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Newsline - December 7, 2007

NATO foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on December 6 to keep their 16,000-strong KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosova at current strength and to increase it should violence threaten stability there, news agencies reported. The ministers are slated to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 7 in a scheduled session of the NATO-Russia Council. NATO officials indicated that in addition to Kosova, they are concerned about Russia's planned suspension of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and about Russian attitudes toward the planned U.S. missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4 and 6, 2007). En route to Brussels on December 6, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that U.S. plans for missile defense might still be "refined" to take some Russian concerns into account. Referring to comments by Lavrov that Washington recently backtracked on a package of offers that U.S. officials made orally in Moscow in October, Rice suggested that "perhaps there are things the Russians thought might be there that are not there. But this is something we can discuss." In regards to the CFE, she said that "it will be regrettable if the Russians decide to suspend. There is some question about what it means to suspend." She also urged Russia to help maintain diplomatic pressure on Iran to encourage Tehran to "make healthy choices" regarding its nuclear program. PM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on December 6 that Russia is worried about future NATO enlargement as well as about missile defense and the CFE Treaty, Interfax reported. He argued that "we still face a difficult job ahead" because the issues involved "affect key aspects of European and international security and strategic stability." Kamynin defended Russia's decision on the CFE, saying that "we offered practical measures to improve the [circumstances surrounding the treaty] but nobody wanted to listen to us." This prompted Russia to "stimulate our partners to look for ways of breaking the deadlock." He said that NATO enlargement "is an extremely sensitive point for us, especially when it comes to former Soviet republics." Kamynin said that Russia will "expand interaction with NATO, taking into account the alliance's ongoing transformation and internal discussion between its members" regarding its future. The state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote on December 7 that many NATO member states have long flaunted the terms of the CFE and that Russia is simply following suit. The daily "Novyye izvestia" noted on December 6 that there is "no real hope" of resolving the disputes between Russia and NATO in the immediate future. The paper argued that the CFE does not allow for a moratorium, and that Lavrov's NATO colleagues will want to know if Russia's suspension is just a political maneuver. Major General Aleksandr Yakushin, who is first deputy head of Russia's space forces, was quoted in the daily "Vremya novostei" on December 6 as stressing that missile defense is directed against Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). He argued that the planned 10 interceptors to be based in Poland and the proposed radar site to be located in the Czech Republic "will wreck strategic parity and...pose a threat to security of the Russian Federation." He concluded that the United States "is seeking nuclear superiority over Russia." General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the armed forces' General Staff, said in Washington on December 6 at the end of a short visit to the United States that his interlocutors "did not hear us, nor were they interested in what we had to say" on missile defense, Interfax reported. During his stay in Washington, he signed an agreement on U.S.-Russian military cooperation for 2008-10, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on December 6. PM

President Putin Vladimir Putin said on December 6 that he wants Sergei Kiriyenko to head the new state nuclear corporation called Rosatom, which will be based on the current Federal Nuclear Power Agency, which is also known as Rosatom and is already under Kiriyenko's leadership, the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on December 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12 and December 3, 2007). The paper quoted Kiriyenko as saying that Russia needs to build 26 additional nuclear-power units, with a capacity of 1,150 megawatts each, by 2020 to meet the goals set down by Putin. It is not clear how Russia will carry out such an ambitious program while at the same time seeking to sell nuclear technology and build entire power plants abroad. PM

A group of Russian historians recently published the first five of a scheduled 100-volume collection of foreign and Russian works on the rule of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, which lasted from 1922-53, AP reported from Moscow on December 5. Historian Nikita Petrov said that "there still has been no legal assessment of Stalin's terror, of the Soviet system's crimes. We have not bothered to analyze that bloodshed and its legacy." The collection is entitled the "History of Stalinism" and will appear over the course of three years. It is sponsored by a fund set up by former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian State Archive, the human rights organization Memorial, and independent historians. Many consider the collection timely because President Putin has revived a version of the Stalin-era national anthem and some other symbols associated with the dictator's rule. Putin has also argued that some other countries, such as the United States and Germany, have far blacker pages in their histories than did the Soviet Union. PM

The Communist Party on December 6 filed a complaint with the Central Election Commission asking it to overturn the still-unofficial results of the December 2 Duma elections, Russian media reported on December 6 and 7. The commission is expected to announce the official results on December 7 or 8. A lawyer for the Communist Party said the party does not expect the Central Election Commission to grant its petition, adding that the party is preparing a "massive file" to submit to the Supreme Court, as well as a case to file with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2007). In addition to some 40 purported specific allegations of election-law violations, the Communist Party appeal also complains about President Putin's participation in the race and Unified Russia's campaign to turn the elections into a referendum on the president. Representatives of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) told that they support the Communist Party's petition. RC

The pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi has announced the formation of a children's group for people aged 8 to 15, Russian media reported on December 7. The new group is called Mishki, which means "little bears," since the mascot of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is the bear. At a demonstration in Moscow on December 6, Mishki members appealed to President Putin to become the head of their organization and give it "a vector of development," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the next day. They symbolically declared Putin "the chief bear in the country." According to organizers, the new organization already boasts some 3,000 members and its main activity will be "forming apartment-block-based democratic republics, organizing children's theater, and disseminating children's news." Moscow Duma Deputy Yevgeny Bunimovich (Yabloko) told the daily that election law forbids compelling children to participate in political activities. Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov was also skeptical about Mishki: "Schoolchildren don't need a vector from Putin," he said. "They need Christmas trees, apples, sports clubs, and summer camps by the sea." He criticized Mishki organizers as people "who are beginning to disrespect their own ideas and slogans." RC

Nashi activists continue to patrol in Moscow and to demonstrate in what they claim is an effort to prevent opposition forces from carrying out an Orange Revolution in the capital, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other media reported on December 7. Activists near Red Square are distributing leaflets with the images of opposition figures -- including Other Russia leader Garry Kasparov, SPS Political Council member Boris Nemtsov and National Bolshevik Party head Eduard Limonov -- who are denounced as "extortionists, provocateurs, and fascists." "We must seize control of the entire city," the leaflet says. "A revolution could happen at any moment." RC

Oleg Zhukovsky, a senior manager with the state-controlled Vneshtorgbank in charge of relations with major clients in the forestry sector, was found dead on December 6 in the empty swimming pool near his suburban Moscow home, Russian media reported on December 7. According to initial reports, Zhukovsky committed suicide and even left a suicide note, but investigators soon dismissed this theory and reported that the body was found bound hand and foot with signs of torture. Police also reportedly found signs of forced entry. Investigators are looking into the possibility that Zhukovsky suffered a heart attack while being tortured with a plastic bag over his head and that the perpetrators then threw his body into the pool. An investigation on charges of premeditated murder has been opened. "Kommersant" reported on December 8 that the forestry industry is highly criminalized and that many companies working in that sector are experiencing financial difficulties. RC

A study commissioned by the international NGO Transparency International has found that "there are no absolutely uncorrupted spheres" of Russian life, "Vremya novostei" reported on December 7, citing project representative Yelena Panfilova. She added that corruption and bribery affect the entire population, including the very rich and the very poor. Reflecting the results of earlier studies, the latest report found corruption highest among law enforcement agencies, including the police, prosecutors, and the courts. The education sector received the second-highest number of complaints, while medicine ranked third. Only 12 percent of respondents said they think state efforts to combat corruption are effective, while 38 percent said the authorities are not battling corruption wholeheartedly. Forty percent said they think the level of corruption will remain the same in the future, while 45 percent said they expect it to get worse. A study released in October found that Russia loses some $40 billion each year because of corruption in the state-purchasing system alone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2007). RC

A long-term research project by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has found that just one-half of all Russians are satisfied with the work of their regional-administration heads, reported on December 7. The study involved a monthly national survey conducted throughout the course of 2007, the results of which were then averaged. The highest approval ratings were found in the Volga Federal District (66 percent), the Siberian Federal District (66 percent), and the Urals Federal District (53 percent). The ratings for the other districts were: Central (43 percent); Far Eastern (41 percent); Northwest (36), and Southern (49). Interestingly, the Southern Federal District, which includes the North Caucasus, reported the highest support for Unified Russia in the December 2 Duma elections, with several republics recording support of more than 90 percent. The VTsIOM study found even lower levels of support for the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, with the highest approval rating being found in the Ural Federal District (44 percent) and the lowest in the Far Eastern Federal District (18 percent). RC

Nine candidates have submitted formal applications for registering to participate in the February 19 presidential election, Noyan Tapan reported on December 6. The deadline for submissions was 6 p.m. local time that day. The nine candidates are Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian; former President Levon Ter-Petrossian; former Prime Minister and opposition National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian; former parliament speaker and Orinats Yerkir party Chairman Artur Baghdasarian; Vahan Hovannisian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-- Dashnaktsutiun); National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian; People's Party Chairman Tigran Karapetian; National Accord Party Chairman Aram Harutiunian; and Arman Melikian, who served as an adviser to Arkady Ghukasian, the former president of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno--Karabakh. Two would-be candidates, Zharangutiun (Heritage) party Chairman and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian (no relation to Vahan) and Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party Chairman Aram Karapetian, were refused registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 26, 2007). Zharangutiun on December 6 released a statement saying its members have not yet reached consensus on whether to back an alternative candidate, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. On December 5, tax inspectors in Yerevan confiscated from an opposition Aylentrank (Alternative) movement activist 4,000 leaflets he had just collected from a printer, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on December 6. The leaflets gave details of a campaign rally by Ter-Petrossian scheduled for December 8 in Yerevan. Noyan Tapan's veteran political commentator David Petrossian noted in a December 2 analysis that Ter-Petrossian's campaign team is distributing DVDs of his addresses of September 21 and October 26 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24 and October 29, 2007) in a bid to obviate the refusal of virtually all Armenian television channels to give him airtime. LF

In a December 7 interview with, Elmar Mammadyarov said the failure to achieve a "breakthrough" in 2007 in the process of negotiating a solution to the Karabakh conflict was due to the position adopted by Armenia. He nonetheless conceded that "we cannot deny there has been gradual progress" toward a settlement. He acknowledged that the presidential elections due in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2008 are likely to impact on the negotiating progress. Also on December 7, quoted Foreign Ministry press secretary Xazar Ibragim as reiterating that the text of the "Basic Principles" for resolving the conflict formally submitted to the two sides in Madrid last month by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group does not contain any fundamentally new points, although some "nuances" are new. He said that agreement has been reached on all but one of those basic principles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2007). He implied that the sticking point is a formal timetable for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan that border on Nagorno-Karabakh. According to a report released last month by the International Crisis Group, Armenia is willing to withdraw from five of those districts, but reluctant to withdraw from Lachin and Kelbadjar until after the future status of the unrecognized republic is determined in a referendum. LF

The Naxchivan Municipal Court on December 6 summoned RFE/RL journalist Ilgar Nasibov and informed him he has been sentenced to three months' pretrial detention on charges of insulting a police officer, Azerbaijani media reported. Two days earlier, city police chief Sabuhi Novruzov withdrew his suit against Nasibov, who wrote to President Ilham Aliyev to complain of the behavior of Novruzov's deputy, Ashraf Ibrahimov, during a standoff last month between local traders and police who sought to demolish their stalls at an informal market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6 and 9 and December 5, 2007). The Committee to Defend Journalists issued a statement on December 6 demanding Nasibov's release. On December 7, quoted OSCE Representative on Media Freedom Miklos Haraszti as stating that the Azerbaijani authorities should adopt a legal moratorium on arresting journalists. Haraszti said that the situation in Azerbaijan is deteriorating, and that more journalists are imprisoned in that country than in any other OSCE member state. He did not mention Nasibov's case. LF

The Baku city council has refused permission for a rock concert and a meeting in defense of press freedom and human rights that the public forum In the Name of Azerbaijan planned to hold on December 8 on Ukraine Square in Baku, and reported. The organizers were informed they could hold the meeting instead at an alternative venue that In the Name of Azerbaijan head Eldar Namazov rejected as unsuitable. LF

Of the 22 candidates who initially announced their intention of participating in the January 5 preterm Georgian presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 27, 2007), just 13 submitted the required minimum 50,000 signatures in their support to the Central Election Commission before the deadline for doing so expired at 6 p.m. local time on December 6, Caucasus Press reported. They are outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili; Levan Gachechiladze, representing the nine-party opposition National Council; oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili; New Rightists party leader David Gamkrelidze; Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili; Party of the Future leader Gia Maisashvili; Imedi party leader Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia; lawyer Kartlos Gharibashvili; former Interior Ministry troops commander Giorgi Shervashidze; former Communist Party of Georgia head Avtandil Margiani; and political unknowns Levan Kidzinadze, Archil Ioseliani, and Shalva Kuprashvili. Forward, Georgia! party head Temur Shashiashvili announced on December 6 his withdrawal from the race and his support for Gachechiladze, who advocates transforming Georgia into a parliamentary republic, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Executives of the independent Imedi broadcasting company said early on December 7 after a court ruling unfreezing the company's assets took effect that it will be impossible to resume television broadcasting in the near future in light of the destruction and confiscation of much of the station's equipment during a crackdown on November 7 by Georgian Interior Ministry forces, reported. Monitors have been destroyed and some special equipment is reportedly missing; Georgian ombudsman Sozar Subar termed the destruction of private property "barbaric," and called for legal action against those responsible. The Imedi radio station has resumed broadcasting. LF

Speaking to reporters in Almaty, Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin on December 6 dismissed suggestions that Kazakhstan will alter its energy policy once it assumes the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation n Europe (OSCE) in 2010, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Tazhin was referring to recent media reports arguing that as OSCE chair, Kazakhstan will be forced to conform to European Union policies of energy supply. Tazhin argued that there is "no logic" to the suggestion, adding that regardless of its role as OSCE chair, the country's energy policy will remain "clear and transparent." He further stressed that "Russia is our strategic partner" and that Kazakhstan will remain committed to pursuing a "clear and definite" strategic energy policy based on its own "national interests," pointing to Kazakh participation in the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and the development of the planned Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline. RG

Bolot Sherniyazov, the deputy head of the Kyrgyz opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party's national election campaign, on December 5 submitted a formal report listing a series of "grave violations" and assorted "threats" against opposition activists, according to AKIpress. The report, presented to President Kurmanbek Bakiev, detailed a number of incidents that the party claims constitute an organized campaign to intimidate the opposition prior to the December 16 parliamentary elections. The majority of the incidents occurred in more remote districts and regions, with many of the cases involving the alleged complicity of local authorities. The report concluded with a call for Bakiev, as "a guarantor of the constitution," to adopt "measures against these incidents and to ensure transparency and legality in the election." Ata-Meken and several other opposition parties also recent threatened to launch a national "boycott" of the election in protest over the authorities' use of so-called "administrative resources" against the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4 and 6, 2007). RG

An unnamed official of the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office announced on December 6 that a criminal investigation has been opened against Edil Baisalov, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, for allegedly "obstructing elections and inflicting material damage on the state," after he posted pictures of a sample ballot to be used in the December 16 parliamentary elections on his personal website, ITAR-TASS reported. He also faces possible criminal charges of "hindering people from exercising their rights to vote" and "inflicting property damage by deception or by abusing confidence." The Central Election Commission recently barred Baisalov from running as a candidate on the opposition party's list and decided to destroy "all ballot papers" that have been prepared for the upcoming elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). During a visit to the printing house in Bishkek where the ballots were printed, Baisalov, a nonvoting member of the election commission, said that he witnessed "no precise calculations or control over the number of printed ballots." RG

Rika Ishii, an official of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), announced on December 6 that economic reform in Kyrgyzstan has slowed significantly, AKIpress reported. Ishii characterized the slowdown as a temporary development linked to the December 16 parliamentary elections and to the recent adoption of a revised constitution. She also said that unlike the "complacency" of some of its energy-rich neighbors, Kyrgyzstan is expected to resume reform next year, adding that the country's gross domestic product is forecast to increase by about 7 percent next year, following predicted 7.5 percent growth in 2007. RG

Avaz Yuldoshev, a press spokesman for Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, announced on December 6 the adoption of a new counternarcotics program designed to enhance efforts to combat drug smuggling and to bolster drug-interdiction activities along the Tajik-Afghan border, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency stressed that drug trafficking has become a "threat to national security," necessitating the new package of "preventive measures" capable of unifying state efforts and combining resources to combat drug trafficking over a five-year period. Yuldoshev stressed that the increase in drug trafficking was traced to Afghanistan, which has expanded the "wide-scale production of opium and heroin." The agency has reportedly seized some 5.2 tons of drugs since the beginning of the year. The OSCE has also assisted in strengthening Tajikistan's counternarcotics efforts and announced on December 6 a new package of technical assistance in bolstering border security and management, Asia-Plus reported. As part of the OSCE effort, Finland and Norway have already provided over 1 million euros ($1.46 million) in funding for training programs and equipment for Tajik border guards and are planning to deploy 15 experts to provide advisory assistance over the next two years. RG

On an official state visit to Turkmenistan, Turkish President Abdullah Gul met in Ashgabat on December 6 with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and signed several new bilateral agreements aimed at bolstering economic cooperation and energy ties, Turkmen Television and AFP reported. Gul, accompanied by a large Turkish delegation including Industry and Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler and a group of businessmen, also held talks with Turkmen officials over the implementation of an agreement reached in July for the transport of natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan through Turkey. An agreement was also signed calling for the formation of a new Turkmen-Turkish intergovernmental commission on "economic partnership and cooperation." Turkish companies have recently announced their intention to invest in the $2.5 billion project to develop port facilities located at the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi. The Turkish president also presided over a ceremony marking the opening of a new Turkish Embassy in Ashgabat. RG

Mashrab Juma, the son of prominent Uzbek poet and government critic Yusuf Juma, was arrested on December 4 for the second time in the past few months, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on December 6. The younger Juma was arrested in the Uzbek city of Bukhara on criminal assault charges. The arrest coincided with the visit to the area by President Islam Karimov, as part of a nationwide campaign tour ahead of his bid for reelection in the December 23 presidential election. Karimov has served as the president of Uzbekistan since 1989 and was recently certified as a candidate by the Central Election Commission despite a constitutional ban on a third term as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 26, 2007). RG

U.S. President George W. Bush met with a group of visiting Belarusian opposition politicians in Washington on December 6, the White House announced on its website. The group, visiting the United States from December 2-8, 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. "The United States is a long-lasting partner and a friend of Belarusian democracy," Milinkevich told RFE/RL's Belarus Service the same day. "The goal of our visit is to discuss the current situation and the ongoing changes -- fortunately positive ones -- that are taking place in our country," he said. AM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on December 6 left for Venezuela for an official visit, the presidential press office announced. Lukashenka is scheduled to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez to discuss "the entire spectrum of cooperation" between the two countries. Lukashenka is also scheduled to attend an opening ceremony for an exhibition of Belarusian manufacturers in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Relations between Belarus and Venezuela have grown stronger since Chavez's July 2006 visit to Minsk, when he said that "Belarus is a model of a socialist state, which we are also building," and called on other countries to stand up to "the hegemonic interests of the capitalists." The two countries have since signed agreements on joint oil extraction and the participation of Belarusian specialists in the development of residential areas in Venezuela. AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on December 6 that the issue of the price for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine should be kept out of the politics, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Russia and Ukraine announced on December 4 that Russia's Gazprom monopoly will supply gas to Ukraine at $179.5 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2008, up from the current rate of $130. "The price of $179.5 is a great shock to the Ukrainian economy. This once again forces us to revise the energy-consumption policy, especially in such sectors as housing, the private sector, and some areas of industry," Yushchenko said. Yulia Tymoshenko, the party leader nominated by Yushchenko for the post of prime minister, said that she will be able to arrange a reduction in the price after she takes office. "I would advise Ukrainian politicians not to politicize the issue of gas prices. This will only cause harm," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described Yushchenko's words as "a wise stance" and expressed hope that the Ukrainian government follows his advice. AM

President Yushchenko said on December 6 he sees no problem if the Verkhovna Rada first votes to confirm his nominee for prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and later votes to pass a package of urgent legislation, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko warned the coalition of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) of possible friction that might arise during the vote on the legislation and would threaten the "spirit of consolidation" within the coalition. The BYuT and NUNS agreed in their coalition deal that they will first adopt a package of bills regarding the functioning of the future government, and later approve the nominated prime minister. Yushchenko himself also earlier insisted that the bills be passed before a vote on the prime minister. AM

Joachim Ruecker, the head of the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), on December 5 certified the results of the province's parliamentary elections held on November 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 19, 2007), local media reported the same day. The certification was largely a formality and simply confirmed official figures released the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007), but it will pave the way for Hashim Thaci, the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), to put together a governing coalition. The November 17 poll also allowed voters in Kosova's 30 municipalities for the first time to directly elect their mayors. Ruecker announced that mayoral runoff elections will be held on December 8 and that municipal councilors and mayors in Serbian-majority municipalities that boycotted the vote will serve for another six months. TV

Four ethnic-Serbian parties that competed in the November 17 elections and are now represented in Kosova's parliament agreed on a coalition on December 4, local media reported the same day. They threatened to leave parliament should Kosova declare independence, a move that is widely expected for early 2008, but expressed their willingness to enter the government under current conditions. They said that they have received no official invitation yet from the winner of Kosova's elections, Thaci, who is set to become the next prime minister and who has said he will name a Serb as his deputy. TV

An unnamed senior NATO official told Belgrade's Radio B92 on December 4 that the alliance views UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of June 1999, which established the UN administration in Kosova and mandated NATO peacekeepers, as sufficient legal basis for its continued presence even beyond a declaration of independence. Several member states are reportedly nervous about the legality of keeping soldiers in Kosova. EU officials are also currently looking into the legal implications of deploying a police mission with some 1,800 international personnel to Kosova under the EU's European Security and Defense Policy. Such deployments in the past have always been authorized by a UN Security Council resolution, which appears out of reach in the case of Kosova due to Russian opposition to independence. The official also said that Serbia has sent out negative political signals, but that military cooperation in the field is going well. TV

The Croatian government has petitioned the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for the provisional release of retired General Ante Gotovina from detention, the Croatian news agency Hina reported on December 6. The ICTY's trial chamber last week rejected a motion for Gotovina, the most prominent Croat in The Hague, to be released pending trial. The Croatian government says it is fully capable of ensuring house arrest for Gotovina and his return to The Hague once the trial begins. It also points to the fact that several high-ranking Serbs -- Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Nebojsa Pavkovic -- were released to await the start of their trials at home and that there is no reason not to treat Gotovina the same way. Gotovina is accused of war crimes against ethnic-Serbian civilians during the Croatian offensive to take control of its entire territory in the summer of 1995. He was arrested in December 2005 in the Canary Islands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 8, 2005) and has since been in detention in The Hague. TV

When U.S. forces detained more than 30 employees of Iraqi legislator Adnan al-Dulaymi last week on charges of terrorism, it briefly appeared that the lawmaker, who has long been accused of supporting terrorism, would be seriously investigated for suspected wrongdoing. Instead, al-Dulaymi spent one day under house arrest, after which he was moved to the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad's Green Zone, so he could continue to attend parliament sessions.

Al-Dulaymi's home and offices have been raided by U.S. and Iraqi security forces on at least five occasions over the past two years. There have been at least four attempts by fellow deputies to lift his immunity from prosecution over the same period. And yet al-Dulaymi has not faced formal prosecution, largely due to the power he holds in the fragile Sunni alliance with the government.

The parliamentarian's case is not unlike that of other powerbrokers inside the Iraqi government. The potential backlash -- both political and security-related -- that would likely ensue following the detention of any key leader has prevented the fragile government from taking action against any of them. Al-Dulaymi said this week that any action taken against him would hurt the government's attempts to forge reconciliation with Sunni Arabs.

Iraqi officials have said that there is no official evidence al-Dulaymi was involved in last week's incident, when U.S. and Iraqi forces raided his Baghdad compound after finding a booby-trapped car parked nearby. When the vehicle was detonated, a second vehicle also packed with explosives blew up. Al-Dulaymi's son and more than 40 other employees, mostly bodyguards, were later detained. One of the bodyguards detained held the keys to one of the bomb-laden vehicles. Iraqi Brigadier General Qassim Ata told reporters on November 30 that the booby-trapped cars were found as security forces investigated the shooting of Al-Adl Awakening Council member Umar Muhammad by al-Dulaymi's bodyguards.

Ata later said security forces found documents and CDs linking al-Dulaymi's bodyguards to terrorist activities in their search of his compound. They also reportedly found grenades, bombs, and other explosives in the basement of al-Dulaymi's office. "We did not directly accuse Dr. Adnan al-Dulaymi or anyone in the [Iraqi] Accordance Front," Ata said this week, referring to the Sunni alliance to which al-Dulaymi's party belongs. "But the whole situation is linked to his personal guards." Some 42 people remain under investigation.

Several of al-Dulaymi's bodyguards have been arrested over the past two years. In one incident in September 2006, U.S. forces arrested a bodyguard at al-Dulaymi's compound who was a known member of Al-Qaeda. At the time, the U.S. Embassy released a joint statement by then-U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, saying the arrested bodyguard had "no ties" with al-Dulaymi's family "nor is Dr. al-Dulaymi connected in any way to the suspect activities of the individual who was arrested."

It is difficult to state definitively whether or not al-Dulaymi is involved in terrorism, because so much of the criticism of him comes through Shi'ite leaders and their media outlets. However, al-Dulaymi has never hidden his support for Sunni insurgents -- which he calls the "resistance." Nor has he hidden his disdain for the Shi'ite-dominated government and Shi'ite militias that often target Sunni Arabs.

Reports in the Shi'ite press have linked al-Dulaymi to terrorist attacks, including the April bombing of the Al-Sarrafiyah Bridge in Baghdad and the January incident in Al-Najaf in which an Al-Qaeda-linked messianic group called the Army of Heaven purportedly attempted to storm the city during the Shi'ite Ashura festival and kill pilgrims and senior clerics. The media have quoted al-Dulaymi as defending a suicide bomber's actions, which he allegedly said were carried out due to depression. He has called April 9, the day the Saddam Hussein regime fell, a day of sadness and mourning.

Moreover, al-Dulaymi has long been accused of forcibly displacing -- and even killing -- Shi'ite families from the Al-Adl and Al-Jami'ah neighborhoods in Baghdad. The press has also claimed that Sunnis living in those areas of western Baghdad that al-Dulaymi's security personnel control have been forced to commit violence at his behest. More than 100 families from the Al-Adl neighborhood where al-Dulaymi's compound is located have filed legal complaints against his guards "regarding killings and forcing people out of their houses," Brigadier General Ata said on December 5, AP reported.

Al-Dulaymi has also been accused of being sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, arguably the two most vicious insurgent groups operating in Iraq today. In July, Khalaf al-Ulayyan, an ally of al-Dulaymi in the Accordance Front, threatened that the front would turn to armed resistance if the demands it made to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as part of its boycott of the government were not met.

Also, al-Dulaymi staunchly defended Sunni cleric Harith al-Dari's Muslim Scholars Association after it was closed in November by the Sunni Waqf (Endowments) office. The association, along with its radio station, was closed because of its support for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Dari is also said to be financing the nationalist insurgent group the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

The allegations linking al-Dulaymi to attacks on Al-Adl Awakening Council members highlight the fragile political situation confronting the government when it comes to dealing with the politician and his allies from the Accordance Front.

Al-Dulaymi has publicly come out in support of the formation of awakening councils, groups formed by Sunni Arabs to battle terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda. However, he made it known in recent months that representatives from those councils would not be welcome in the halls of government.

In a November 22 interview with the website, al-Dulaymi discussed Prime Minister al-Maliki's threat to replace Accordance Front ministers -- who boycotted participation in the government in August -- with Sunni Arab leaders from the Al-Anbar Awakening Council. He claimed that Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, the assassinated leader of the council, said before his death that the council and others like it could not be a substitute for the Accordance Front. "We are deputies elected by the Iraqi people," al-Dulaymi said. "We are the real, official representatives of an important political, demographic, and sectarian component of Iraq. We think the government will, in the end be forced to deal with the deputies from the Accordance Front." He threatened that if al-Maliki "does not accept the demands presented by the Accordance will not be possible to achieve any reconstruction and it will also not be possible to achieve security."

Al-Dulaymi is not without supporters. In a commentary published in May in the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," the daily's former editor in chief and the current manager of Al-Arabiyah television, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid, wrote: "The present [Iraqi] government does not seem to appreciate the nature of the sacrifices that a person like al-Dulaymi is making. It would be a mistake to compare al-Dulaymi with his counterparts among the Shi'ite leaders.... The Iraqi government would be losing its most important ally if it does not provide him with protection from the attacks against him in parliament and from the dangers he faces on the street."

Continuing, he wrote: "The prime minister does not need only to resist the takfiris [those Muslims who consider other Muslims infidels] and the rest of the Shi'ite and Sunni criminals. He also needs to win over the Sunnis, particularly since he has proclaimed that national reconciliation is his primary goal. Since [Shi'ite] deputy [Hazim] al-A'raji is harassing his colleague al-Dulaymi and claiming that he supports terrorism, the logical question that is asked is: 'Why does al-Dulaymi need all this?' All he has to do is to resign so that the situation would become worse inside Iraq and the entire region."

While it remains unclear whether any real violence could come in the wake of replacing al-Dulaymi and his associates with other Arab representatives, it is unlikely the government would take action at this time against al-Dulaymi, no matter what evidence it has against him. The government is too weak and the political alliances too fragile to withstand such a move.

Moreover, as al-Dulaymi asserts, such a move would hinder any progress toward reconciliation with nationalist groups. As it stands, it appears that there is a slow and steady momentum building in talks to forge reconciliation with nationalist resistance groups, including the defunct Ba'ath Party. From al-Maliki's perspective, any obstacles to progress could take months or even years to rectify. And if there's one thing the Iraqi government cannot afford to waste, it's time.

A suicide bomber smashed his car into a bus carrying Afghan troops on December 5 in the Chilsitoon district of southern Kabul, killing seven soldiers and six civilians, Afghan and international media reported. The bus was full of Afghan National Army personnel, but most of the 17 people wounded were civilian shopkeepers and bystanders, including children. Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, and identified the attacker as a resident of Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan. However, he denied that the attacker was responsible for civilian casualties, claiming, "We are always advising civilians not to be close to official convoys or vehicles." The bombing was the second suicide attack in Kabul in the past two days, and coincided with a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. MM

U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (Republican, Utah) told reporters in Washington on December 5 after his return from Afghanistan that progress is very slow there, news website reported, citing U.S. media. Withdrawal of troops "is not something that is going to happen as soon as many Americans would like," he said, adding, "We are probably talking about decades." Bennett participated in the World Economic Forum in India before visiting Afghanistan and then Pakistan. Despite rising violence and declining public support in Afghanistan for coalition military operations there, Bennett said he experienced "a great deal of pro-American feeling," and reiterated his confidence in President Hamid Karzai's administration. Separately, Senator Bob Corker (Republican, Tennessee), who was part of the congressional delegation led by Bennet, identified the three biggest threats in Afghanistan as "U.S. and NATO forces leaving too soon, external threats from other countries, and the culture of impunity that exists inside Afghanistan." MM

Nasim Ashraf, Pakistan's minister of state for human development, told Pajhwak Afghan News in New York on December 5 that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and insisted on a comprehensive political settlement as the only viable way out of the current instability. "Afghanistan is where the Taliban issue is coming from. The Taliban is a creation of Afghanistan, not Pakistan," he said. Ashraf also denied allegations that Pakistan is helping the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and argued that the insurgency stems from alienation of segments of the Afghan population and is financed by the flourishing drug trade. Ashraf noted that Pakistan also suffers as a result of Taliban extremism, and blamed militancy arising in border areas for unrest and violence inside Pakistan. Leading a three-member delegation, Ashraf is visiting the United States to garner support for the government of President Pervez Musharraf in the wake of his declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan. MM

Pajhwak Afghan News reported on December 5 that residents of remote areas of eastern Afghanistan, such as the Wazikhwa district of Paktika Province, live in constant fear of Taliban attacks, while commercial and reconstruction activities have stopped in the area. "There is no school, no health facility in the entire village," said Ramazan, a resident of Nangarkhel village. He blamed the Taliban for being "dead-set against the establishment of schools and other facilities in the village," despite the total lack of public services in the area. Abdul Hayee, administrative chief of Wazikhwa, did not dispute the Taliban's enormous influence in the district, and noted that "Some quarters are supportive of the government while others are firmly behind the Taliban." He added, "Murderous militant activities have effectively stymied the reconstruction process." MM

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Ilam, southwestern Iran, on December 5 that Iran needs 50,000 centrifuges to help it produce a single nuclear power station's annual fuel needs, Radio Farda reported, citing a state television report. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium gas into nuclear fuel, which Iran has said it is determined to make, despite opposition from Western states fearful of the possible military applications of related technology. Ahmadinejad said Iran told the West it needs 50,000 centrifuges and refused Western demands to keep only 164 centrifuges for research purposes when it began operating centrifuges. "If we stop our work for a single day to meet their demand, there is no way we could restart our work," Ahmadinejad said. He called the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report contradicting suspicions over an Iranian nuclear weapons program a "great victory" for Iran, Radio Farda reported. VS

Iran hanged a 20-year old detainee convicted on homosexual rape charges, in spite of contrary instructions from Iran's judiciary chief, Radio Farda reported on December 6. Said Eqbal, lawyer for Makwan Moludzadeh, who was hanged early on December 5 in a prison in the western Kermanshah Province, told Radio Farda that he and Moludzadeh's relatives were not informed of the imminent execution. He said Moludzadeh was arrested in September or October 2006 after his cousin wrote to authorities in Paveh accusing Moludzadeh of having had sexual relations with a boy. Moludzadeh was arrested and admitted during interrogation that he had "sexual relations" with a boy when he was 13. He later retracted his admission. He was given a death sentence in late May 2007 by a court in the provincial capital, Kermanshah, Human Rights Watch reported. After his interrogation, police or the judiciary had his head shaved and paraded him on a donkey around the town of Paveh, Eqbal told Radio Farda. He said several plaintiffs then came forward and claimed Moludzadeh had abused them, though they later retracted their charges in the single court session for the case. Eqbal told Radio Farda the case provoked diverging opinion within the judiciary, but the deputy prosecutor-general and the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, favored suspending the sentence and reopening the case, after being persuaded of legal discrepancies in the various stages of the case. Eqbal's remarks indicated local judiciary officials were determined to see the sentence carried out before any definitive order from Shahrudi to halt the execution. He said he and Moludzadeh's family will pursue their efforts to prove his prosecution was flawed. VS

Radio Farda cited contradictory reports on December 6 on the resignation of Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security and Police Affairs Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr. Mehr news agency has reported that Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi has accepted Zolqadr's resignation and he has recently stopped coming to work. That report has been denied by the ministry's public relations chief, Majid Malekan, who also rejected on December 6 reports of Purmohammadi's imminent resignation. Fars news agency reported on December 6 that Zolqadr is still a deputy minister in spite of a few days' absence. Zolqadr was appointed deputy minister on November 30, 2005; he was previously a deputy head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps for 16 years and a deputy head of its joint headquarters, Radio Farda reported. Meanwhile, Malekan told IRNA that reports of Purmohammadi's resignation were spread "by rumor mongers trying to weaken the government and state servants." VS

Former Vice President and member of the reformist Militant Clerics Assembly Mohammad Ali Abtahi told ISNA in Isfahan, central Iran, on December 5 that he believes reformists will win a majority in parliamentary elections scheduled for mid-March. He also said former President and Militant Clerics member Mohammad Khatami is busy coordinating reformist forces for those polls. Iranian reformists and conservatives are both working on forging grand coalitions and single electoral lists, with varying levels of success. Reformists have urged Khatami to run for a seat or publicly back the reformist campaign. Abtahi said he is confident there will be a single reformist list in Tehran and that "ultimately, reformists will constitute the majority in the eighth parliament." Abtahi urged Iranians to hold governments to account. He pointed out that the Ahmadinejad government was elected in 2005 with promises of bettering their economic conditions. "Right now, the people's economic situation, at a time of high oil prices, has not changed from when oil cost $7 [a barrel], and we also have rising inflation." VS

A female suicide bomber blew herself up on December 7 outside a building in Al-Miqdadiyah used by members of a Sunni nationalist insurgent group, the 1920 Revolution Brigades. Early press reports indicate 16 people were killed and 27 wounded in the attack. Witnesses said the bomber walked up to the building in a busy shopping area and began asking people questions. She detonated the vest she was wearing as people who were out shopping before Friday Prayers began gathering around her, Reuters reported. It is unclear if any of the dead include members of the insurgent group, which has taken up arms against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq in recent months. Ten days earlier, another female suicide bomber carried out a similar attack that wounded seven U.S. soldiers and five Iraqi civilians in nearby Ba'qubah. KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will reportedly issue a general amnesty for detainees held in Iraqi prisons without charge, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on December 6. The amnesty will apply to all detainees except those affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to al-Maliki adviser Sadiq al-Rikabi. Al-Sharqiyah reported that the amnesty will be issued at the start of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, which will begin around December 20. Al-Rikabi said the decision to issue an amnesty followed a meeting between al-Maliki and the Higher Judicial Council, which examined the constitutional legality of holding detainees without charge. He described the amnesty as a parallel step to the course of action being taken by the U.S.-led coalition to release detainees held in prisons under its control. KR

The Iraqi parliament has suspended Council of Representative sessions until December 30 due to the upcoming religious holiday of Eid Al-Adha and because many lawmakers have left the country to carry out the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani announced the decision following several sessions devoted to reading the draft "Accountability and Justice Law," a revision of the de-Ba'athification law passed under the Coalition Provisional Authority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2007). The current parliamentary term ends on December 31. According to AP, the parliament normally takes a two-month recess following the end of the term, but one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told AP that sessions will resume in January, when the parliament is expected to vote on next year's budget and presumably other outstanding legislation. KR

The Iraqi Kurdish website "Chawder" on December 6 quoted Kurdish officials as denying a "Rozhnama" report that claims the two main Kurdish parties are in talks to revise leadership positions in the Kurdistan regional government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2007). An unidentified source from within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan denied that the its politburo met to discuss the issue, and a source from within the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) politburo also denied any talks have taken place. "I am surprised by the newspapers' publishing these kinds of reports, which are one-tenth closer to reality than [they are] to fiction," said the KDP source, who wished to remain anonymous. KR

The Iraqi Kurdish press has spent much of the week speculating on the whereabouts and health of Kurdistan regional President Mas'ud Barzani, who reportedly left the country several days ago. Rumors have been circulating that Barzani was the target of an assassination attempt. Other media reports claimed Barzani was seen shopping in Italy. Kurdistan regional government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who is Mas'ud's nephew, told London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that there was no assassination attempt. "We also have heard this news. Internet newspapers and websites have talked about it. What I would like to say in this respect is that this report is false, and that the president is well and there was no assassination attempt in the way reported by the media or in any other way," the daily quoted the prime minister as saying on December 6. Nechirvan Barzani contended that the elder Barzani left Iraq for dental treatment, and that he is expected to return soon. The KRG deported a Turkish journalist, Sadiq Kahraman, from Iraq 10 days ago after he published an article in the Turkish press claiming Barzani left Iraq and took Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leaders Murat Karayilan and Jamil Bayik with him. The journalist refused to reveal his anonymous sources to the KRG. The PKK is a Turkish-Kurdish separatist group. Kahraman cited anonymous sources in a November 24 report saying Barzani took the two Kurdish rebel commanders on a military plane to a European country. The report said U.S. or Iraqi Kurdish authorities preferred the two, who are wanted by Turkey on terrorism charges, to be extradited through a third country. Kahraman later claimed journalists working in Iraqi Kurdistan are under pressure from the local government, and said he was threatened by the PKK after publishing the article. KR