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Newsline - January 11, 2008

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak and Poland's chief missile-defense negotiator and Deputy Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski exchanged views in Warsaw on January 10 on the proposed U.S. missile-defense system, which will involve placing 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 17 and 19, 2007, and January 8 and 10, 2008). Waszczykowski said that "we are holding consultations, expressing our opinions, requesting Russia's opinions, and exchanging arguments and assessments of the American idea. We are not talking about [obtaining] Russian agreement on missile defense." Kislyak, who also negotiates with the United States on missile defense, said that Russia will be "guided by President Vladimir Putin's initiatives" on the issue and "offered quite neighborly positive arguments" during this first dialogue with "our Polish partners," RIA Novosti reported. In Prague on January 10, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk discussed missile defense with his Czech counterpart, Mirek Topolanek, international and regional media reported. Speaking to reporters afterward, Tusk stressed that the two countries agreed to coordinate their negotiating strategies in regards to Washington, whereas Topolanek suggested that this is not entirely the case. Topolanek said that he hopes to "be able to submit the treaties [with the United States] to parliament some time after the NATO summit in Bucharest in the course of April, or later." Tusk argued that his government "is not delaying anything or trying to speed it up. We do not want to wait with this until the change of the U.S. administration [in November]. We are only saying that, perhaps, if the negotiations do not [produce results], the timeline will be extended." Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski recently said that Poland will not make a decision on missile defense until after the 2008 U.S. presidential election, lest it irk Russia by agreeing to the project now, only to find that a new U.S. administration is no longer interested in it. In Prague on January 10, Tusk noted that "we are curious as to what type of questions and opinions every country in the region has, including Russia." PM

On January 11, Britain's "Financial Times" wrote that Poland "has made its agreement to the [U.S. missile-defense] plan contingent on Washington committing to improve Polish air defenses." The "International Herald Tribune" noted on January 11 that Poland does not consider NATO security guarantees sufficient and wants a separate bilateral pact with the United States. It is not clear against whom Prime Minister Tusk wants improved security arrangements. The daily also noted that Warsaw feels that Washington does not adequately appreciate Polish loyalty in the Iraq conflict. The Russian government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" commented on January 11 that "encouraging statements from Warsaw give rise to the hope that the new government of Poland is not as unquestioningly pro-American as its predecessor was." The newspaper said that Tusk urged the Czechs not to hurry to conclude an agreement with Washington. The daily noted that recently "Tusk proclaimed improvement of relations with Russia as one of the priorities of his cabinet. The prime minister confirmed his plans to visit Moscow on February 8. When his first visit to Washington is to take place is not yet known." The daily also quoted Tusk and Defense Minister Bogdan Klich as recently making disparaging statements about Washington's justification for missile defense. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Klich as saying that "Poland does not intend to act against Russian interests but wants to advance relations with it. Dialogue with Russia is needed to dispel in [the Russians] the subjective feeling of being threatened." The daily stressed that "this was probably the first reference in Warsaw to Russian interests in two decades or so. Also importantly, Klich made this statements four days before his visit to Washington." The paper concluded that "progress in Warsaw's stand on the matter of missile defense in Europe should be applauded and encouraged." PM

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Brussels on January 10 that newly appointed Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin is "welcome," news agencies reported (see End Note and "RFE/RL Newsline," January 10, 2008). De Hoop Scheffer noted that "it is clear that the change in decor from Ambassador [Konstantin] Totsky to Ambassador Rogozin is, sadly, not going to change the differences of opinion between Russia and NATO on issues like [the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty], Kosovo, or missile defense." He added that "Russia is a partner and an important one.... There is no alternative for Russia or NATO but to engage [in a dialogue]." Rogozin, a nationalist politician who once called NATO a "dying organization," wrote in the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of January 11 that the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which Russia "suspended" in December, put Russia in a state of "colonial dependency in the security sphere. The CFE in its original form is an anachronism of the Cold War." The daily "Trud" on January 11 quoted German Russia expert Alexander Rahr as saying that "Rogozin is not a diplomat at all. His appointment means that Moscow is through with diplomatic finesse when talking to the [NATO] alliance. The man is a boxer. Trust him to butt NATO whenever possible." PM

The Latvian authorities agreed on January 10 to the appointment of Aleksandr Veshnyakov as Russian ambassador, reported on January 11. He is expected to take up his post in a few weeks, after President Putin issues the necessary decree. Veshnyakov is well-known in Russia as the former and often outspoken head of the Central Election Commission. The Kremlin has reportedly sought an important diplomatic posting for him that would remove him, like Ambassador to NATO Rogozin, from the center of Russian political life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29 and October 4, 2007). PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on January 10 at a diplomatic reception that Russia has excellent relations with the Muslim world, Interfax reported. He stressed that "there are no political, ideological, or other controversies in our relations. Visits by the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia in 2007 have confirmed this once again." Lavrov added that "the Islamic world and Russia are close partners in the antiterrorist coalition and hold similar positions on how regional crises should be settled." He noted that "we are promoting our proposals for building security for the Persian Gulf region, and this implies that the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear program must be settled in a purely peaceful way, within the context of the nonproliferation regime." He added that Russia would like closer economic ties with the Islamic world. PM

Special working groups inside the Health and Social Development Ministry have been tasked with drafting major health-care and pension reforms, "Vedomosti" reported on January 11. The daily also reported that former Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, who was removed from the cabinet in September 2007, has been named an adviser to President Putin. "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on January 10 that officials working on the new reforms have been warned that they will be fired if they divulge details of their work. The project is reportedly being headed by Deputy Health and Social Development Minister Yury Voronin. A series of unpopular benefits reforms in early 2005 led to unrest across the country and ultimately led to Zurabov's downfall (see "Russians Continue To Protest Social Reforms,", January 16, 2005). RC

Deputies in the new Duma are most eager to join the Security and the Construction and Land committees, "Vedomosti" reported on January 11. The Budget Committee, which in previous Dumas has been the most popular assignment, has reportedly had only 41 applications for its 50 seats. Analyst Pavel Tolstykh, of the website, told the daily that deputies realize that budget decisions are made now within the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the Regional Development Ministry. The Construction and Land Committee offers wider scope for lobbying activity, Tolstykh said, while the Security Committee is attracting siloviki who want to participate in resolving conflicts among law enforcement and security agencies. The committees on youth affairs, veterans affairs, and public and religious organizations are the least attractive postings, the daily reported. RC

The Duma plans to institute a regular "government hour," in which members of the executive branch will be invited to answer lawmakers' questions, Interfax reported on January 11, citing Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. The new policy comes in response to a request by Communist Party deputies, who expressed interest in questioning Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov about inflation. Communist Deputy Nina Ostanina told journalists that she would also like to call Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova to respond to press reports about major reforms being drafted by her subordinates (see above). The Duma has also confirmed the list of 37 priority bills to be considered immediately, including 28 that were drafted by the government and two that were submitted by the presidential administration. Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov told journalists that six of the bills concern "the state and constitutional structure," eight deal with the economy, eight deal with the budget, and eight concern defense and security. He did not elaborate further. RC

Prosecutors in Ingushetia have opened a case on charges of extremism against the nongovernmental organization Golos Beslana (Voice of Beslan), RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on January 10. The case stems from a statement posted on the group's website in 2005 that read: "We are guilty that we elected a president who solves problems by means of tanks, flamethrowers, and gas. But we are not guilty that the global political elite supports our president -- and that support has become insurance for criminals." Golos Beslana co-Chairwoman Ella Kesayeva told RFE/RL that the case is an effort to pressure the North Ossetia-based organization, which advocates for the families of victims of the September 2004 school hostage taking in Beslan. Golos Beslana was ordered closed down by a North Ossetia court in December, but the Russian Supreme Court annulled that decision. The latest case is expected to open on January 14. RC

Rady Burulov, the mayor of Elista and the second-most-influential politician in Kalmykia Republic after President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, has called on the Kremlin to remove Ilyumzhinov, reported on January 10. Burulov told a meeting of the Elista city council on January 9 that Ilyumzhinov asked him to resign, saying he wanted to appoint younger people to high posts in the republic. Burulov said by doing so, Ilyumzhinov violated the republican constitution and the law on local self-government. He added that after he refused Ilyumzhinov's request, the president began to exert pressure against the city council and other municipal officials, urging them not to recognize Burulov as mayor. Some officials reportedly received warnings from the police that there would be sweeping audits and investigations if Burulov does not resign. Burulov said Ilyumzhinov is carrying out a reorganization in order to distract attention from the poor economic situation in the republic. "Ilyumzhinov has changed his government eight times [in his 15 years as head of the republic] and every time it turned out the government was to blame for all the problems," he said. Analyst Aleksandr Kynev said the conflict could be a sign that Ilyumzhinov's position in the republic is weakening. "All these years Ilyumzhinov held on to power because he promised the federal authorities absolute stability in Kalmykia," Kynev said. "But this conflict shows there is no stability in Kalmykia." RC

The long New Year's/Christmas holiday in Russia cost the country an estimated $28.5 billion, or 2 percent of gross domestic product, a group of economists asserted on January 10, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. Most businesses in Russia were closed from December 30 until January 8, with many continuing reduced hours through this week. RC

Senior Russian and Daghestan Interior Ministry officials told a press conference in Makhachkala on January 10 that at least five militants died during the assault the previous night on a house in the village of Gelim-Batan in the southeastern Tabasaran Raion, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9 and 10, 2008). Three of the dead men have been identified as natives of Derbent, on the Caspian coast; they are said to have belonged to a group of militants commanded by Elgar Malachilov, a deputy to Daghestan jamaat head Rappani Khalilov, who was killed in a special operation four months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007). Malachilov was not among those killed; a search is continuing for between five and 10 more militants believed to be still at large in Tabasaran. LF

Meeting in Grozny on January 10 with Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov and Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev, Nurdi Nukhadjiyev complained that traffic police in neighboring republics, in particular Daghestan, continue to demand bribes from Chechen motorists, reported. He said that the situation improved somewhat after he lodged a complaint in 2003 with the Russian Interior Ministry, but has since deteriorated again. Nukhadjiyev proposed issuing uniform license plates for all federation subjects, reported. Traffic police would then be unable to identify, and target, drivers from Chechnya. LF

Some 40 people staged a protest in Moscow on January 10 outside the Defense Ministry building against the sentencing last month of two Interior Ministry Internal Troops officers for the murder of three Chechen civilians in January 2003, reported. Sergei Arakcheyev and Yevgeny Khudyakov received prison terms of 15 and 17 years, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 2, 2008). The demonstrators adopted a written appeal to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whom President Putin has anointed as his hoped-for successor, to secure the release of the two men on the grounds that their trial was illegal. LF

In a January 8 statement, the EU has hailed the release of 119 prisoners in Azerbaijan, including five jailed journalists, as "a positive step toward Azerbaijan's fulfillment of international and European obligations with regard to freedom of the press." At the same time, the statement noted that "the EU would like to see the three journalists still imprisoned (Mirza Sakit Zahidov, Ganimat Zahid, and Eynullah Fatullayev) released or pardoned at the earliest opportunity, and would like a moratorium to be declared on proceedings for defamation." On January 11, reported that Azer Ahmedov, director of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq" for which Zahid writes, has notified the Justice Ministry of a planned "provocation" against Zahid, who is being held in solitary confinement. His trial on charges of "hooliganism," scheduled for January 8, has been postponed until January 15 due to adverse weather conditions in Baku, reported on January 8. LF

Speaking live on the pro-government television channel Rustavi-2 on January 10, presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze said he met the previous day with Mikheil Saakashvili, who according to preliminary official results won the January 5 preterm presidential ballot with over 53 percent of the vote, and Caucasus Press reported. Gachechiladze said he informed Saakashvili that he will not retract his demand for a runoff ballot. He said he warned Saakashvili that a confrontation between the Georgian authorities and people is "absolutely inadmissible," and in light of continuing "injustice," apparently meaning the authorities' alleged rigging of the election outcome in Saakashvili's favor, he will not cooperate with Saakashvili. At the same time, Gachechiladze said he will be the first to congratulate Saakashvili if the latter wins a runoff between them. Gachechiladze said he has also met with rival presidential candidates David Gamkrelidze (New Rightists), Shalva Natelashvili (Labor party), and Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, all of whom support his demand for a runoff vote. He called on supporters to gather in Tbilisi on January 13 to protest "injustice." Gamkrelidze told Rustavi-2 on January 10 that he will join the planned January 13 protest in Tbilisi, reported. Also on January 10, Georgian Catholicos Ilia II met for two hours with Gachechiladze, Gamkrelidze, Natelashvili, and Sarishvili-Chanturia and urged them to avoid a "civil confrontation," Caucasus Press reported. LF

Members of the presidential campaign staff of wealthy businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, who polled third in the January 5 ballot with 6.99 percent of the vote, told Rustavi-2 on January 10 that the formal charges against him of plotting to overthrow the government and to assassinate a senior government official, which the Prosecutor-General's Office announced earlier on January 10, are unjust, unfounded, and politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 10, 2008). His legal adviser Shalva Khachapuridze, pointed out that it is illegal to bring charges on the basis of recorded conversations, and claimed the recording was edited with the aim of incriminating Patarkatsishvili. The voice in the recordings has not been identified with any certainty as Patarkatsishvili's, and the Russian daily "Kommersant" on January 11 noted that what the unidentified speaker said is vague and ambiguous; he reportedly did not advocate any subversive or criminal acts. Central Election Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili for his part pointed out that as a presidential candidate, Patarkatsishvili enjoys immunity from prosecution until the final election results are made public, Caucasus Press reported on January 10. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek, Akylbek Tumenbaev, the deputy minister of industry, energy, and fuel resources, announced on January 9 that Kyrgyzstan will cut exports of electricity by almost 75 percent in 2008, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Tumenbaev attributed the sharp cut in exports to the dramatic decline in the country's level of water resources, including a fall in the level of the Toktogul reservoir from a normal amount of 10.5 billion cubic meters to a current level of between 6.5 billion and 7 billion cubic meters. He also said that the cut in exports will result in Kyrgyzstan providing only about 500 million-600 million kilowatt-hours of electricity to its neighbors. RG

Addressing reporters in Bishkek, Deputy Minister of Industry, Energy, and Fuel Resources Tumenbaev said on January 9 that a new agreement with Uzbekistan has been reached on the price of natural-gas exports to Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz Television reported. According to the terms of the new agreement, Kyrgyzstan will pay $145 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, an increase of 43 percent over 2007. Tumenbaev noted that despite the steep price increase, gas prices for Kyrgyz consumers would be "increased only by 30 percent, thanks to decreasing transportation expenses and other measures." Following Tumenbaev, Salamat Aitikeev, the director of the Kyrgyzgaz state gas company, announced progress in the construction of a new natural-gas pipeline to supplement an existing pipeline running from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, adding that nearly one-third of the second pipeline has been completed and that about $80 million in new financing has been secured for its completion, AKIpress reported. Aitikeev also noted that despite the recent agreement with Uzbekistan over the price for gas imports, Kyrgyzstan still owes some $18 million to UzbekGaz, the state-owned Uzbek energy company, for prior gas imports. He noted that Kyrgyz officials are seeking to "restructure" payments for the arrears. RG

In an address to the inaugural session of the recently elected Kyrgyz parliament, President Kurmanbek Bakiev presented on January 10 a set of policy recommendations and demands to the deputies, including a call for deputies to raise the country's retirement age and accelerate privatization, AKIpress and the website reported. He also recommended the consideration of issuing new long-term bonds to raise funds for the construction of hydroelectric power stations and suggested the introduction of a new three-year budget-planning cycle. He also warned the deputies that constitutional reforms are "over" and instructed them to now focus solely on "one task: to implement effective economic programs for successfully developing the country," Kabar reported. The new 90-seat unicameral parliament was elected on December 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 18, 2007) and Bakiev then appointed former Energy and Industry Minister Igor Chudinov as the new prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 27, 2007). RG

In Dushanbe, Shavkat Shoimov, the deputy head of the state-owned TojikGaz energy group, announced on January 10 that prices for natural gas and electricity will be increased to help offset a sharp spike in prices for energy imports, ITAR-TASS reported. Shoimov stated that the increase in domestic prices is driven by an increase of about 50 percent in the price for gas imports, to almost $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, and a 20 percent rise in prices for electricity. Similar increases in energy prices for consumers have been introduced throughout the region, but Tajikistan is the most vulnerable, especially as the average Tajik household receives a mere two-three hours of electricity per day. RG

Nearly 3,000 people took part in an unsanctioned demonstration in central Minsk on January 10 to protest government restrictions the activities of small businesses, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Under presidential decree, starting from January 1, certain small-business owners are barred from hiring employees other than three family members. "We want to work honestly and on equal conditions, but we and the government have different ideas of what equal conditions are," Anatol Shumchanka, leader of the Perspektyva small-business association, told the rally. Former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich accused the government of attempting to "liquidate entrepreneurs as a class." Protesters headed to the presidential administration demanding a meeting with a representative, but the police sealed off the road to the building. Protesters then marched to the headquarters of the government, where they demanded a meeting with the prime minister, but he did not come out to meet the demonstrators. Several hundred small-business owners also protested against the restrictions in Mahilyou and Barysau. AM

Police detained a group of 20 youth activists following the January 10 unsanctioned demonstration of small-business owners in Minsk, Belapan reported. Anatol Shumchanka, leader of the Perspektyva small-business association, and Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the oppositional United Civic Party, were also arrested. Police earlier detained several other small-business activists, preventing them from participating in the protest. Officers detained Alyaksandr Makayeu, interviewed him at the police station, then brought him home and forbade him to leave it under threat of immediate arrest. Police detained Viktar Kryval and Alyaksandr Tsatsura while they were traveling to Minsk, claiming that a car similar to theirs had recently struck a pedestrian. On the eve of the demonstration, police arrested Alyaksandr Siuchyk and Aleh Shabetnik on charges of disorderly conduct or using foul language in a public place. Siuchyk was sentenced to 10 days in jail and Shabetnik to five days and a fine of $328. AM

President Viktor Yushchenko has submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a packet of 11 bills, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on January 10. The presidential drafts include: a law on the Cabinet of Ministers, amendments to the law on local state administrations and local self-governing bodies, a law on the National Guard, a law on the number of armed forces in 2008, amendments to the law on the Constitutional Court, a law on the Higher Council of Justice, and a law on the legal status of fighters for Ukrainian independence. The presidential administration said that the goal of the drafts is to improve the functioning of the authorities in the economic, law enforcement, and judicial sectors. The adoption of a new law on the Cabinet of Ministers was among Yushchenko's requirements during the formation of the parliamentary coalition. AM

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has said that Russia in recent months artificially inflamed the situation with languages in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on January 11. The ministry said in a statement that the intent of such a campaign is to confuse the international community regarding the actual condition of national minorities in Ukraine and their rights. Recently, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled that any foreign-made film should be dubbed in Ukrainian or provided with Ukrainian subtitles, even if it was made in Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry regarded this step as a violation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which provides for the screening of films in minority languages. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry argued that the charter applies to languages under the threat of disappearance, but not to minorities whose languages are granted all possibilities for broader development. AM

The EU should sign a key agreement with Serbia by the end of this month in order to prevent Serbian nationalists coming to power, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on January 9. In an interview published by Bloomberg on January 10, Jeremic urged the EU to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia on January 28, saying that completing this, the first step toward membership, could prove a critical factor in Serbia's presidential election, which is expected to be completed on February 3. Jeremic's party leader, President Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party (DS), faces a tough challenge from Tomislav Nikolic, a radical nationalist and the leader of Serbia's most popular party, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Completion of the deal "would give a significant boost to the pro-European candidacy" of Tadic, Jeremic said. "And everybody is expecting the signing. So if it doesn't happen, conversely, it is going to be a significant blow." He also warned that if Tadic fails to win, "our goal of joining the European Union would probably end up being delayed for the next generation or more." Jeremic's statement further highlights divisions within the government about the EU: Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) on January 3 deflated hopes that the SAA would be signed by saying that Serbia will only sign an SAA if the EU agrees not to take over responsibility for the administration of Kosova from the UN mission in Serbia's breakaway province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 4, 8, and 9, 2008). The EU has already signaled that it would like to accelerate the membership process for Serbia and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has said that Serbia is technically ready to sign an SAA, but Serbia has so far failed to meet an EU precondition that it capture a suspected war criminal indicted by a UN court, Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8 and December 17, 2007). Jeremic is pushing for looser conditions, arguing on January 8 that, even though it has not arrested Mladic, Serbia has met the requirement of "full cooperation" with the UN tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9, 2008). The EU is divided on whether to drop the Mladic clause, but formalizing an SAA requires unanimity among EU states and the Netherlands, for one, is insisting that the fugitive's capture must remain a precondition. "Mladic has to be in The Hague. Without cooperation, no signature," Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told reporters on January 8. "We will be fair towards Serbia, but criteria are criteria." Jeremic made clear in the Bloomberg interview that Mladic's capture "remains a priority" for the Serbian government. "Mladic is going to be arrested," he said. AG

The European Commission on January 9 urged Serbia to withdraw the ultimatum made by Prime Minister Kostunica conditioning Serbia's integration with the EU on the EU dropping plans to run Kosova. "The process of European integration and the process of Kosovo's status are two separate processes," EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn said in an interview with Reuters. "It is sad that Serbia's European future is being offered up on the altar of domestic power games," he said, in an allusion to Serbia's presidential campaign and divisions with the Serbian government. The ultimatum has been supported by several ministers belonging to Kostunica's DSS, but he has failed to secure the support of the Democrats, the government's largest party (see above and "RFE/RL Newsline," January 4, 8, and 9, 2008). In 2007, Kostunica complained that the EU made an "indecent" offer to trade independence for Kosova for EU membership for Serbia, but the claim was denied by Brussels, which has repeatedly described the two issues as being separate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2007). Until Kostunica's ultimatum, the Serbian government had also insisted the two issues should be addressed independently of each other. In a press conference on January 9 after he met the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Jeremic continued to insist that "the process of determining the future status of Kosovo and the process of the European integration of Serbia are two separate processes. So we couldn't really talk about any deal that would link one with the other because these are not linkable." AG

The Serbian daily "Blic" on January 10 published a poll showing that President Tadic remains narrowly ahead in his bid for reelection. He has the backing of 33 percent of those polled, compared with 27 percent for his hard-line rival, SRS leader Nikolic. The poll, for which the margin of error was not given, suggests that the January 20 election will need to be followed by a runoff on February 3 and that, to remain in power, Tadic needs the support of many undecided voters as well as the backing of all the governing parties. Tadic has the backing of the smallest governing party, G17 Plus, but its most important partner in government, the DSS, has thrown its support behind the leader of its running mate in the 2007 elections, New Serbia (NS). Velimir Ilic, who is the leader of NS and a government minister, has the backing of 4 percent of Serbs, the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID) found. A candidate needs to win 50 percent of the vote to become president. In his January 10 interview with Bloomberg, Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic said Tadic and Nikolic are in "almost a dead heat," and predicted that the election will be a "be a referendum toward Europe or away from Europe." AG

An overwhelming majority of Kosovar Serbs believe that Kosova will remain part of Serbia, Radio-Television Serbia reported on January 10. The poll, which was commissioned by Serbia's ministry for Kosovar affairs, found that 82 percent believe Serbia will retain sovereignty over Kosova, while almost as many -- 80 percent -- deem any attempt by Kosova to declare independence to be unacceptable. The poll also found that Kosovar Serbs view their biggest problems as Kosova's unresolved status, unemployment, and their security and the security of their homes. They also called for stronger ties with Serbia. Dusan Prorokovic, the state secretary in the ministry, said the poll indicates that Belgrade should invest more in the region, particularly in northern Kosova, where most Serbs live. Prorokovic has in the past said Serbia would be legally entitled to send troops into Kosova should Kosova declare independence from Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 10, 2007). AG

The family of Radovan Karadzic will no longer be able to travel out of Bosnia-Herzegovina after the international community's high representative in the country, Miroslav Lajcak, ordered their passports and other travel and identity documents to be seized on January 10. Four members of the suspected war criminal's family are affected: his wife Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, his son Aleksandar Karadzic, his daughter Sonja Karadzic-Jovicevic, and his son-in-law Branislav Jovicevic. It is unclear whether they are all currently in Bosnia, but all of them live in Bosnia. In September, Karadzic's son was banned from entering Serbia for a year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). In a statement, Lajcak said, "the order was issued at the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [ICTY] and in close cooperation with relevant local law enforcement agencies." The ICTY indicted Karadzic in 1996. Karadzic's mother called in October for Karadzic to surrender, but his daughter said later in October that surrender for Karadzic would be tantamount to "execution" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5 and 25, 2007). They all deny having continuing contact with the fugitive. Three other men remain on the run from the ICTY: Karadzic's military commander Ratko Mladic, who is thought to be in Serbia; Goran Hadzic, a former Croatian Serb leader believed to be in Serbia; and Stojan Zupljanin, a Bosnian Serb who Bosnian authorities have said is in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, and December 12, 2007). The Bosnian authorities are currently investigating 42 people suspected of helping the men elude justice, including members of the Karadzic family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9, 2008). AG

The appointment of nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin as Russia's representative to NATO, coming at a time of strained ties between Moscow and the Western military alliance, has raised some eyebrows.

The 44-year-old politician has aggressively championed the rights of ethnic Russians and organized several so-called Russian marches -- mass street demonstrations in which participants have brandished Nazi slogans and called for the expulsion of dark-skinned foreigners.

Rogozin is also known for his stinging criticism of the West and NATO. In 2006, he described the alliance with which he will now work as a "dying organization."

But in more than one way, his appointment by President Vladimir Putin on January 10 is in line with the Kremlin's interests. "This sends a signal to NATO that Russia is not at all pleased with NATO's actions, particularly concerning the alliance's expansion to the east," says Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor in chief of the Moscow-based journal "Russia In Global Affairs."

Moscow views NATO as a tool for the United States and Europe to challenge Russia's rising influence. In that sense, Rogozin, who has called for a Russian military buildup to counter NATO's eastward expansion, embodies his country's increasingly assertive stance toward the Atlantic alliance.

Rogozin also endorses Moscow's position on Serbia's breakaway province of Kosova, an issue on which Russia and the West have been at loggerheads. He recently said that if appointed NATO envoy, he would back Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, in opposing UN plans to grant Kosova internationally supervised independence. He has also spoken against Washington's proposal to deploy parts of a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russia says would threaten its national security.

For Russia's political elite, sending Rogozin to Brussels is also a smart domestic move, since it pushes an influential rival out of the Russian political scene, just weeks before a key presidential election. "Rogozin is an undeniably dynamic, gifted politician with good perspectives in Russian politics," says Lukyanov. "When his potential became clear, he was carefully isolated from Russian politics. But even as an ultranationalist opposition figure, he has always remained respectful and loyal to President Putin. This is why Putin has not forgotten about him, and his appointment shows that Putin trusts him."

Rogozin's Rodina (Motherland) party was barred from elections to the Moscow City Duma in 2005 after a party campaign ad was ruled racist. The controversial spot, which urged voters to "clean up Moscow of rubbish," appeared to denigrate migrants from the Caucasus.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer gave a cautious welcome to Rogozin this week. But he said it is "clear" Russia's new envoy will not iron out differences over Kosova and missile defense.

Despite Rogozin's often unsavory record, NATO is unlikely to hit the panic button. "NATO officials are flexible diplomats, they deal with people with reputations ranging from very respectable to controversial," says Yury Fyodorov, a political analyst at the London-based Chatham House think tank. "I'm convinced Mr. Rogozin won't spark panic at NATO headquarters. He's not that important."

Besides, political analysts widely agree that Rogozin is not the firebrand he appears to be, and will undoubtedly put much of his ultranationalist rhetoric on ice as NATO envoy. "I don't think anything terrible will happen," Lukyanov says. "After initial surprise, the normal diplomatic process will resume. The strategic political stance on NATO will be decided in the Kremlin, not in Brussels with the envoy."

Rogozin studied journalism at Moscow University and his official biography says he speaks Ukrainian, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Czech. He is seen as a skillful diplomat experienced in foreign affairs, with stints as chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and Putin's representative in negotiations with the European Union over the status of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave.

He has also served as Russia's envoy to the Strasbourg-based Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a 47-country body focusing on human rights issues. His term at PACE, however, resulted in a one-year voting ban for Russia in 2000 after he lashed out at a report criticizing the actions of pro-Russian forces in Chechnya.

Rogozin will replace General Konstantin Totsky as NATO envoy, and is expected to take up the post by the end of January.

(Claire Bigg is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi suggested on January 10 that attacking and eliminating the source of terrorism is the only way to defeat it, the Bakhtar news agency reported. "Terrorism is like a spring," Azimi told reporters in Kabul. "It is better to go to the main source than to fight the waters' flow." Separately, the chief of Afghanistan's intelligence service, Amrullah Saleh, said recently that combating terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan requires either sealing its borders or "the strategy of the coalition forces toward Pakistan should change." "We believe the war on terror should know no borders," Saleh told Tolo TV. Afghan officials believe suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have regrouped in the tribal areas across the border in Pakistan, where they recruit and train fighters to send into Afghanistan. The Pakistani government adamantly denies these allegations and relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain tense. MM

Afghan presidential spokesman Homayun Hamidzada told reporters in Kabul on January 8 that "Wherever the international community carries out operations against terrorism," it would have a positive effect in Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "I am not going to comment about the specifics about operations inside Pakistan. All I am going to say is that we should address the sources, the root causes of terrorism wherever they are," Hamidzada said. Such statements by Afghan officials are usually regarded as accusing Pakistan of being the center of militant operations. President Hamid Karzai has previously claimed that Taliban supreme commander Mullah Mohammad Omar is in Quetta, across the border from Afghanistan, which Pakistan denies. Sources familiar with ongoing discussions on the issue by the U.S. government reportedly told Pajhwak Afghan News on January 9 that the possibility of a U.S. strike inside Pakistan in the near future is almost negligible. MM

Continuing to dismiss reports of his firing by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar as "enemy propaganda," Mansur Dadullah asserted on January 9 that he is "indispensable" to the Taliban insurgency, Pajhwak Afghan News and international media reported. "I have not been expelled from the movement. I have served the Taliban and without me the movement would stand nowhere," Dadullah insisted. He also said that "Al-Qaeda was part of the Taliban and obeyed Mullah Omar's instructions." Dadullah added that nowadays Taliban militants in both Afghanistan and Pakistan "exchanged information and helped each other." Dadullah emerged in May 2007 as the designated leader of the Taliban faction loyal to his slain brother, Mullah Dadullah, with close ideological and operational ties to Al-Qaeda and other foreign radical jihadi groups. MM

President George W. Bush warned Iran in Jerusalem on January 9 that it will face serious consequence if it attacks U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf, and that "all options" are on the table to protect U.S. assets following an apparent provocation by Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf on January 6, AFP reported. Iranian authorities have rejected reports of an "incident" and said Iranian patrol boats were checking naval traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, not provoking U.S. ships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9 and 10, 2008). Bush stressed after a meeting with Israeli officials that "we have made it clear...there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple." His warning was echoed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who said the same day that "Iran should not underestimate our resolve for self-defense," AFP reported. Israel and the United States have been the most vocal opponents of Iran's disputed nuclear program. Separately, The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on January 9 on Ahmad Foruzandeh, a general in Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and a member of its elite Quds Force, who it said was involved in "terrorist operations" in Iraq, Reuters reported. The Treasury Department said that Foruzandeh and his subordinates provided financial and material help for operations against U.S. and Iraqi troops, specifically in April 2007. The sanctions, which were also imposed on a Syrian television station and three Iraqis, prohibit financial dealings with the targeted parties and freeze assets they might have in the United States, Reuters reported. VS

Two men convicted of abusing or raping teenage boys are to be executed by being thrown off a cliff or other high place, Radio Farda reported on January 9, citing Iranian media. A court in the southern province of Fars convicted the men -- named as Tayyeb and Yazdan -- to death in May or June 2007, after finding them guilty of raping or abusing as well as robbing two schoolchildren in the town of Arsanjan in Fars, in late March or April 2007, the dailies "Qods" and "Iran" reported. The courts have sentenced four other suspects arrested in relation with the case to be whipped 100 times each. Lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda on January 9 that the sentence is technically legal, though rarely given. He said the law in Iran offers various means of paying for one's crimes or compensating the families of victims, but that some judges opt personally for more brutal punishments. He said the head of the judiciary could stop the sentence from being carried out, if he sees fit. VS

Two convicted killers were hanged in the town of Tonekabon on the northern Caspian coast on January 9, "Kayhan" reported on January 10. Local people signed a "4-meter-long petition" insisting on their execution, which took place about two years after they committed their crimes in separate incidents, "Kayhan" reported. Separately, three convicted drug traffickers were executed on January 9 in Birjand, in the eastern Southern Khorasan Province, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on January 10. Police seized 177 kilograms of hashish and 7 kilograms of heroin when arresting the suspects, the daily added. Also on January 9, two convicted killers were hanged in public in the town of Jahrom, south of Shiraz in Fars Province, "Iran" reported. One of the hanged, called Mojtaba, killed two taxi drivers in robberies with the help of four others who have been jailed. The other, Mohammad Hossein, killed an 18-year-old in a fight, "Iran" reported. VS

The head of the Fath security base in the southeastern Sistan-va-Baluchistan Province, Mohammad Ghaffari, said on January 10 in the town of Khash that police and intelligence agents have killed an unspecified number of suspected "terrorists" plotting to kill clerics in Khash, Fars news agency reported. Others were injured and arrested, he added, without giving numbers or the date of the police operation. Ghaffari indicated the group or some of its members were caught in or near Iranshahr, a district south of Khash in the same province. The province borders Pakistan and is the scene of intermittent gun battles between Iranian police and drug traffickers. Ghaffari said that "terrorist groups are trying to attain their sinister objectives and sow discord between religious and ethnic groups." He was speaking at a ceremony to introduce the new police chief in Khash, Soltan Sohrabi, who replaces Mansur Movahhedi, Fars reported. VS

The U.S. military launched a massive air campaign on January 10 against suspected "Al-Qaeda safe havens" near Baghdad, international media reported the same day. The military said in a statement, released the same day, that B-1 bombers and F-16 fighter jets dropped more than 18,000 kilograms of bombs on the village of Arab Jabur, south of the Iraqi capital. It said that in all, 40 targets were hit. The air campaign was part of the wider Operation Phantom Phoenix, launched on January 8 to root out Al-Qaeda elements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 8, 2008). The statement did not say whether there were any civilian casualties. However, a local Sunni tribal leader, Abdallah al-Jaburi, told Al-Jazeera satellite television that many civilians were feared dead and the injured were unable to reach hospital because of damage to the main road. Meanwhile, the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association issued a statement on its website the same day describing the bombing as a "heinous crime" that killed scores of innocent civilians, including women and children. "This grisly crime shows the entire world the ugliness of its perpetrators and their utter disregard for the souls of people and for the status and dignity of human beings, which should be protected according to all divine religions," the statement said. SS

The Iraqi parliament on January 10 failed to pass the Accountability and Justice Law after lawmakers failed to read the draft, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Officials said voting on the draft was postponed for the second time until further notice, after several political groups disagreed over its content. The law is a revision of the de-Ba'athification law passed under the Coalition Provisional Authority. The new law would allow former Ba'athists to return to the government and military jobs they held during the regime of former President Saddam Hussein. The law has faced fierce opposition, primarily from the political bloc of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. SS

Harem Kamal Agha, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) office in Mosul, expressed support for the formation of awakening councils in the city, the Kurdish newspaper "Yekgirtu" reported on January 8. Underscoring the successes of awakening councils in fighting Al-Qaeda in predominately Sunni areas like the Al-Anbar Governorate, Agha said there was a need for them in Mosul because the government needs help in combating Al-Qaeda-linked extremists. However, he cautioned that it might be difficult to form such groups in Mosul. Unlike the Al-Anbar Governorate, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, Mosul is an ethnically and religiously mixed city and Agha said many people might feel uneasy at the presence of armed Sunni groups. To allay this fear, he suggested forming joint awakening councils comprised of different ethnic and religious groups that are united in common cause to fight terrorists. SS

In a statement released on January 10, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that police from the Interior Ministry have foiled an attempt to smuggle historically significant artifacts from the revered Al-Askari shrine in Samarra, the Voices of Iraq news agency reported. "The Iraqi Ministry of Interior seized precious contents of the two holy shrines, including a copy of the Holy Koran, armor, and swords of great historic and artistic value," al-Dabbagh said. He said the smugglers were planning to take the items out of the country, but he declined to say how many people were involved in the incident or when it took place. The Al-Askari shrine holds the tombs of Imams Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari, who are revered by Shi'a. In February 2006, a bomb destroyed the shrine's golden dome, which set off a wave of sectarian violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). Then in June 2007, gunmen destroyed the shrine's two minarets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). SS

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani oversaw the 86th annual Police Day ceremony at the Baghdad Police College on January 9, according to the U.S.-led coalition's website on January 10. In his speech, al-Bulani praised the efforts by awakening councils and "concerned local citizens groups" to rid Iraq of Al-Qaeda. "They were the first spark. This is the people beginning to refuse the Al-Qaeda concept," he said. "They patriotically rejected Al-Qaeda ideology and fought back against the militia groups." National security adviser Muwafaq al-Rubay'i said the police are playing a major role in security operations throughout Baghdad. "With even more police trained this year, the police will be strong enough to enforce the security plan and law enforcement," he said. During the ceremony, there were demonstrations on martial arts, police dogs searching for contraband, and an emergency response unit. In addition, there was a demonstration of an explosive ordnance team using a robot to defuse an improvised explosive device. There was also a graduation ceremony with 1,044 cadets graduating from the Baghdad Police College and entering the ranks of the Iraqi police. SS

The Indian oil-exploration firm, Reliance Industries announced on January 8 it will register with the Iraqi government to compete for exploration contracts, despite being blacklisted by the Oil Ministry, UPI reported the same day. Previously, Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani warned that any firm that signed contracts with the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) would be barred from seeking contracts with the Iraqi government. In November, Reliance signed an exploration deal with the KRG, ostensibly making it unable to seek contracts with the Iraqi government. "We will register in Iraq. We are keen to be there," Reliance Industries CEO P.M.S. Prasad said. "We believe there will be some kind of reconciliation between northern Iraq and rest of Iraq." There was no reaction from al-Shahristani concerning Reliance's decision. Baghdad set a deadline of January 31 for all international oil firms to register with it in order to compete for tenders for oil exploration and service contracts in southern, central, and northern Iraq. SS