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Newsline - November 15, 2005


PUTIN SHAKES UP ADMINISTRATION...
Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced on 14 November two new deputy-prime-ministerial positions, Russian news agencies reported. To these posts, he named presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Ivanov will retain his current post as defense minister as he takes on his new position as deputy prime minister, while Medvedev will be a first deputy prime minister. Replacing Medvedev as head of the presidential administration will be Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin, who was appointed to a second five-year term last February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2005). According to Yevgenii Minchenko of the International Institute for Political Expertise, Sobyanin is one of Putin's favorite governors and was on the short list to be appointed prosecutor-general for the Russian Federation, Novyi Region reported. Another advantage to naming Sobyanin, according to Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology, is that he is new and therefore will not alter the current alignment of forces within the Kremlin, gazeta.ru reported on 14 November. JAC

...IN ANTICIPATION OF 2008 SUCCESSION BATTLE
Since Ivanov and Medvedev have previously been touted as possible successors to Putin, many analysts viewed the president's personnel moves in this context. Analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told "Delovoi Peterburg" that Putin's next step will be to name Medvedev prime minister, replacing Mikhail Fradkov. According to Belkovskii, such a move will constitute a major blow to Igor Sechin, deputy head of the presidential administration and unofficial head of the "siloviki" grouping in the presidential administration, who supports Fradkov. State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), said Medvedev's appointment is evidence that he is the Kremlin's current favorite to replace President Putin, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" reported on 14 November. Ryzhkov said that, "from today forward, Russia will be living in election season." A series of media outlets dubbed the cadre shifts "operation successor." JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS DISMISSED
Also on 14 November, Putin dismissed Sergei Kirienko as presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District and Konstantin Pulikovskii as presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District. Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhakov will replace Pulikovskii, and Bashkortostan Prosecutor Alekskandr Konovalov will replace Kirienko. Konovalov, who was deputy prosecutor in St. Petersburg, had been working in Ufa only since February 2005. Iskhakov is rumored to be a possible successor to Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who is currently serving his fourth term. Iskhakov has never worked professionally outside the city of Kazan, while Konovalov's career had until the last nine months been confined to St. Petersburg. Many analysts were surprised that Kirienko was not given a new position, although some media outlets cited anonymous sources as saying he will soon be named to head the Atomic Energy Ministry. Pulikovskii's tenure has been rocky, and talk of his dismissal has been frequent since his appointment in May 2000. JAC

LIBERAL OPPOSITION DECRIES SHAKE-UP AS ELECTORAL PLOY
Leaders of the opposition Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko parties said on 14 November that Putin's government shake-up marks the beginning of his preparations to ensure a smooth succession of leadership in the 2008 presidential elections, Interfax reported the same day. "Vladimir Putin essentially earmarked his possible successors as being Dmitrii Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov," SPS leader Nikita Belykh said in an interview with Interfax. "The democratic opposition is not satisfied with this turn of events. We are in favor of making the future presidential elections honest and pluralistic and we are not satisfied with this 'hint' regarding Vladimir Putin's possible successor," Belykh added. Yabloko's First Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko said it will become clear over the next year whether Medvedev or Ivanov is in line to succeed Putin. BW

RUSSIA AND UZBEKISTAN SIGN TREATY...
Putin and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed a bilateral-cooperation treaty on 14 November, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Speaking at a press conference after talks in the Kremlin with Karimov, Putin said the treaty takes Russia and Uzbekistan "to the closest possible degree of interaction." Citing an unidentified Kremlin source, RIA-Novosti reported that the agreement paves the way for long-term cooperation in trade and security, including defense coordination and intelligence sharing, mutual use of military facilities, and cooperation in battling terrorism and drug trafficking. "We think there is a need to do everything possible to neutralize the narcotic and terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan, and we will, of course, continue to provide our neighbors with help in developing their economic and social infrastructure," Putin said. The agreement also aims to boost trade and cooperation in the energy, food, and agricultural sectors. BW

...AS UZBEK PRESIDENT TOUTS STRONGER RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN CENTRAL ASIA
Speaking at the same Kremlin press conference, Karimov said on 14 November that he hopes the new treaty will strengthen Russia's position in Central Asia, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The "consolidation of Russia's presence in Central Asia will be a reliable guarantee of peace and stability in the region" and will benefit Russia, Uzbekistan, and the rest of the world, Karimov said. The new alliance between Russia and Uzbekistan comes as Karimov is becoming increasingly alienated from the West. Both the United States and the European Union have criticized him for violently repressing protestors in the city of Andijon in May, and for other human-rights abuses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). At their talks, Putin and Karimov also discussed Uzbekistan's pending membership in the Eurasian Economic Community, which comprises Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is scheduled to join by the end of the year. BW

FSB SAYS THREE ARRESTED FOR SELLING SPACE TECHNOLOGY TO CHINA
The Federal Security Service (FSB) said on 14 November that three senior executives at the state-run Masheksport company have been arrested and charged with illegally selling space technology to China, gazeta.ru, RIA-Novosti, and mosnews.com reported the same day. Masheksport head Igor Reshetin and his aides Sergei Tverdokhlebov and Aleksandr Rozhkin were arrested and charged in the case. Mosnews.com cited unidentified experts as saying that although the products the three allegedly sold were not on an export-control list, they could have led to the development of unspecified weapons of mass destruction. Masheksport was founded by the Central Mechanical Engineering and Scientific Research Institute in 1991 to deal with foreign contracts for space-related technologies. Since then more than 120 agreements have been signed and fulfilled with the U.S., China, and European countries. BW

POLICE PROBE LEAK OF MOSCOW TAX DATABASE
Russian law-enforcement officials are investigating how a database of the 2004 incomes of Moscow taxpayers ended up for sale on the black market, ITAR-TASS and "Vedomosti" reported on 14 November. The database, containing information from the Federal Tax Police Service on the incomes and taxes for residents of Moscow city and oblast, sold for $50 to $100, ITAR-TASS reported. The disc contains information on all taxpayers, including his or her name, address, telephone, declared income, and taxes paid. The Prosecutor-General's Office has asked the Interior Ministry to open a criminal investigation into the matter, "Vedomosti" reported. BW

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS
Russia's Supreme Court ruled on 15 November to uphold a ban on Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party (NBP), Russian news agencies reported the same day. The ruling validated a June decision by a Moscow Oblast court ordering the party to disband (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 16 August 2005). Yelena Mikhlina, a spokeswoman for the Moscow Oblast Prosecutor's Office, expressed "full satisfaction with the decision," ITAR-TASS reported. She added that "NBP activists have repeatedly committed crimes and administrative offences of an extremist nature, and the party's leader supported and approved their activities." NBP lawyer Vitalii Varivoda said he will appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice. BW

RAIDERS 'PLANNED TO HOLD NALCHIK FOR TWO MONTHS'
Albert Sizhazhev, deputy head of the Organized Crime Department of the Kabardino-Balkariya Republic (KBR) Interior Ministry, told journalists on 14 November that one of the participants in the 13 October attacks in Nalchik has testified under interrogation that the raiders' objective was to seize the city and hold it for two months, Interfax reported. Sizhazhev's claim is at odds with the hypothesis, to which a senior Russian Interior Ministry office gave credence in an 11 November "Vremya novostei" article, that the raiders intended to seize one or several aircraft from the local airport and crash them into strategic targets. One suspected participant in the raids was killed and a second was apprehended in a special operation on 12-13 November in the Nalchik suburb of Volnyi Aul, regnum.ru reported. On 12 November, KBR police found in Urvan District a weapons cache, including a portable Strela ground-to-air missile and a machine gun seized during the June 2004 raid on Interior Ministry facilities in Ingushetia. Documents, including a passport and driving license that allegedly belong to Anzor Astemirov, one of the participants in the Nalchik raids, were also discovered, according to newsru.com as cited by kavkazweb.net. On 14 November, izvestia.ru cited an unidentified Interior Ministry official as saying that the discovery of Astemirov's documents suggests that one of the 10 unidentified bodies of participants in the Nalchik raid might be his. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN CLAIMS GROWING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Mher Shahgeldian, who heads the Armenian parliament's committee on Defense, Internal Affairs, and National Security, told journalists on 14 November that the campaign to explain to voters the reasoning for the package of constitutional amendments to be decided in a nationwide referendum on 27 November has resulted in increased popular backing for those planned changes, Noyan Tapan reported. Meanwhile Artashes Geghamian, chairman of the opposition National Accord Party (AMK), told supporters in Vanadzor that he hopes that AMK and the opposition Artaruriun alliance will reach agreement during talks later this week on whether to urge voters to reject the proposed amendments or to boycott the referendum completely, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 14 November. A minimum of one-third of Armenia's 2.4 million registered voters must approve the amendments for them to pass. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT FIRES ANOTHER LOCAL GOVERNOR
Ilham Aliyev dismissed Zakatala Governor Vagif Ragimov on 14 November for failing to comply with his May and October decrees on ensuring that the 6 November parliamentary election was free, fair, and transparent, Azerbaijani media reported. On 12 November, the Central Election Commission annulled the voting results in Constituency No. 110 (Zakatala) on the grounds that final protocols appeared to have been falsified at 19 of the 41 polling stations to ensure a win for the candidate representing the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party. On 13 November, police in Zakatala used force to disperse opposition supporters who staged a protest against the election outcome, Turan reported. Fifteen participants were arrested, of whom two were sentenced the following day to seven and 10 days' imprisonment. LF

AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTER REJECTS COUP CHARGES
Former Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev continues to deny the charges of conspiracy to stage a coup d'etat brought against him last month, day.az reported on 15 November. The investigation into his alleged crimes is at a standstill because he refuses to give any evidence, according to his lawyer, Elton Guliev. Aliyev was dismissed on 19 October and arrested later that day on suspicion of funding a planned coup (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2005). LF

ABKHAZ OPENS INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH OF GEORGIAN
The Interior Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has opened a criminal case into a shooting incident in Chuburkhindji on 13 November in which one Georgian was killed and a second injured, Caucasus Press and apsny.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Deputy Interior Minister Zakan Djughelia said three unidentified men opened fire with automatic weapons on a car in which the victims were traveling. Djughelia further denied that Abkhaz police arrested two Georgian brothers who disappeared in Abkhazia's Gali Raion after attending a funeral. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION SPEAK OUT ON KILLING
President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan issued separate statements on 13-14 November on the investigation of the apparent killing of former Emergency Situations Agency head Zamanbek Nurkadilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005), "Kazakhstan Today" and Navigator reported. A police spokesperson in Almaty told "Kazakhstan Today" on 14 November that Nazarbaev has taken the investigation under his personal control. First Deputy Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov will direct the investigative team, which plans to conduct a number of forensic and other tests. Meanwhile, in a 13 November statement published by Navigator the next day, For a Just Kazakhstan called on Kazakhstan's law-enforcement agencies to conduct a "thorough, open investigation of the circumstances of Zamanbek Nurkadilov's murder with the participation of independent international experts." DK

KAZAKHSTAN HINTS AT LEGAL ACTION AGAINST BRITISH COMEDIAN
Foreign Ministry spokesman Erzhan Ashykbaev told a briefing in Astana on 14 November that the Kazakh government reserves the right to pursue legal action against British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Cohen is the creator of Borat, a "Kazakh journalist" whose vodka-drenched antics are a fixture in the comedian's spoof-based "Da Ali G Show." Playing Borat, Cohen recently hosted the MTV Europe Music Awards. Calling Cohen's behavior at the award show "unacceptable," Ashykbaev said, "We reserve the right to employ any legal methods to end such performances." Ashykbaev also noted the possibility that Cohen "is carrying out a political assignment with the aim of defaming Kazakhstan and its people to create a persistent negative stereotype in the international arena." DK

KYRGYZ COURT RETURNS CASE AGAINST SLAIN DEPUTY'S BROTHER TO PROSECUTORS
A court in Bishkek on 14 November sent the murder case against Ryspek Akmatbaev and eight other defendants back to the Prosecutor-General's Office, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Judge Amanbek Sariev said the court took the action because parties needed for the trial were missing for the third consecutive session. The trial has already been postponed twice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 10 November 2005). Akmatbaev, whose brother, deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev, was killed while visiting a prison during a recent uprising (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), is charged with involvement in the 2004 killing of policeman Chynybek Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). Akmatbaev maintains his innocence. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT STARTS NATIONWIDE DISCUSSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
President Kurmanbek Bakiev has signed a decree to initiate a nationwide discussion of a bill with changes to the country's constitution, Kabar reported on 14 November. The decree notes that the proposed changes are based on the work of the constitutional council, which considered suggestions from politicians, organizations, and citizens. The bill will soon be published and the subsequent discussion will last until 15 December. The presidential decree charges the government with disseminating information about the proposed amendments and conducting discussions at the local level on issues related to constitutional reform. DK

IMF TO CONSIDER DEBT WRITE-OFF FOR TAJIKISTAN
Carlos Pinerua, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to Tajikistan, met with President Imomali Rakhmonov on 14 November in Dushanbe to discuss bilateral cooperation, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Rakhmonov noted that Tajikistan posted 5.3-percent GDP growth for the first 10 months of 2005 with an inflation rate of 5.9 percent. For his part, Pinerua said that the IMF will consider at a meeting in late December writing off Tajikistan's debt. Pinerua put Tajikistan's debt to the IMF at $97 million, Regnum reported. DK

UZBEK COURT SENTENCES ANDIJON DEFENDANTS TO 14-20 YEARS...
The 15 defendants convicted of active involvement in unrest in Andijon on 12-13 May were sentenced by Uzbekistan's Supreme Court on 14 November to prison terms ranging from 14 to 20 years, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Five defendants received 20-year sentences, one defendant an 18-year sentence, three defendants 17-year sentences, two defendants 16-year sentences, and four defendants 14-year sentences. Some of the defendants' lawyers called the sentences, which were generally one or two years shorter than what prosecutors demanded, "just, considering the facts." All of the defendants admitted their guilt on the first day of the trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2005). DK

...AS EU IMPOSES VISA BAN ON 12 UZBEK OFFICIALS
In a 14 November press release on the Council of the European Union's website (http://ue.eu.int), the EU announced that it has adopted a common position on sanctions against the Uzbek government for excessive use of force in Andijon, including a visa ban for 12 Uzbek officials and an embargo on EU arms sales to Uzbekistan. The measures, which will be in effect for one year, ban Interior Minister Zakirjan Almatov, National Security Service head Rustam Inoyatov, Defense Minister Kadir Gulamov, and nine other mid- and high-ranking officials "who are directly responsible for the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in Andijan" from travel to the EU. After one year, the EU will review the sanctions on the basis of the conduct of future trials, detention and harassment of dissenters, Uzbek "cooperation with any independent, international rapporteur," the "outcome of any independent, international inquiry," and "any action that demonstrates the willingness of the Uzbek authorities to adhere to the principles of respect for human rights, rule of law and fundamental freedoms." DK

JAILED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST LAUNCHES HUNGER STRIKE
Former Belarusian lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets, who has been jailed since 15 May, has begun a hunger strike, Belapan reported on 14 November, quoting Skrabets' wife, Alyaksandra. "Syarhey wrote in his letter that after he had complained of an attack of gout, the administration of the detention center refused to alter his diet and he has been on the strike since 1 November," the wife told the agency. Shortly after his arrest Skrabets staged on a 40-day hunger strike that resulted in him losing 25 kilograms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). Skrabets is charged with attempted bribery, involvement in defrauding Belarusbank of more than $500,000 in loans, and illegal business activities. Skrabets claims the charges against him are politically motivated. Skrabets and two other lawmakers from the Chamber of Representatives staged a hunger strike in 2004, demanding liberalizing changes to the country's Electoral Code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2004). JM

U.S. OFFICIAL WANTS JOINT ACTION WITH EUROPE AGAINST REPRESSION IN BELARUS
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said in Berlin on 14 November that Europe and the United States should join forces to combat political repression in Belarus, Reuters reported. "[Belarus] is a place where increasingly and sadly Soviet levels of political repression are becoming more and more apparent," Fried told journalists at the U.S. Embassy. "This is a tragedy for the Belarusian people. Europe and the United States have a responsibility to do what they can to help." Fried did not elaborate on what he thinks the European Union and United States should do. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS WANT TO ABANDON HIGHER WAGES
Leaders of the Verkhovna Rada's groups and factions agreed on 14 November to give up the pay raise they were granted as of September, Interfax-Ukraine and ITAR-TASS reported. Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists that he will sign a relevant directive to reflect this decision, while his deputy, Adam Martynyuk, suggested that the decision must be enacted by law in order to take effect. In September, following a similar increase in wages for cabinet members, the average monthly pay for legislators rose from $800 to $2,800. JM

PREMIER SAYS NEARLY 40 PERCENT OF UKRAINIANS OFFICIALLY LIVING BELOW SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said at an economic conference in Kyiv on 14 November that the official incomes of 36.5 percent of Ukrainian citizens are below the country's subsistence minimum, ITAR-TASS reported. Yekhanurov suggested that many businesses in Ukraine understate their employees' earnings in order to reduce tax payments to the budget. Ukraine's monthly subsistence minimum, which was set by the parliament in October 2004, amounts to 432 hryvnyas ($85). JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER SAYS SETTING WTO MEMBERSHIP DEADLINE WAS MISTAKE
Verkhovna Rada speaker Lytvyn told journalists on 14 November that the Ukrainian government has made a mistake by setting a deadline for gaining entry to the World Trade Organization by the end of 2005, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "We made a strategic mistake when we set time frames for joining the WTO without talking about the goal," Lytvyn said. JM

BOSNIAN SERB POLICE ARREST WAR CRIMES SUSPECT
Bosnian Serb police confirmed in Bijeljina on 15 November that they have arrested Vojkan Djurkovic, who is wanted by a Bosnian court on suspicion of having perpetrated war crimes in the Bijeljina region during the 1992-95 conflict as a member of the paramilitary group called the Tigers, led by the late Zeljko Raznatovic (aka Arkan), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

SERBIAN COURT ORDERS YOUNG FASCISTS HELD UNDER INVESTIGATION
Investigators for the Novi Sad District Court ordered on 14 November that nine of the 13 recently detained reputed members of a fascist organization be held for 13 days each pending a report by the investigators, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 November 2005). Court investigator Miroslav Alimpic said that materials aimed at racial hatred were found in the course of a search following the young men's arrest after their participation in the violent breakup of a public university symposium on the fascist threat to Serbia today. Vojvodina's parliament is expected to look into this and related incidents soon. PM

SLOVENIAN MINISTRY DISTANCES ITSELF FROM PRESIDENT'S PROPOSAL ON KOSOVA
The Slovenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 14 November that President Janez Drnovsek's proposal on the final status of Kosova is his "personal and private" initiative and was not formulated in cooperation with the relevant Slovenian government institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Elsewhere, speculation continues in the Slovenian and Kosovar media as to whether Drnovsek's proposal reflects his own thinking or whether he is floating a trial balloon on behalf of the United States, UN diplomat Martti Ahtisaari, or someone else. In related news, Ahtisaari announced in Brussels on 14 November that he will soon begin a visit to the Balkans, starting with Kosova. He added that he will be based in Vienna in anticipation of the imminent launching of talks on Kosova's future. PM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT INVITE ROMANIAN CHURCH LEADER
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said during a visit by Russian Patriarch Aleksii II on 13 November that he will not invite Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church to Moldova, Flux reported on 14 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). "We have only one Patriarchy and Church recognized in the Republic of Moldova," Voronion said. There are 1,200 Russian Orthodox Church parishes in Moldova as well as several dozen parishes of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate, which are subordinate to the Romanian Orthodox Church. The Bessarabian Church was reconstituted in 1992 but only received official recognition from Moldovan authorities in 2002, after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. BW

IRAQI RESISTANCE READY TO TALK -- BUT ONLY WITH THE U.S.
The self-described spokesperson for the Iraqi resistance, Ayham al-Samarra'i, told reporters in Baghdad over on 12 November that seven Iraqi resistance groups are ready to enter into dialogue with the United States in a bid to end the violence in Iraq. But resistance groups will not enter into talks with the Iraqi government, which has labeled them terrorist groups, he said. Al-Samarra'i is the head of the Independent Iraqis Grouping, and served as electricity minister in the interim government.

The groups' conditions for entering into talks are not likely to receive a positive reaction from the United States. According to a statement issued minutes before al-Samarra'i's 12 November press briefing, resistance groups have demanded an end to all military operations and the release of detainees; the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraqi cities, and the establishment of a timetable for the withdrawal for multinational forces from Iraq.

Another problematic issue is the refusal by the resistance to lay down their arms. The resistance "will continue to keep its weapons until peace and accord are established in the country," al-Samarra'i told Al-Arabiyah television on 12 November.

For Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government, the decision to negotiate with the so-called "resistance" groups could be the nail in the coffin of the Shi'ite leadership on the eve of next month's parliamentary elections. Al-Ja'fari's administration has already been criticized for its weak role in bringing security to Iraq, so any attempts to negotiation with insurgent groups would further diminish the prime minister's conservative Shi'ite Arab support base and potentially weaken the Shi'ite alliance's position ahead of the election.

Other Shi'ite leaders have attempted to bring Sunni Arab "resistance" fighters to the table in recent months, most notably, former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, al-Samarra'i's old boss. Allawi's campaign platform is based on national unity and an end to sectarian strife. The former head of the interim government spent most of the past eight months in talks with Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq and neighboring Arab states in an effort to bring Sunnis to the table.

Al-Samarra'i contended in an Al-Arabiyah television interview broadcast on 12 November that resistance groups were not interested in entering into talks with the Iraqi government, saying the resistance groups "believe the United States has the upper hand in Iraq," and therefore it must take the initiative by opening dialogue.

Al-Samarra'i insisted however, that the seven resistance groups willing to come to the table are not terrorist groups, because they target occupation forces and not civilians. "The people who are resisting are doing so honorably to protect this country. The government must recognize them as legitimate representatives of the Iraqis," al-Samarra'i told Al-Arabiyah.

The former electricity minister claims that the seven groups -- which he refused to identify -- represent 90 to 95 percent of the resistance. He said attacks carried out by supporters of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi amount to only about 5 percent of all attacks.

Meanwhile, al-Samarra'i told the "Al-Zaman" newspaper that the resistance groups will participate in the 19 November Arab League-sponsored reconciliation conference in Cairo, the daily reported on 14 November. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa has also supported the participation of resistance groups at the Cairo talks. Iraqi government officials have said they will not enter into talks with any terrorist organizations.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made separate trips to Iraq in recent days, giving the impression to observers that they might be pushing the government to accept the presence of resistance groups at the 19 November Arab League meeting. Both the United States and the UN would like to see any political progress that might help bring greater legitimacy to the December elections, which will lead to the formation of a four-year government.

Asked by reporters on 11 November about her view on which groups should be allowed to participate in the meeting, RFI reported that Rice said: "I would hope that those who participate in the Arab League events...will recognize that they are participating with an Iraqi government that has indeed been elected and that the Iraqi government that is elected after December will be even more representative. And so the lead on this really ought to be with the Iraqi government, and any people coming out of a period of tyranny, as the Iraqis have, and now out of a period of violence, have to find a balance between inclusion and reconciliation and justice. And that is a process that I'm sure the Iraqis themselves will lead."

Al-Ja'fari responded to the same question, telling reporters: "We will not accept at this conference becoming a platform for terrorism and for high-level Ba'athist officials from the former regime. But it should be big enough for all patriotic Iraqis who believe in the political process...."

Meanwhile, Annan told reporters on 12 November in Baghdad: "Reconciliation is absolutely vital in Iraq," adding the conference "aims at building a new future for the Iraqi people," RFI reported on the same day.

Annan also held talks with Sunni Arab leaders on 12 November. "The secretary-general promised us that the UN will help in reviewing the constitution in the coming phase. We also informed him that the Iraqis are very worried over...the possibility of seeing the same thing happen again during the upcoming elections, meaning that they will be rigged," Sunni Arab leader Salih al-Mutlaq told Al-Sharqiyah television on 13 November. "We demanded international supervision as well as judicial supervision over the elections. Moreover, we called for injecting fresh blood into the IECI [Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission] and replacing the heads of ballot centers in the governorates."

SUICIDE ATTACKS KILL THREE AFGHANS, ONE GERMAN SOLDIER IN KABUL...
Two proximate suicide attacks in the Pol-e Charkhi area of Kabul left four people dead on 14 November, international news agencies reported the same day. First, an explosives-laden vehicle rammed into a military patrol vehicle belonging to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), leaving a German soldier and an Afghan man dead, while two other German soldiers and a number of Afghan civilians sustained injuries. A second car bomb subsequently exploded in the same area killing two Afghans -- a woman and a child -- AFP reported. A reporter from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan who was slightly injured in the second blast said she could not determine the target of the second attack, RFE/RL reported. German Defense Minister Peter Struck confirmed the German casualty report later the same day, ddp reported. In September, a suicide bomber killed at least nine Afghan National Police recruits by ramming his explosives-laden motorcycle into their bus, also in Pol-e Charkhi (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 29 September 2005). AT

...AS NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY
Speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban on 14 November, Mohammad Hanif claimed that group was responsible for the deadly suicide attack on the ISAF vehicle in Kabul the same day, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Hanif told AIP that a "Taliban fighter" carried out the attack, in which he asserted that "five NATO soldiers were killed." The caller refrained from commenting on the second explosion. Hanif later called AIP claiming responsibility for three explosions in Kabul, saying that all were suicide missions carried out by members of the militia from Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. In his second conversation with AIP, Hanif claimed that 19 foreign troops were killed. It is not unusual for the neo-Taliban to exaggerate casualty figures from insurgency attacks or even to claim credit for terrorist activities that they do not appear to have carried out. AT

ISLAMABAD REJECTS CHARGES OF INTERFERENCE IN AFGHAN AFFAIRS
Pakistan on 13 November rejected charges that it is interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs by assisting the neo-Taliban, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported on 14 November. The head of Afghanistan's Commission for Strengthening Peace and Stability, former President Sibghatullah Mojaddadi, told a news conference in Kabul on 13 November that elements of the Pakistani military and that country's Inter-Services Intelligence might be involved in backing antigovernment forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed rejected Mojaddedi's claims, saying that his country "has always been supportive of [a] peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan." Referring to Islamabad's support for Afghan membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Ahmed said that "responding to our sincerity in such a manner does not suit an Afghan leader" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 November 2005). AT

AFGHANISTAN ESTABLISHES MILITARY COURTS
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi told a news conference in Kabul on 13 November that military courts have been established within the framework of the Afghan National Army, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The courts were established following the approval of a law on military courts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The new courts, which would be limited to trials for military offenses, should have five primary courts within the central and regional corps and an appellate court within the chief of staff command. The so-called Third Court, or high court, for military offenses would be set up within the Afghan Supreme Court. AT

IRANIAN LEADER STRESSES SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 14 November meeting with the country's Friday prayer leaders that criticism of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad must stop, state television reported. "Everyone must support this government," Khamenei said. "I know that unfair remarks are made against the government, particularly against President Ahmadinejad.... The extent of my support for this government and this president is the same as my support for the previous presidents." He noted that Ahmadinejad has been in office for less than three months but already faces unprecedented expectations. Khamenei also told the Friday prayer leaders that they must increase their interaction with the public. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH GOVERNORS-GENERAL
President Ahmadinejad told a meeting of the country's governors-general at the Interior Ministry on 14 November that his government will increase their authority, Mehr News Agency reported. This will contribute to their efforts to reduce poverty, serve the people, and facilitate development, he claimed. Ahmadinejad added that resources will be allocated in a fair way, and he emphasized the role of good management in reducing red tape and increasing job opportunities. One of the president's campaign promises was to decentralize government activities and distribute resources and authority to the provinces. An editorial in the reformist daily "Aftab-i Yazd" on 14 November questioned Ahmadinejad's decision-making and referred to his provincial visit the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Ahmadinejad claimed that his cabinet made 100 decisions in a three-hour meeting, and the editorial questioned the wisdom of devoting 1.8 minutes to each decision. "If the country's problems are resolved so easily," the editorial continued, "why does the cabinet not resolve many of the country's problems in a series of meetings?" BS

FACTIONALISM PLAYS OUT ON TEHRAN METRO
Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has appointed Mohsen Hashemi as managing director of the Tehran metro system, ISNA reported on 13 November. Hashemi is the son of Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who ran against Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential race. The appointment signals discord among Iranian hard-liners, since then Mayor Ahmadinejad dismissed Hashemi in May, after he requested a two-month leave so he could work on his father's presidential campaign. BS

CONFLICTING REPORTS EMERGE IN IRAN OVER BIRD FLU
The unnamed director of a chicken-breeding center in Iran's Central (Markazi) Province claimed on 14 November that "official reports that there is no bird flu in the country are false," according to ILNA. The man was quoted as having said that some 14,000 birds are dead so far, and that a sampling has found that the chickens have the Newcastle and H9N2 varieties of avian flu. A state environmental-organization spokesman identified only as "Turabipur" countered that he knows of no such outbreak, and said that no cases of bird flu have been observed in Iran, ILNA reported. BS

FORMER IRAQI DETAINEES SAY U.S. TROOPS USED LIONS IN TORTURE
Two Iraqi men detained by U.S. troops in July 2003 told reporters in Washington on 14 November that U.S. troops used live lions while torturing detainees in Iraq, washingtonpost.com reported on 15 November. Sherzad Khalid and Thahe Sabber said they were brutally beaten over a several-month period at U.S. detention facilities in and around Baghdad. Khalid said he was pushed into a lion's cage at one of the presidential palaces three times before soldiers lined him up for a mock execution. Saddam Hussein's son Uday was known to have kept caged lions at a palace later taken over by U.S. forces. Sabber said he endured routine beatings, including sexual humiliation by female interrogators. He said troops stepped on the Koran and had dogs step on the Koran in an attempt to upset detainees. The men are now plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights First against U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top commanders in Iraq. "It should not surprise anyone that detainees would make false allegations against their captors," Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman said when asked about the case, according to washingtonpost.com. KR

U.S. MILITARY CLAIMS WESTERN IRAQI TOWNS CLEARED OF INSURGENTS
U.S. Central Command said in a 14 November press release that the towns of Husaybah and Al-Karabilah have been cleared of insurgents. In the town of Al-Ubaydi, some 20 kilometers from the Syrian border, U.S. and Iraqi forces have gained control of the old city but have yet to rid the new city of insurgents, the military said. The press release estimated that some 50 insurgents have been killed in Al-Ubaydi. U.S. and Iraqi forces encountered mines and improvised explosive devices while clearing the town, including a house booby-trapped with explosives, according to the press release. A minefield was reportedly discovered southeast of Husaybah. Military operations are also under way north of Baghdad in Ba'qubah and Mosul. Al-Sharqiyah television quoted Iraqi security forces as saying that 370 suspects were detained in raids in Ba'qubah on 14 November. The Muslim Scholars Association appealed on 14 November for the release of nine imams arrested in Diyala Governorate during the previous two days, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Meanwhile, Reuters on 15 November quoted a UN Mission report as saying that more than 10,000 families have been displaced by military operations in the Al-Anbar and Ninawah governorates. KR

U.S. RAID UNCOVERS UNDOCUMENTED PRISONERS IN IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY FACILITY
U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry detention facility in Baghdad on 13 November and discovered "a large number" of undocumented prisoners, some exhibiting signs of abuse, latimes.com reported on 15 November. U.S. Brigadier General Karl Horst told reporters on 14 November. Horst said that when U.S. soldiers entered the detention facility, located in Baghdad's Al-Jadiriyah district, they were told that it held just 40 prisoners, but that as "we kept opening doors," more than 200 detainees were discovered. Horst said the detainees who suffered abuse will be moved to facilities where they will receive medical treatment, the website reported. Horst said that U.S. and Iraqi troops intend to check every Interior Ministry detention center in Baghdad. KR

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