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Newsline - September 22, 2005

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing on 21 September, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Medvedev said that Gazprom is considering two routes for gas pipelines to China, and "Vedomosti" reported the same day. The projected western pipeline would run from Novokuznetsk to China's northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, while the eastern branch would go from Vladivostok and Sakhalin to Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China. Each pipeline would have a capacity of up to 30 billion cubic meters a year, reported. Medvedev said that the decision on which of the two pipelines will receive priority will be made in forthcoming talks with the state-run China National Petroleum Company. Medvedev added that the talks should be finished by the end of the year. He also said that Russia's position in talks with China is "first sell the gas, then extract it and supply it." Meanwhile, speaking in Irkutsk, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref made clear that the government is inclined to support building the eastern route first, "Vedomosti " reported on 21 September. VY

Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov harshly criticized as "ridiculous and senseless" the decision by Russian oil majors to freeze domestic gasoline prices until the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005), Ekho Moskvy reported "This decision will only speed up the fly-wheel of populist decisions [on ambitious social programs] already made by the government," he said. Any price is a relationship between supply and demand and breaking this relationship means depriving the public of economic indicators, he added. "The price is like a thermometer and if the temperature rises it means the illness should be treated, but not via freezing the thermometer," he concluded. Meanwhile, Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref warned in Irkutsk that while the government will try to keep gasoline prices down, it is an illusion to think that Russian domestic prices can be isolated from rising fuel prices on the world market, RTR reported. VY

First Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Yurii Vorobiev said on 21 September that Russia will provide the United States with logistical help if requested, including aviation support, in connection with Hurricane Rita, which should reach Texas and Louisiana by the end of the week, RosBalt reported. He added that his agency learned lessons from the situation with Hurricane Katrina and that in the next year Russia will create a national emergency warning center. Meanwhile, the Lyndon Johnson Manned Space Flight Center in Houston announced on 21 September that it has transferred flight control of the International Space Station to the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev, outside Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. The Johnson Space Center will be evacuated because of the approaching hurricane. VY

Lithuanian authorities announced on 21 September that they have temporarily suspended the investigation of the Russian Su-27 fighter-jet crash near Kaunus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 September 2005) pending answers to questions posed to the Russian government about the incident, international media reported. In particular, Lithuania is interested in the origin of radioactive metal found among the aircraft wreckage. Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said that the incident will not harm relations between the two countries, RIA-Novosti reported. "We have a normal attitude to the incident. Such misfortune can happen to any state." Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said a special Lithuanian working group was created to inform the international public and deal with "the broad propaganda campaign Russia unleashed in connection with the incident," ITAR-TASS reported. And in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry passed to Lithuanian diplomats its official note of protest with a demand for the immediate return of detained pilot Major Valerii Troyanov, RTR reported. Russia also suspended a meeting of the bilateral Intergovernmental Cooperation Commission scheduled for this week, Interfax reported. VY

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has sent Latvia an official request for the extradition of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who arrived in Riga on 21 September on a business trip, RTR and NTV reported. In its request, the Prosecutor-General's Office said that Berezovskii, who is a Russian citizen, is under an international arrest warrant on charges of massive fraud and other economic crimes. Berezovskii arrived in Latvia together with U.S. President George W. Bush's brother Neil, who owns an educational software company in which Berezovskii has shares. Berezovskii refused to comment on Russia's request. Russia has unsuccessfully demanded Berezovskii's extradition from Britain, where he received political asylum. VY

"Vedomosti" reported on 21 September that starting in October, the Federal Registration Service will start verifying the membership numbers of Russian political parties. Service officials told the daily that only about 20 parties of the 38 registered will likely retain their status, because as of 1 January 2006, political parties need at least 50,000 members in order to be registered by the Justice Ministry. Service officials say that they will take the audit very seriously, which could create problem for many parties. As Oleg Matveichev of the Bakster Group explained, "In the past, entire student hostels and apartment buildings were signed up as party members, but now if such lists are submitted it will be easy to prove that these are not real members." According to Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Katrenko (Unified Russia), Unified Russia has 936,000 members as of September compared to the second-largest political party, the Communists, which has 180,000. Dmitrii Oreshkin of Mercator group commented: "Unified Russia is more like a labor union for bureaucrats. If it ceases being the Kremlin-backed party, its inflated membership figures will decrease dramatically." JAC

State Duma deputies rejected on 21 September a bill that would deprive women who married foreign citizens of Russian citizenship, RosBalt reported. The bill, which was proposed by Deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich (Liberal Democrat Party of Russia), got only three votes in favor and nine against. When he first introduced the bill, Kuryanovich explained that it was necessary to try to stem Russia's "catastrophic demographic crisis" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2005). "A serious loss of a significant part of the female population of child-bearing years represents a threat to national security of the country, causing damage to the gene pool and health of our nation," he said. When asked why the bill would not impose a similar penalty on men who marry foreigners, Kuryanovich responded that this was unnecessary: "Foreign women are poor and ugly, and the number of Russian men, hoping to enter into spousal relations with them, is completely miniscule." JAC

Deputies also approved on 21 September in its second reading a bill that would allow the merger between Krasnoyarsk Krai and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug. The vote was 432 in favor. Under the bill, the process would begin on 1 January 2007. Elections for the legislature of the new entity would take place on 15 April 2007. JAC

The State Duma voted on 21 September to approve a series of measures reshuffling the body's leadership ranks, RosBalt and Radio Rossii reported. Deputy Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) was tapped for the post of first deputy speaker; previously there was only one first deputy speaker, Lyubov Sliska. Deputy Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) was released from his position as deputy speaker since he was approved on 16 September as the new governor of Kaliningrad Oblast. Replacing Boos as deputy speaker will be Deputy Yurii Volkov (Unified Russia). JAC

The Federation Council confirmed Lyubov Borisova on 21 September as a new judge for the Supreme Court. Borisova, who was born in 1955, most recently served as the chairwoman of the judicial collegium for citizens' affairs of the Moscow City Court, according to Aleksandr Kotenkov, presidential representative to the upper legislative chamber, said that Borisova was selected by the Higher Qualifications Collegium for Judges from 18 other candidates, according to Interfax. The vote was 134 in favor with two abstentions and one against, RBK reported. JAC

A breakdown in the sewage system during the maintenance of a local water-purification facility was the cause of the recent outbreak of hepatitis A in Nizhnii Novgorod, Interfax reported on 21 September. The number of people infected with the disease reached almost 900 as of 21 September, including more than 150 children, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. NTV reported the previous day that several hepatitis A cases had been registered outside of the city of Nizhnii Novgorod in Dzerzhinsk and Druzhnyi. JAC

The Green Party of Russia organized a meeting in defense of clean air in front of the Chelyabinsk city administration on 21 September, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 21 September. Also taking part in the meeting were the environmental organizations Legal Consciousness and the Movement for Nuclear Security. Meeting participants demanded that the city hold the region's largest polluters legally and financially accountable. According to the service, in July the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Industrial Complex (ChEMK) accidentally released combustible toxic materials into the atmosphere. The attempts of the city administration to punish the guilty were not successful and a criminal case was not opened. The leadership of the ChEMK was required to pay an administrative fee, the small size of which made it largely symbolic. JAC

State Duma deputies voted on 21 September to approve returning the city Bednodemyanovskii in Penza Oblast to its historical name, Spassk, ITAR-TASS reported. About 7,800 people live in the city. The town's name was changed in 1925 to honor the proletarian poet Demyan Bednyi. Bednyi, however, was not born in the town and never lived there or even visited it. JAC

Speaking on 21 September in Yerevan at a reception to mark the 14th anniversary of the referendum in which Armenians voted to secede from the USSR, President Robert Kocharian described Armenia as "a steadily developing state" that is "successfully implement[ing] reform programs," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He attributed the annual double-digit economic growth in the past four years to "political stability." Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian similarly told RFE/RL on 21 September that despite hardship and difficulties, Armenia has become "an established state." At the same time, he said many problems remain, in particular poverty. Opposition leaders boycotted the presidential reception: David Shakhnazarian, who served as national security adviser to President Levon Ter-Petrossian, argued that "our freedom and statehood have been compromised by the present criminal authorities that have nothing to do with our statehood." LF

Plans to conduct a regular monitoring of the Line of Contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces on 20 September were thwarted by a shooting incident that led Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative Andrzej Kasprzyk to call off the inspection for safety reasons, Azerbaijani media reported. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Ramiz Melikov was quoted by on 21 September as saying that as the monitors were about to set out from the village of Garakhanbeyli in Fizuli Raion, a single shot was fired at Azerbaijani-controlled territory from Armenian positions. But a statement posted on the webpage of the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic ( claimed that the single shot was fired from Azerbaijani positions. The OSCE has not yet released an official statement in connection with the incident. LF

Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakh-Shukur Pasha-zade, who is Azerbaijan's top Islamic cleric, rejected on 21 September as without foundation the claim by Rafik Aliyev, chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Structures, that a conference in Baku on 21-22 September on Azerbaijan and the world Islamic community poses a threat to Azerbaijan's statehood, Turan and reported on 21 and 22 September, respectively. "No threats to Azerbaijan's statehood can arise in my presence," quoted Pasha-zade as saying. Aliyev has frequently accused the Muslim Spiritual Board of the Caucasus (DUMK), which Pasha-zade heads, of encouraging Islamic fundamentalism (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 8 August 2005). The conference was jointly organized by the DUMK and the Iranian Cultural Center in Baku. Pasha-zade admitted that unnamed representatives of that center made "erroneous" statements at the conference, but he said the center's chairman subsequently apologized for those statements. President Ilham Aliyev met on 21 September with conference participants, Turan reported on 22 September, citing pro-government Azerbaijani dailies. LF

The opposition Azadlyq (Liberty) election bloc released a statement on 21 September citing several instances of police violence against or harassment of its candidates in Gyanja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, Turan reported on 22 September. Also on 22 September, Panakh Husein, who heads Azadlyq's election headquarters, told Turan that candidates who enjoy the support of the present Azerbaijani leadership routinely bribe local police and government officials to campaign on their behalf in blatant violation of election law. Meanwhile, the newspaper "Azadlyq," which is close to the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, one of the three constituent members of the Azadlyq election bloc, reported on 22 September that unknown individuals broke into and vandalized the campaign headquarters in Yevlakh of an Azadlyq parliamentary candidate, according to Turan. LF

The Georgian-populated villages of Achabeti, Kekhvi, and Kemerta in South Ossetia's Great Liakhvi Gorge came under fire from mortars and submachine guns during the night of 21-22 September, Caucasus Press and reported on 22 September. No injuries were reported. On 21 September, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists he considers it a question of his personal honor to guarantee the security of every single resident of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, which was subjected to mortar fire the previous evening, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). Echoing earlier allegations, on 21 September South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Djioev blamed Georgia for the mortar attack on Tskhinvali, in which 10 people were injured, reported. In a 21 September analysis, Stratfor made the point that while Georgian villagers in South Ossetia have small arms, they do not have access to mortars, and it is "highly unlikely" that South Ossetians or Russians could have carried out a mortar attack without the knowledge and approval of the Georgian peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone. LF

Responding on 21 September to a question from an unidentified journalist, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin expressed "profound sympathy" with those injured in the previous evening's artillery attack on Tskhinvali, according to a transcript posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website ( Kamynin called on the conflict parties to "demonstrate restraint and continue the painstaking process of seeking peaceful solutions" to the conflict. Kamynin called for the Joint Control Commission (JCC) that monitors the situation in the conflict zone to meet as soon as possible. But South Ossetian Foreign Minister Djioev said on 21 September that South Ossetia will not participate in any further meetings of the JCC until Tbilisi apologizes for the 20 September attack, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told journalists in Tbilisi the same day, however, that Georgia has nothing to apologize for, Caucasus Press reported. On 22 September, Valerii Kenyaikin, who is Russia's special envoy for the South Ossetian conflict, traveled to Tbilisi at the invitation of the Georgian authorities to discuss the deteriorating situation in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Georgian parliament has begun drafting a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the South Ossetian conflict zone (where they are deployed under the aegis of the OSCE together with detachments from Georgia, South Ossetia, and North Ossetia) and from the Abkhaz conflict zone, where a 2,000-man Russian force has been deployed since 1994 under the aegis of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and their replacement by international troops, Caucasus Press reported. Kote Gabashvili, chairman of the parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, told Caucasus Press that the draft resolution will be discussed at a plenary session on 27 September. LF

The leadership of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia responded to the 20 September mortar attack on Tskhinvali by placing its armed forces on combat alert and deploying an additional 250 troops to Gali Raion, which borders on Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 21 September, the Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia released a statement in Sukhum condemning the attack on Tskhinvali and threats uttered by Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili against Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, who was in Tskhinvali at the time of the attack, reported. The statement expressed support for Bagapsh's "firm position" and his efforts to effect a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Tbilisi, and it called on Russia, the UN, and the OSCE to take immediate measures to prevent further "violations by Georgia of its international commitments." Abkhaz Deputy Foreign Minister Maksim Gvindjia told on 21 September that the attack on Tskhinvali was a deliberate attempt by the Georgian side to increase tensions. LF

Two more presidential hopefuls have joined the 10 people who have already been nominated or nominated themselves for Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election, Kazakh TV1 and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 21 September. Zhaksybai Bazilbaev submitted documents on 21 September to take part in the race, Kazakh TV1 reported. Mels Eleusizov, the head of an environmental organization, also submitted his nomination, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ten other individuals, including President Nursultan Nazarbaev, have already said they will seek the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). DK

Parliamentary deputy and businessman Bayaman Erkinbaev was shot and killed in Bishkek on the night of 21 September, reported. Regnum reported that a lone gunman shot Erkinbaev five times at close range as he was getting out of his car. The gunman later fled. Erkinbaev, who was the head of Kyrgyzstan's National Olympic Committee, was linked in many reports to organized criminal activities in the country's south, and his name figured prominently in a recent clash in Osh and a killing in Kara-suu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June and 6 September 2005). Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov said on 22 September that he met on 18 September with Erkinbaev, who was "alarmed" and named a person whom he suspected of seeking to kill him, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov said he will inform investigators of that person's identity. DK

Residents of former Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov's native Aksy District in Jalal-Abad Province demonstrated on 21 September as President Kurmanbek Bakiev called for calm and a number of rights groups spoke out in support of the recently dismissed Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. About 1,000 supporters of Beknazarov demonstrated in Aksy District demanding his reinstatement. The demonstrators threatened to begin a march on Bishkek on 23 September, reported. For his part, Bakiev said that the decision to dismiss Beknazarov was a difficult one, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev sent a telegram to Aksy residents explaining that Beknazarov's failure to investigate unrest in Kara-suu led to a recent killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). Bakiev suggested, however, that there may still be a place in the government for Beknazarov, promising to make use of the latter's knowledge and experience. Also on 21 September, the rights organizations For Democracy and Civil Society, Citizens against Corruption, and others issued a joint statement charging that Bakiev "sacrificed Azimbek Beknazarov in the interests of organized crime." DK

Russian and Kyrgyz Defense Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Ismail Isakov signed an agreement in Bishkek on 21 September under which Russia will provide Kyrgyzstan with $3 million in military aid, RIA-Novosti reported. The aid will come in the form of helicopters, trucks, and firearms. Ivanov also announced that Russia will invest several billion rubles into its air force base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, adding that the Russian budget already contains a 100 million-ruble ($3.5 million) allocation to improve housing and infrastructure at the base, Russia's Channel One reported. DK

Ivanov visited the Russian base together with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who commented to reporters later on the status of the U.S. air base in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, reported. Noting that the situation in Afghanistan is stabilizing, Bakiev said that "time will tell" how long the U.S. base will remain. He noted, however, that he recently told U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the United States should pay more for the use of the base. "Kyrgyzstan's economy is very weak and it needs support. Now we need to review the conditions [for the U.S. base] and increase the payments [for it]," Bakiev said. Reuters cited unnamed Kyrgyz officials as saying that Kyrgyzstan currently receives around $50 million a year from official payments and money spent by U.S. service personnel in the country. DK

Three days of antiterrorist training exercises began in Jirgatol, Tajikistan, on 21 September, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The exercises involve units from the Defense Ministry, National Security Ministry, Interior Ministry, and border troops; President Imomali Rakhmonov is expected to attend the final stage. The exercises are taking place in a region that borders on Kyrgyzstan's Osh Province, but a Tajik military spokesperson said that the location of the exercises is not related to unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this year, the BBC's Persian Service reported. RFE/RL's Tajik Service noted that Tajik police recently discovered a large arms cache in the area where the exercises are taking place after the arrest of several alleged members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Dushanbe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2005). DK

Turkmenistan has joined Interpol, reported on 21 September. Members of the organization, gathered in Berlin for the 74th session of the Interpol General Assembly, voted unanimously to admit Turkmenistan. DK

The second day of a trial involving 15 alleged organizers of violence in Andijon in May featured testimony by accused ringleader Moydin Sobirov, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Sobirov, who was born in Kyrgyzstan in 1963 and had resided in Tashkent until his arrest, told the court that unidentified foreign media outlets conspired with the rebels as the latter attempted to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. "Foreign defenders and media supported our goals. Following the advice of foreign media, protests were organized near the Andijon court in order to destabilize Uzbekistan," Sobirov said. He charged that Akram Yoldoshev, whom Uzbek authorities describe as the leader of the Akramiya extremist group, communicated with his followers by phone from prison as they seized government buildings and took hostages in Andijon on 12-13 May. Sobirov said that "spiritual leader" Akrom Mamadaliev brought with him from Kyrgyzstan "80 armed individuals and 25 unarmed people." Finally, Sobirov told the court that the Akramiya members themselves initiated the lethal violence on 13 May, explaining that they shot "hostages and the people" as a "provocation." The trial is set to continue on 22 September. DK

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in Tashkent on 21 September as Russia and Uzbekistan began their first-ever joint military exercises, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said that he will attend the close of the joint exercises, which involve 200 Russian airborne and military intelligence troops, on 23 September. DK

Some 800 delegates are expected to attend a 1-2 October congress in Minsk to nominate an opposition candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential election, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 21 September. The delegates to the congress were chosen at nearly 120 raion-level conferences organized by opposition political parties and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) earlier this year. Mikalay Astreyka, head of the Partnership NGO that observed the selection of delegates, said the process was democratic and involved more than 4,000 people. Simultaneously, Astreyka noted that some conferences were disrupted by police and some opposition and NGO activists were made to go to court in connection with their participation in those conferences. The politicians seeking the nomination for a presidential candidate by the congress in Minsk include Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Anatol Lyabedzka, Syarhey Kalyakin, and Stanislau Shushkevich. JM

The Belarusian Ministry of Sport and Tourism has annulled the licenses for 104 private tourist agencies, citing their inability to attract foreign tourists into the country, Belapan and dpa reported on 21 September. In June, the government made the obtaining of licenses by tourist agencies conditional on signing "an accord with a foreign legal entity on the reception of foreign tourists in the Republic of Belarus." The move reportedly leaves the state-run tour operator Intourist Belarus as a near monopolist in the country's tourism industry. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 22 September approved Yuriy Yekhanurov as Ukraine's prime minister, Ukrainian media reported. Yekhanurov was backed by 289 deputies out of 339 registered for the session. Two days earlier Yekhanurov was three votes short of getting the job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2005). This time Yekhanurov's candidacy was supported by 50 votes from former Premier Viktor Yanukovych's Region of Ukraine parliamentary caucus, which did not vote on 20 September. "The forces represented in parliament are ready today to assume responsibility for forming a government, ready to bear responsibility for creating an efficient, responsible government and to share that responsibility with the president," Yanukovych was quoted as saying on 21 September, following a meeting of parliamentary group leaders with President Viktor Yushchenko. JM

Addressing the Verkhovna Rada session on 22 September, President Yushchenko announced that he has signed several decrees in line with agreements reached at his meeting with the heads of parliamentary groups the previous day, Channel 5 reported. In particular, Yushchenko reduced the staff of the presidential secretariat by abolishing the posts of state secretary, deputy state secretaries, and first presidential aide. Yushchenko also curtailed some powers of the head of the National Security and Defense Council, shifting them to the presidential secretariat. Yushchenko pledged that the staffs of the presidential secretariat and the National Security and Defense Council will be "renewed." The current political crisis in Ukraine was caused, among other reasons, by corruption allegations against former National Security and Defense Council head Petro Poroshenko and suspended first presidential aide Oleksandr Tretyakov. JM

President Yushchenko also told the Verkhovna Rada on 22 September that he will be personally responsible for holding democratic and honest parliamentary elections in 2006, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko pledged that the authorities will not use the "administrative resource" or state funds in the election campaign. JM

The European Union has agreed to send monitors as of December to help secure the Moldovan-Ukrainian border along its 400-kilometer Transdniestrian stretch, thus responding to a request voiced by Chisinau and Kyiv in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June and 20 July 2005), Infotag and BASA reported on 21 September. The cost of the operation is reportedly estimated at $3 million euros ($3.7 million) for the first six months. The mission may be extended by another year. The Moscow-backed Transdniester region is widely seen as a haven for smugglers and arms dealers. JM

High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in a statement in Sarajevo on 22 September that the Bosnian Serb leadership must rethink its opposition to police reform or face "consequences that come with isolation," his website reported ( He stressed that that the Bosnian Serbs' governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) is to blame for blocking the proposed police reform, as a result of which Bosnia will not be able to start negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005). Ashdown argued that police reform poses no danger to Bosnian Serbs. He stressed, however, that the isolation they risk by adhering to the SDS's present course means "fewer jobs, more poverty, no chance of visa free travel, and no question of joining the rest of the region on the road to Europe." Ashdown warned Bosnian Serbs that they must choose "Belarus or Brussels." He concluded by saying that the Republika Srpska "government now has an urgent choice to make -- this is the 11th hour -- police restructuring that meets EU principles, or to condemn their people to isolation and to suffer the consequences. The choice is theirs, and theirs alone. It needs to be made now. I hope they make the right choice." PM

Unnamed diplomats told Reuters in New York on 21 September that Norway's Kai Eide, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Kosova, said at a meeting of the International Contact Group on the Balkans that his planned report on Kosova's readiness for final status talks will be delayed by "several more weeks" in order to put pressure on Prishtina and Belgrade to better implement the international community's standards for Kosova. The news agency noted that some unnamed diplomats from the Contact Group -- which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- said that they want to see the report as soon as possible. Impatience among Kosova's ethnic Albanian minority is growing for an end to the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), which is widely regarded as wasteful and colonial, and for the launching of final status talks, which, in the view of the Albanians, can only lead to independence. Local Serbs and Belgrade have generally sought to delay status talks as long as possible on the assumption that the foreigners will lose interest in Kosova over time and eventually leave. Status talks have been widely expected to start before the end of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 20 May 2005). PM

The Prishtina daily "Zeri" quoted unnamed UN diplomats on 21 September as saying that former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has been approved by the EU and United States to head the talks on Kosova's final status when they are eventually launched, Reuters reported. Neither his office nor the UN confirmed or denied the report. Ahtisaari is a seasoned international mediator and took part in 1999 talks to end the Kosova conflict. Finland nominated him for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his recent role in negotiating an end to the 30-year conflict in Indonesia's Aceh Province, which has left 12,000 people dead. The UN envoy for Kosova status talks will have reportedly three deputies, one each from the EU, United States, and Russia. PM

Philip Goldberg, who is the chief U.S. diplomat in Prishtina, told RFE/RL's Albanian-language broadcasters on 21 September that "the United States has said [it's] very much interested in providing a deputy for the team [that will negotiate final status].... I would hope this process would begin during this fall." Goldberg added that it is "impossible for the moment to say what structure [the talks] will take," but the chief envoy, his team, and the parties involved will work it out in due time. He stressed that the upcoming negotiations will be "one of the most important moments in Kosovo's history, and people here need to be well represented." Goldberg noted that there are many issues to be discussed, including "the rights and obligations of certain communities here; decentralization and how will that have an effect on the future of Kosovo; the [Serbian enclave in the] north of Kosovo...and what will happen there; issues having to do with debts and privatization; and all of the technical issues that are involved." PM

Goldberg told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 21 September that "it would be a lot better if people [in Kosovo] showed the maturity and the political will to make [the key] decisions themselves and try to [enlist the support of] the international community and Belgrade when necessary on issues of vital importance for people here." He stressed that Albanians and Serbs alike must "do more to try to create a future that will allow minorities to have a safe and secure life." He noted that much of the work ahead involves changing perceptions and attitudes, adding that "more needs to be done by the majority to reach out to the Serb community." PM

Albanian Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj told the UN General Assembly on 21 September that Kosova should become independent while the international community retains some temporary rights to oversee the situation of the Serbian and other ethnic minorities, Reuters reported. "In this context, a conditional independence of Kosova shall permit the international community to observe for a certain period of time the full development of Kosova institutions and society, serving as a guarantee for the Serbs and other minorities," he said. PM

About 100 members of the pro-independence group called Self-determination (Vetevendosja), which is led by student leader and former political prisoner Albin Kurti, pelted UNMIK offices in Prishtina with eggs on 21 September to protest the visit of Sandra Raskovic-Ivic, who recently succeeded Nebojsa Covic as Belgrade's chief representative for Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July and 17 August 2005). Raskovic-Ivic and UNMIK's deputy chief Larry Rossin met outside Prishtina instead. Kurti's group calls for the application to Kosova of a 1960 UN decolonization program stressing self-determination and majority rule, without any need for negotiations or delays. PM

Police in Sisak discovered on 21 September explosive devices in the home and car of Damir Rovisan, who is employed by the British Embassy in Zagreb and suspected of setting off an explosive device recently in the embassy's mailroom, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 21 September 2005). Among the materials police confiscated was a M-75 hand grenade, like the one they believe that Rovisan used in the mailroom incident. Police told a news conference that they will file charges against Rovisan's father, who is legal owner of the explosives. A police spokesman said it is not for the Croatian authorities to comment on how and why the British hired someone with a criminal record. It is also not clear how Rovisan managed to get a grenade past the usually stringent security checks normally found at British diplomatic representations abroad. PM

Ukrainian President Yushchenko met with his Moldovan counterpart, Vladimir Voronin, in Kyiv on 21 September, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "We have signed a letter to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) asking [it] to create an international commission to organize elections in Transdniester," Voronin said at a news conference after the meeting. Voronin added that the date of the elections should be set by the OSCE after the organization attests that "the Transdniester region is ready for the elections." Yushchenko said representatives of Moldova, Transdniester, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE are to meet in Odesa on 26 September to discuss the Transdniester conflict settlement. "One of the goals of this [meeting] is to expand the format [of negotiations] and include the EU and the U.S. in the dialogue," Yushchenko noted. Meanwhile, the Transdniester authorities are preparing legislative elections in the breakaway region for 11 December. JM

As the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-member board of governors contemplates the Iranian nuclear program this week, the United States -- and reportedly, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- are calling for Iran's referral to the UN Security Council.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad threatened in a 19 September interview with Iranian state television that Tehran would take unspecific actions should the case go to the Security Council. In a 17 September interview with "Time," Ahmadinejad hinted at denial of access to international nuclear inspectors or the reduction of oil supplies.

While the international community considers issues such as the extent of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA and the possibility that the country is trying to develop nuclear weapons, the safety of the Iranian nuclear program has gotten less notice. Any accidents at the nuclear reactor being built in Bushehr in southwestern Iran could have an international impact, and the issue therefore deserves international attention.

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in his opening remarks at a 6-7 September conference in Vienna marking the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl: "The first lesson that emerged from Chernobyl was the direct relevance of international cooperation to nuclear safety. The accident revealed a sharp disparity in nuclear design and operational safety standards. It also made clear that nuclear and radiological risks transcend national borders -- that 'an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere'" (for the full text, see

At least two of Iran's neighbors -- Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- have already expressed their concerns about safety issues. When Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, who was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council at the time, visited Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states in June it was to assuage these countries' fears, "Sharq" reported on 7 June.

Rohani said at the time, "I also made clear to our Kuwaiti brethren that Iran's peaceful nuclear programs would be fully run under the close supervision of the [IAEA], and therefore, they should not be the source of any fear for the regional, or international circles," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 7 June.

Iran awarded the Bushehr safety contract -- worth some $20 million -- to the Bezopasnost (Safety) enterprise of Rostekhnadzor, Russia's Federal Service for Environmental, Technological, and Nuclear Oversight, "Sharq" reported on 19 April.

"Kuwait's or Saudi's concern over the safety of the Bushehr nuclear plant is understandable, because the Russians don't have such a stellar track record and reputation in nuclear safety around the world," Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of civil/environmental engineering and industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California and an international nuclear safety expert, told Radio Farda. "We -- Iranians -- are also aware of these facts, and that's why we should try to get other qualified safety-related service and technology provider companies from Europe and the United States to participate in Bushehr." Meshkati told Radio Farda that this is the only logical way Iran can convince its neighbors that the Bushehr facility is as safe as a Western one.

Meshkati stressed that experts working at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization are competent, but nuclear power plant safety is complex and multifaceted. Therefore, he said, several companies with expertise and knowledge in different areas should complement each other. "How can they put all their eggs in one basket?" Meshkati asked. "There is no single company that possesses all that needed expertise in-house."

Meshkati asked how an individual Russian company with an unknown history can execute such a big job, adding that independent Western firms should participate in the project so the different companies can cross-check each other. "However, because of sanctions, Iran does not have access to the Western companies that could take care of Bushehr's safety," he said.

The safety issue is so serious, Meshkati said, that it should be kept distinct from political considerations. He said Iran should initiate a parallel line of negotiation for obtaining nuclear-safety-related services and technologies from the West.

Meshkati also expressed concern about the safety culture in general. He noted that culture and an emphasis on secrecy were factors that contributed to the accident at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979 and the disaster at Chornobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986.

Ken Brockman, IAEA director of nuclear safety and nuclear installation, seems more confident about safety at Bushehr. He told Radio Farda that the Iranians are very involved with their Russian counterparts. He said they have a "long-term vision" of achieving independence in safety. Brockman said he has visited Bushehr "many times" and has seen the Iranian dedication to quality control. He stressed that Iran has the primary responsibility for safety and the Russians are there to provide support in that area.

Brockman went on to explain that the IAEA is involved with the Bushehr project. "We have an active program under technical cooperation and initiative with Iran working both with the operators and with the regulatory body there. There have been numerous peer-review missions." Brockman said experts from other countries come to Bushehr and to the Iranian regulatory agency to ensure that activities there benefit from global expertise. Brockman said the situation at Bushehr is satisfactory. "From my tour there, visiting the plant, I would say I am very comfortable with the commitment that Iran has in that regard recognizing their responsibilities."

Several candidates have complained about their agents being barred from overseeing the ballot count at the Kandahar regional voting center, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 21 September. Shahida Hussain, Latifa Shikhal, Nafisa Amajana, Abdul Nafi Himmat, Besmellah Afghanmal, and Haji Abdullah, among others, criticized election officials for not allowing their agents to be present during the count. The candidates also argued that the number of votes obtained by individuals should be announced as soon as those results are known, rather than at the end of the entire vote-counting process. Haji Abdullah also alleged that officials from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan were present in polling centers performing the duties of electoral staff, which is contrary to electoral law. CP

The German government has announced it will extend its military deployment in Afghanistan for another year and increase its troop levels, AFX reported on 21 September. The number of German soldiers will increase from 2,200 to 3,000, said Defense Minister Peter Struck. Japan also said it plans to extend its mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan for an additional year, AP reported on 21 September. Japan, a strong backer of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, provides fuel and other assistance to U.S.-led troops. CP

The governor of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, Commander Khalilur Rehman, told reporters on 21 September that President Pervez Musharraf's recent proposal to build a security fence between Pakistan and Afghanistan is impractical and inconvenient for people living on the borders of both countries, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Rehman instead called for the renewal of the Durand Line agreement, a boundary line between the two countries that has expired. Rehman, who said he discussed the idea with Musharraf, argued that renewing the Durand Line agreement could facilitate the construction of a fence at a later date. CP

The repatriation of displaced Afghans resumed on 21 September after being temporarily suspended for the legislative elections, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the same day. Thousands of people have registered to return thus far, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Jehangir Durrani, a UN official in Islamabad, said the deadline for the closure of refugee camps in the Bajaur and Kurram agencies in the bordering tribal belt and the cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad is approaching, and that the displaced will soon have to return to Afghanistan or move to other parts of Pakistan. CP

Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said in Vienna on 21 September that Iran does not plan to leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and remains committed to its obligations, IRNA reported. Aqazadeh-Khoi said he briefed members of the Non-Aligned Movement on Tehran's discussions with the EU-3 (Germany, Britain, and France) earlier in the week. He said: "These explanations were necessary and my sense was that they will have an important impact on the decision-making at the current meeting of the Board of Governors." Aqazadeh said he will participate in the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting scheduled for 26 September. BS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, who is in New York to participate in a meeting of Non-Aligned Movement foreign ministers, said on 21 September that Iran has gone far in trying to build international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, IRNA reported. "We have adopted a whole range of measures, including signing and implementing the additional protocol, voluntarily suspending enrichment activities for nearly two years, and facilitating for the IAEA to carry out around 1,200 [man days of] inspection on our facilities," he said. He went on to say that Iran is willing to continue its cooperation, but it refuses to give up its perceived right to operate a nuclear fuel cycle. BS

Islamabad-i Gharb parliamentary representative Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on 21 September that Iran should continue with its nuclear program and argued against conceding anything in negotiations, the Mehr news agency reported. He complained that "the IAEA has been turned into an office for monopolistic activities," adding, "We are witnessing a political power game in the IAEA Board of Governors and therefore it is unlikely that [Iran's plan] will be accepted." Another legislator, Hussein Nejabat, said on 21 September that Iran has complied with its NPT obligations and could pull out of the treaty if it is referred to the UN Security Council, ISNA reported. He criticized Iran's voluntary suspension of nuclear activities. If Iran leaves the NPT, uranium conversion and enrichment would take place at facilities in Isfahan and Natanz, respectively. BS

Hard-line Karaj parliamentary representative Rashid Jalali said on 20 September that nobody will benefit if Iran is referred to the UN Security Council, "Iran" reported. He thought it unlikely that Iran will be referred to the council but conceded that a resolution might be forthcoming. He added, "Nothing unusual will occur when Iran's case is referred to the UN Security Council, because we are a signatory of the NPT and they cannot go beyond the treaty and take action against Iran." Jalali went on to say that Europe and the U.S. do not want Iran to have access to the fuel cycle and they are trying to "initiate a new political movement against Iran." BS

Reacting to international press reports on 20 and 21 September that referred to an Iranian connection to the violence in the Iraqi city of Al-Basrah, Iranian officials issued denials and blamed the U.S. Foreign Ministry, spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 21 September, "Publishing such reports is aimed at concealing the inability of the occupying forces to restore security to Iraq," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. If anything, Assefi said, Iran has contributed to stability in Iraq by working with the central government and other parties. One day earlier, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Tehran that Iran has tried to bring stability to Iraq, state television reported. Larijani, like Assefi, put the blame on the United States. He said, "we believe that the occupation of Iraq and the bases they are setting up there and their humiliating behavior towards the Iraqi people have resulted in an extreme reaction." BS

Jalal Talabani said in an article published in "The Wall Street Journal" on 21 September that his country needs more American and foreign troops to defeat the insurgency and assist the transition to democracy. "A transformation of the Iraqi state and Iraqi society is impossible without a sustained commitment of soldiers from the U.S. and other democracies," Talabani wrote. Addressing the newspaper's American readers, Talabani wrote: "Your soldiers are in my country because of your commitment to democracy." Talabani added that he is opposed to a timetable for withdrawing troops. "Indeed, we will require ongoing security assistance in many forms for many years to come.... If we keep progressing at the present rate, Iraqis may be able to take over many security functions from foreign forces by the end of 2006. That is not a deadline, but it is reasonable aspiration." BW

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari and U.K. Defense Secretary John Reid met in London on 21 September to discuss the situation in Al-Basrah, the BBC reported the same day. Both denied that there has been any breakdown in relations in the wake of the violence that gripped Al-Basrah on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 September 2005). "Such things are expected to happen. It will not affect the relationship between Iraq and Britain," al-Ja'fari said. "We hope to realize the truth of the matter on the ground" after an investigation is complete, he added. Reid said: "there has not been a fundamental breakdown in trust. There has been an incident that will be investigated." According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Iraqi Press Monitor, the Iraqi daily newspaper "Al-Mada" reported on 21 September that Iraqi government officials criticized al-Ja'fari for traveling abroad during the unrest. BW

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Sulagh Jabr, meanwhile, denied British claims that the two British soldiers had been turned over to a local militia, the BBC reported on 21 September. Jabr said British forces acted on a "rumor" when they used force to free the two men. British officials have said their surveillance indicated that the special forces soldiers had been moved from a police station to a house in Al-Basrah, where they were rescued (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). Meanwhile, about 300 people, including uniformed police officers, staged an anti-British demonstration in Al-Basrah, international news agencies reported. Some carried signs reading: "We condemn the illegal acts of British troops" and chanted "No, no to the occupiers," Al-Jazeera television reported on 21 September. Al-Jazeera also reported that two Iraqi citizens wounded in the clashes with British troops died on 21 September. BW

The American military confirmed on 21 September that U.S. troops accidentally killed a child and wounded another during a raid a day earlier on a safe house in Mosul, Reuters reported the same day. Troops also killed seven insurgents in the raid, the military said. "One child was killed and another injured when terrorists used them as human shields during Coalition forces raids of three terrorist safe houses on September 20," the U.S. military said in a statement. After U.S. troops raided one safe house, the gunmen there fled for a second safe house and then withdrew to a third as troops pursued them. "Unbeknownst to Coalition forces, one of the terrorists picked up a small child as he was fleeing the second safe house. During the firefight, the hostage-holding terrorist was shot. The same bullet that killed him also killed the child as it exited the terrorist's body," the statement said. BW

At least eight people died on 21 September in a gun battle between troops and insurgents in Baghdad, Reuters reported the same day. Iraqi and American troops attacked a house in western Baghdad's Mansur district and, in a five-hour firefight, troops killed five insurgents and detained one, according to Jalil Kalaf, the area's military commander, Reuters reported. Two policemen and one soldier were killed and eight wounded. A man who said he had been kidnapped by gunmen and later released led the troops to the house. In other violence in the capital, a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad's A'amil district struck a U.S. patrol, Reuters reported on 21 September. The Iraqi government, meanwhile, is developing new security plans for Baghdad including a new public guard force, the Iraqi National Congress's daily newspaper "Al-Mu'tamar" reported on 21 September, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Iraqi Press Monitor. BW

The Arab satellite television channel Al-Arabiya demanded that U.S. forces release an Iraqi reporter held without being charged since last week, Reuters reported on 21 September. Majid Hamid, who worked for Al-Arabiya in Al-Ramadi and as a freelance reporter for Reuters, was arrested along with several other men at the funeral of a relative. "Al-Arabiya considers the detention of its reporter to be a blatant violation of internationally recognized guidelines and regulations that safeguard press freedoms and freedom of expression," Al-Arabiya said in a statement. A Reuters spokeswoman said: "It is imperative that journalists should not be held in Iraq unless there are proper and public charges to justify their detention." In an interview with Al-Arabiya, U.S. military spokesman Captain Eric Clark said: "We have credible evidence that led us to apprehend your correspondent." He didn't specify the evidence against Hamid, citing an ongoing investigation. Reuters also said two of its Iraqi freelance cameramen have been detained by U.S. forces. BW