers from continuing to buy her paper, which will therefore be forced to close. She suggested the rationale behind the law was not to improve the status of the Abkhaz language, but to kill off the independent press (see "Abkhazia: Journalists Outline Grievances to President,", August 28, 2007). Alluding to such fears, Bagaph's December 4 statement left open the possibility that those articles of the law relating to the Russian-language press may be amended. LF

In a statement released in Almaty on December 4, the leadership of the Kazakh opposition Naghyz Ak Zhol (True Bright Path) party strongly criticized the recent decision by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to award the rotating chairmanship to Kazakhstan in 2010, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The party accused the OSCE of having placed short-term interests above the OSCE's commitments to democratic values, adding that the OSCE decision represents an "opportunistic diplomatic compromise defined by energy policy and a deepening crisis of geopolitical interests." After a one-year delay on the issue after failing to reach a consensus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006), the recent OSCE ministerial meeting in Madrid approved Kazakhstan's bid to assume leadership of the organization, with the OSCE agreeing that Kazakhstan will take over the one-year rotating chairmanship in 2010, making it the first former Soviet republic to head the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007). Naghyz Ak Zhol's criticism follows earlier statements by several human rights groups that were also against the Kazakh bid due to "its poor rights record" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2007). RG

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on December 4 with Education and Science Minister Zhanseyit Tuymebaev to review the strategic development of the education and science sectors, Kazakh Television reported. Nazarbaev called on Tuymebaev to accelerate reforms and he promised to bolster state support for both sectors, adding that he is considering a new proposal to establish a new national university next year. For his part, Tuymebaev briefed the president on preparations for the introduction of a new 12-grade educational system for all secondary schools starting next year. He also reported on the implementation of a new five-year state program on science, which includes the planned expansion of the engineering and research facilities. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Astana, Daniyar Berlibaev, the deputy director of the state-owned KazMunaiGaz energy company, announced on December 4 that Kazakhstan is currently negotiating with officials from Russia's Gazprom on increasing tariffs for the transit of Turkmen and Uzbek gas through Kazakh territory, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Berlibaev also said that three foreign firms have "confirmed their interest" in participating in a joint project with KazMunaiGaz to build an oil refinery at the Turkish port of Ceyhan. RG

The OSCE's main election-monitoring body, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), criticized Uzbekistan on December 4 for "limiting democratic freedoms" in the run-up to the December 23 presidential election, AFP reported. The ODIHR said that "despite the presence of more candidates than in previous presidential elections...the political process in Uzbekistan does not seem conducive to meaningful and effective competition." The ODIHR further criticized Uzbekistan for the "de facto suppression" of many opposition groups and noted the lack of "critical media" in Uzbekistan. RG

At a meeting in Tashkent, President Islam Karimov discussed on December 4 with visiting South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Song Min-so plans to expand bilateral relations, according to the Uzbek National News Agency website. Karimov welcomed the "steady development of cooperation" between the two countries and reviewed measures aimed at expanding Korean trade and investment in Uzbekistan. Song's visit is part of a broader South Korean initiative to expand its ties with Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2007). RG

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with a group of Belarusian opposition leaders in Washington on December 3, the U.S. State Department announced in a statement. Rice reiterated the United States' support for the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people, and said the United States will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in Belarus. The group, which arrived in the United States on December 2 and will stay until December 8, includes 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, the acting chairman of the Social Democratic Party; youth activists Zmitser Fedaruk and Pavel Sevyarynets; and human rights advocate Enira Branitskaya. AM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Pavel Borodin, the state secretary for the Belarusian-Russian Union State, on December 4 discussed the agenda of Lukashenka's forthcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belapan reported. The meeting, scheduled for mid-December, will address a draft of a Constitutional Act for the proposed Belarusian-Russian Union State. Borodin said that five versions of the Constitutional Act have been prepared, adding that the proposed union of the countries requires a temporary constitution for a "transition period" of seven to 10 years. According to Borodin, the draft follows a federal model in which the two countries would retain their state emblems and anthems. AM

In a December 2 interview with the Spanish newspaper "El Pais," President Lukashenka described the EU's calls for democratization in Belarus as "ridiculous." "We have as much democracy as in Germany and France," Lukashenka said. "We have never had to use either tear gas or water cannons, which is the norm for you. So where are human rights really observed?" he continued. "We are accused of cracking down on media outlets, [but] nearly all opposition newspapers can be bought at kiosks, including the one at the Presidential Administration," he added. When the interviewer noted that the news kiosk at the president's offices does not offer opposition papers, Lukashenka said that "the system of [newspaper] distribution and subscription is an economic one. Let them [independent newspapers] arrange for this. One has to pay for this." Lukashenka also accused Western governments of providing the Belarusian opposition with "millions of dollars." "They do not work, they drive luxurious cars and live in exquisite palaces," he added. AM

Gazprom Chairman Aleksei Miller and Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko agreed on December 4 that Russia will supply natural gas to Ukraine at $179.5 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2008, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Ukraine currently pays $130 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, most of which comes from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan recently raised the price for gas sold to Russia from $100 to $130 in the first six months of 2008, and to $150 in the second half of a year. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko earlier said that the price for gas supplies to Ukraine in 2008 would not exceed $160 per 1,000 cubic meters. Miller and Boyko also set the transit fee for gas shipments across Ukraine and for gas shipments to Ukraine across Russia at $1.7 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers. AM

At its session on December 4, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada elected Arseniy Yatsenyuk as its new speaker, Ukrainian media reported. Yatsenyuk, proposed by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc (NUNS), was supported by a narrow majority of 227 votes from the BYuT and NUNS. Other parliamentary factions did not take part in the vote. The Party of Regions and the Communist Party protested against the conduct of the vote by leaving the session hall. Nestor Shufrych of the Party of Regions told UNIAN that BYuT and NUNS leaders, who stood near the ballot box, pressured lawmakers as they cast their votes. AM

Bosnia-Herzegovina on December 4 took its first major step towards joining the EU by initialing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA). The agreement, which still requires several steps to be formally adopted, caps several weeks of breakthroughs for Bosnia. On November 23, leaders of Bosnia's three major ethnic communities agreed on a plan to implement police reform and on November 30 accepted governance reforms demanded by the international community's high representative, a deal that EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn immediately responded to by clearing his diary and heading for Sarajevo on December 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007). The same day, Bosnia's federal government met in emergency session to approve the action plan on police reform, thereby meeting the major precondition for an SAA set down by the EU. "All those who spoke about [the] uncertain and difficult future of Bosnia-Herzegovina were wrong," the December 4 edition of the daily "Nezavisne novine" quoted Rehn as saying. Speaking at the official ceremony on December 4, Rehn said, "our work together in the last couple of weeks is very concrete proof that Europe wants you [Bosnia] to join once you are ready for that." The agreement was hailed by Bosnia's leaders, who chose to set previous acrimony to one side. The Bosnian Serbs' leader, Milorad Dodik, praised High Representative Miroslav Lajcak, a man he previously attacked sharply for playing God (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 21, 2007). Lajcak "played a big role in this [deal], as he has had understanding for different political positions," "Dnevni avaz" quoted Dodik as saying. Dodik's principal opponent, Haris Silajdzic, said he is "happy with the whole process" and predicted the SAA will be sealed "by the middle of next year," "Dnevni avaz" reported. AG

Dodik, the Republika Srpska's prime minister, underlined immediately after the breakthrough achieved on November 30 that the prospect of EU membership was the key reason why he agreed to end his opposition to High Representative Lajcak's reforms. Asked in an interview with TV Hayat on December 1 whether Bosnia's "accession to the European Union is the solution to all political problems," Dodik responded, "I think so." He described EU integration as the most convincing way of resolving "the question of an international framework and Bosnia-Herzegovina's territorial integrity," citing Belgium as an example. "They [the EU]will not let Belgium fall apart, right? If Belgium were outside the European Union, you would see what would happen there." As a result, he concluded, "not even our internal dilemmas, disagreements, and differing views are as important as getting the Stabilization and Association Agreement, because that is the best thing for Bosnia-Herzegovina." At the same time, he drew a number of important red lines. Firstly, the EU should not pressure Bosnia into recognizing Kosova as an independent state without UN backing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). Secondly, Serbs "do not need" a Europe that "humiliates" them. And, thirdly, everyone should realize that "we [Bosnian Serbs] have no problem with Bosnia-Herzegovina as long as we are not asked to destroy or abolish the Republika Srpska," a restatement of Dodik's opposition to changes to the postwar constitution written to reflect the Dayton peace accords. In the same interview, he also made clear that, for him, his ethnic identity is more central than his passport. Asked about his reported statement "I am a bigger Bosnian than many," he responded: "I did not say I was a Bosnian. I am a Serb from Bosnia." AG

Slovakia's foreign minister, Jan Kubis, has struck a finely balanced note during visits to Belgrade and Prishtina to discuss Kosova's status. In Belgrade on December 3, he emphasized that Bratislava would not back a declaration of unilateral independence by Kosova and that the process of resolving Kosova's status should be led by the UN, Serbian and Slovak media reported. Both are positions similar to those held by Belgrade. In Prishtina, the media highlighted both Kubis's opposition to a unilateral move by Prishtina and his statement that "the status quo is not a solution." Serbia is pushing for negotiations until a compromise solution is met, a process that could last "100 years" and still produce no result, the leader of Kosova's most popular party, Hashim Thaci, has said. In both capitals, Kubis stated his support for the EU assuming responsibility from the UN for administering Kosova, a position acceptable to Serbia only if the EU mission secures the backing of the UN. Slovakia's position on Kosova has been critical throughout the year: it is a member of the UN Security Council, where a resolution of the Kosova question was foiled without a vote by Russia, and Slovakia is one of a number of EU states that could now prevent the EU adopting a unified line on Kosova. The majority position in the EU is to oppose a unilateral move for independence by Kosova, but there has been no commitment to leave a solution in the hands of the UN, though the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, has said the UN's secretary-general should decide whether there are grounds for further direct talks between Prishtina and Belgrade. Romania and Cyprus have voiced clear support for Serbia's opposition to Kosovar statehood, while Greece's support is thought to run deeper than stated in public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). Spain is also said to harbor reservations. There have, though, also been reports that Russia's unshakable position on Kosova is strengthening the unity and resolve of the EU. AG

Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac acknowledged on November 29 that Serbia is "not ready for NATO." The news agency FoNet on November 30 quoted Sutanovac as saying that Serbia's membership of the Partnership for Peace program, a prelude to membership, is "currently the true measure of Serbia's participation in integrating into security structures." Sutanovac underlined the virtues of membership of the program, but also said that, while wanting to send troops on more peace missions, Serbia is unwilling to contribute to the international military effort in Afghanistan. One member of the governing coalition, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), is strongly opposed to NATO membership, but Sutanovac's Democratic Party (DS) is an advocate of deeper integration into European and trans-Atlantic defense structures. AG

Montenegro and the United States on December 3 signed an agreement under which Washington will fund, to the tune of over $2 million, a program to destroy surplus small arms and ammunition. According to Montenegrin television, the weapons earmarked for destruction include 1,500 surface-to-air missiles. Montenegrin Defense Minister Boro Vucinic described the weapons as "obsolete," but U.S. Ambassador Roderick Moore stressed that their destruction removes the danger that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. In April, Montenegro signed up to a program backed by the UN Development Program and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to reduce Montenegro's stock of surplus weapons from, according to the news agency Mina, over 9,000 tons to about 2,000. The cost was put at 6 million euros ($8.8 million) and the program will last until 2009. The destiny of some of Montenegro's other hardware rests on a resolution of ownership questions with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2007). The effort to scale back Montenegro's armed forces, which is part of a broader effort to reform its forces in preparation for NATO membership, has involved the sale of guns and shells as well as a frigate, which, according to a report by the daily "Vijesti" is being dismantled by a Serbian company for use as spare parts by the Libyan Navy. Montenegro continues to have a small arms-exporting industry. Officials of one company, Jugoimportmont, are currently on trial in Montenegro for allegedly failing to observe procedures during the sale of weapons to Israel and Iraq. In March, the government rejected claims by a former general, Blagoje Grahovac, that another company, Cofis, has been trading arms illegally. AG

A riot at a soccer match that ended with one police officer seriously injured should mark a "turning point" in Serbia's battle with hooliganism, Serbian Sports and Youth Minister Snezana Samardzic-Markovic told Reuters on December 3. She called for "a united front including clubs, sports bodies, players, and institutions to condemn the violence and fans to distance themselves from hooligans" following the incident, during which fans of Red Star Belgrade seriously injured an officer. In an effort to quell persistent crowd problems at soccer stadiums, the Serbian parliament has passed tough legislation that could see fans who put "at risk all perpetrators" jailed for 10 years, but it has yet to be invoked. According to Reuters, Samardzic-Markovic said that the latest incident will be "the first serious incident since the amendments have been made and I expect it to be a turning point." The violence in Belgrade prompted the Serbian soccer association to admit that "the hooliganism has exceeded the powers of [the association] to act on its own and punish the culprits. We therefore extend our full support to the state authorities to take appropriate measures." What those measures might be Samardzic-Markovic did not say, but she indicated that an educational approach would play a secondary role after tougher "repressive" measures. AG

The UN envoy charged with bringing Athens and Skopje to an agreement about Macedonia's official name spent December 3 in Skopje sounding out Macedonian leaders' opinions about a proposal he made in November and what he described as a number of additional ideas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). The envoy, Matthew Nimetz, will spend December 5 in Athens. There was no hint of a possible breakthrough after the talks with Macedonian officials, but Nimetz described the talks as "constructive" and "the most important of the year," local media and the news service Balkan Insight reported. Greece is threatening to veto Macedonia's admission to NATO and the EU unless Macedonia changes its name, which it argues implies a claim to the Greek province of Macedonia. The threat is backed by around 70 percent of Greeks, opinion polls show. Macedonia is willing to adopt a "dual formula" under which it would change its name in bilateral contacts with Greece but retain its constitutional name, "Republic of Macedonia," with the rest of the world, but it has said it would rather not be a member of NATO than change its name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2007). Macedonia says over 120 countries, roughly two-thirds of all states, recognize the country by its constitutional name. In recent weeks, the problem has garnered fresh headlines owing to a decision by Macedonia's customs administration to ban the entry of goods labeled "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" -- a reference that Macedonia has used for the past 14 years in international forums because of the dispute -- and an Interior Ministry plan to introduce new number plates bearing Macedonia's name. AG

The families of roughly 2,000 people killed under communist rule and more than 15,000 Albanians imprisoned during the rule of the communist leader Enver Hoxha will receive compensation starting in 2008, the Albanian government decided on December 2. The plan has already been approved by President Bamir Topi. According to local media, 8.25 million euros ($12.1 million) has been set aside in the 2008 budget. In total, the government intends to pay out 417 million euros ($614 million) over the course of eight years. AG

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has warned that the summer's drought is putting a sharp brake on the Moldovan economy's expansion. According to the Infotag news agency on November 29, the pace of economic growth is slackening so fast that the economy's 8 percent year-on-year expansion in the first half of 2007 will have slowed down to just 5 percent by the end of the year. The drought particularly hit the processing industry and agriculture, which was still suffering the effects of a ban on imports imposed by Russia. Rising prices for oil and gas have also had an impact. The report urges the Moldovan government to diversify its export markets, as well as pressing ahead faster with reform of the energy sector and with structural reforms to boost the investment environment. Foreign direct investment was one fairly positive feature mentioned recently by the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) representative in Moldova, Iohan Matisen. Inward investment is now as strong as strong as it was into the Romanian and Bulgarian economies were five to eight years ago, Matisen said in comments reported by Infotag on November 29. The IMF mentioned inflation, which is running at 14 percent, as an area of particular concern at present. AG

Most Russians and non-Russians alike associate Prince Aleksandr Nevsky with the defeat in 1242 of the Teutonic knights on the ice of Lake Peipus, largely as a result of Sergei Eisenstein's classic film. But Russian officials have frequently devoted more attention to his diplomatic interaction with the Mongols. Indeed, so skilled was he at conducting relations with the Golden Horde from a position of weakness that for much of the Tsarist period, Nevsky was widely viewed as the patron saint of the Imperial Foreign Ministry. Two separate developments on December 4 -- a speech by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), and an article by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Vladimir of Tashkent and Central Asia in the Moscow newspaper "Izvestiya" -- suggest that the 13th-century prince is about to resume that special role.

In his speech to MGIMO's faculty and students, Lavrov said that "the activity of Aleksandr Nevsky in the West and the East laid the groundwork for what we call multi-vector diplomacy": the idea that in dealing with the external world, Moscow must work "in all directions" ( Lavrov noted that Nevsky devoted much of his efforts to "the assembly of the Russian lands and the strengthening of the Russian state, precisely the problems and tasks which our country has been solving over the last eight years." And consequently, he deserves to be revered as a great "diplomat and statesman," Lavrov said.

The Orthodox hierarch's article provides some key additional details. In dealing with the outside world, Vladimir says, Nevsky carefully calibrated his tactics. Against the West, he succeeded through the force of arms, but in the East, he did so by playing "a most complicated diplomatic game" ( Thus, Vladimir continues, one can say that the foundation of Aleksandr Nevsky's foreign policy "was not so much the sword as it was skillful diplomacy." And Russian diplomats today should remember that 760 years ago, Nevsky "laid the foundations for Russian-Chinese diplomatic ties."

Moreover, as a result of Nevsky's efforts to promote the expansion of Russian influence in the East, he not only established in 1261 the first Russian eparchate beyond the borders of historical Rus (in Mongolia), but also became widely known as "the first Eurasian" for his establishment of Rus as "a bridge between East and West."

Vladimir enumerated three important principles that Nevsky bequeathed to future generations of Russian diplomats, all of which, although expressed in pithy Russian, are deeply rooted in Biblical texts and have their analogues in the United Nations Charter.

The first of these is that "God is not in force but in truth," which, any diplomat can see, means that it is wrong to use "force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." History has "more than once" confirmed the truth of Nevsky's observation, Vladimir writes.

The second principle is that one must "live without violating the lands of others," an observation that finds its current application in the principle of the inviolability of borders, Vladimir argues, something that he claims even a non-specialist can instantly see.

And the third principle is Nevsky's remark that "whoever comes to us with a sword will die by the sword," a Biblical injunction found in the Gospel according to St. Matthew and the psalms, which is also restated in chapter 51 of the UN Charter on the right of any state to individual and collective self-defense.

Because Nevsky was interested in advancing not only the foreign policy interests of the Russian state, but also the mission of the Orthodox Church, he has long been the patron saint of both. And that means, Vladimir insists, "the fatherland's foreign policy mission and the Orthodox Spiritual Mission have gone hand in hand."

Clearly, the 13th-century prince has returned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, but it remains an open question whether either Moscow's interlocutors in the West or those Russians who hope that their country might someday become part of Europe should be entirely pleased at the prospect.

After all, in order to defeat the forces of the German emperor and the Pope, Aleksandr Nevsky, unlike his brother and many other Russians at the time, was prepared not only to forge an alliance with the Mongol Horde, but to adapt Russian institutions to the sometimes violent and arbitrary practices of the great khan, a legacy from which Moscow still has to break free.

(Paul Goble is a specialist on Russian history who served as publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" from 1997-2001.)

During a visit to the Military Training Academy in Kabul on December 4, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he is pressing Japan, China, and countries participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to "meet their promises" to support operations in Afghanistan, Bakhtar News Agency and international media reported. "I feel like I am the salesman around the world for Afghanistan," Gates said. Military commanders briefed Gates on the progress of operations against the Taliban insurgency, and outlined their needs for additional trainers and equipment. Afghan Army Chief of Staff Bismullah Khan told Gates that the Afghan forces can potentially "do the job ourselves," but need more advisors and new weapons. "In the war on terror, we are on the front lines," he said. Gates said progress in building the Afghan Army is "quite impressive," and pledged to continue to help. MM

At a news conference with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Gates on December 4, Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the growing violence and instability in Afghanistan on the existence of safe hideouts for terrorists outside the country's borders, Afghan and international media reported. Karzai said that "terrorist elements and Al-Qaeda" continue to receive support in some countries. The remark is likely a reference to Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to take aggressive action against Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders thought to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border. Recent reports indicate that insurgents have been able to benefit from Pakistani political instability, and the strengthening of Taliban influence in the Swat valley, Waziristan, and other border areas. Separately, in a report released to the media on December 4, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that "there is no way to calculate how long it will take NATO and the United States to win the war in Afghanistan," adding that "Pakistan remains a major wild card in predicting the outcome." MM

A suicide car bomber crashed into a NATO convey on December 3 in Kabul, injuring as many as 22 civilians, Afghan News Network reported. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemary Bashari said that "the bomber struck a two-vehicle convoy belonging to NATO's International Security Assistance Force near the city's airport." The attack did not cause any NATO casualties, according to ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Dillschneider. A purported spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack. Suicide attacks frequently target international and Afghan security forces, but most of the casualties are civilian passers-by. There have been more than 130 suicide blasts in Afghanistan this year. MM

The India-based Times Online reported on December 4 that its sources in Kabul have acquired a UN map allegedly demonstrating that the areas of greatest danger for NGO operations in Afghanistan are spreading. The leaked map reportedly reveals a deteriorating security situation across the country, compared to an earlier map distributed to the UN staff and NGO workers in March 2005. The new map apparently shows that almost all of Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces are now considered too dangerous for humanitarian operations. Brigadier-General Carlos Branco, an ISAF spokesman, acknowledged that aid workers have withdrawn from many ethnic Pashtun areas, but asserted that the Taliban controls only five out of 59 districts in southern Afghanistan. The absence of aid organizations compound the Afghan government's difficulties in extending its authority in remote areas under Taliban influence. MM

President George W. Bush said in Washington on December 4 that Iran remains a weapons proliferation threat in spite of a U.S. intelligence report issued the previous day stating that Tehran has apparently suspended a suspected bid to develop nuclear weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). Bush said that retaining all options remains "effective diplomacy" with Iran, which he said is still a danger as long as it has the knowledge to develop nuclear weapons, AFP reported. Iran has said the report vindicates its claims that its nuclear program is peaceful and it has vowed to press ahead with sensitive fuel-making activities. Mastering the fuel-making process could give Iran the know-how to make bombs. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in London the same day that the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report justified pressure already placed on Iran and this pressure should be intensified to force Iran to stop fuel-making activities, Reuters reported. The new agency quoted a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying the same day that moves "on the introduction of restrictive measures" on Iran will continue, referring to a third UN Security Council sanctions resolution on Iran. VS

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) warned Iran at the close of its summit in Doha on December 4 to return three "occupied" islands in the Persian Gulf, or the GCC will take the matter to international courts, Radio Farda reported, citing regional media. The GCC comprises the Persian Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia, and its leaders on December 3 invited Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to attend its 28th heads of state meeting, in a diplomatic departure and an apparently amicable move. GCC meetings usually end with communiqués urging Iran to return three Persian Gulf islands -- the Lesser and Greater Tunbs and Abu Musa -- claimed by Iran and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and occupied by Iran. Ahmadinejad met with the U.A.E. president in Doha on December 3 or 4, but Radio Farda observed that the meeting was seen as nothing more than a formality. The U.A.E. also reiterated its claims to the islands on December 1, and stated it will not end efforts to regain them, Radio Farda reported, citing the U.A.E. state news agency. Some Iranian parliamentarians and newspapers in Tehran expressed skepticism about Ahmadinejad's trip to Doha, questioning its usefulness, or citing the ongoing dispute and persistent use by Gulf states of the term "Arabian Gulf," Radio Farda reported on December 4. VS

The detained head of the Iranian Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights, Emadeddin Baqi, has refused to answer more questions from his interrogators in Tehran's Evin prison and demanded a public trial, Radio Farda reported on December 4, citing Baqi's wife, Fatemeh Kamali-Ahmadsarai. Baqi's family reportedly met with him on December 3, and he told them he has refused to answer any more questions after 14 interrogation sessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2007). He said he wants a public trial with a jury. Baqi was arrested in mid-October, apparently on charges of engaging in antistate propaganda and helping unspecified opposition groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). Fatemeh Kamali-Ahmadsarai has told the Iranian website "Noruz" that Baqi is now no longer allowed to receive visits, which prison authorities have said was because certain prisoners have "complained" about the "behavior" of his family during visits, Radio Farda reported. She said she suspects this is to prevent news filtering out of prison about his condition. VS

About 100 students described as "left-leaning" protested at Tehran University on December 4 against alleged discrimination, recent arrests of some students, and strict security measures on campuses, Radio Farda reported. One student, Majid Ashrafnejad, told Radio Farda on December 3 that security officials or university authorities have pressured students and arrested some after students announced some days before that they would protest on December 4. The country's main student grouping, the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV), issued a statement on December 4 expressing concern about the recent arrests of a number of students, including "student activist" and former DTV member Said Habibi, Radio Farda reported. VS

Twenty-two religious groups and political parties signed a nine-point honor pact in Al-Basrah Governorate, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on December 5. The pact calls on the parties to not interfere in the work of security services and the judiciary. It also calls on the signatories and the Al-Basrah Governorate Council to support security in the governorate. The signatories to the document include the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Badr Organization, Al-Fadilah Party, Al-Da'wah Party, Hizballah Party, the Martyr Al-Sadr office in Al-Basrah, and the Iraqi National Accord Party. KR

Tensions are on the rise in Al-Basrah following rumors that the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, may be forcibly disarmed, Al-Arabiyah television reported on December 4. According to the report, political figures in the city have tried to convince the militia to surrender its weapons before government forces are sent into Al-Basrah to disarm it by force. Abd al-Razzaq al-Nidawi, the head of the al-Sadr office in Al-Basrah, warned of "serious consequences" on December 4, saying that if Iraqi security forces attempt to disarm the militia, they will lose, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Meanwhile, a website that supports the cleric issued a report on December 4 saying the al-Sadr office appealed to local tribesmen in a December 2 meeting to resist attempts to form awakening councils in the governorate. The al-Sadr office equated the formation of awakening councils in other governorates to colluding with the "occupier," a reference to U.S. forces in Iraq. KR

Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, announced in a December 4 audio statement the launch of a campaign targeting Sunni awakening councils in Iraq. The statement is the first from the leader in some three months. Al-Baghdadi contended in the statement that his group, which has long been criticized for its targeting of the civilian population, is no long comprised of foreigners. The awakening councils that formed in various areas of central and northern Iraq in recent months came as a direct response to the group's behavior. "Al-Qaeda was officially dissolved in favor of the State of Islam, the Islamic State of Iraq," he argued. "So why are those people still repeating that the soldiers of the state are foreigners?" he asked. Al-Baghdadi added that only 200 foreigners remain in his group today. He also denied that the actions of his fighters led to the formation of awakening councils, and accused Iraqi tribesmen of placing tribal loyalties ahead of religious duty. Announcing his group's new military campaign, named after Abu Umar al-Kurdi, a fighter "executed" by the Iraqi government, apparently through a death sentence, al-Baghdadi said the campaign will use booby-trapped cars and explosives to target awakening councils and nationalist insurgent groups. The campaign will run until the Islamic date of 20 Muharram, which falls at the end of January. KR

Al-Baghdadi claimed in the December 4 audio statement that the Islamic State of Iraq still has the loyal support of the Iraqi population in most of the areas in which it operates. In Al-Anbar Governorate, he said, the group enjoys the support of all areas except those under the control of certain factions of the Al-Jubur and Al-Dulaym tribes. He admitted his group has lost control of Al-Ramadi, but maintained that it continues operations in other areas of the governorate, and in Baghdad. He also claimed that coalition forces have only captured two small areas of Ba'qubah, north of Baghdad, a failure which he blamed on the collusion of the nationalist insurgent group Hamas of Iraq and the Iraqi Islamic Party. Al-Baghdadi further argued that nationalist insurgent groups have traded jihad for political reconciliation, and have therefore delegitimized their movements. KR

The Iraqi Council of Ministers held a meeting on December 4 to discuss the extension of a UN mandate that supports the presence of multinational forces in Iraq. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters in Baghdad that the government will seek to extend the presence of multinational forces for one year only. He added that the government continues to lobby the UN to remove Iraq from under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which gives multinational forces the legal authorization to "take all necessary measures to preserve peace and security" in Iraq. KR

Following the signing of a power-sharing agreement, the Arab members of the Kirkuk Governorate Council have resumed their positions and will begin to attend council meetings after a two-year boycott, Iraqi media reported on December 4. The deal, reportedly concluded on November 28, will place Arab representatives in the posts of deputy governor and vice president of the Judicial Council. According to media reports, Arab, Turkoman, and Kurdish representatives will each hold 32 percent of council posts, while Chaldo-Assyrians will fill the remaining 4 percent of available posts. The Turkoman representatives, however, are continuing their boycott of the council. KR

The Interior Ministry announced on December 3 that it will employ 12,000 tribesmen who hail from awakening councils formed this year to combat terrorist elements in and around the capital. Ministry spokesman Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf said the tribesmen will wear special uniforms and will operate under the command of army and police units in the areas where they are stationed. The Shi'ite-dominated government previously opposed bringing the tribesmen into the security forces, which are dominated by Shi'a. The fact that the Sunni forces will be assigned distinctive uniforms is troubling, as they will stand out as easy targets for security forces and militias that support a sectarian agenda. KR

Coalition forces carried out a raid south of Ba'qubah on December 4 in which they killed the leader of an Al-Qaeda-affiliated media cell, the U.S.-led coalition announced in a December 4 press statement. The suspect replaced an Al-Qaeda leader killed by coalition forces on November 11. During the operation, coalition forces discovered a "large amount" of propaganda materials supporting the Islamic State of Iraq. The statement said coalition forces also captured a wanted person in Baghdad who was reportedly involved in "numerous aspects of media and propaganda operations" for the Islamic State of Iraq. "The wanted individual is also believed to be an associate of senior terrorist leaders in the region and a facilitator of terrorist operations," the statement noted. A third person was captured east of Samarra who "is involved in media and propaganda operations along the Tigris River Valley." KR

Mosul airport resumed operations on December 2 for the first time in 14 years, the U.S.-led coalition announced in a December 4 press statement. The airport, constructed in 1992, ceased to operate after U.S. military forces declared the city a no-fly zone in 1993. The first Iraqi Airways flight departed on December 2 for Mecca, Saudi Arabia, taking Iraqi pilgrims on the hajj. The airport was rebuilt with funding from the ministries of Finance and Transportation, as well as a $3.2 million contribution from the U.S. State Department, according to the press release. "This is a significant step for the revitalization of the economy, not just [for] Mosul, but all of northern Iraq," said Jason Hyland, team leader for the Ninawah provincial reconstruction team. KR

In a statement released on December 5, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian dismissed as "absurd" and "fabricated" recent reports in the Turkish media that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) plans to relocate its military bases from northern Iraq to the territory of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani news agencies and and Russia's have reported those Turkish allegations. Citing the Turkish daily "Hurriyet," on December 4 alleged that the Kurds, who are presumed to hold Turkish passports, will travel first to an unnamed European country and from there to Armenia. Meanwhile, opposition Azerbaijani parliament deputies continue to pressure the legislature to pass a resolution designating the PKK a terrorist organization. Several top Azerbaijani officials are rumored to be ethnic Kurds. LF