|Friday, 6 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 06-11-01
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PROMINENT RUSSIAN LEGISLATOR AGAIN PROPOSES CIS GAS CARTEL...Valery Yazev, who heads the State Duma's Energy, Transport, and Communications Committee, told the board of the Russian Gas Association on October 30 that producers and transporters in CIS countries should form an International Alliance of National Nonprofit Gas Organizations (IANNGO), the daily "Kommersant" reported on October 31. Yazev, whom the daily describes as "Gazprom's chief lobbyist in the State Duma...[and] unofficial mouthpiece of the Russian authorities," suggested that President Vladimir Putin stands behind the idea, but that he placed it "on the back burner" at the time of the July St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries. Yazev argued that the concept has become timely again because of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent appeal for a joint European energy market and calls by Merkel, French President Jacques Chirac, and the EU for Russia to ratify the Energy Charter, which it signed with the EU in 1994 and which would require Russia to open up access to its pipelines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 20, 23, and 30, 2006). Yazev stressed that the EU is a "cartel of consumers" which regulates access to pipelines. He argued that Russia should take the lead in setting up the IANNGO, which would "shift the balance of forces" in favor of producers. PM
 ...TO STANDARDIZE PRICES, TARIFFSYazev said at the October 30 meeting of the Russian Gas Association's board that his proposed IANNGO would seek to coordinate legislation to standardize gas prices and transport tariffs between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, as well as with "gas associations" in Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Moldova, the daily "Kommersant" reported on October 31. He argued that the proposal should be discussed at the November 20 Gas of Russia 2006 forum in Moscow. Gazprom spokesmen declined to comment on Yazev's proposal, which he first floated in late May in response to unnamed EU "officials' activities," but Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko criticized it. Other Russian officials have suggested forming a "gas alliance" with Iran or an "energy OPEC" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2006). Russia is the world's chief producer of natural gas and the second largest exporter of crude oil, but does not belong to OPEC. It is the G8 member with the largest energy resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 14, June 1 and 6, and August 10, 2006, and "Russia: Energy, Weapons Bring Moscow Closer To Algiers," rferl.org, March 10, 2006). PM
 GERMAN LEADER FAILS TO EASE POLISH FEARS ABOUT RUSSIAN ENERGYChancellor Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski made visible efforts during Kaczynski's October 30 visit to Berlin to address long-standing strains in bilateral relations and project a friendly atmosphere, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on October 31. In response to Polish concerns about Europe's growing dependency on Russian energy supplies, Merkel stressed the importance of setting up a joint European gas market and added that Germany will work toward that goal during its EU chairmanship in the first half of 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24 and October 20 and 24, 2006). She said that the common gas market will provide guarantees for Poland and the Baltic states, which fear that Moscow might use energy supplies as a political weapon against them, as it already has in 2006 against Ukraine and Lithuania. Merkel mentioned that gas supplies from Norway are a particular option in such a case. She nonetheless failed to allay Polish concerns about the proposed Russo-German North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP), which bypasses Poland. Kaczynski has been unwilling to accept her offer to include Poland in the project, because that would do nothing to ease Warsaw's main fear, which is that Europe has already become too dependent on Russia as a source of energy. During the January 2006 Ukrainian gas crisis, Polish leaders called on consumers to form an "energy NATO" to protect their interests. PM
 CONFUSION OVER RUSSIA'S WTO BID CONTINUESU.S. and Russian negotiators "are close to a bilateral trade agreement that would remove a big hurdle to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), but the self-imposed deadline [of October 31] will not be met," Britain's "Financial Times" reported on October 31, citing unnamed "U.S. trade officials." The daily noted, however, that unspecified Russian media reports are less optimistic. Recently, leaders of 13 major U.S. companies reportedly wrote to President George W. Bush to request Russia's speedy admission to the WTO, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported on October 30. The paper suggested that the businessmen apparently feel that bilateral talks are not succeeding and that intervention by the two countries' presidents is necessary to break the deadlock. The businessmen's letter was not published, but was reportedly given to the daily by Russian WTO negotiators. "Kommersant" wrote on October 26 that Russia might pull out of membership talks unless an agreement with the United States is reached soon. The paper added that President Putin made this point to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on October 21 in Moscow. Some other top Russian officials have, however, recently sent positive signals about their country's prospects for membership. German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said in Moscow on October 31 that he expects WTO membership talks to be concluded "in a few days," RIA Novosti reported. Some observers suggest that Moscow is conducting a political or psychological campaign aimed at an early resolution of the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 31, August 18, and October 26, 2006, and "Russia: WTO Becomes Long-Term Issue For Relations With U.S.," rferl.org, July 24, 2006). PM
 EGYPTIAN LEADER WANTS THIRD TERM FOR PUTINEgyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted by the daily "Vremya novostei" of October 30 as saying that Russians should change their constitution to enable President Putin to run for a third term when his current mandate runs out in 2008. Mubarak, who is slated to visit Russia soon, argued that "Russia needs Putin.... He knows well the situation in Russia and the world. He understands everything. Let him stay." Mubarak, whose country is one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign and military aid, chided Russians for limiting the president to two terms as an "imitation" of American practice. "You criticize the Americans but then you imitate what they do," he added. Mubarak is the first foreign leader to openly advocate that Putin serve a third presidential term, although several dozen Russian regional officials have called this year for a constitutional amendment to enable him to do so. Putin has opposed any such move on the grounds that he would have no legitimacy if he changed the laws to suit his own purposes. He has not been explicit, however, as to whether he would accede to a constitutional change if there were widespread popular "demand" for it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, July 18, and September 11 and 24, 2006). Mubarak, who has been his Egypt's president since 1981, received military training in the Soviet Union and headed an Egyptian military delegation to that country in 1964. PM
 MAYORAL ELECTION IN FAR EAST POSTPONED UNTIL SPRINGFederal election authorities announced on October 30 that the mayoral election in Dalnegorsk in Primorsky Krai will be held in March 2007, regions.ru reported. Electoral officials cancelled a runoff slated for October 22 after the candidates withdrew following the killing of former Mayor and prominent candidate Dmitry Fotyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 20, and 23, 2006). Fotyanov was one of at least two first-round candidates belonging to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Russian media reports on Dalnegorsk and nearby areas published in the aftermath of the killing have suggested that political and criminal circles there are frequently closely connected. Much money stands to be made in Primorsky Krai through largely illegal logging for sales to the Japanese market. PM
 FORUM IN DAGHESTAN PROTESTS ABDUCTIONSSome 1,000 people participated in a so-called people's forum in Khasavyurt on October 28 to protest the ongoing wave of abductions of local residents, chechenpress.org and kavkaz.memo.ru reported on October 30. Some 70 residents of Khasavyurt, the population of which is up to 30 percent Chechen, have been abducted over the past two years. Most participants in the forum, which was organized by Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov with the approval of President Mukhu Aliyev, are convinced that security forces loyal to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov are behind those kidnappings, but stopped short of accusing Kadyrov outright. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR'S BROTHER ELECTED MAYOR OF YEREVAN DISTRICTRuben Hovsepian, whose brother Aghvan is Armenia's prosecutor-general, was elected mayor of Yerevan's Ajapniak district on October 29 with some 76 percent of the vote, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. His main challenger, Gagik Sargsian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, the junior partner in the Armenian coalition government, polled 13 percent and Ishkhan Arshakian, head of the Ajapniak branch of the Zhoghovrdavarakan Ughi (Democratic Path) party, 10 percent. Voter turnout was only 25 percent. Aghvan Hovsepian is believed to harbor political ambitions; the supposedly apolitical Nig-Aparan group he heads is the driving force behind a recently formed new political party named Association for Armenia that hopes to make a strong showing in the parliamentary ballot due in the spring of 2007. LF
 ARMENIAN OUTMIGRATION QUANTIFIEDAt least 900,000-1 million people have left Armenia since 1992 to seek employment abroad, primarily in Russia, Gagik Yeghanian, head of the Armenian government Migration Agency, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on October 30. The Armenian population at the time of the 1989 Soviet census was 3.28 million; as of July 1, 2006, it was 3.22 million, according to Noyan Tapan on August 24. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LAUNCHES HUNGER STRIKESix members of political parties aligned in the Azadlyq bloc began a hunger strike in Baku on October 30 to protest the ongoing official crackdown on media freedom. zerkalo.az reported on October 31. The participants further demand that the legal proceedings aimed at evicting the editorial staff of the independent newspaper "Azadlyq" from the offices it currently occupies on the grounds that it allegedly owes $35,000 in back rent be dropped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). LF
 GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES REPORTED CLASH IN SOUTH OSSETIAGela Bezhuashvili denied on October 31 Russian media reports that four armed Georgians were shot dead early that morning near the village of Kvaisa in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told Interfax the men were planning to stage a series of terrorist attacks on South Ossetian territory. But Bezhuashvili dismissed the reports as "disinformation" intended to fuel tensions in the region. On October 30, Kokoity told Interfax that he would accept Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's invitation to a face-to-face meeting only if Saakashvili agreed that the two sides sign a memorandum on the nonresumption of hostilities and abjuring the use of force, Caucasus Press reported. Also on October 30, members of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone claimed that Georgia violated the existing agreements on the deployment of troops in that zone by exceeding the maximum number of servicemen who may be deployed there, lenta.ru reported. LF
 FORMER PUTIN ADVISER WILL NOT WORK FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENTThe Georgian State Chancellory rejected on October 30 as untrue Russian media reports that Andrey Illarionov, a former adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been offered a comparable position as adviser to President Saakashvili, gazeta.ru reported. Illarionov recently attended an economics conference in Tbilisi during which he met with Saakashvili, according to lenta.ru on October 30. Illarionov too told ITAR-TASS on October 30 that the rumors were unfounded. Former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, who was named an economic adviser to Saakashvili six months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2006), is to relinquish that post as he has been nominated again to serve as prime minister, according to the Russian daily "Kommersant" on October 30 as quoted by Caucasus Press. LF
 GEORGIAN PRISON CHIEF REJECTS ALLEGATIONS OF TORTURE, MISTREATMENTBacho Akhalaya, who has overall responsibility for the Georgian penitentiary system, rejected on October 30 claims by ombudsman Sozar Subar that prisoners at Rustavi's Prison No. 6 are subjected to abuse and even torture, Caucasus Press reported. Subar called for an immediate investigation into allegations that prisoners are forced to strip naked in their cells. Akhalaya for his part rejected those allegations as untrue, and demands for his resignation as unfounded. Subar has repeatedly criticized Akhalaya, whose brutal treatment of prisoners at a Tbilisi jail is widely believed to have triggered a mass protest in March of this year in which at least six people died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27 and 28 and June 6, 2006, and End Note, March 30, 2006). LF
 KAZAKH TO HELP CHINA WITH 2008 OLYMPIC SECURITYAmangeldy Shabdarbaev, the head of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), has reached an agreement with China's State Security Ministry for the KNB to assist in providing security for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on October 30. The agreement was reached during a recent visit by Shabdarbaev to Beijing, where he met with Luo Gan, a member of China's Political Bureau Standing Committee. A KNB press release stated, "Luo Gan noted a high level of cooperation between the two countries' special services in the fight against international terrorism and extremism, and expressed gratitude to the Kazakh side for specific and effective assistance provided to the State Security Ministry in these areas." DK
 KAZAKH HEALTH MINISTER HOLDS MEETING ON HIV SCANDALAnatolii Dernovoi met in Astana on October 27 with U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan John Ordway; Mikhail Favorov, a representative of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control; and Kerry Pelzman, a USAID representative, to discuss the recent infection of children with the HIV virus in the South Kazakhstan region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11 and 25, 2006), Interfax reported. Nearly 80 children have thus far been found to have been infected with HIV while they were in hospital and a few have already died from AIDS. DK
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENTKurmanbek Bakiev addressed parliament on October 30 as Kyrgyzstan's opposition continued preparations for a large rally in Bishkek on November 2, ferghana.ru reported. Bakiev focused on the slow pace of constitutional reform, allegations of personal corruption, and the upcoming opposition rally. Bakiev blamed parliament for delays in reviewing draft constitutions, promising to send his own version of a draft constitution to legislators by November 20, RFE/RL reported. Responding to opposition calls for a national unity government, Bakiev reminded lawmakers that they had approved the current cabinet, and that they can hold a "no confidence" vote if they wish. Bakiev said that he opposes the transformation of state television into a public broadcaster. And he rejected allegations that members of his family have profited from his office, asking accusers to present proof. DK
 KYRGYZ LEGISLATORS RECEIVE RUSSIAN ANSWER ON ALLEGED OLIGARCH VISITKyrgyz lawmakers have received a reply from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office to their query about an alleged visit to Kyrgyzstan by out-of-favor Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, akipress.org reported on October 30. The response, dated October 20, was published by the news agency 24.kg. It stated that Russian prosecutors confirmed that Berezovsky visited Bishkek on July 29, leaving the next day, and noted that on September 18 the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office sent an official inquiry to Kyrgyz colleagues, asking why they failed to detain Berezovsky, who is wanted on a number of criminal charges in Russia. DK
 TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER BLASTS UPCOMING ELECTIONRahmatullo Zoirov, the head of Tajikistan's opposition Socialist Party, told Reuters in an October 30 interview that the country's November 6 presidential election is "just another declaration of totalitarianism." Zoirov continued, "[Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov's] four rival candidates are there only to support one single candidate -- the incumbent president." Zoirov, whose party is boycotting the election, predicted turnout of only 30 percent but warned, "If people don't turn up, they [the authorities] will cast ballots in their names." Zoirov concluded, "Perhaps people today don't understand what is really going on in Tajikistan and why the authorities are abusing their power. Because what we see today is nothing more than the abuse of power, nothing more than grabbing power illegally." DK
 BELARUSIAN YOUTH ACTIVIST GOES ON TRIALA district court in Minsk on October 30 began a trial behind closed doors of Zmitser Dashkevich, a leader of the opposition organization Youth Front, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Dashkevich is charged with running an unregistered organization. He was remanded in a pretrial detention center on September 15. Several hundred associates of Dashkevich staged a protest outside the courthouse, walking around the building with their hands behind their heads. Journalists, opposition politicians, and foreign diplomats, including the United States and German ambassadors, who came to the courthouse, were not allowed to attend the hearing. Meanwhile, the same day a court in Hrodna sentenced Andrey Kusyalchuk, an aide to opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich, to three days in jail on charges of using obscene language in a public place. JM
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT IDENTIFIES CUBA AS FOREIGN-POLICY PRIORITYAlyaksandr Lukashenka said in Minsk on October 30 that Cuba is one of the priorities of Belarus's foreign policy, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. Lukashenka was meeting with Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, chairman of Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power. According to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, in 2005 trade between the two countries amounted to $18.9 million, which was a nearly 50-percent decrease from the level of 2004. Belarus's mostly exports trucks, tractors, and spare parts for them to Cuba, while purchasing Cuban raw sugar cane. JM
 UKRAINIAN PREMIER SUGGESTS PROLONGING DEPLOYMENT OF RUSSIAN FLEET IN CRIMEA...Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in Kyiv on October 30 that the current Ukrainian-Russian agreement on the deployment of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea until 2017 could be prolonged beyond that year, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yanukovych denied the allegations that the issue of the Black Sea Fleet was somehow linked to reaching last week's deal on gas deliveries to Ukraine in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 2006). JM
 ...AND PREDICTS SENDING WTO-RELATED BILLS TO PARLIAMENT BY MID-DECEMBERPrime Minister Yanukovych also told journalists in Kyiv on October 30 that the government is planning to submit to parliament by mid-December a dozen bills required for Ukraine's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yanukovych earlier predicted that his cabinet would send the required bills to the Verkhovna Rada by mid-November. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine lawmaker Ksenya Lyapkina said the same day that this year the Verkhovna Rada is unlikely to endorse all of the bills Ukraine needs to pass toward WTO membership. Lyapkina noted that Ukraine's accession to the WTO will be delayed by the government and the ruling coalition, which in her opinion do not want to move quickly on the issue. "This is a political will dictated from outside Ukraine," she added. JM
 EU SAYS SERBIAN REFERENDUM NOT RELATED TO KOSOVA'S FINAL STATUS...European Commission spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said on October 30 that Serbia's newly approved constitution is unrelated to a decision on Kosova's final status, B92, Beta, and AP reported the same day. In a referendum on October 28-29, Serbian voters passed a new constitution that claims Kosova as part of its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30, 2006). "The issue of the future status of Kosovo is a separate matter," Nagy was quoted by AP as saying. She added that the voter list used in the two-day referendum was from 2001 and did not include most of Kosova's population. Likewise, Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said the vote will not have "any impact at all" on the province's drive for independence, AP reported. "We consider it very irrelevant," he said, adding that it "does not deserve any comment from us." BW
 ...AS THINK TANK ALLEGES FRAUDAlso on October 30, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the constitutional referendum was tainted by fraud, AP reported. "Witnesses and videotape evidence indicate that many voters were permitted not only to vote without providing photographic identification, but also to vote for persons other than themselves and to cast multiple ballots simultaneously," the group said in a statement. "The entire referendum process was deliberately skewed in advance by the authorities.... The number of independent observers was limited, so that effective monitoring was available at no more than 18 percent of the country's 8,375 polling places. Foreign observers were present in such small numbers that they could monitor fewer than 1 percent of the polling places," the statement added. BW
 SERBIAN RADICAL PARTY LEADER WANTS COMPROMISE ON ELECTIONS...Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) parliamentary caucus, said on October 30 that a law regulating the constitution's implementation may need to wait until a compromise can be reached on the date for new elections, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "I am not optimistic about this happening by the end of the year," Nikolic said. "I expect the elections to take place next year, and in succession." On October 5, President Boris Tadic called for both presidential and parliamentary elections to be held by the end of the year, adding that he plans to seek reelection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 2006). Tadic's proposal has however met with opposition from the SRS and some members of the liberal G17 Plus party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19 and 25, 2006). BW
 ...AS OTHER SERBIAN PARTIES STAKE OUT POSITIONSA spokeswoman for Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said on October 30 that the DSS is willing to compromise to ensure elections take place soon, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "DSS is truly ready to reach any kind of agreement," Andreja Mladenovic said. "We all agree that we need elections, as soon as possible, and on all levels. We will see what the parties agree to." But Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) has insisted on simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of the year. "Not every topic in this country can be the subject of political, that is, party deals. We have all had enough of that," deputy parliament speaker and DS member Milan Markovic said. "Presidential and parliamentary elections [must take place] in December. That is the DS's demand," he added. BW
 DAILY SAYS UN ENVOY PROPOSES CONDITIONAL 'INDEPENDENCE' FOR KOSOVAThe Prishtina-based daily newspaper "Ekspres" reported on October 30 that the draft status solution UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari has presented to the Contact Group proposes a form of conditional independence for Kosova, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "The word 'independence' does not appear in the document, but it is clear that the jurisdiction that is being given leads to independence with limited sovereignty," the daily quoted an unidentified diplomat from a Contact Group country as saying. "Nothing that was not already expected will happen, both sides already knew that it would end this way, more or less," the official added. Ahtisaari presented the 53-page document on October 21 to the Contact Group, which comprises Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States. According to the diplomat quoted by "Ekspres," the international community will continue its presence in Kosova and the province will have neither a seat in the United Nations, a foreign minister, nor a military. BW
 GERMANY CONSIDERS TROOP REDUCTION IN BOSNIAGerman Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said on October 29 that Berlin will seek to withdraw some of its 843 soldiers from Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa and AP reported the next day. "We will want to speak in December about how the exit strategy...looks in concrete terms," Jung told ZDF television in an interview broadcast late on October 29. "A step-by-step plan is part of the view and that way too, we will achieve a reduction," he said. Jung's spokesman Thomas Raabe said on October 30 that any decision will be made in consultation with other European countries. "At the end of the year, we will sit down together and discuss this," Raabe said, adding that the reductions could begin in the first half of 2007. The European peacekeeping force EUFOR has 6,000 troops in Bosnia and has been considering reducing that number to 1,500. Meanwhile, the British daily "The Guardian" on October 30 quoted British Defense Secretary Des Browne as saying London is also considering drawing down its troops in Bosnia. BW
 GERMANY SUSPENDS DIPLOMAT IN MOLDOVA OVER ALLEGED VISA FRAUDGermany announced on October 30 that it has suspended one of its diplomats working in Chisinau on suspicion of taking bribes for entry visas, dpa reported the same day. An unidentified official told dpa that the German Foreign Ministry discovered that 70 visas were improperly issued in Moldova between November 2005 and September 2006. The official said the diplomat has been suspended pending an investigation and the case has been reported to German prosecutors. BW
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CALLS ON NATO TO TAKE GREATER PRECAUTIONS IN AFGHANISTAN...The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on October 30 for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to take greater care in its military operations in Afghanistan in order to avoid injuring or killing civilians. In a press statement, it said: "While NATO forces try to minimize harm to civilians, they obviously are not doing enough," Sam Zarifi, HRW's Asia research director, said. "NATO's tactics are increasingly endangering the civilians that they are supposed to be protecting, and turning the local population against them," he added. Most recently, dozens of civilians were reported to have been killed in ISAF bombing missions in southern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 27 and 30, 2006). ISAF has admitted that at least 12 civilians were killed in Kandahar Province. Many Afghans "looked forward to NATO's deployment because they thought the force would protect Afghan civilians and help with reconstruction," Zarifi said. He added, however, that "NATO won't win the trust of Afghans by showing disregard for civilian lives and property." The increase in civilian casualties has placed the administration of President Hamid Karzai in a dilemma and has provided the neo-Taliban with more political ammunition to portray the authorities in Kabul as supporting the killing of innocent civilians. AT
 ...AND RECOMMENDS ESTABLISHMENT OF COMPENSATION PROGRAMHRW called on NATO to establish a program to compensate Afghans who have lost family members, are injured, or suffer property damage due to ISAF military activities. Although an ISAF statement expressed regret about civilian casualties in the recent bombings, it denied any wrongdoing, the HRW statement said. While the Taliban and other insurgent forces have in the past placed civilians at risk by using populated areas to launch attacks on NATO and Afghan government forces, it is incumbent on NATO to take all feasible precautions when attacking areas in which civilians may be present, the statement added. HRW also expressed support for the call by the U.S.-based organization Campaign for Innocent Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) that NATO should immediately create a program to provide monetary compensation for civilian death, injury, or property damage resulting from military operations. "Compensating injured civilians is the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do," Zarifi said, pointing that this practice "has been U.S. policy, and there's no reason it shouldn't be NATO policy as well." AT
 SLOVAKIA URGED TO MOVE FORCES TO SOUTHERN AFGHANISTANNATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in Bratislava on October 30 that Slovak troops in Kabul should be relocated to southern Afghanistan, the Czech news agency CTK reported. De Hoop Scheffer said that by moving its 57 soldiers to southern Afghanistan, Slovakia would show solidarity with other NATO members. He added, though, that the final decision is up to Bratislava. The "basic condition is the safety and protection of our people," Fico told de Hoop Scheffer, without giving a firm answer to de Hoop Scheffer's request. However, Fico made it clear that his country will not send more troops to Afghanistan. NATO has faced a shortage of troops for its Afghan mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2006). AT
 GERMANY HAS 20 SUSPECTS IN AFGHAN 'SKULL AFFAIR'The German Defense Ministry has identified 20 suspects in the case of the suspected desecration of dead bodies by German soldiers serving with ISAF in Afghanistan, ddp reported on October 30. A Defense Ministry spokesman said that two active-duty soldiers have been suspended in the case. The affair, which began on October 24 when the mass-circulation "Bild" newspaper began publishing photos of German soldiers posing with a human skull and skeleton, has outraged Germans and sparked international condemnation of the conduct (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 27, 2006). AT
 NUCLEAR WATCHDOG CRITICIZES IRAN OVER NUCLEAR PROGRAMInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in Vienna on October 30 that the agency cannot confirm that the Iranian nuclear program is solely peaceful, Reuters reported, and he noted Iran's failure to suspend uranium-enrichment activities or to act transparently. In the agency's annual report, el-Baradei said: "The IAEA continues, therefore, to be unable to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, which is a matter of serious concern," he said. On the same day in Tehran, Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Supreme National Security Council, told visiting German legislators that el-Baradei has said repeatedly that there is nothing "wayward" about the program, ISNA reported. Rohani said the current controversy over the nuclear program should be resolved through diplomacy, and he denounced perceived U.S. efforts to interfere with Iran-EU contacts. Rohani said a UN Security Council resolution on the Iranian nuclear program would have no legal standing. BS
 IRAN ANTICIPATES UN SANCTIONSAs the UN Security Council considers a draft resolution on the Iranian nuclear program, commentators in the country are looking on with interest. One such person, identified only as "Mr. Enadi," said on state television on October 30 that ratification of the resolution is likely, but Security Council members differ over the severity of sanctions. Enadi said Iranian compliance with international demands would lead to an immediate halt in the sanctions. By inaugurating its heavy-water project in August and starting a second cascade of centrifuges more recently, Enadi continued, Iran is sending a message that it has "reached the point of no return as far as the nuclear issue is concerned." An editorial in the hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily on October 30 also examined the possibility of sanctions. It said the activation of the second cascade sends a message that Iran "makes use of such opportunities to advance its nuclear knowledge and has no fear of threats and intimidation." An additional 30-day extension of the deadline to halt its activities, the editorial added, gives Iran "a chance to take a few more steps ahead and get closer to the nuclear knowledge stipulated and provided by the IAEA regulations." BS
 IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SEIZES FOUNDATION'S FARMLANDSThe Agriculture Jihad Ministry has taken possession of more than 400,000 hectares of farmland in Sarakhs, in northeastern Iran, Mashhad television reported on October 27. An unnamed farmers' representative said the land belonged to the Imam Reza Shrine Foundation (Astan-i Qods Razavi), and the deed now belongs to the ministry. No explanation for the seizure was reported. BS
 ECONOMIC COOPERATION ORGANIZATION MEETS IN TEHRANOn the first day of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) meeting in Tehran on October 30, Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi called for cooperation among the members' provinces, IRNA reported. The meeting is for the interior ministers from ECO member states Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Working together in the political and security fields will contribute to economic development, he added. Organized crime, terrorism, and trafficking of arms, drugs, and humans are among the problems the region faces, Pur-Mohammadi said. Also on October 30, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told the ECO meeting that member states should have greater interaction with major regional institutions, IRNA reported. Mottaki called for equal economic growth throughout the region. He added that one of the member states should host a strategic studies center, and that Iran could help in the planning of such an entity. Mottaki added, "One of Iran's main foreign-policy strategies is based on cooperation with regional states to solve a major part of the problems facing the region and promote security, welfare, development, and the economic situation of the regional nations." BS
 IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS HAMAS, JIHAD CHIEFS IN DAMASCUSDuring a brief visit to Damascus on October 28-29, Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki met in the Iranian Embassy with Hamas Political Bureau chief Khalid Mishaal and deputy chief Musa Abu-Marzuk, as well Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Secretary-General Ramadan Abdallah Shallah and his deputy Ziad Nikhalah, London's Arabic-language "Al-Hayah" newspaper reported on October 30. Also present was Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hassan Akhtari. Anonymous "Palestinian sources" quoted Mottaki as saying, "the Islamic and national forces [need to] strengthen their alliance to foil the American project." Mottaki reportedly said, "There is an American onslaught against the region.... The Americans are trying to create problems. We are trying our best to foil the American project, because the aim of this project is to destroy the region. This is an Israeli project. If disagreements intensify in the region, this would serve Israel." Mottaki also pledged continuing Iranian support for Hamas and the PIJ, which the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. Unnamed "Iranian diplomatic sources" also said Mottaki met with the Hamas and PIJ leaders, London's Arabic-language "Al-Qods al-Arabi" reported on October 30. BS
 TEHRAN AND DAMASCUS AGREE TO SUPPORT BAGHDADUnnamed "Iranian diplomatic sources" said Tehran and Damascus have agreed to support the government in Iraq, London's Arabic-language "Al-Qods al-Arabi" reported on October 30. Tehran and Damascus are motivated by the hope that the existence of a stable government will hasten the departure of foreign forces from Iraq. At the end of his trip to Syria, Foreign Minister Mottaki said on October 29 that Tehran-Damascus ties benefit the region, IRNA reported. Mottaki arrived in Damascus on October 28, and that evening he submitted a letter from Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian Arab Television TV1 reported. Ahmadinejad's letter focused on Iraqi and Palestinian developments. BS
 IRAQI PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST U.S. WITHDRAWAL...Jalal Talabani warned against a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in an interview with Paris-based "Le Figaro" published on October 31. "Any decision on a withdrawal must be made on the basis of mutual interests. There is a consensus in Iraq among the political forces that an immediate withdrawal would have disastrous effects for our country, but also for the Middle East and for the entire world," he said. "There is agreement on this between Republicans and Democrats in the United States. I hope that there is a similar understanding of the problem in Europe." Talabani said multinational forces must remain in Iraq until Iraqi forces can take over responsibility for security. "Until then, talks must not focus on establishing a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but on the objectives to be set for Iraqi forces, so that they can continue to assume responsibility for security in the regions," he said. KR
 ...AND DISCUSSES FUTURE OF BA'ATH PARTY, AL-QAEDAPresident Talabani told "Le Figaro" that the Ba'ath Party should remain banned in Iraq, the daily reported on October 31. "It seems right to ban the Ba'athists now. But individually, as party members, they are entitled to take part in their country's political life, as long as they have a clean criminal record," he said. Asked about the power of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Talabani said: "Al-Qaeda's influence is waning. Its strength stems from its alliance with the Saddamists and also from the financial help that it receives from abroad. But the Sunni [Arab] tribes of Al-Anbar [Governorate] have started combating Al-Qaeda.... They must be supported." KR
 IRAQI NATIONAL RECONCILIATION CONFERENCE POSTPONED AGAINIraqi officials have reportedly announced that a national reconciliation conference will be delayed for a second time, pending further negotiations between participants, dpa reported on October 31. The officials did not set a new date for the conference, which was first slated to be held in October and then delayed until November 4. According to the news agency, organizers are now planning a mid-November date. Iraqi officials are currently engaged in talks with members of the resistance in Amman, Jordan. "The postponement of the [reconciliation] meeting aims at giving more time for dialogue and consultation with all shades of the Iraqi political spectrum, both inside and outside Iraq," said Falih al-Fayyad, a legislator and the apparent head of the Iraqi government delegation to the talks. According to dpa, the delegation may meet with members of the resistance in Syria and the United Arab Emirates following the talks in Amman. Meanwhile, Mukhtar Lamani, the Arab League representative to Iraq, said on October 31 that the reconciliation conference's preparatory committee is planning to meet within days to finalize preparations for the conference, MENA reported. KR
 ISLAMIC ARMY IN IRAQ CLAIMS TO HAVE PRODUCED MISSILEThe Islamic Army in Iraq has announced in a statement that it has developed a surface-to-surface missile for use in attacks against U.S. forces, Al-Jazeera television reported on October 30. The insurgent group released a video showing the missile under production. The missile is named Abir after the 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was allegedly raped and killed by U.S. soldiers in Al-Mahmudiyah earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). It reportedly has a range of 20 kilometers and carries a 20-kilogram warhead, according to the news channel. KR
 IRAQI KURDISH DEPUTIES CALL FOR PRISON INSPECTIONSSeveral parliamentarians in the Kurdish regional parliament called for prison inspections during an October 30 debate on the prison system in the region, "Hawlati" reported the same day. The call follows reports by the parliament's Human Rights, Legal, and Health committees that followed visits to the prisons, parliament deputy Sozan Shahab said. The deputy said a general amnesty for prisoners has also been proposed in the parliament, but it is opposed by the region's justice and interior ministers. According to "Hawlati" there is an official prison in each of the region's three governorates -- Irbil, Al-Sulaymaniyah, and Dahuk -- which together hold some 1,342 prisoners, including 29 women and 113 teenagers. So-called secret prisons also reportedly exist in the Kurdish region but the number of prisons and detainees held is not known. KR
 IRAQ'S HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM ON VERGE OF COLLAPSEBy Sumedha Senanayake
The working conditions of Iraqi doctors have become increasingly difficult as they toil in a health-care system on the brink of collapse and attempt to treat Iraqis injured by the ongoing violence. At the same time, Iraqi doctors have found themselves being targeted by both insurgents and Iraqi security forces.
Before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq's health-care system was already crippled by the eight-year war with Iran, the first Gulf War in 1991, and more than 12 years of UN sanctions from 1991-2003. The unrelenting violence since the invasion has now brought Iraq's health-care system to the brink of collapse. More troubling is the possibility that the system is in such dire condition that many of those who die from their injuries due to terrorist and sectarian violence could have been saved if Iraq's hospitals were functioning properly.
Iraqi hospitals lack basic medical supplies and many of them function without medicines, disinfectants, surgical instruments, clean bedding and anesthesia. As a result, Iraqis have had to rely on buying medical equipment such as oxygen supplies and medicines on the black market, where prices are often exorbitant.
Furthermore, emergency rooms in many Iraqi hospitals are unable to cope with the overwhelming demand due to the ongoing violence. Emergency rooms extend into overcrowded hallways with not much more than beds, oxygen bottles, and fluid-siphoning instruments. Radiology equipment and laboratory services are virtually nonexistent. These difficulties are further compounded by the lack of experienced medical personnel, many of whom have either fled or been killed.
Dr. Bassim al-Sheibani, an Iraqi physician, wrote in the "British Medical Journal" on October 20 that many Iraqi doctors lack the proper experience to deal with the influx of the wounded and many patients have died as a result of inexperienced staff.
"Emergency departments are staffed by doctors who do not have the proper experience or skills to manage emergency cases. Medical staff...admit that more than half of those killed could have been saved if trained and experienced staff were available," he said.
Efforts to rebuild Iraq's medical infrastructure have been placed on hold as more funds have been shifted to security. Meanwhile, Iraqi doctors and medical personnel have urged the international community to commit more resources to rebuilding the country's shattered hospitals and clinics.
In the first 14 months after the 2003 invasion, the United Kingdom and the United States spent almost $20 billion on reconstruction in Iraq, with hundreds of millions aimed at rebuilding the network of 180 hospitals and clinics. However, billions have been lost through a combination of corruption, criminal activity, mismanagement, and incompetence, the "Belfast Telegraph" reported on October 20.
In fact, the situation has become so bleak that, according Amar al-Saffar, an official in charge of construction at the Iraqi Health Ministry, not a single hospital has been built since the Al-Khadimiyah Hospital opened in 1986 in Baghdad, London's "The Times" reported on October 21. Al-Saffar noted that the much touted $50 million project to build a pediatric hospital in Al-Basrah has remained unfinished because of financial mismanagement.
A senior Health Ministry official told "The Times," "It is the worst situation that the Ministry of Health has been in in its entire history."
Iraqi doctors face challenges beyond the lack of resources, as they have increasingly become targets of insurgents, militias, and the Iraqi police. The security situation has deteriorated to such an extent that thousands of doctors have fled the country.
The nonprofit group Medact estimated in a report released in March that 120 doctors and 80 pharmacists have been killed and more than 18,000 physicians have fled Iraq since 2003. Doctors have also become frequent targets of kidnappings, because they are viewed as relatively prosperous and kidnappers believe their families can afford to pay the ransom.
An Iraqi doctor, Peter Kandela, interviewed Iraqi medical personnel in Syria and Jordan who fled the violence, and discovered that doctors are actively sought after by insurgents and kidnappers. "In the new Iraq, there is a price tag linked to your position and status. Those doctors who have stayed in the country know what they are worth in kidnapping terms, and ensure their relatives have easy access to the necessary funds to secure their speedy release if they are taken," "The Times" quoted him on October 20 as saying.
In addition, doctors have complained that Iraqi police have threatened and attacked medical personnel who have been less than attentive to the needs of the police. On September 28, doctors at the Al-Yarmuk Hospital in Baghdad went on strike after Iraqi police burst into the facility and forced doctors to treat a wounded colleague. The doctors demanded an apology from the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, and called for a complete weapons ban in the hospital, the "San Francisco Chronicle" reported on September 30.
Health care is a basic and essential service and Iraq will continue to suffer needlessly if the system is not repaired. According to the Iraqi Health Ministry, 70 percent of deaths among children result from easily treatable conditions such as diarrhea and respiratory illness.
Furthermore, if basic services such as health care continue to be neglected, it may have serious repercussions for the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government continues to suffer from the perception of being weak in the eyes of some Iraqis -- incapable of reining in the militias, stopping the insurgency, stemming corruption, and providing basic services. If Iraqis are deprived of the most rudimentary services, such as basic health care, this can only reinforce this perception.
There have been signs of improvement in U.S. efforts to shore up Iraq's health-care system. According to a September report by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq, out of the more than $4 billion spent on reconstruction and emergency relief programs from 2003-06, $138 million was allocated to improve the health-care system.
In addition, USAID has provided skills training to more than 3,200 primary-care physicians and established training centers in five governorates to support local health-care training. USAID has also partnered with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization to assist the Iraqi Health Ministry to improve access to health care for all Iraqis.