Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - January 29, 2008

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on January 25 that it has informed the Latvian Embassy that an unnamed member of its staff must leave Russia within two days because of unspecified "activities incompatible with the status of a diplomat" and harmful to the security interests of the Russian Federation, reported. Such charges are usually considered euphemisms for spying. The move comes in response to Latvia's recent expulsion of a Russian diplomat on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22, 2008). On January 28, Latvian Interior Minister Mareks Seglins identified the Russian diplomat as Aleksandr Rogozhin, who allegedly paid "numerous civil servants for classified information," AP reported. Seglins added that those officials will soon be arrested. The news agency noted that this is the second expulsion of a Russian diplomat from Latvia since that country became independent in 1991. Relations between Moscow and Riga appeared to be improving until the latest round of expulsions. PM

Officials of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) rejected on January 28 allegations made in a new book by Sergei Tretyakov, a former Russian spy attached to the Russian Mission to the UN from 1995-2000, and "The Moscow Times" reported on January 28 and 29, respectively. In the book "Comrade J, The Untold Secrets of Russia's Master Spy in America After The End of the Cold War," written with journalist Pete Earley, Tretyakov claimed that he oversaw operations that helped Russia pocket $500 million from the UN's oil-for-food program for Iraq by manipulating the price of the oil. The SVR said in a statement that "leaving Tretyakov's so-called revelations to his own conscience, we would like to stress that in the world's special services, engaging in 'self-promotion based on treason' has always been considered disgraceful. And treason itself is criminally punishable." The statement added that Tretyakov promised in his letter of resignation from the SVR in 2000 that his "departure will not bring any harm to the interests of the country." Tretyakov, who recently called the UN an "international nest of spies," also claimed in his book that he recruited as an agent an unnamed Canadian nuclear expert who now works for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Canadian Press news agency quoted an unnamed IAEA spokesman as calling the charges "baseless." PM

Speaking on January 28 at the Bahrain Dialogue of Civilizations Conference in Manama, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov proposed the creation of an organization for security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf area, Russian media reported. Saltanov said Russia is "worried about the situation in the Middle East and offers a concept of a regional security system that will take into account the interests of all littoral states and interested countries," ITAR-TASS reported. "Not only the countries of the region but all states could take part in the work of such [an] organization if they wish so," he continued. Saltanov said the Iraq crisis and the Iranian nuclear issue must first be resolved before any regional organization could be established. He said the Russian proposal operates under the assumption "that the collective security system can in the future become an integral part of postcrisis life in the Middle East," Interfax reported on January 29. The Russian proposal envisions regional states negotiating a resolution to issues such as "the release of occupied territories, the stopping of settlement activities, refugees, the creation of a Palestinian state," and resolving the status of Jerusalem. KR

Tomislav Nikolic, who is the Serbian Radical Party's candidate in the February 3 presidential runoff election, canceled a January 28 trip to Russia "at the last minute," reported on January 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008). He was invited by the A Just Russia party and was slated to meet with several legislators. quoted Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who heads A Just Russia, as saying that Nikolic chose to stay in Serbia because of his campaign obligations there. But noted that this explanation lacks credibility because Nikolic clearly planned his trip to Moscow for its publicity value to his campaign. The website suggested that Nikolic was angry that not even Foreign Ministry officials would receive him. President Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is Putin's preferred choice as successor, met with Serbian President Boris Tadic in Moscow on January 25. Several Russian media reports suggested recently that the Kremlin prefers Tadic, whom it regards as more solid and predictable, in the runoff over the more outspokenly pro-Russian Nikolic. But on January 29, Interfax reported that Nikolic will meet with Mironov in Moscow in the course of the day, citing an unnamed source in the Federation Council. No explanation for the various reported changes in plans was given. PM

Presidential candidate and First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev said in St. Petersburg on January 27 that Russia's Lenfilm studios must become a world leader, ITAR-TASS reported. The government recently decided to "suspend" the process of privatizing the studios, which is already well advanced. Medvedev stressed that "it is important to know into which hands" the fate of the studios will pass, but did not elaborate. During the Soviet era, Lenfilm produced some 1,500 films and was the country's second-largest film company, after Mosfilm. PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev, who seems certain to succeed Vladimir Putin as president, on January 28 officially informed the Central Election Commission that he will not participate in campaign debates, and other Russian media reported. Medvedev's letter explained that since he is not taking a leave of absence to run for president, his official duties do not allow him time to debate. According to a Levada Center poll, 73 percent of Russians think Medvedev should debate. Communist Party official Ivan Melnikov told Ekho Moskvy on January 29 that his party's candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, will not participate in debates with the remaining two candidates -- Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Democratic Party of Russia leader Andrei Bogdanov. Zyuganov had said earlier he might withdraw from the election if Medvedev refuses to debate and if he is not granted equal access to the state media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23 and 24, 2008). On January 29, the Central Election Commission is expected to draw lots to allocate airtime on the main state radio and television outlets for the presidential candidates, Russian media reported. On January 25, Communist deputies in the Duma presented their own monitoring of state media during the January 1-20 period, in which they claimed Medvedev received 88 percent of election-related coverage, while Zyuganov received 2 percent, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on January 28. RC

The Federal Registration Service, a department of the Justice Ministry, on January 28 refused again to register former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's People for Democracy and Justice party, reported the same day. A party official told the website that officials claimed a check of submitted documents revealed that some purported members of the party were minors, while the ages of others could not be determined. The website was not able to get official comment because, its correspondent was told, all officials in the section on registering political organizations are on vacation. Kasyanov's Russian Popular Democratic Union was refused registration in October 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2007). reported that the registration service has not registered a single new party in over two years. The Central Election Commission on January 27 rejected Kasyanov's attempt to register as an independent candidate in the March 2 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008). RC

The Central Election Commission on January 28 held a televised press conference at which Chairman Vladimir Churov publicly signed letters inviting foreign election monitors to observe the March presidential election, "The Moscow Times" reported on January 29. Churov theatrically waved the first letter, to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and said, "This invitation goes to [ODIHR] Director Christian Strohal." ODIHR declined to send observers to the December Duma elections, saying that Russian officials had made it impossible for them to carry out their work. ODIHR acting spokesman Curtis Budden told the daily that the organization was not able to send a needs-assessment team to Russia to determine how many monitors were needed. In all, the election commission is inviting some 400 observers to the poll, including from the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. RC

The presidential administration plans to scale back dramatically the scope of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, "Kommersant" reported on January 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 2008). The new leader of the organization, Nikita Borovikov, announced at a meeting of Nashi regional-branch leaders recently that only five of the organization's 50 local chapters will be maintained. "There is no longer a threat of an 'Orange Revolution,'" Borovikov said. "So we can concentrate on other things. But we will not disappear. We have simply outgrown out childish short pants." Political observer Stanislav Belkovsky told the daily that the reason for scaling back Nashi lies in President Putin's dissatisfaction with the group's scandalous publicity in the West. RC

Two independent journalists -- Feliks Medvedev and Oleg Lure -- have been arrested in Moscow on charges of extortion, Russian media reported on January 29. Lure, a freelance journalist, was arrested on January 26 and his arrest was sanctioned by a Moscow court on January 28. Interfax reported that he is accused of attempting to extort money from Federation Council member Vladimir Slutsker. Medvedev, a 66-year-old columnist with "Ekspress-gazeta," is accused of extorting money from numerous business structures, including, according to some reports, one connected to the Base Element holding company controlled by Kremlin-connected oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Lure made headlines in 2003 when he was convicted of libeling Mikhail Fridman's Alfa group. He lost another libel case in 2001 over a "Novaya gazeta" article that reported that money for a Kremlin reconstruction project had been used to buy a mansion in Switzerland for President Boris Yeltsin's family. RC

An informal price freeze agreed to by major food producers last October has been extended until May 1, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on January 29. The Kremlin negotiated the price freeze after an unexpected burst of inflation late last year and it was due to expire on February 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2007). Inflation has continued high so far this year, reaching 1.8 percent in the first three weeks of January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2008). The freeze affects bread, milk, cooking oil, and eggs. RC

The Council of Elders of the Balkar People filed an appeal on January 28 of the January 14 ruling of the Supreme Court of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic terminating its existence, and reported. The court ruling was based on analysis of the socio-political situation in the KBR that the council sent last year to then-presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2007 and January 15, 2008). Oyus Gurtuyev, who heads the council's executive committee, told that the Supreme Court ruling is not legally valid as it was based on a "subjective" interpretation by the republican prosecutor's office of the analysis in question, and because it is illegal to demand the closure of a public organization on the basis of an appeal to a state agency or government official. LF

Unknown perpetrators on January 25 broke into the campaign office in Vanadzor of Orinats Yerkir party chairman and presidential candidate Artur Baghdasarian where they smashed windows and tore down campaign posters, Interfax reported. On January 28, police in the southern town of Kapan ordered members of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's election-campaign staff to vacate an apartment they had rented as a campaign office, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

In an interview with Euronews, Mikheil Saakashvili said he anticipates a further flare-up of emotions in the run-up to the parliamentary elections to be held in the early summer, Caucasus Press reported on January 29. He added that the parliamentary vote will register the relative level of support for numerous different political parties and programs, noting that "Georgia is a pluralistic democratic country. Our reforms will become even more consolidated if different political parties work out a pluralistic consensus." Saakashvili further stressed that Georgia does not plan to try to resolve the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. LF

The Georgian government has submitted to parliament three draft laws and 22 draft amendments to existing legislation that together are intended to transform Georgia into a global financial center and attract up to $10-12 billion in investment, reported on January 28. The proposals include liberalization of the tax code and of customs regulations with regard to the planned Poti free economic zone; reducing income tax from 25 percent to 15 percent over the next five years; and establishing funds for the accumulation of the annual budget surplus and income from privatization. The measures are part of a broader government program for the period 2008-10 entitled "Georgia Without Poverty," according to Prime News-Business on January 28. LF

The Georgian parliament's committee on procedural issues has acceded to a request by the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office to annul the immunity from prosecution of Valeri Gelbakhiani, who heads the Our Georgia parliament faction, Caucasus Press and RIA Novosti reported. Gelbakhiani has been charged in absentia with plotting together with businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili to overthrow the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 27 and 28, 2007, and January 10, 2008). In an open letter to fellow parliamentarians, Gelbakhiani affirmed his innocence of any crime and accused President Saakashvili of "political persecution," Caucasus Press reported on January 23. Gelbakhiani implied that he has been targeted solely on the basis of conversations in which he sought to analyze the current political situation. LF

Speaking to the lower house of the Kazakh parliament, or Majlis, in Astana, Health Minister Anatoly Dernovoi announced on January 28 that the total number of registered HIV cases in Kazakhstan reached 9,378 by the end of 2007, including 223 children and minors, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Dernovoi noted that although new cases were reported throughout the country, the most significant increases were reported in four key regions: Karaganda, South Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, and Kostanay, as well as in the city of Almaty. He added that according to official estimates, about 74 percent of all registered HIV cases resulted from intravenous drug use. Last September, the Kazakh State Statistics Agency reported a sharp rise in the number of HIV cases since 2006, which was attributed at that time to unsanitary blood transfusions performed by medical workers who reused disposable syringes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 15 and September 14, 2007). In June 2007, a district court in Shymkent sentenced 16 doctors and medical workers to prison terms on charges of negligence for administering tainted blood transfusions to some 120 children, 10 of whom have subsequently died of AIDS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006, and March 19, June 28, and July 19, 2007). RG

Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on January 28 announced plans to deploy a new Russian S-300 air-defense battery in the South Kazakhstan Region, Interfax reported. Akhmetov said that a new "military town will soon be built" in the city of Shymkent. He made the announcement after touring the southern region and visiting the Kazakh army garrisons at Shymkent and Arys. The Russian-built S-300 air-defense system is capable of striking aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missile warheads within a 145-kilometer range and at an altitude of over 27,000 meters. RG

Police in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on January 28 disrupted a demonstration by human rights activists and arrested about 20 participants, AKIpress reported. The demonstration, organized by the "I Do Not Believe" youth group, was staged to protest the results of last month's parliamentary elections. The demonstrators vowed to carry on their protest in front of the Kyrgyz parliament building in order to "once again remind the people" that the new parliament is "illegitimate." Another group of human rights activists, led by Tolekan Ismailova, the director of the Bishkek-based organization Citizens Against Corruption, also protested on January 28 in front of the Justice Ministry against the recent decision by Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Elmurza Satybaldiev upholding a law restricting public demonstrations in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2008). The revised law, which was adopted by the Bishkek city council in late November, restricts all public "rallies, pickets, demonstrations, and manifestations" to just three designated locations in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 3, 2007). RG

Prime Minister Igor Chudinov on January 28 approved a new four-year government program aimed at ending child labor in Kyrgyzstan, according to AKIpress. In accordance with a presidential decree issued by President Kurmanbek Bakiev on January 20, the program aims at "developing a social partnership to root out the worst forms of child labor." It also reflects a broader approach intended to coordinate various state agencies and ministries, labor unions, and business groups as stakeholders in the state-funded program. The same day, Chudinov also approved a new interagency plan to "prevent and avert the spread of religious extremism, fundamentalism, activities of the [banned] Hizb ut-Tahrir religious extremist party, and sectarian conflicts." He did not announce specific elements of the plan. RG

In a speech to his cabinet, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on January 28 expressed concern over "international threats such as terrorism, extremism, human trafficking, and drug smuggling and trafficking," adding that he is especially troubled by cases of "Tajik citizens in possession of drugs outside the country," Tajik Television reported. Rahmon added that the Tajik law-enforcement agencies work hard to prevent drug dealing, but noted that "there are still many shortcomings in combating crime and solving crimes." He also voiced his "serious concern" over crimes within the Tajik armed forces, and pointed to "a total of 92 corruption crimes and 950 cases of violation of disciplinary regulations" within law-enforcement agencies and military bodies, without stating the time frame in which the crimes took place. Turning to the economy, Rahmon said he is "unhappy" with the country's industrial output for last year, and noted his dissatisfaction with the decrease in production among Tajikistan's 223 largest enterprises and factories. Rahmon recently reshuffled several key personnel after he rebuked his cabinet for failing to adequately respond to the mounting energy crisis, and warned them that they must work harder to address the problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008). RG

Meeting in Tashkent, the Uzbek State Committee for Demonopolization and the Support of Competition and Entrepreneurship on January 28 approved the Russian acquisition of a major Uzbek telecommunications firm, Interfax reported. The deal involves the purchase of 100 percent of the shares in Uzbekistan's Golden Telecom by Vimpelcom, Russia's second-largest mobile phone operator, for an undisclosed amount. In 2006, Vimpelcom took over Uzbek mobile operators Buztel and Unitel for $200 million and $60 million respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2006). The Russian company announced in November 2007 that it received a license to build, operate, and market modern 3G-standard services throughout Uzbekistan. RG

In his final State of the Union address on January 28, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the United States supports freedom in Belarus, international media reported. "We support freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma," he said in his annual address to both houses of the U.S. Congress. Bush also said that his administration changed the way it delivers foreign aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account program. "This program strengthens democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative," he said. AM

Dzmitry Zhaleznichenka, a member of Belarusian Popular Front who was expelled from Homel State University and hastily drafted into the army on January 25, has been hospitalized on the third day of his hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on January 28. The command of the military unit in Zhlobin where Zhaleznichenka was assigned refused to give any explanation why he was taken to the hospital. Zhaleznichenka went on hunger strike to protest his expulsion from university and has demanded his call-up be postponed in order to give him time to appeal against the expulsion. The press office of the Defense Ministry said that "Zhaleznichenka is violating the law...he assumes criminal responsibility for the deliberate damage to his health in order to avoid military service." AM

On January 28, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko began a two-day visit to Brussels, where she met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. "The European Union hopes that political stability in Ukraine will be a reality," Barroso said. "Political stability, based on democracy and the rule of law, is essential to allow the country to pick up the pace of political and economic reform," he said. Barroso also praised the progress that had been achieved in negotiations on a new enhanced agreement between the EU and Ukraine. Tymoshenko said she considers Ukraine's upcoming membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) as "a path toward Ukraine's integration into the world's trade space," and not a tool for exerting pressure on other countries. Tymoshenko said she expects that Ukraine's accession to the WTO will help the country to make all its trade procedures transparent and more attractive to its partners. AM

At a meeting of the EU's foreign ministers in Brussels on January 28, the bloc offered Serbia a fresh cooperation agreement, saying it is willing to sign the deal within days of the second and final round of Serbia's presidential election. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has called the vote, which will be held on February 3, a referendum on Serbia's relationship with the EU and has urged the EU to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), the first key step toward membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11, 2008). However, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has effectively sought to use the EU's desire for a deal with Serbia to force the EU to back away from its commitment to support independence for Kosova, telling Brussels that it must choose between an SAA with Serbia and sending a mission to Prishtina to oversee Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 4, 2008). He reiterated that ultimatum in the days before the EU summit. The EU's offer of a new form of cooperation agreement appears designed to sidestep Kostunica's ultimatum while offering tangible evidence to Serbia that the EU wants to forge closer ties. A large majority of EU states supported the offer of an SAA to Serbia now, but that possibility was vetoed by the Netherlands, with the backing of Belgium. The proposed deal will provide "a framework for making progress on a political dialogue, free trade, visa liberalization, and educational cooperation," the EU stated. "This is sort of three-quarters of the way towards signing the Stabilization and Association Agreement," said Dmitrij Rupel, the foreign minister of Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. By contrast, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said, "this text is far away from the SAA, therefore I am satisfied with the outcome of this meeting." The Netherlands' opposition -- which led to "quite heated" discussions, Rupel said -- is based on Serbia's failure to arrest Ratko Mladic, one of the last four suspected war criminals wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The deal would be signed on February 7, if Serbia agrees. AG

Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic responded enthusiastically to the EU's offer, saying that this invitation "to enter the European family of nations" is a "breakthrough" that leaves Belgrade "very, very pleased." "The people of Serbia will have a chance to decide if they want to walk through the door that was opened to them by the EU from today. I am convinced that the Serbian people will walk through that door," Jeremic said. However, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica has as yet made no comment. Jeremic and other members of the Democratic Party (DS), which is led by President Boris Tadic, are substantially stronger in their support for the EU than Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). Another element of uncertainty relates to the results of Serbia's presidential election runoff between Tadic and his ultranationalist challenger, Tomislav Nikolic. "In the case of a victory for Nikolic, things would be very different," Spanish European Affairs Minister Alberto Navarro told journalists, international news agencies reported. "We might not sign the stabilization accord or the political agreement." AG

The status of Kosova "is basically a European issue," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on January 28. As a result, he said, "the European Union will take primary responsibility" for Kosova, international news agencies quoted him as saying. Ban's statement appears to reinforce the stance of the EU, which argues that it -- rather than the UN Security Council -- should be the principal determinant of Kosova's status. The EU also believes it should take over responsibility for overseeing Kosova from the UN, and is preparing to deploy around 1,800 judges, prosecutors, and police and customs officers to Prishtina. Ban, though, has said that he still needs "to closely consider and examine the legal implications" of a deployment of an EU mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008). "I can assure you that at the right time I will take a responsible course of action as a secretary-general of the United Nations," Ban said in Slovakia, which was a member of the UN Security Council last year and which has been more hesitant than its EU colleagues in backing independence for Kosova. However, Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic said after meeting Ban that Slovakia will not go "against the opinion of the European Union or the UN" on the issue of Kosova. Slovakia would "not rush" to recognize a Kosovar state, but would also not "stubbornly reject a joint position by the EU," he declared. AG

Rhetoric in Serbia's presidential campaign has sharpened in tone in recent days as the two men running for the post launch a last round of campaigning ahead of the election day, February 3. Tadic, the leader of the largest pro-EU party and a liberal voice by Serbian standards, supplemented his longstanding criticisms of Nikolic's nationalism by, on January 27, portraying a vote for Nikolic as a vote for the suspected war criminal Vojislav Seselj and "his policy of conflicts, hatred, sanctions, and isolation." Seselj founded the party led by Nikolic, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), and remains the party's nominal leader even though he is currently in detention and on trial in The Hague, the seat of the ICTY. Nikolic has always maintained his support for Seselj and his opposition to the ICTY, but Tadic's statement appeared intended to underscore that Nikolic represents the past, to diminish his standing and independence, and to counter Nikolic's efforts to reach out to more moderate Serbs. The response from Nikolic was stinging, with his campaign office accusing Tadic of launching a "Nazi" campaign against him. Tadic's campaign is one of the "dirtiest in the history of the Balkans," Nikolic's team claimed. AG

In a commentary published in the British daily "The Guardian" on January 28, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn predicted that, faced with the "stark" prospect of falling back "into instability and extremes of nationalism," people in the Balkans will in 2008 opt to "finally resolve [the Balkans'] outstanding problems from the wars of the 1990s or fall back into instability and extremes of nationalism." Rehn stressed the EU's commitment to the region, underscoring that "neither Russia nor the United States" are "so directly affected" by the Balkans and stating that the EU's willingness to "welcome the citizens of Serbia into Europe" will be demonstrated "this week" by the "launch of a dialogue on visa-free travel for Serbs." "In the EU there has never been a stronger political will to support the people of the western Balkans," he argued. However, he added, "ultimately people in the region have to exercise their democratic choice to determine their countries' future course." That comment applies most immediately to the Serbs, who will elect a new president on February 3. "Seldom have citizens had as clear a choice as the Serbs do now, between a nationalist past and a European future," Rehn said, indicating his support for the pro-EU incumbent, Tadic, over his nationalist challenger, Nikolic. Rehn also dwelt on the need for Serbia to capture war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, but added that "Serbia is close to full cooperation with" the ICTY. The EU is particularly looking this year toward completing SAAs with Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which would put their relationship with the EU on a par with those of their neighbors. No state, though, won the EU's full praise. "The western Balkans has made steady if uneven progress over recent years," Rehn said, and "all the countries [in the region] could make faster progress along the road to Europe." AG


Afghan leaders and officials from other countries in the region met on January 28 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss ways to combat the spread of terrorism, Afghan and international media reported. The officials seemed to reach a consensus that combating terrorism requires more than a military solution, and that the outcome affects stability even beyond the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai argued that the surge in suicide bombings in the country has little to do with religious fanaticism, and that such attacks have instead become a business venture in which criminal elements pay the families of recruited bombers. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf identified poverty as a root cause of terrorism, and warned that terrorist activity may not be fully containable. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said the Islamic world is suffering from poverty, disenchanted communities, and deteriorating education, and that the way out is "through development, job creation, and definitively improving the standards of education in our countries." MM

The police chief of Kandahar Province, Sayed Agha Saqib, said on January 28 that police have no new information on the whereabouts of U.S. aid worker Cyd Mizell and her Afghan driver, Abdul Hadi, who were kidnapped on January 26 in a residential neighborhood of Kandahar city, Afghan and international media reported. Mizell has worked on aid projects for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF) for the past three years in southern Afghanistan. ARLDF director Jeff Palmer told reporters the kidnappers have not contacted any officials, and that "we are hoping they will contact us. We want to hear about the safety of Cyd and the driver." Kidnappings of foreigners and Afghans have been on the rise in Afghanistan in the past year. Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said he could neither confirm nor deny speculation that Taliban militants were responsible for the kidnapping. MM

The Afghanistan NGO Coordination Bureau (ANCB), an umbrella group representing over 300 civil-society organizations, on January 28 opened a two-day consultative session in Kabul, at which delegates urged international security forces in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties and compensate the victims, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Representatives emphasized the role of civil society in improving security, and encouraged civil-society groups to give a voice to the poor and disenfranchised. Addressing the conference, former Deputy Information and Culture Minister Hamidullah Mubariz accused some countries in the region of creating instability in Afghanistan, and suggested that the conference could help force those countries to stop their interference in Afghan affairs. MM

The Pakistani-based newspaper "The Frontier Post" reported on January 28 that residents of Qalat, the capital of the volatile southern province of Zabul, shut down the local bazaar for three days to protest against foreign troops' military operations and house searches without permission. Pajhwak Afghan News quoted Majid Khan, a resident participating in a meeting to resolve the standoff, as saying that "foreign troops have three times held operations and checked residents' houses in the outskirts of the city without permission during the past three weeks." He added that foreign troops also "checked the houses of government officials and took people with them." A tribal leader told Pajhwak that "the foreign troops create problems for people; they [search] personal property and tear our clothes, which cannot be tolerated by Pashtuns." The Pashtuns, the ethnic group that dominates southern and eastern Afghanistan, consider forced operations and searches of their homes to be insults to their honor and violations of their code of conduct. MM

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on January 28 that "nobody knows of any crimes in history worse than the crimes of [Israel] against the Palestinians," IRNA reported. Iran opposes Israel's existence, and Ahmadinejad has expressed doubts about the veracity or gravity of the Nazi Holocaust. Iran has also denounced Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and its impact on the residents there. "For 60 years now [Israel] has besieged people like this in their homes, and kills children and adults in the name of fighting terrorism," he said. He told a seminar the "system of arrogance has reached the end of the road," presumably referring to liberalism and Western powers including the United States. He stated that materialism and Western concerns for human rights offer no benefits for the Palestinians, and said that Western states' use of force will provoke their downfall. "They draw their guns wherever they fail in the world, or threaten and attack," while people around the world no longer accept Western values. VS

Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, on January 26, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki urged the great powers to wait for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to complete its investigation into Iran's nuclear program before pushing for more punitive sanctions, Reuters reported. Iran has rejected UN and Western demands to halt its nuclear fuel-making activities. Mottaki said Iran began cooperating with the IAEA five months ago to clarify various aspects of its nuclear activities, and is now "on the brink of finalization of that cooperation.... We advise them to exercise restraint. There is not much time left until the final report of the IAEA comes out." He said in Tehran on January 28 that he is confident the report will confirm there was no deviation from the civilian nature of Iran's nuclear program. The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany circulated a draft of a new resolution on Iran among the remaining council members on January 25. The council began to informally discuss the proposals on January 28 and is expected to debate them for some weeks, AFP reported. Mottaki warned that more sanctions would have "serious consequences," AFP reported. VS

Mahmud Jafari, the director of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, said in Bushehr on January 28 that the plant will be ready for fuel to be injected into the reactor as scheduled and to "enter the operational stage" with the termination of contracted fuel deliveries by Russia, IRNA reported. Russia sent the last batch of fuel to start the power plant on January 27 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008). Jafari said the 82 tons of fuel consist of 1.6 percent-3.6 percent enriched uranium. VS

Iran resumed gas exports to Turkey on January 27 following a cut-off it implemented to make up for shortfalls at home, and is expected to increase the export volume in the coming days, AFP reported, citing Turkish media reports. The agency stated that Iran began to pump gas to Turkey on the afternoon of January 27 at a rate of 1.5 million - 2 million cubic meters a day, far less than the 29 million cubic meters a day it sent before cutting supplies. Iran stopped piping gas to Turkey on January 7, partly because of a cold spell that pushed up domestic consumption and partly because Turkmenistan stopped selling gas to Iran in late December. This in turn forced Turkey to stop gas exports to Greece and import more from Russia, AFP reported. The news agency quoted unnamed Turkish officials as saying that Ankara and Tehran are discussing the construction of a separate pipeline to Turkey not connected to Iran's domestic network. Iran has been exporting gas to Turkey through a pipeline from the northwestern city of Tabriz since 2001. VS

Police and security agents heckled protesting students at Tehran University on January 27, then forced their way onto the campus to end the protest, Radio Farda reported on January 28, quoting witnesses and Iranian websites (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 28, 2008). Students began protesting on January 24 or 25 over campus conditions and low-quality food. Student Peiman Aref told Radio Farda that about 500 students were protesting on January 27 when riot police broke into the university grounds at about 21:30, beating the protesters and arresting several. Aref said the police then left the campus, and about 1,000 students regrouped and resumed chanting slogans. Radio Farda quoted the Amir Kabir newsletter, a university journal, as stating that students throwing stones from campus rooftops forced the police to retreat; some policemen were reportedly injured. The protest was reportedly still going on at midnight on January 27. Student activist Farid Hashemi also told the Amir Kabir newsletter that security forces are banned from entering universities by a ruling of the Supreme National Security Council, which came into effect after the 1999 riots that followed a police assault on a Tehran university dormitory, Radio Farda reported. VS

The fire that erupted on January 28 at the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad destroyed files on government investigations into funds smuggled outside the country, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The fire also reportedly destroyed files on wire transfers abroad, according to a bank official who refused to be identified. Meanwhile, Iraqi Accordance Front deputy Nur al-Din al-Hayyani told the news channel that the fire will encourage other ministries accused of corruption to pursue the same path in order to destroy incriminating evidence. Al-Sharqiyah reported that several parliamentarians have also contended that earlier fires at the Interior Ministry and Oil Ministry destroyed financial records and other documents critical to investigations into corruption. Sabah al-Sa'idi, who heads the parliamentary Integrity Committee, told the news channel that the Interior Ministry recovered $15 billion from the damaged bank, but not one document was salvaged. KR

Awakening councils operating in and around Baghdad have said that groups supported by Iran's Quds Forces have launched armed attacks on the awakening groups, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on January 28. The news channel cited unidentified awakening council leaders as saying the Quds Force is using vehicles similar to those used by Iraqi security forces to attack positions in Baghdad. An awakening council in Al-Adhamiyah said patrol vehicles similar to Iraqi police vehicles attacked their members. They contacted U.S. forces in the area, who said they had no knowledge of any patrols being carried out by Iraqi security forces at the time of the attack. KR

Zuhayr Chalabi, an aide to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, toured Mosul on January 28, and told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television that the government is determined to eradicate the terrorist threat to that city. "The prime minister is making every effort with the aim of eradicating terrorists inside their last stronghold in Mosul City," Chalabi said. Referring to last week's attacks there, Chalabi said, "Al-Qaeda carried out an ugly crime. I am saying out loud that Al-Qaeda has no religion, the followers of Al-Qaeda have no religion, the supporters of Al-Qaeda also have no religion, and the incubators of terror have no religion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2008). KR

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov proposed the creation of an organization for security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf region, Russian media reported. Speaking at the Bahrain Dialogue of Civilizations Conference in Manama on January 28, Saltanov said Russia is "worried about the situation in the Middle East and offers a concept of a regional security system that will take into account the interests of all littoral states and interested countries," ITAR-TASS reported. "Not only the countries of the region but all states could take part in the work of such an organization if they wish so," he continued. Saltanov said the Iraq crisis and the Iranian nuclear issue must first be resolved before any regional organization can be established. He said the Russian proposal operates under the assumption "that the collective security system can in the future become an integral part of post-crisis life in the Middle East," Interfax news agency reported on January 29. The Russian proposal envisions regional states negotiating a resolution to issues such as "the release of occupied territories, the stopping of settlement activities, [the plight of] refugees, the creation of a Palestinian state," and the status of Jerusalem. KR

President George W. Bush told the American people in his January 28 State of the Union address that the war on terror is the "defining ideological struggle of the 21st Century." Bush praised the U.S.-led troop surge launched in February 2007, saying that U.S. and Iraqi forces together have put terrorists on the run. He said developments such as the formation of awakening councils throughout the country have helped Iraqis come together and work toward forging a national unity government. "Iraqis of all backgrounds increasingly realize that defeating these militia fighters is critical to the future of their country," Bush said. "Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated." As for the current U.S. military goals, Bush said: "Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission." Some troops are being withdrawn, and the draw down will continue, pending approval by General David Petraeus. The United States also intends to "work with Iraqi leaders as they build on the progress they're making toward political reconciliation," Bush said. KR

President Bush also said in his January 28 address that a free Iraq is vital to U.S. interests. "It is in the vital interests of the United States that we succeed. A free Iraq will deny Al-Qaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. A free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror, and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world," Bush said. "By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden the extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland." Bush said Iran continues to fund and train Iraqi militias. Addressing the Iranian regime, he said: "Above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf." KR