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Newsline - September 8, 2005

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said after talks in Moscow that included Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov that Bejing and Moscow are laying the groundwork for good future relations, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 September. "We [China and Russia] have laid a solid foundation for relations of mutual trust, and these relations have good prospects," Fradkov said, adding of Cao, "Your personal contribution has ensured significant progress in bilateral military-technical cooperation." "Vedomosti" the following day quoted anonymous sources close to the purported deal as saying that that Russia will sell 38 military airplanes to China in a deal worth more than $1.5 billion. In an agreement that "Vedomosti" reported will be signed in Sochi on 9 September, Beijing will buy Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft and Il-78 refueling planes. Russia and China held their first-ever joint military exercises last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 August 2005). BW

A spokeswoman for Russia's permanent mission to the United Nations acknowledged corruption in the UN oil-for-food program but said an independent inquiry was too harsh, Interfax reported on 8 September. "Rather serious errors and facts of corruption have been revealed. But despite flaws, the humanitarian program demonstrated that such actions are possible and that the UN is providing real assistance to civilians in such situations," Maria Zakharova said. "We don't think it would be right to speak about the humanitarian program exclusively in negative terms." The independent probe alleged widespread corruption in the oil-for-food program. Commenting on allegations that Russian companies transferred more than $52 billion to Saddam Hussein's regime, Zakharova said the "report has much information which we'll thoroughly study." BW

A new investigation into the September 2004 Beslan school massacre will include questioning of senior security officials, Russian and international news agencies reported on 8 September, quoting prosecutors. "We will question all people who were linked to these tragic events -- regional leaders and the heads of the security services including [Interior Minister] Rashid Nurgaliev and [Federal Security Service Director] Nikolai Patrushev," Interfax quoted Vladimir Kolesnikov, a deputy general prosecutor, as saying. Many Beslan residents have blamed Nurgaliev and Patrushev for the massacre, in which 331 people, mostly children, died. On the first anniversary of the school siege, President Vladimir Putin promised Beslan residents that a new probe will be conducted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August and 1 and 2 September). BW

In a statement posted on on 4 September, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev claimed that on 3 September 2004 President Putin ordered Russian special forces to storm the Beslan school where Chechen militants were holding more than 1,000 children and their relatives hostage, rather than risk Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov emerging as their savior. Zakaev said an agreement was reached earlier on 3 September with the North Ossetian authorities that Maskhadov would be given safe passage to Beslan to negotiate with the hostage takers, who were demanding the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2004). LF

Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii informed election officials on 7 September that he plans to run for a seat in the State Duma in a by-election scheduled for December, Russian and international news agencies reported. "The information was sent from prison to the electoral commission," Interfax quoted Khodorkovskii's lawyer, Anton Drel, as saying. Khodorkovskii can run in the 4 December by-election for a seat representing southern Moscow because his appeal has not yet been heard. Khodorkovskii would be barred from running if an appellate court upheld his conviction. A court is scheduled to begin hearing Khodorkovskii's appeal later this week. BW

Retired Russian commando Vladimir Kvachkov, who is being held on suspicion of trying to assassinate United Energy Systems CEO Anatolii Chubais, also plans to run in the 4 December by-election in southern Moscow, Ekho Moskvy reported on 8 September, quoting unidentified sources from the Motherland party. Khodorkovskii and Kvachkov have met in Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina detention center and actually spent some time together in the same cell, reported on 8 September. BW

The State Duma held the first plenary meeting of its fall session on 7 September, Russian media reported. Some 550 draft laws have been submitted for consideration, and the Duma Council on 6 September identified 50 of them as high-priority items this session, including: the 2006 federal budget, scheduled for consideration in the first reading on 22 September; new versions of the Forest and Water codes; and a law on fighting terrorism. The Duma on 7 September unanimously approved in second and third readings amendments to the Russian Code on Administrative Violations, which would simplify the procedure for paying fines. Specifically, the law would require that official notices about fines contain information about the bank account to which the fine should be paid. According to the bill's author, independent Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin, citizens currently notified about fines often do not know where to transfer the payment. Also on 7 September, the Duma rejected a proposal by independent Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov to invite Aleksandr Torshin, head of the parliamentary commission investigating the 2004 hostage crisis in Beslan, to appear before the chamber on 9 September to brief deputies and answer their questions about the investigation. LB

Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov addressed the State Duma on 7 September concerning his ministry's plans for improving the health-care system, Russian media reported. New health-care projects proposed by President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005) are expected to cost 63 billion rubles ($2.2 billion) in 2006, which would nearly double planned federal expenditures on health care from 53.5 billion rubles to more than 101 billion rubles, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 September. Among other things, the additional funds will pay for higher salaries for doctors and nurses, new equipment, more preventive care, and more federal support for health care in poorer regions of the Russian Federation. Currently, regional medical insurance funds are financed with mandatory contributions from salaries, and Zurabov pointed out that regions with relatively low wages and/or a low percentage of working people have lower-quality medical services as a result. Zurabov announced that in light of the extra budget funding, his ministry will indefinitely postpone some reforms that he has previously advocated. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the delayed reforms include plans to replace some state hospitals and clinics with autonomous nonprofit organizations and to link reimbursement levels to the services that medical establishments provide to patients. LB

President Putin on 7 September nominated incumbent Bair Zhamsuev for governor of Agin-Buryat Autonomous Okrug, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Zhamsuev was elected to the State Duma from the okrug in 1995 and won gubernatorial elections there in 1997 and 2000. His current term expires in October. Speaking to "Kommersant-Daily," okrug Duma Chairman Dashi Dugarov predicted that the legislators will unanimously confirm Zhamsuev. Political observers in Agin-Buryat believe that the governor's meeting with Putin on 3 May was the crucial factor that allowed him to keep his job, according to "Kommersant-Daily." Zhamsuev told journalists that he and the president discussed social and economic conditions in the okrug and that Putin praised the work of the Agin-Buryat authorities. The governor also said that in his meeting with the president he raised the possibility of merging Agin-Buryat with Chita Oblast. When Putin responded that mergers should be motivated by economic efficiency and not the political situation, Zhamsuev concluded that the Kremlin is not insisting on a merger of Chita and Agin-Buryat. LB

The Ryazan Oblast Duma on 7 September elected Rafgat Altynbaev to represent the oblast in the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Altynbaev has close ties to Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov; he is deputy head of Mironov's Russian Party of Life and has served as Mironov's adviser since April. Introducing the nominee to the oblast Duma, Ryazan Governor Governor Georgii Shpak noted that both Mironov and the leadership of the Central Federal District backed Altynbaev's candidacy. From 1990 to 1999, Altynbaev was mayor of Naberezhnye Chelny, the second-largest city in the Republic of Tatarstan. In 2001, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev appointed him to the Federation Council, where he chaired the Committee on Local Self-Government. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Shaimiev, a member of Unified Russia, recalled Altynbaev in April 2003, at a time when the Russian Party of Life was organizing in Tatarstan in preparation for the 2003 State Duma elections. Altynbaev replaces Andrei Ishchuk, a Samara-based businessman who has represented Ryazan Governor Shpak in the Federation Council since the spring of 2004. Ishchuk resigned from that position when Samara Governor Konstantin Titov asked him to represent Samara in the upper house of the parliament. LB

Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev on 7 September officially requested that Prime Minister Fradkov take measures to stop "lawlessness" that is raising gasoline prices, RIA-Novosti and reported. Tuleev's letter to the prime minister noted that the Omsk oil refinery, which has a monopoly on supplying gasoline and other petroleum products to Kemerovo, has sharply increased prices for its products. The oblast authorities have no legal or economic recourse against the price hikes, which will significantly increase the cost of transportation, utilities, medicines, and other goods. The governor argued that the federal government should not tolerate such action by monopoly suppliers because it goes against President Putin's policy to raise living standards and salaries for budget-funded workers. Also on 7 September, Tuleev sent letters regarding the gas price issue to Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, Duma Speaker Boris Bryzlov, Federation Council Speaker Mironov, Federation of Independent Trade Unions Chairman Mikhail Shmakov, Federal Antimonopoly Service head Igor Artemev, as well as to the governors of Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and Omsk oblasts, and Altai and Krasnoyarsk krais. LB

Most of the more than two dozen deputies representing the opposition Artarutiun bloc and the National Accord Party (AMK) are ready to abandon their 18-month boycott of parliamentary proceedings, RFE.RL's Armenian Service reported on 7 September. The opposition parliamentarians staged a walkout in early February 2004 to protest the majority's refusal to debate proposed constitutional amendments that would have paved the way for a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2004). AMK Chairman Artashes Geghamian explained that the seven members of the AMK faction have concluded that participating in debates is the only way to demonstrate to the population the failings of the ruling three-party coalition. Viktor Dallakian, one of the leaders of the nine-party Artarutiun bloc, similarly said that "the people are asking us to participate in the work of the National Assembly and expose the real face of the regime." But former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun party leader Aram Sargsian told journalists on 7 September that he and Hanrapetutiun's second parliamentary deputy will not abandon their boycott. He said he is not afraid of being stripped of his mandate for absenteeism. LF

A spokesman for the Armenian Central Bank denied on 7 September that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is to introduce its own currency, Noyan Tapan reported. Some Russian media have quoted Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian as saying that Nagorno-Karabakh will introduce its own currency that will also circulate in Armenia parallel to the Armenian dram. The republic currently uses the dram as its currency. LF

In his first interview since his arrest on treason charges in late July, Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir, told on 8 September that the meeting in Tbilisi at which he allegedly accepted money from Armenian intelligence agents to destabilize the political situation in Azerbaijan was staged by Azerbaijani intelligence. He branded three participants in that meeting -- Yeni Fikir Deputy Chairman Osman Alimuradov (who reportedly precipitated Bashirli's arrest by denouncing him to the Azerbaijani authorities); Georgian NGO activist Merab Djibutia, who was arrested late last month, allegedly for illegally entering Azerbaijan from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2005); and a third Georgian named Giorgi Burdjanadze -- Azerbaijani intelligence agents. Bashirli said he accepted the sum of $2,000 from Djibutia, who told him his NGO recently received $100,000 from unnamed donors for promoting democracy. Following Bashirli's arrest, Azerbaijani television screened footage of him accepting money from men identified as Armenian secret service agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 8 and 9 August 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 15 August 2005). LF

The process of registration for candidates in the 6 November parliamentary elections ended on 7 September. Central Election Commission press service head Azer Saryev told Trend news agency the same day that a total of 2,059 candidates have been registered to contest the 125 mandates, according to on 8 September. Each candidate is entitled to 1 million manats ($220) from the state budget to cover campaign costs. Those parties and blocs that have registered candidates in no fewer than 60 constituencies qualify for three hours of free airtime per week on Azerbaijani State Television and the recently launched Public Television channel, Turan reported on 7 September. Meanwhile, Baku municipal authorities issued an appeal on 7 September imploring candidates not to stick campaign posters indiscriminately on buildings in the city, reported on 8 September. Instead, they may display posters (no larger than 1x2 meters) on special stands provided by local election commissions. LF

Meeting in Baku on 7 September with General Yasar Buyukanit, commander of Turkey's land forces, Ilham Aliyev expressed appreciation of Turkey's assistance in creating a strong Azerbaijani Army, and reported on 8 September. Aliyev affirmed that economic, political, and defense cooperation between the two countries contributes to stability throughout the region. LF

A federal grand jury on 7 September indicted Georgian citizen Vladimir Arutiunian on charges of trying to kill U.S. President George W. Bush and of possessing and using a firearm while committing a violent crime, Reuters reported. Arutiunian threw a hand grenade in the direction of the podium in Tbilisi where Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were addressing a huge crowd during Bush's visit to Georgia in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005). The grenade did not explode. Arutiunian was apprehended in late July following an exchange of fire in which he killed a Georgian policeman and was wounded. He has been charged in Georgia with murder and terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 July 2005). LF

President Saakashvili on 7 September condemned the assault the previous evening on Irakli Kakabadze, a journalist for the television station 202, Georgian media reported. Kakabadze was attacked and robbed by unidentified men and sustained head injuries. Georgian opposition parties linked the attack to the recent arrest of 202 founder Shalva Ramishvili on extortion charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 August 2005), but Kakabadze was quoted as saying he does not believe the incident was politically motivated. A second 202 journalist, Zaal Baidashvili, has been summoned to the Tbilisi city prosecutor's office on 8 September after giving contradictory testimony about the attack on Kakabadze, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, will not meet with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli in Tskhinvali on 15 September, South Ossetian Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev told journalists on 7 September, according to Caucasus Press. Tbilisi proposed that meeting last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). Chochiev said South Ossetia is not opposed to talks with Georgian leaders but that any such meeting should be thoroughly prepared and coordinated in advance. Also on 7 September, Ambassador Valerii Kenyaikin, who is Russia's representative on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) that monitors the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, told Interfax that the JCC will meet later this month in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, to discuss rising tensions in the conflict zone. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Girogi Khaindrava called on 26 August for the JCC to meet, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Tbilisi City Court on 7 September sentenced Sulkhan Molashvili, who served under former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze as Control Chamber Chairman, to nine years' imprisonment on charges of financial crimes, abuse of his official position, and misappropriating 1.5 million laris ($833,170), Georgian media reported. Molashvili was arrested in April 2004 and remanded in pretrial custody for 14 months, five months longer than the maximum permitted under Georgian law, during which time he was subjected to torture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 14 July, 26 October and 30 November 2004). He has appealed his mistreatment to the European Court of Human Rights. LF

Aslan Smirba, a former mayor of Batumi and head of the Georgian Merchant Shipping Company, was arrested in Batumi on 7 September and charged with embezzling some 200,000 laris ($111,087) in 1999, Georgian media reported. Smirba was at one time a close associate of ousted Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze, but Abashidze dismissed him after a major falling out. Smirba was summoned by prosecutors for questioning two months ago but subsequently released, according to the daily "24 saati" on 15 July. LF

Kazakhstan's lower chamber of parliament, the Mazhilis, approved a resolution on 7 September setting the presidential election for 4 December, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The session drew 67 deputies, all of whom supported the resolution. President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, have already announced their intentions to run. The Central Election Commission is expected to approve the official date shortly, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

In an appeal published by Navigator on 7 September, Alikhan Baimenov, chairman of the opposition party Ak Zhol, called on President Nazarbaev to hold a referendum on political reforms at the same time as the upcoming presidential ballot. Charging that Nazarbaev has declared many reform plans but implemented none, Baimenov stressed that the proposed referendum should raise the question of "political reform with an indication of concrete guidelines and timeframes for implementation." Also on 7 September, Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, leader of the opposition party Alga, Kazakhstan! (formed on the basis of the outlawed party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan; see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2005) and a member of For a Just Kazakhstan, told a news conference in Almaty that the opposition might boycott the presidential election if presumptive joint opposition candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai is barred from the ballot, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with Tuyakbai in Almaty on 7 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Citing the press service of For a Just Kazakhstan, the news agency reported that Clinton emphasized that all candidates in Kazakhstan's upcoming presidential election should have equal access to the media. The press service noted that the hour-long meeting focused on "issues relating to democratic development and human rights in our country." President Nazarbaev weighed in on Clinton's meeting with the opposition, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. "They [opposition leaders] probably asked for support, they probably asked for money," Nazarbaev said. "I have said that elections will take place and they will be transparent and that they will receive the recognition of the international community, and it is going to happen. However, Kazakhstan will not allow any interference in its internal affairs by any foreign country, any embassy or nongovernmental organization." DK

In an interview with the BBC's Kyrgyz Service on 7 September, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov partially supported recent charges by Uzbek officials that armed militants might have used Kyrgyz territory as a staging ground before the May violence in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). "As regards the accusations [by the Uzbek chief prosecutor's office] that some militants who took part in the Andijon events were Kyrgyz citizens, my answer is that, to some degree, this claim is justified because there have been cases when citizens of our country, as well as non-citizens, have acquired Kyrgyz passports by paying bribes," Kulov said. Kulov blamed Kyrgyzstan's weak border-protection and security services, but he noted that the government is taking steps to ameliorate the situation. "I think now, together with our partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with the help of Western nations, we will be able to resolve this problem, tighten border protection and strengthen our fight against drug trafficking," he said. Kulov's remarks contrast with recent statements by other Kyrgyz officials denying the Uzbek claims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005). DK

Jan Kubis, EU special representative for Central Asia, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 7 September, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Their discussion focused on bilateral cooperation with an emphasis on the need to boost trade ties. After the meeting, Kubis told journalists that the EU intends to help Tajikistan tighten border security. Kubis declined to provide details on the assistance, saying only, "I don't want to talk about sums," the BBC's Persian Service reported. He added, however, "The sum will be several million euros. What matters is that this future aid be effective." The handover of jurisdiction over the Tajik-Afghan border from Russia to Tajikistan was completed on 1 September, but Rustam Akramov, commander of Tajik border forces, told Interfax-AVN on 7 September that Tajikistan might continue to seek Russian assistance. "Should emergencies occur at individual sections,... we will request assistance from the operational advisory group of the Russian Federal Security Service's border guard service and units of [Russia's] 201st Motorized Rifle Division stationed in Tajikistan," Akramov said. DK

In separate statements on 7 September, Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat denied recent reports that the United States is negotiating with Turkmenistan over a possible military base there, and RFE/RL reported. The Foreign Ministry stated that "such fabricated information is absolutely false" and condemned Russian newspapers for "distributing such false information using extremely dubious and unworthy sources." It described the press reports as "clearly planned and obviously hostile to Turkmenistan," linking them to Turkmenistan's recent decision to downgrade its membership in the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2005). The statement noted that Turkmenistan summoned Russia's charge d'affaires in Ashgabat to register a complaint. On the U.S. side, Helen Lovejoy, the public-affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, told RFE/RL on 7 September that the rumors are groundless. "This has been clarified yesterday formally by Ambassador [Tracy Ann] Jacobson here in Ashgabat, and we can confirm that the United States government has no plans to establish military bases in Turkmenistan." Lovejoy said. "The subject itself [use of military bases] did not come up during the meeting of CentCom Commander General Abizaid with President Niyazov on 23 August. This meeting was apparently picked up by some Russian press and there were many inaccurate stories following the meeting." DK

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office issued a statement on 7 September suggesting that foreign organizations had advance knowledge that violence was going to take place in Andijon in early May, reported. "An information war against Uzbekistan was being prepared at the same time as the terrorist aggression," the statement said. "The 'stage managers' of these acts intended to create the impression of a city seized by a rebellious 'dissatisfied population,' against whom government forces allegedly conducted military operations. According to their plan, ubiquitous 'humanitarian' and 'charitable' international organizations were to ask for an end to, as they put it, 'the massacre of the peaceful population.'" The statement went on to imply that foreign media organizations were involved in planning the "terrorist aggression." It said, "The main role in this coverage of events was assigned to media controlled by [the "stage managers"]. To this aim, representatives of foreign human-rights organizations, media, and international charitable organizations, who had been informed in advance, began to gather in areas that border on Andijon such as Osh, Aravan, Karasuu, and Jalalabad before events even began, starting on 9-10 May, with some gathering even earlier." The Prosecutor-General's Office is presenting a report to parliament on violence in Andijon. The report has stressed the role of "external destructive forces" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). DK

Minsk Mayor Mikhail Paulau told journalists on 7 September that he has never prohibited the opposition from holding a congress in the capital to nominate an opposition candidate for the 2006 presidential election, Belapan reported. Paulau confirmed that the organizers of the congress applied for the relevant permission to the mayoralty, but added that it referred them to owners of premises that can host such events. Alyaksandr Dabravolski, deputy chairman of the opposition United Civic Party, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 7 September that the city authorities have not formally banned the gathering, but the organizers have no real opportunity to hold the congress in Belarus. He said the organizers approached all halls in Minsk and other cities across Belarus, but had their requests turned down. Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, head of the congressional organizing committee, said the previous day that local authorities across Belarus have denied the committee venues for holding the congress, which is expected to bring together some 800 delegates and guests. The committee is reportedly considering holding the congress in Ukraine or Russia. JM

Minsk has dismissed as unfounded the U.S. government's concerns about transit goods seizures in Belarus, Belapan reported on 7 September. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce advised U.S. businesses not to transit goods through Belarus, but to seek alternate routes. "The government of the Republic of Belarus routinely confiscates goods in transit through the country. These goods are seized and resold in a series of special shops throughout Belarus," the department said in a statement. "The statement is unfounded and obviously based on unreliable information," Belarus's State Customs Control Committee said in response. According to the committee, U.S. shipments account for 0.46 percent of the total road transit and 0.31 percent of all rail transit through Belarus. The committee stressed that confiscation is applied as an exceptional measure only to vehicles equipped with caches for contraband goods. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 8 September dismissed the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and accepted the resignation of National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) Secretary Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko told a special news conference that the government has lost its "team spirit," adding that many high-ranking government officials have forgotten about Orange Revolution ideals and begun advertising themselves to the public. Yushchenko also said he will ask Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Governor Yuriy Yekhanurov to form a new cabinet. Yekhanurov, as head of the State Property Fund under former President Leonid Kuchma, oversaw initial privatization in Ukraine in 1994-1997. JM

Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko said at a news conference in Kyiv on 8 September that he has tendered his resignation, citing corruption in the government, Ukrainian media reported. "I have realized that some steal while others are dismissed. I don't want to share responsibility with those people who have created a system of corruption," Tomenko said. "I don't want to work in a government in which it is possible to resolve any issue by addressing [just] two or three necessary people," he added. Tomenko said Ukraine has currently two cabinets -- an unofficial "oligarchic" one chaired by National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) Secretary Petro Poroshenko and a lawful one headed by Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. "The president [Viktor Yushchenko] hardly knows what the real situation looks like in Ukraine," Tomenko asserted. Tomenko's resignation follows that of presidential staff chief Oleksandr Zinchenko, who earlier this week accused the president's inner circle, including Poroshenko, of corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005). JM

RNBO Secretary Poroshenko issued a statement on 8 September saying that he is stepping down so as not to obstruct an official investigation into Zinchenko's charges against him and other presidential aides, Ukrainian media reported. "I realize that my further remaining in the post of RNBO secretary may be seen as an opportunity to exert pressure on the investigation," Poroshenko said. "[Therefore] I made a decision and yesterday submitted to the president a request to resign." Poroshenko stressed that Zinchenko's corruption allegations "have cynically and grossly affected" his honor and dignity. The Verkhovna Rada on 8 September supported a motion to strip Poroshenko of his parliamentary mandate, citing the law that prohibits officials from holding simultaneously a post in the government and a parliamentary seat. The same day, the Ukrainian Security Service chief Oleksandr Turchynov also tendered his resignation. "I think that the dismissal of the government under the current circumstances threatens Ukraine's national security," Turchynov said in a statement. JM

Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said in Belgrade on 6 September that the corruption scandal involving Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic could lead to the "collapse" of the joint state, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 September 2005). The following day, Serbian President Boris Tadic canceled a planned meeting of the joint state's Supreme Defense Council because the Davinic affair was not included on the agenda. Tadic told RFE/RL that it would be "an illusion to talk about some trivial questions while leaving aside the key issue of corruption at the highest level of the [Defense] Ministry." The governing G-17 Plus party, which recently expelled Davinic and called for his resignation, plans to introduce a resolution in the Serbian parliament soon demanding Davinic's replacement. Elsewhere, Nebojsa Covic, who is the president of the small Social Democratic Party (SDP), which recently left the governing coalition, accused G-17 Plus of provoking a crisis with the aim of destabilizing the joint state and the military. Meanwhile in Podgorica, the Montenegrin governing coalition announced that it is not yet ready to take an official position on the Davinic affair. PM

Slobodan Orlic, who is a leader of the SDP, submitted his resignation as head of Serbia and Montenegro's information department to President Marovic on 7 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," End Note, 29 August 2005). Orlic said that his decision to leave was of his own volition. He has nonetheless been under pressure from the Serbian government to give up the post ever since his party left the governing coalition in August. PM

In one of his first official acts since announcing that he has lung cancer, Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said in a declaration on 7 September that the constitution adopted by the Kosovar parliament in a clandestine session in Kacanik 15 years ago has become the foundation of an independent Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005). In 1988-89, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic abolished Kosova's autonomy guaranteed by the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions. The ethnic Albanian members of the legislature subsequently met in secret and on 2 July 1990 approved a declaration of sovereignty within Yugoslavia. On 7 September of that year, they adopted what has become known as the "Kacanik Constitution," which proclaimed Kosova a republic and served as the legal basis for the underground or shadow state Rugova led during Milosevic's rule until Kosova was liberated by NATO forces in June 1999. PM

Kosova's own police took over responsibility in the Prishtina area from international police in a ceremony on 6 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. This is the latest in a series of moves designed to transfer power from the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) to representatives of Kosova's elected authorities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). PM

An explosive device went off on 7 September outside the Prijedor home in the Republika Srpska of Rezak Hukanovic, who is the director of the independent television broadcaster 101, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Police said the windows of Hukanovic's house and that of a neighbor were blown out but nobody was hurt. This is the third attack on Hukanovic since he began broadcasting. PM

The Congress of Russian Communities in Moldova will not take part in an ethnic cultural festival scheduled for 18 September, Infotag reported on 7 September, quoting congress head Valerii Klimenko. He told journalists that this participation is impossible in view of the "barefaced and totally unfounded anti-Russian hysteria continuing in Moldova with the connivance of and often with direct support from the country's leadership." Klimenko demanded that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and "his puppet mass media" stop their "malicious attacks" against Russia. Klimenko warned that any further aggravation of relations with Moscow "will be disastrous first and foremost to ordinary Moldovans -- those hundreds of thousands of them who have found jobs in Russia and whose remittances have in fact ensured the survival of Voronin's anti-Russian government." JM


Iran and Afghanistan have been involved in a long-running dispute over access to the Hirmand River (aka Helmand River), which originates in mountains northwest of Kabul and flows some 1,000 kilometers before reaching Iran. Its waters are essential for farmers in Afghanistan, but it feeds into Lake Hamun and is also important to farmers in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province.

The dispute can be traced to the 1870s, writes Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, chairman of the Urosevic Research Foundation of London and professor of geopolitics at Tehran University, in a study for the United Nations Environment Program. At that time, Afghan rulers believed they could use the waters of the Hirmand River as they saw fit. Afghanistan was a British protectorate, furthermore, and British boundary arbitration officers drew borders without making accommodations for the division of water resources. More disputes arose when the river changed its course in 1896.

A treaty on the river's water was signed in 1939 by the governments of Iran's Reza Shah Pahlavi and Mohammad Zahir Shah, his Afghan counterpart. Yet the disputes continued because the Afghans refused to ratify the treaty. Afghan and Iranian delegations traveled to Washington in 1959 to discuss the issue but had no success.

Iranian Minister of Court Asadollah Alam wrote in his diaries in March 1969 that Kabul would agree to ensure water flow to Iran only in exchange for credit facilities, improved access to Iranian ports, and development assistance ("The Shah and I," Alinaghi Alikhani, ed., London, 1991). And, when the Afghan legislature discussed a new agreement on the Hirmand River in October 1972, Tehran feared that it would be costly: Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi said, "authorize [the Iranian ambassador to Kabul] to make the payoffs if you really think they're necessary."

Iranian Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveida and Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Musa Shafiq signed an accord in 1973 that determined the specific amount of water that should flow into Iran: 26 cubic meters of water per second. Yet this agreement was not ratified, either. Resolution of the issue continued to be delayed by other events: the 1973 Afghan coup, the 1978-1979 revolution in Iran, the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the rise and fall of the Taliban.

Relations between the Iranian government and the Taliban regime were troubled, and the two sides did not reach an accord on use of the Hirmand River's water. The Taliban's ouster and friendly relations between the governments of presidents Hamid Karzai and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami suggested that the situation would change for the better. This would be a welcome development, as a multiyear drought had seriously affected the entire region.

Good Kabul-Tehran relations did not translate into improved water flows for Iran, however. "The least we expect is implementation of the accord signed between Iran and Afghanistan before the Islamic revolution in Iran," parliamentarian Alaedin Borujerdi said on 1 September 2002, IRNA reported. And parliamentarian Gholam Hussein Aqai, who represented the Sistan va Baluchistan Province city of Zabol, also decried the Afghans' failure to provide water despite a new agreement reached during President Khatami's 13 August 2002 visit to Afghanistan, "Entekhab" reported on 1 September 2002.

A small amount of water from the Helmand River reached Iran on 25 October 2002, but Iranian officials complained that it was not enough for farming. Then it stopped completely. Kabul had agreed to release 1,000 hours of water flow, "Iran" reported on 6 November 2002, but it turned the tap off after just 240 hours. Parliamentarian Abolqasem Mokhtari, who represented Sistan va Baluchistan Province at the time, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that he did not know whether the Afghan government was responsible for blocking the water or if Afghans were diverting the water for farming.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a November 2002 telephone conversation with Karzai that Afghanistan must honor the existing agreements regarding the river. When the two met in Bonn the following month, Karzai blamed the drought for the lack of water, adding that they were waiting for seasonal rainfall so the water would resume flowing. When the water flow resumed in mid-December, Iranian officials said the volume fell short of agreed levels.

In September 2004, Iranian and Afghan officials met in Tehran for a joint meeting within the framework of the 1973 Hirmand River treaty. Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian told IRNA on 8 September 2004 that the two sides were preparing for the implementation of the treaty. He said that under normal circumstances, Iran's annual share is 820 million cubic meters. Ardakanian added that decisions made at the meeting would go into effect on 22 September, when the "water year" begins.

As of early 2005, the dispute over the waters of the Helmand River seemed no closer to resolution, according to statements by local Iranian officials. The Friday Prayer leader in Zabol, Hojatoleslam Gholam-Reza Dehqan, said in his 7 January sermon that Afghan officials should respect Iranian river rights, IRNA reported. Sistan va Baluchistan Province Governor-General Hussein Amini made the same point on 1 February, IRNA reported. He said Afghanistan should live up to the commitments in the 1973 treaty.

National officials also are aware of the issue. Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said on 8 January that people in Sistan va Baluchistan should consume water more carefully, IRNA reported. At the end of the month, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during a visit to the Milak border crossing that Afghanistan should fulfill its commitments on use of the waters, ILNA reported on 27 May.

Gunmen in eastern Afghanistan attempted to assassinate a female candidate running for parliament, AFP reported on 7 September. "Armed men opened fire on the convoy of a woman parliamentary candidate, Safia Siddiqi, as she was campaigning in Khogiany District's Wazir area in Nangarhar Province," area police chief Khalillulah Ziaee said. Siddiqi escaped unharmed, although a policeman and two of her supporters suffered wounds in the attack. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents have repeatedly threatened females running in the nationwide parliamentary vote slated for 18 September. MR

Two suspected suicide bombers died when their car exploded apparently by accident in southern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 7 September. The car, packed with explosives, injured four when it blew up near the southern town of Grishk, according to a Helmand Province spokesman. "Their explosives went off before they entered the city," said provincial spokesman Mohammad Wali. "We believe they were suicide bombers and were trying to get into the city to attack government targets." Neo-Taliban forces claimed responsibility for the blast. "We conducted the suicide attack in Grishk," purported Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said. He added that the attack was aimed at "Americans" but gave no further details. MR

Neo-Taliban forces said five of their fighters were killed in recent clashes with U.S. and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan, the Afghan Islamic Press News agency reported on 7 September. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mofti Latifollah Hakimi said the five were killed in Zabul Province, where U.S. and Afghan forces have been conducting counterinsurgency operations in recent days. "American troops in helicopters yesterday launched a surprise attack on Taliban fighters in Sra Shela village, Sur Ghar, [and] Shah Joy District. Fierce fighting erupted as a result," Hakimi said. "A number of American troops were killed in the fighting. The Taliban lost five men, including commander Bashir Ahmad." MR

The commission overseeing Afghanistan's parliamentary elections will soon decide whether to bar 21 former warlords from the contest, "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 8 September. With a nationwide vote scheduled in about two weeks, the Electoral Complaints Commission is debating whether 21 candidates should be struck from the ballots for warlord activities or ties to militias. "Many who abused human rights in the past continue to abuse human rights and traffic in drugs from positions of power today," said Joanna Nathan, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan. "Many are now seeking the mantle of a democratic mandate. This should in no way exempt them from prosecution or other means of justice as determined by the Afghan people." The commission is expected to issue its decision in the coming days. The commission will offer no explanation for the candidates it refuses to allow to participate. "We're not a criminal court," said Josh Wright, a spokesman for the commission. "We're making decisions for the administration of elections." MR

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on 7 September that "nobody" should overlook "the rights of the Iranian people" in negotiations over Iran's contested nuclear program, ISNA reported the same day. He said after a meeting with foreign envoys that "no organization can deprive us of our rights, against international laws," referring to Western pressures on Iran to once more suspend all nuclear fuel production and related activities, and negotiate over its program. He said "there is a rational and clear view based on international laws that one cannot tell a country its duties, but deprive it of its rights." Iran says that, within the Nuclear-Non Proliferation Treaty, it has the right to make fuel for what it says is a civilian program. Mottaki said the government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad gives great importance to justice, and in foreign relations that means "a balance between rights and duties" for countries signing up to international treaties. Iran may reconsider certain bilateral agreements, he added, as some parts have yet to be implemented, ISNA reported. VS

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told Radio Farda on 7 September that its recent report will be a reference for the IAEA board of governors when it meets on 19 September to discuss Iran's program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). She said Iranian officials have cooperated with IAEA inspectors, but they should cooperate more, and give the agency access to all "places, documents, and people" able to clarify persistent questions such as the source of traces of highly enriched uranium found on certain nuclear components in Iran. Iran has said they came from Pakistan with the equipment. Fleming said this cannot be ascertained, adding that there has been much progress made on discovering the source of the traces, Radio Farda reported. Iran's ranking nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani stressed in Islamabad on 7 September that Iran will not halt its program, but is prepared to hold talks to alleviate international concerns, news agencies reported the same day. However, an unnamed European diplomat told Reuters in Brussels on 7 September that Iran-EU talks on the dossier are now effectively at an end. VS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on 7 September that Iran is not performing its "historic role" to form an "ideal" moral society, and the state has failed so far to reach "the sacred and lofty goals of the revolution," Iranian agencies reported the same day. "Imported models" of governance, he told the Experts Assembly, a body of senior clerics, have caused many of Iran's social, political, and economic problems. He said government officials should be told that there are some 5 million Iranians living on state handouts and 3 million who are unemployed. He also said that high interest rates and the cost of loans are "a grave illness," ISNA reported. The state, Ahmadinejad said, must "uproot cultural vulgarity" and "promote correct Islamic culture." Iran, he added, has shown "passivity" in its foreign relations and emboldened its "enemies," because Iranian diplomats have been ignorant of the "power and influence and suitability of the revolution." These "concerns and problems," he assured the assembly, "will soon be resolved." VS

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders criticized on 6 September the Iranian judiciary's decision to send back to jail dissident Akbar Ganji, who has been on hunger strike to protest against his detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005), Radio Farda reported on 7 September. Ganji ended his 70-day hunger strike on 22 August and left hospital on 3 September, Reporters Without Borders stated on its website. The judiciary, it added, has apparently broken a promise to let Ganji recover at home. Separately, Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on 6 September that the judiciary is ready to present parliament with a bill to define political offenses, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 September. Iran often jails dissidents or politicians on charges such as subversion or making false allegations, and is unlikely to consider them political dissidents. Karimi-Rad said the five-year development plan starting in 2006 requires the judiciary to define political offenses. A similar bill was passed by the last parliament, but rejected by the Guardians Council, a body of mostly conservative jurists that confirms the legality of legislation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 December 2001). VS

Justice Minister Karimi-Rad said on 6 September that the police and the judiciary are to step up efforts to fight street crime in Tehran and "increase social security," Radio Farda and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He said "special headquarters" in the capital and provinces will reduce crimes such as aggressive behavior, bothering women on the streets, drinking wine or spirits, carrying illegal weapons, and buying or selling drugs, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 September. Police, he added, are to round up "louts," people "loitering in the streets," and others bothering females and families. Tehran police chief Morteza Talai said there is to be a 20-day "intensive" drive against alleged kidnappers, rapists, drug dealers, and anyone selling satellite television equipment, currently prohibited in Iran, Radio Farda reported on 7 September. VS

The Presidency Council, comprising President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, met in Baghdad on 7 September ahead of Talabani's planned trip to New York, where he will attend the UN General Assembly meeting next week, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The meeting also addressed security issues in Iraq and the Al-A'imah Bridge stampede that claimed some 1,000 lives last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005). Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Abd al-Mahdi said the Presidency Council has reviewed the preliminary findings of the ongoing investigation. "We are certain that the incident was caused by terrorist actions," he said, citing a mortar attack that preceded the stampede by two hours. "A state of terror prevailed and the situation became ignitable, and so was exploited again by the terrorists," he added. Abd al-Mahdi added that the council will wait for the final report before making a judgment on the performance of the government in the aftermath of the incident. KR

Vice President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told reporters at the same 7 September press briefing that peaceful attempts are being made to stop the bloodshed in Tal Afar, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005). "Nobody wants military action.... We do not want to cause tragedies, so efforts are exerted and meetings are still held for peace. There is great progress on the ground to restore harmony among the sons of the unified city," he said. Al-Yawir added that the council hopes the residents of Tal Afar will cooperate with each other and with the government to restore order. KR

Independent Inquiry Committee Chairman Paul Volcker criticized on 7 September the United Nations Secretariat, Security Council, and member states for the failures of the oil-for-food program ( On the role of the Security Council, the report determined the council "failed to clearly define the broad parameters, policies, and administrative responsibilities for the program. This lack of clarity was exacerbated by permitting the Iraqi regime to exercise too much initiative in the [program's] design and its subsequent implementation. Compounding that difficulty, the Security Council, in contrast to most past practice, retained through its 661 Committee, substantial elements of administrative control. As a result, neither the Security Council nor the Secretariat leadership was in overall control." KR

The inquiry report also criticized the role of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for what it described as laxity over a number of issues related to the program. "The cumulative management performance of the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General [Louise Frechette] fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain," the report said, citing both Annan and Frechette's " recognize their own responsibility for the Program's shortcomings, their failure to ensure that critical evidence was brought to the attention of the Security Council and the 661 Committee, and their minimal efforts to address sanctions violations with Iraqi officials; altogether there was a lack of oversight concerning OIP's [Office of the Iraq Program] administration of the $100 billion Oil-for-Food Program, and, above all, a failure shared by them both to provide oversight of the Program's Executive Director, Benon Sevan." Annan called the report "hard lessons for all of us to learn," and cited the need for UN reform, the UN News Center reported on 7 September. He maintained, however, that the wholesale corruption within the program took place among private companies manipulated by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government. KR

Contractor Roy Hallums, who was taken hostage in Iraq some 10 months ago and an Iraqi national identified only as Ahmad, were freed by U.S. forces southwest of Baghdad on 7 September, international media reported the same day. Hallums was working for a Saudi company that supplies the Iraqi Army with food when he was abducted from the upscale Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad in November 2004. He was found bound and gagged in an isolated farmhouse outside Baghdad, after a detainee in U.S. custody provided information as to his whereabouts, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan told reporters, reported on 8 September. KR

The Kurdistan Assembly has reportedly set up a committee to revise the draft constitution of 2002, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 7 September. The constitution was drafted by 37 political parties and approved by the former assembly. A source told the daily that the assembly will now debate the constitution and make some amendments so that the document will not contradict the Iraqi constitution, due to be voted on in a 15 October referendum. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Assembly speaker Adnan Mufti called for the establishment of a policy in Kirkuk that recognizes the rights of native Kurdish, Turkoman, and Arab residents, "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 7 September. Mufti said that the Kurds do not want a radical solution to the problem of Kirkuk, and recognized the need to strengthen ties among the governorates' diverse communities. KR

Sixteen Iraqis were killed and two dozen wounded when a taxi packed with explosives detonated outside a restaurant in Al-Basrah on 7 September, reported on 8 September. The attack came hours after four American contractors working for the U.S. embassy were killed when a bomb detonated next to their convoy in the city. Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement posted on the Internet on 7 September ( The second attack, which occurred just before 9:00 p.m., destroyed two minibuses in the street and the restaurant's façade. Large crowds of people were on the street, located in a busy Shi'ite-populated district of Khalij Al-Arabi, when the blast occurred. KR