EIGHT STABBED IN ATTACK ON MOSCOW SYNAGOGUE
Aleksandr Koptsev, an unemployed Moscow resident, stabbed eight people in the Chabad Bronnaya synagogue on 11 January, Russian news agencies reported. He reportedly shouted anti-Semitic slogans in what one witness called a "well-planned attack." Koptsev's assault ended only when he was wrestled to the ground by a teenage boy. The eight victims are in a hospital, where two are reportedly in serious but stable condition. Moscow prosecutors have charged Koptsev with attempted murder, causing premeditated bodily harm, and inciting racial or religious discord. Police found gun ammunition and a list of Moscow synagogues in his apartment. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has taken personal control of the investigation. The Israeli Embassy in Moscow said it is "extremely concerned" by the incident. The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church condemned the attack. Koptsev's father told "Kommersant-Daily" that his son is a quiet young man and does not belong to any political or religious organization. Mosnews.com noted that "the stabbing is the latest in a growing series of incidents apparently involving skinheads or racist groups in Russia. Rights groups have warned that hate groups have grown substantially in recent years." PM
CHIEF RABBI WARNS OF 'FASCISM'
Berl Lazar, who is Russia's chief rabbi, cut short a trip to Israel and returned to Moscow following the 11 January attack in the Chabad Bronnaya synagogue, mosnews.com reported. He told reporters: "It's here. It's fascism." Lazar said that anything is possible if someone can attack people in a place of worship. "I am sure that gunmen will come to every home unless our society wakes up to the problem now," he added. Borukh Gorin, the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said that "fascism will come knocking at the door of every citizen if we do not take serious measures now." He added that he hopes the latest incident will send a message to the Russian authorities about the seriousness of the problem of prejudice and extremism. PM
RUSSIA TOUGHENS TONE ON IRAN
Several Russian officials on 11 January used tougher language than previously to criticize Iran's recent decision to resume uranium-enrichment research, mosnews.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 January 2006). Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Tehran's move "personally disappoints me and gives some cause for alarm." He added that "as a permanent UN Security Council member, Russia reserves the right to act according to the situation. But whatever the case may be, the situation is not developing in the most favorable way." He did not elaborate. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Iranian decision "cause for concern," which seems to indicate a slight shift from his previous position that Iran has a right to develop a civilian atomic-energy program. Some Moscow analysts cautioned, however, that Russia will not reverse its policies because the ruling elite has too many economic interests in Iran that might suffer as a result. PM
RUSSIA HOPES TO HAVE BIRD-FLU VACCINE BY APRIL
Oleg Kiselyov, who heads Russia's Influenza Institute, said in Moscow on 12 January that Russia could begin large-scale production of a vaccine to prevent bird flu by April. "We need to complete our tests [on the vaccine].... I hope it will be in production in April," he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 January 2006). He argued that a major, world-wide pandemic could take place in the coming years, adding that it would take about nine months to develop a vaccine against such a strain. The Agriculture Ministry wants to produce 100 million doses of vaccine for domestic birds. PM
HUNT FOR MILITANTS CONTINUES IN DAGHESTAN
Eight groups of Daghestani Interior Ministry and Special Forces (OMON) troops together with a special Russian Interior Ministry Troops detachment continued on 11 January to comb the Untsukul district of Daghestan in a hunt for a band of militants who were the target of a mass search and destroy operation launched last week, riadagestan.ru reported on 11 January. Interfax on 11 January quoted a Daghestani Interior Ministry spokesman as saying the militants were pinned down in a mountain cave (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2006). LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES NEED TO MEET TAX REVENUE TARGETS
Robert Kocharian told senior tax and customs officials in Yerevan on 11 January that while tax and customs bodies "have undoubtedly made progress," a sustained effort is still needed to eliminate "serious shortcomings" and "create a full-fledged and efficient system," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He noted that tax authorities succeeded in 2005 in meeting the budget revenue target, but he warned at the same time that deteriorating performance will inevitably result in arrears that will negatively affect social spending. He noted in particular tax evasion in the mining and public transportation sectors and the widespread smuggling of various goods into the country. Kocharian lambasted customs officials four months ago for failing to crack down on smuggling across the border with Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005). Armenia's state revenues are equal to less than 17 percent of GDP, one of the lowest indicators in the CIS. LF
LAWYER REQUESTS DETAINED AZERBAIJANI MINISTER'S HOSPITALIZATION
Elton Guliyev, one of three lawyers representing detained former Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev, was quoted by echo-az.com as saying he will submit a formal request on 12 January to the Prosecutor-General's Office for his client's hospitalization. Aliyev has twice suffered a dangerous fall in blood pressure, and Guliyev said he is "in a serious condition" and requires hospital treatment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 December 2005 and 4 January 2006). A second lawyer for Aliyev, Adyl Ismailov, declined to confirm to echo-az.com a report circulated on 11 January by day.az that Aliyev plans to head a new political party that will be in constructive opposition to the present leadership. Ismailov added, nonetheless, that there is no legal obstacle to Aliyev heading a political party. LF
POLICE SUMMONED IN CONNECTION WITH AZERBAIJANI PARTY STANDOFF
Ali Aliyev, who was deposed on 8 January as chairman of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) by supporters of his predecessor Etibar Mamedov, now honorary AMIP leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006), summoned police on 11 January after senior AMIP functionary Ayaz Rustamov refused him access to the party's Baku headquarters, day.az reported. Aliyev managed to force his way into the building, but an attempt to reach agreement with Mamedov's supporters degenerated into an exchange of insults, with each faction accusing the other of collusion with the Azerbaijani authorities. Aliyev subsequently left the building voluntarily. LF
GEORGIAN COURT SENTENCES BUSH ASSAILANT
The Tbilisi City Court sentenced Vladimir Arutiunian to life imprisonment on 11 January on charges of murder and an attempted act of terrorism, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. Arutiunian threw a hand grenade in the direction of U.S. President George W. Bush and his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili while the two men were addressing thousands of Georgians in Tbilisi in May 2005, and shot dead a Georgian police officer during the operation to apprehend him in late July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May and 21 and 22 July 2005). Arutiunian pled not guilty to the charges of murder and attempted terrorism, admitting only to having stolen an identity document in order to obtain a mobile phone number. He claimed the charges against him were politically motivated, and declined to testify, saying he will speak only after meeting with representatives of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. His lawyer, Lizi Djaparidze, said she will appeal the sentence, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said two persons who provided the information that led to Arutiunian's arrest will share the 150,000 lari ($83,885) reward for his capture, Caucasus Press reported on 12 January. Their names will be made public only at their request. The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi released a statement welcoming Arutiunian's conviction following what it termed "a balanced and fair trial," Caucasus Press reported on 12 January. LF
LUKEWARM RECEPTION FOR PROPOSAL TO APPOINT GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY AS PREMIER
Incumbent Zurab Noghaideli and opposition parliament deputies dismissed on 11 January as unserious a proposal by Aleksandre Shalamberidze of the majority United Democrats faction that, beginning with the parliamentary elections due in 2008, the prime minister should be selected from among parliament deputies, Caucasus Press reported. Shalamberidze said doing so would improve coordination between the legislative and executive branches, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported, and he cited instances in which the prime minister, the finance minister, and the economy minister have made diverging statements on one and the same issue. Shalamberidze implied that the parliament majority supports his proposal, which would necessitate amending the constitution, but admitted that the relevant bill has not yet been drafted. Vakhtang Khmaladze, one of the authors of Georgia's constitution, told Caucasus Press on 11 January that it should not be subject to unnecessary amendments, and noted that real power in Georgia is vested in the president, not the prime minister. Representatives of the opposition Democratic Front and New Rightists factions similarly expressed skepticism. Kakha Kukava (Democratic Front) told RFE/RL's Georgian Service it would be appropriate for a parliamentary republic but not a presidential one like Georgia where the president is empowered to name the prime minister. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SECURES KAZAKH INVESTMENT
Saakashvili met on 11 January in Astana, where he attended the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see below), with Mukhtar Abliyazov, chairman of the board of directors of Turan-Alem Bank, one of Kazakhstan's three largest, Georgian media reported. Saakashvili and Abliyazov told journalists after their talks that Turan-Alem will invest up to $200 million in modernizing tourist infrastructure in Adjara and is considering establishing an international consortium to finance construction of an oil refinery in Georgia. Meeting on 10 January with President-elect Nazarbaev, Saakashvili said Georgia wants Kazakhstan to become the number one foreign investor in its economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2006). LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT BEGINS NEW TERM
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev took the oath of office and officially began a new seven-year term in a ceremony in Astana on 11 January, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. In his inaugural address, Nazarbaev called the 91-percent support he received in the country's 4 December election a vote of "confidence" and "unity," Khabar reported. Outlining domestic and foreign-policy priorities, Nazarbaev vowed to make Kazakhstan one of the 50 most developed countries in the world, stressing plans for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009. Nazarbaev stated that Kazakhstan is "firmly committed to strategic partnership with Russia, the People's Republic of China, and the United States." The inauguration ceremony was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Croatian President Stipe Mesic, and Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK
CHINESE VICE PRESIDENT HOLDS MEETINGS IN KAZAKHSTAN
Vice President Zeng held meetings with President Nazarbaev and Kyrgyz President Bakiev in Astana on 11 January, Xinhua reported. In the wake of the meeting between Zeng and Nazarbaev, the two countries issued a joint communique stressing their strategic partnership, Kazakhstan's support for the "one China" principle, the "achievements of economic cooperation," and the goal of "deepening energy cooperation." The communique also noted that "China and Kazakhstan both attach great importance to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan] summit in Shanghai in June 2006." In the course of his meeting with Zeng, Bakiev commented, "We attach great importance to cooperation [with China] particularly in the area of the economy," Kabar reported. For his part, Zeng stated that Kyrgyzstan is a "key partner" of China in Central Asia and noted that Kyrgyzstan is China's second-largest commercial partner in the region. On the security front, Zeng stated that both the Kazakh and Kyrgyz presidents support cooperation with China in combating the "three evils" of terrorism, extremism, and separatism, Xinhua reported. DK
REPORT SAYS KYRGYZ COAL REBEL THREATENS GOVERNMENT
A police spokesperson in Kyrgyzstan's Naryn Province said on 11 January that Nurlan Motuev, who seized a coal mine in the province eight months ago that he still holds, threatened at a demonstration in Jumgal district on 9 January to burn down the local police station if officials try to arrest him, akipress.org reported. The news agency estimated the size of the demonstration at 350, while a Motuev supporter told ferghana.ru that 3,000 people took part. Ferghana.ru reported that Motuev staged the protest following indications that the authorities, who have condemned Motuev's actions but thus far been unable to put an end to his defiance, are close to making an attempt to arrest him. DK
TRIAL OF FORMER TAJIK DRUG KINGPIN BEGINS
The trial of Ghaffor Mirzoev, former commander of Tajikistan's President Guard and former head of the country's Drug Control Agency, began behind closed doors in Dushanbe on 11 January, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Mirzoev faces charges that include embezzlement and attempting to mount a coup. Mirzoev maintains his innocence, ITAR-TASS reported. DK
REPORT SAYS TURKMEN CABINET MEETS ON BIRD DEATHS
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has held a closed cabinet session to discuss measures to safeguard Turkmenistan against outbreaks of bird flu, Deutsche Welle reported on 11 January, quoting its own correspondent and an unnamed source in the Turkmen presidential administration. The report said that the government discussed mass deaths of wild and domestic fowl in the country's Mary, Lebap, and Balkan provinces, with the president ordering an investigation of all such cases. Security officials were also charged with ensuring that no information about the bird deaths reach outside sources and with preventing foreign experts from gaining access to the affected areas, the report said. DK
TURKMENISTAN REPORTS 2005 GAS-PRODUCTION RISE, OIL PRODUCTION DROP
Turkmenistan's production and export of natural gas notched an 8 percent year-on-year gain in 2005, while oil production showed a 0.8-percent drop, Turkmenistan.ru reported on 11 January. The report said that Turkmenistan produced 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2005, exporting 45.2 billion cubic meters. Oil production stood at 9.5 million tons. Forecasted production figures for 2006 were 75 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 10.3 million tons of oil. DK
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER BANNED FROM TRAVELING ABROAD
Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB) has imposed a foreign-travel ban on Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, Belapan reported on 11 January. Lyabedzka, who recently received a new passport from a district police office, found that the document lacks a foreign-travel permit stamp. Police officers reportedly told him that it was the KGB that had refused to grant him the stamp. JM
BELARUSIAN DOCTORS TO CHOOSE BETWEEN STATE-RUN, PRIVATE CLINICS
The Belarusian Health Ministry has banned doctors employed in the state sector from simultaneously working for private medical institutions, Belapan reported on 11 January, quoting a ministry official. "We have taken the crucial decision and there should be no alternative -- either you work with a state or with private institution," the official said. JM
BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT REPORTS ROBUST ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 2005
Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski told President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 11 January that Belarus's gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 9.2 percent last year, Belapan reported on 11 January, quoting the presidential press service. Industrial output reportedly grew by 10 percent, cattle farms' output jumped by 15 percent, while crop production decreased as a result of damage caused by windstorms. Sidorski reported that Belarus's inflation in 2005, 8 percent, was the lowest in the past 15 years. He also said wages in 2006 rose in the budgetary and the non-budgetary sectors. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS PARLIAMENT TO RETRACT CABINET OUSTER...
President Viktor Yushchenko said at a government meeting on 12 January that he has requested that the Verkhovna Rada cancel its 10 January decision to sack Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's cabinet, UNIAN reported. "I have written an appeal to the Verkhovna Rada with the request that it cancel [its] unconstitutional decision to dismiss the government," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko added that he considers the current cabinet to be a full-fledged government, adding that Yekhanurov does not need to use the adjective "acting" before his official title. JM
...AND WITHDRAWS FROM PACT WITH POLITICAL RIVAL
President Yushchenko also informed the Cabinet of Ministers on 12 January that he has withdrawn his signature under the memorandum he signed with his former presidential rival, Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, to enlist Yanukovych's support for the approval of Yekhanurov as prime minister in September, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko explained that the Party of Regions violated the memorandum by voting to dismiss Yekhanurov on 10 January. In particular, Yushchenko obliged himself in the 10-point memorandum to restrain from using "repression against the opposition" and to draft a bill on amnesty for those guilty of election fraud in the 2004 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 4 October 2004). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO STICK TO GAS DEAL WITH RUSSIA
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said after a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Astana on 11 January that Kyiv will not "break" its gas deal with Moscow, which served as a reason for the dismissal by the parliament of Prime Minister Yekhanurov's cabinet the previous day, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Ukraine will not break any article of our agreements with Russia or with our western partners," Yushchenko declared at a joint news conference with Putin. "When Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on 1 January 2006, Ukraine compensated for 80 percent of the [gas] deficit from its underground gas storage facilities to spare Western consumers any discomfort," he added. "We both believe that the gas agreement signed on 4 January this year is fully consistent with the principles of market economy. It is our common choice in favor of new forms of Russian-Ukrainian relations and it was made with the full respect of the interests of both parties," Putin said at the same news conference. JM
SERBIAN PRESIDENT 'UPSET' BY TURNOUT FOR CONTROVERSIAL MEMORIAL IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Serbian President Boris Tadic said on 11 January that he was disappointed that neither Western officials nor representatives from Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina attended a ceremony commemorating the deaths of Serbs in the Bosnian village of Kravica, B92 and Beta reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006). "This fact is very upsetting. We must understand that what happened to everyone in the 1990s is a great tragedy, but at the same time, these events represent an opportunity to give tribute to the victims together and show solidarity," Tadic said. "Every crime has its perpetrator, and I hope that every one of those people is put in prison for as long as possible. Only in these circumstances will we find a normal path towards the future," he added. Troops led by Naser Oric raided the Serb-dominated village of Kravica on Orthodox Christmas in 1993. They were accompanied by Muslim civilians from the Srebrenica area in search of food. Bosnian Serbs say 49 civilians were killed, while Bosnian Muslims say 39 Serbs died and that all were members of paramilitary forces. BW
SERBIA DENIES IT HAS MLADIC MEDICAL RECORDS SOUGHT BY WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said the council does not have war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic's health records, B92 and Beta reported the same day. The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been seeking the documents. "The tribunal has asked that we include Ratko Mladic's so-called medical files with his personal file," Ljajic said. "That is why we are calling around to the medical institutions that we presume Mladic had been treated in, in order to find the files. We will call the Military Medical Academy and other health care institutions in order to find Mladic's medical records, and they will be, without doubt, submitted to the Tribunal." BW
KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER REJECTS ESTABLISHMENT OF SERBIAN ENTITY IN PROVINCE
Kosova parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci said on 11 January that Prishtina will reject any effort to establish a Serbian entity in the province, dpa reported the same day. "Everything that has a tendency to physically segregate Kosova, on the basis of ethnicity or entities, will not succeed," Daci said after meeting with Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Belgrade's platform for UN-backed final-status talks on Kosova proposes the creation of a Serbian entity in areas where Serbs live in significant numbers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2006). The final-status talks are scheduled to begin in late January in Vienna. BW
ARGENTINA TO EXTRADITE BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES SUSPECT
An Argentine judge on 11 January approved the extradition of a Bosnian Serb to face war crimes charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), dpa reported the same day. Argentine police had arrested Milan Lukic, 38, in Buenos Aires in August. The ICTY indicted him in 2000 for crimes against non-Serb civilians during Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war. The indictment accuses Lukic's "White Eagles" paramilitary unit of murdering roughly 150 people in the Visegrad area in eastern Bosnia. A Serbian court sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in prison last year for the 1993 abduction and murder of 16 Bosnian Muslims from a bus at Sjeverin, on the Bosnia-Serbia border. BW
JOURNALIST POSTS CROATIAN PRESIDENT'S TESTIMONY ON INTERNET IN DEFIANCE OF COURT ORDER
Croatian journalist Domagoj Margetic on 11 January posted an audio recording of President Stipe Mesic testifying at the Hague-based ICTY in defiance of a court order, Hina reported the same day. Police in Zagreb raided the offices of the Croatian Disabled War Veterans Association (HVIDRA) on 9 January and detained Margetic to prevent him from playing the recording there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). The audiotape records Mesic's testimony in the trial of Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic. The Hague war crimes tribunal has indicted Margetic for publishing part of the protected testimony in the Croatian press. BW
WORLD BANK ANNOUNCES THREE-YEAR, $196 MILLION LOAN FOR ALBANIA
The World Bank announced on 11 January that it will lend Albania $196 million over the next three years, AP reported the same day. The purpose of the loan is to assist Tirana in fighting poverty and high unemployment and will be aimed at stimulating economic growth by supporting private sector development and improving social services. Albania's economy grew by an estimated 5.5 percent in 2005 and is projected to grow by 5 percent this year, and the loan is aimed at maintaining that growth. "However, maintaining this performance will be difficult, and Albania will need to attract more foreign direct investment, increase public and private savings, accelerate accumulation of physical and human capital, and improve governance structures to maintain its impressive progress to date," the World Bank said in a statement. BW
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR HEARINGS ON GAS CRISIS, WHILE OFFICIAL SAYS DEAL NEARER
Members of the opposition Our Moldova Alliance on 12 January called for parliamentary hearings to probe the Moldovan government's handling of negotiations with Russia's Gazprom over the price of natural gas, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In a statement, Our Moldova called on lawmakers to investigate "the incapability of the authorities to solve the natural gas crisis with Russia" and called for "the replacement of the irresponsible and corrupt communist rule." Meanwhile, Gennadii Abashkin, CEO of Moldovagas, said an agreement with Gazprom is being worked out. As part of a compromise agreement, Chisinau is proposing to increase Gazprom's share in Moldovagaz from 51 to 64 percent (see "RFE/RL Newline," 11 January 2006). BW
IRAQI KURDS AGREE TO UNIFY ADMINISTRATIONS
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) reached an agreement on 7 January over the joint administration of the Kurdistan regional government. The agreement, several years in the making, has been hailed across the region. Kurdish leaders said the agreement will be presented to the Kurdistan National Assembly for ratification following the Eid Al-Adha holiday, which ends on 12 January.
The two parties have maintained separate administrations in the zones that they have controlled since the end of the Kurdistan civil war in 1998.
According to the new power-sharing agreement, KDP members will be appointed to head the Agriculture, Culture, Electricity, Finance, External Affairs, Higher Education, Martyrs, Municipalities, and Water Resources ministries.
The PUK will oversee the Education, Endowments, Interior, Health, Human Rights, Justice, Planning and Reconstruction, Social Affairs, and Transport ministries.
There is no conclusive word on which party will control the Peshmerga Affairs Ministry, which will be responsible for managing some 160,000 peshmerga fighters, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 10 January. The daily reported that the unification of the Kurdish peshmerga, police, military intelligence, external intelligence, and internal security services could take up to 18 months.
According to media reports, KDP head and current Kurdistan President Mas'ud Barzani will retain the presidency, and Nechirvan Barzani will serve as prime minister. The PUK's Adnan Mufti will serve as parliament speaker. The parties, which ran a joint slate in the 15 December Iraqi National Assembly elections, have agreed to nominate PUK head Jalal Talabani for the Iraqi presidency.
Reuters reported on 10 January the parties will switch control of the Kurdish presidency and parliament speaker positions after two years.
Kurdish leaders praised the agreement at a 7 January press conference in Salah Al-Din, calling it "historic." KDP member and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Nuri Shaways said the agreement was finalized in writing after lengthy discussions by the political bureaus of both parties.
"This is a significant step in the history of the people of Kurdistan," PUK Political Bureau head Kosrat Rasul Ali told reporters at the press conference. Ali said he hopes the Kurdish administration will take into account the sacrifices made by Kurdish families during the struggle to unite Kurdistan and compensate those who suffered during the Kurdish civil war.
There is also no word on what role, if any, will be given to smaller Kurdish parties in the unified government. The Kurdistan Islamic Union, which placed second in the recent national election in all three Kurdistan governorates, may be left out in the cold, given the union's current relationship with the parties.
The Kurdistan region went through a turbulent period following the 1991 Gulf War. The United States secured autonomy for the region after it established a northern no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in 1991. Kurdish parliamentary elections were held and a regional government was formed in 1992, but relations between the two parties were less than cohesive due to internecine fighting.
By 1994, civil war had broken out. In 1996, KDP head Mas'ud Barzani elicited the help of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to drive PUK peshmerga forces from Irbil and other strongholds. A Washington-brokered peace accord between the KDP and PUK in 1998 eventually brought an end to the conflict.
Though they share power in a regional parliament -- newly elected in 2005 -- the two sides have continued to maintain separate administrations in their respective areas of control in Kurdistan. Last year, the two parties began drafting a constitution for the entire Kurdistan region.
AFGHAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN COUNTERPART
President Hamid Karzai met with Vladimir Putin in Astana on 11 January while both leaders were attending Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's inauguration, Interfax-AVN reported. Putin reportedly pledged that his country "will do all it can" to restore "normal life" in Afghanistan. Putin also said bilateral relations between Moscow and Kabul are developing actively. For his part, Karzai promised to "do everything possible" to strengthen the relationship between Afghanistan and Russia. Afghanistan fell into turmoil in 1978 after a Soviet-backed communist regime took power; that regime was subsequently supported by invading forces from the Soviet Union for a decade, from 1979-89. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has supported elements within the Afghan internal conflict but has largely remained on the sidelines since the ouster of the Taliban regime by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001. AT
SLOVAKIA PROPOSES TO DONATE SURPLUS ARMS TO AFGHANISTAN
Slovak Defense Minster Juraj Liska has proposed donating hundreds of machine guns, rocket launchers, and pistols to Afghanistan as part of a military-aid package, the Bratislava-based daily "Pravda" reported on 10 January. The weapons in question are part of Slovakia's surplus military supplies. Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee Chairman Robert Kalinak criticized the aid package, saying that he "can imagine other kinds of support for a democracy than the supply of arms." Kalinak suggested that his country's military could have offered field kitchens or training for the Afghan military. The Serbian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, recently proposed donating surplus weapons to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2005). AT
FIGHTING INVOLVING 'LOCAL TALIBAN' CONTINUES IN PAKISTANI TRIBAL AREAS
The death toll from ongoing fighting in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region of North Waziristan has left 21 people dead, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 11 January. Two Pakistani troops, five militiamen belonging to the paramilitary Frontier Corps, and 14 militants have been killed in these most recent battles along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier. According to an unidentified Pakistani military official quoted by "The News," a "local Taliban commander" identified as Bilal was among those killed. The same source added that some of the dead militants "are locals and some are foreigners." Pakistani authorities are trying to determine the identities and nationalities of those killed, the source said. Earlier reports about fighting in North Waziristan indicated that no militants had been killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2006). Neo-Taliban elements operating in Afghanistan have close connections with religious institutions in Pakistan's tribal areas, where their ideology was born and still enjoys a significant following. AT
CLERIC FIRM ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR PLANS
Ex-President and Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 11 January denounced "the immense wave of unfair, formidable, and unprecedented attacks by Western media" and officials against Iran following its resumption of nuclear-research activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 January 2006), ISNA reported the same day. "One is surprised by this bullying...[and] all the problems they are causing" Iran, which merely wishes to access "the latest science" and use a "natural and internationally approved right," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. "Prudence" is needed at this stage, he added, but Iran cannot forego "its right." Iran will "remain firm and win this right with prudence and the correct actions, and if they cause disturbances, they will ultimately regret it," he said. Western protests are "colonial" in motivation, he said, adding that "the colonial policy is for them to be a few steps ahead of other countries" in technology. Throughout its 1980-88 war with Iraq, Hashemi-Rafsanjani added, Iran, unlike Iraq, did not use chemical weapons and "we tried in all stages not to go beyond humane bounds in defending ourselves, and they know Iran is not one to use nuclear weapons," ISNA reported. VS
PRESIDENT INSISTS IRAN SPURNS NUCLEAR WEAPONS
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during an 11 January visit to Bandar Abbas, on Iran's Persian Gulf coast, that "in the near future, we shall fully dispose of peaceful nuclear energy" but insisted that Iran wants no nuclear bombs, ISNA reported the same day. "We want those who claim [that Iran wants those bombs]...to understand that that is not the case, and nuclear weapons are illegal and impious in our dictionary," Ahmadinejad said. "We have never sought and will never seek nuclear weapons, and oppose the nuclear arsenals of large countries, and believe they are a threat to peace," he said. Western states, Ahmadinejad added, have made technology "an instrument of dominance" and do "not want other countries to have up-to-date technology, which is why they are obstructing" Iran's quest for nuclear technology, he said. He added that foreign powers have no "right" to be involved in Persian Gulf security arrangements and should leave, ISNA reported. "I hope that with the...cooperation of regional states, we shall see foreign forces leave the Persian Gulf" to give the region "lasting peace and quiet. Assuring the security of the Persian Gulf is a right and duty of regional states," he said. VS
IRANIAN PLANT TO CHURN OUT SUBMARINES
Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar attended the opening in Bandar Abbas on 11 January of a mass-production line for "Ghadir" midget submarines, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL 7 February 2005). The vessels are to be made at the Shahid Darvishi complex in Bandar Abbas, run by the Naval Industries Group, a division of the Defense Industries Organization run by the Defense Ministry, according to IRNA. The minister inspected the complex and examined some of the variety of naval vessels that it manufactures, including four recently-completed 1,000-ton landing craft, which IRNA stated were designed and made there for an unspecified "private sector" in Iran. Najjar said at the line's inauguration that, given Iran's lengthy southern coast, one of the ministry's "strategic policies" is to raise "the defensive capacity of the naval armed forces," IRNA reported. "Iran's defensive capacity on land, in the air, and at sea serves the peace, stability, and security of the Persian Gulf," he said, and with the help of coastal states and "neighbors," Iran "will not permit any supra-regional state to create insecurity" in the gulf, IRNA reported. VS
IRAN HIZBULLAH TO PUBLISH NEWSPAPER
The right-wing Iran Hizbullah published on 9 January a preliminary issue of its daily "Hizbullah," with Muhammad Baqer Kharrazi as its editor in chief, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 11 January. Regular publication might not start until the Persian year that begins on 21 March 2006. Group spokesman Mujtaba Beigdeli said on 4 January that the daily will "most probably" begin working then, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 5 January. Iran Hizbullah is apparently related to the Ansar-i Hizbullah, a radical group that many Iranians associate with violence and attacks in the 1990s on gatherings of students or liberals. Radio Farda observed that the Ansar-i Hizbullah has recently become alienated from some former allies -- conservatives currently in positions of power -- presumably for their excessive radicalism. The Iran Hizbullah, it added, might enjoy closer ties with the Ahmadinejad government. Beigdeli said the Iran Hizbullah also intends to start a satellite network and requires no permit from the Culture Ministry, which coordinates Iranian media activities, because it will engage in "cultural activities" and the promotion of religion, not politics -- unlike a recently banned reformist network (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 January 2006). VS
IRAQ'S KURDISTAN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT COMMENTS ON ARREST OF CRITIC
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said in a 9 January press release posted to the kurdishmedia.com website on 10 January that media reports on the arrest of Kamal Sa'id Qadir have inaccurately depicted the legal case against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2006). The press release stated that Qadir was arrested "according to law and an established court system." The case is now before the Court of Cassation (supreme court); Qadir has been charged according to the Kurdish 2003 law Number 21, Article 1 on the defamation of public institutions. "Mr. Qadir has full access to a lawyer and his rights are assured. In addition to his lawyer, he has also been visited by family members, colleagues, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and by officials from the Austrian Embassy in Iraq," the statement said. The KRG said that the principles of human rights and freedom of expression "continue to be respected, promoted, and assured for all persons throughout the Kurdistan region." KR
IRAQI SHI'ITE LEADER TAKES TOUGH STAND ON GOVERNMENT FORMATION
Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said that the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) will not bend on certain principles enshrined in the constitution, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 11 January. Speaking during his Eid Al-Adha sermon at SCIRI headquarters in Baghdad, al-Hakim said any party seeking an alliance with the UIA must abide by the text of the constitution in its current form, take a firm stand against terrorism, and support the de-Ba'athification process. "We have a group of constants that we will never relinquish; they became constants after long, immense suffering. These constants, therefore, should be taken into consideration in any future coalitions. Any party seeking alliance with us in order to participate in the government, should abide by these constants," he said. KR
GERMANY TO CONTRIBUTE TO REBUILDING OF IRAQ
Germany announced on 11 January that it will join the International Reconstruction Fund for Iraq (IRFI) and contribute 8.2 million euros ($10 million), ddp news agency reported the same day. Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul made the announcement in Berlin, saying the funds will help the UN Development Program (UNDP) to build a vocational education network in Iraq. "This vocational-schools program in Iraq optimally complements our other support measures," said Wieczorek-Zeul. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will reportedly offer the reconstruction assistance, which also includes the training of Iraqi police officers, to U.S. President George W. Bush when she meets with him in Washington on 13 January, "Die Welt" reported on 11 January. KR
REPORT CITES AID TO U.S. BY GERMAN INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVES IN OPENING DAYS OF IRAQ WAR
German military-intelligence operatives remained in Iraq following the closure of the German Embassy before the 2003 launch of the war in order to provide coalition forces with "humanitarian intelligence," latimes.com reported on 12 January. The intelligence officers were ordered by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) to personally inspect sites on behalf of U.S. intelligence in order to help avoid the targeting of civilians. BND officials told latimes.com that their operatives reported only what they could see, and did not provide bombing target coordinates or other target data to coalition forces. Germany did not support the U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom and has refused to commit any military forces to the multinational operation in Iraq since 2003. KR