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Newsline - April 6, 2006


RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR 'NONINTERFERENCE' IN BELARUS
Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Bratislava, Slovakia, on April 5 that the European Union should not impose sanctions on Belarus to show disfavor with the recent presidential election there, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21 and 29, 2006). He argued that "if the [EU] and NATO have any questions regarding the actions of any country, these questions should be resolved through dialogue...and not by isolating a country from European affairs." Lavrov said later in Berlin that the results of the Belarusian election must be acknowledged "as the main point of reference for the development of relations [among] sovereign states, based on noninterference and mutual respect." German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier nonetheless replied that "[our differences] concern the developments in Belarus. I took the opportunity during our talks to express our concern, once again, about the internal developments in Belarus." PM

GERMAN LEADER WANTS RUSSIA TO BE 'RELIABLE' ENERGY PARTNER
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin on April 5 that her country and the EU have "have a strategic partnership...with Russia," dpa reported. She stressed that this means that both sides must do "everything we can to shape a reliable relationship, especially with regard to energy." This was a reference to European concerns about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier in the wake of the recent Ukrainian gas crisis. Merkel called on Moscow to ratify the European Energy Charter, which is an international agreement that would end Gazprom's monopoly over Russia's pipeline system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 22, 30, and 31, and April 3, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006). PM

RUSSIAN CHURCH CHALLENGES WESTERN VALUES
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who is the Russian Orthodox Church's main authority on interchurch and interfaith relations, told the church-sponsored 10th gathering of the World Council of Russian People in Moscow on April 4 that Russia needs a religion-based morality, and he slammed what he called "moral autonomy," or relativism, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16 and April 5, 2006, and "Russia: Orthodox Church Discusses Morality and Human Rights," rferl.org, April 5, 2006). He argued that the church cannot accept abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, or "the mocking of the sacred," even if they are portrayed as human rights. He argued that "we should not shed any tears about rising xenophobia at a time when we open opportunities for a person, who is not restrained by any moral forces, to ravage sacred places, spit on his fatherland, and destroy his culture. Such a person will go and kill someone else on the basis of race or faith. There is one single and indivisible morality." Patriarch Aleksy II asked rhetorically: "To what extent does this [Western] vision of human rights allow an Orthodox people to live in accordance with the faith it professes?" PM

MAYORS TO BE SUBORDINATED TO GOVERNORS?
The State Duma Council, which sets the legislative agenda, is scheduled to debate a bill on April 6 that will enable governors, under certain conditions, to take powers away from mayors, who are directly elected, "Izvestia" reported. Vladimir Mokry of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, who is one of the bill's co-authors and the chairman of the Duma's Local Administration Committee, told "The Moscow Times" of April 5 that "we are not building a 'power vertical' or fulfilling someone's political will. We just want to force everyone to work in the interests of the people. We don't want to destroy democracy or the self-rule system." But "Izvestia" noted that some experts consider the bill to be political in nature because many mayors represent strong local business interests that conflict with those of the Kremlin-backed governors. "The Moscow Times" suggested that the ultimate purpose of the bill is to "guarantee a good showing for Unified Russia in the Duma elections [in 2007] and a smooth handover of power to the person whom President Vladimir Putin picks as his successor in 2008." PM

RUSSIAN ARMS SPENDING TO JUMP
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on April 5 that 50 percent more money will be spent for arms and military hardware in 2006 than was the case in 2005, Interfax reported. He added that Russia's "shipbuilding has also been revitalized. Just think of it: for seven long years from 1994 through 2000, not a single surface ship was built for the Navy. Now virtually a full range of ships for operations in coastal and sea zones is under construction." He noted that new nuclear-powered submarines equipped with the Bulava ballistic-missile system will soon join the fleet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 21, 2005). PM

DOES RUSSIA NEED '100 PERCENT STATE-OWNED' NUCLEAR COMPANY?
Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), told journalists in Hong Kong on April 5 that Russia needs "an urgent reorganization of [its] civilian nuclear sector by creating a market-effective, 100 percent state-owned company that will be highly competitive on the international [nuclear] market," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, February 2, and March 15 and 17, 2006). He said that the company would take in all elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, including power generation. President Putin has repeatedly called for an expansion of atomic energy production and the consolidation of key strategic branches of the economy under state control. Kiriyenko is on an Asian tour; his next stop will be India. PM

EX-MINISTER'S ARREST EXTENDED
On April 5, the Moscow Basmany Court extended until June 8 the arrest of former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov, who is accused of fraud and abuse of his official position, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," February 20, 2006). His lawyers said they will appeal the decision. Adamov has been in pre-trial custody since his extradition on December 31 from Switzerland, where he was arrested 11 months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2005). PM

HUNGER STRIKERS RECEIVE BACK WAGES
A representative of 58 former employees of the bankrupt Krasnouralsk chemical plant in Sverdlovsk Oblast, who are in the third day of a hunger strike for back wages, told Interfax on April 6 that 10 strikers have received their money and the remainder will do so soon. PM

CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER CHRONICLES MILITARY SUCCESSES...
Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev has made available to the news agency Daymohk a video address in which he lists the accomplishments of the Chechen resistance forces since late last year, chechenpress.org reported on April 3. Sadullayev claimed that the resistance has expanded the geographical area within which it operates. He said the greatest successes were registered in Daghestan, followed by Chechnya, Ingushetia, Adygeya, and Kabardino-Balkaria, but did not name specific operations; operations in Karachayevo-Cherkessia were termed successful but not as active as elsewhere. Sadullayev credited the resistance with the February operation in the Stavropol Krai village of Tukuy-Mekteb, adding that the resistance death toll in that operation was only two, not 12 as he claimed Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 10 and 13, 2006). He also said it was resistance forces who were responsible for the February explosion in Kurchaloi that devastated a barracks used by the Vostok battalion, and he poured scorn on Russian claims that that blast was caused by a gas leak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8 and 9, 2006). LF

...ADMITS LOSSES
In the same video address, Sadullayev admitted that the resistance has suffered casualties in recent months both among field commanders and the rank and file, but did not cite figures. Among the field commanders he named an Arab, Abu Umar, killed in Daghestan last November, according to the daily "Kommersant" on December 12; Russian media have also reported the deaths of Lechi Eskiyev, commander of the Northern Front in January 2006 and the amir of Avtury in February. Sadullayev also admitted that in several cases it has not proven possible to confirm claims that resistance forces were responsible for specific attacks; that admission suggests that the reported death or capture of a number of resistance liaison personnel has inflicted considerable damage on the resistance intelligence network. LF

OPPOSITIONIST QUITS INGUSHETIAN PARLIAMENT
Musa Ozdoyev, who heads the Ingushetian chapter of the People's Party of Russia (NPR), has relinquished his mandate as a deputy to the National Assembly to protest the republican leadership's policies, particularly with regard to the Ingush displaced persons who fled North Ossetia 13 years ago, kavkazmemo.ru reported on April 5, quoting ingushetiya.ru. Ozdoyev will, however, continue his opposition and human rights-related activities, according to a spokesman for the NPR. Once a supporter of President Murat Zyazikov, Ozdoyev has headed the Ingushetian opposition for several years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 22 and 23, May 17, June 21, and October 27, 2004). LF

ARMENIA CEDES POWER PLANT IN EXCHANGE FOR CHEAP RUSSIAN GAS
Armenian President Robert Kocharian announced on April 5 that the Armenian government will finalize within the next few days an agreement under which Russia's state-run monopoly Gazprom will acquire, and over the next three years complete construction of, the fifth unit of the Hrazdan thermal power plant, of which Gazprom already owns four units, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In return, Gazprom will supply Armenia with gas worth $250 million, which according to Kocharian means that the increase in gas tariffs for the population at large will not exceed 10-15 percent. A senior government official told RFE/RL that the deal with Gazprom does not include forfeiting control over the gas pipeline currently under construction that will supply Armenia with natural gas from Iran. LF.

EU ENVOY VISITS ARMENIA
Swedish diplomat Peter Semneby, who has succeeded Heikki Talvitie as EU envoy to the South Caucasus, met in Yerevan on April 5 with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to discuss Armenia's Action Plan for cooperation with the EU within the Framework of the New Neighborhood Policy and the Karabakh peace process, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Semneby told RFE/RL last month he would like to see the EU play a more prominent role in mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict; at the same time, he stressed that the EU does not aspire to replace the OSCE Minsk Group as the main mediating body. Oskanian told a joint press conference on April 5 after his talks with Talvitie that despite the failure to sign an agreement at the February talks on Karabakh in Rambouillet, "the peace process is alive," and he believes it is still possible to make "additional progress." Oskanian said much will depend on the outcome of a meeting in Washington later this week between the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov. LF

TURKISH PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT TO AZERBAIJAN
Ahmet Necdet Sezer paid a two-day official visit to Baku on April 4-5 during which he met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, echo-az.com reported. The two presidents told journalists their talks focused on economic cooperation, the prospects for expanding bilateral trade turnover from the 2005 level of $795 million to $1 billion, the planned Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku rail link, and the pipelines to export Azerbaijani oil and gas to Turkey via Georgia. Sezer thanked Aliyev for Baku's support for the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The online daily zerkalo.az noted on April 5 that the Azerbaijani flight to northern Cyprus last year negatively affected Azerbaijan's talks with the EU on cooperation within the framework of the New Neighborhood Policy. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS GO ON TRIAL
The closed trial began on April 5 at Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes of three leading members of the opposition youth group Yeni Fikir (New Idea), day.az and echo-az.com reported. The three men -- Ruslan Basirli, Ramin Tagiyev and Said Nuriyev -- are accused of plotting to use force to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership and of illegal business activity. They have refused to testify. Ambassador Maurizio Pavesi, who heads the OSCE Office in Baku, expressed concern on April 5 that the trial is closed; he said the ban on public attendance "does not strengthen society's trust in the judicial system" and makes it more difficult for the OSCE to assess whether the trial is fair, day.az reported. LF

NUMBER OF SUSPECTED BIRD-FLU CASES IN AZERBAIJAN REACHES 43
A total of 43 people are currently hospitalized in Azerbaijan with suspected bird flu, day.az reported on April 5, and the World Health Organization has warned the Azerbaijani authorities not to relax the restrictions they have imposed in response to the outbreak of the disease for at least three or four months. Five people are reported to have died from the disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). Meanwhile, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the Agriculture Ministry's State Veterinary Service continue to exchange accusations of negligence in responding to the first cases of the disease among wild birds, day.az reported on April 6. Some 16,000 dead wild fowl have been recovered since January, mostly along the shore of the Caspian Sea. LF

GEORGIA SEEKS WAYS TO COMPENSATE FOR RUSSIAN WINE BAN
Meeting on April 5 with farmers in Kakheti, one of Georgia's key wine-producing regions, President Mikheil Saakashvili asked them not to abandon viticulture in response to the recently announced ban in imports of Georgian wine to Russia, which hitherto accounted for 80-90 percent of all Georgian wine exports, Georgian media reported. Also on April 5, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli announced a three-month tax break for wine producers, and said Georgia will explore alternative markets for its wine, mentioning specifically Kazakhstan and China. Noghaideli also summoned Russian Ambassador Vladimir Chkhikvishvili in an attempt to clarify Moscow's rationale for the ban, Caucasus Press reported on April 5. LF

GEORGIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ADVOCATE SPECIAL COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE HIGH-PROFILE CRIMES
Representatives of several human rights groups, together with the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, issued a statement on April 5 calling for the establishment of a special commission that would investigate crimes in which Interior Ministry personnel are implicated, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. They proposed that the commission focus in the first instance on the January killing of banker Sandro Girgvliani and on the circumstances of the March 27 disturbances at the Prison No. 1 in Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27, 28 and 29, 2006). LF

KAZAKH MINISTRY REFUSES OPPOSITION PARTY REGISTRATION
Azamat Amirgaliev, deputy chairman of the registration committee within Kazakhstan's Justice Ministry, announced on April 5 that the ministry has rejected the opposition Alga party's registration request, Kazinform reported. Amirgaliev said 20,000 of the 62,000 members the party claimed in its registration application do not exist, do not reside in Kazakhstan, or are not of legal age, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Fifty thousand valid signatures are required for registration. The Justice Ministry initially denied Alga registration in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2006), arguing that 4,500 of the 62,000 signatures Alga submitted were invalid. The party later threatened to sue the ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 29, 2006). DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REPORTS INCOME, ASSETS
President Kurmanbek Bakiev has filed declaration documents putting his total income for 2005 at 479,549 soms ($11,645), akipress.org reported on April 5. Bakiev claims to have earned 279,549 soms in salary and 200,000 soms in dividends. Bakiev also declared 1.3 million soms in assets. DK

KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES REPORTS OF TORPEDO SALE TO IRAN
Defense Minister Lieutenant General Ismail Isakov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on April 5 that Kyrgyzstan was not the source of a new missile Iran recently tested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2006). "This issue has nothing to do with Kyrgyzstan because we don't have such [a weapon] as a torpedo," Isakov said. "There might some debate over whether Kyrgyzstan did or did not sell live ammunition [to a third party]. As far as the torpedo is concerned, we don't have naval forces, [and] that is why we don't have such weapons." Russia's NTV suggested that Iran might have obtained a Soviet Shkval high-speed torpedo, which underwent testing in Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk-Kul, from Kyrgyzstan through China after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. DK

CHARGES FLY OVER TAJIK PARTY SPLIT
A recent split in Tajikistan's opposition Democratic Party has sparked charges and countercharges, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on April 5. Masud Sobirov held a news conference to announce the formation of a Vatan (Homeland) faction within the party, Regnum reported. Sobirov said that Vatan recognizes the party's overall leadership for now, but he warned that the party has fallen out of touch with developments outside the capital and has failed to win any seats in the last two parliamentary elections. Queried about the faction's view on government policies, Sobirov called them "as good as possible," the BBC's Persian Service reported. Meanwhile, Rahmatullo Valiev, the party's deputy chairman, charged that the faction was formed in violation of party regulations and suggested that the authorities might be behind the attempt to force a split, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Valiev said that the people who founded Vatan previously tried to split the party, and he recalled allegations of government involvement in the split in Tajikistan's Socialist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 22, 2004). DK

TAJIK PRESIDENT OBSERVES END OF TAJIK-RUSSIAN EXERCISES
President Imomali Rakhmonov and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev observed the final day of a joint Tajik-Russian military exercise at the Lahur firing range on April 5, Interfax-AVN reported. The battalion-level exercise, which lasted three days, involved 800 troops, including 300 from Tajikistan. The scenario involved an incursion by terrorists. An aide to Pavel Konev, commander of the Russian military base in Tajikistan, told ITAR-TASS that the exercises were intended to practice the "interaction of units from the Russian and Tajik armies to rebuff attacks by bandit groups of international terrorists breaking through from the outside, and to block them and destroy them." DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER URGES MORE EU TRAVEL BANS ON OFFICIALS
Opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich called on the EU in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 5 to introduce travel bans on "hundreds" of Belarusian officials responsible for the country's flawed March 19 presidential election, Reuters reported. At the same time, Milinkevich argued against imposing economic sanctions. "Our view...is that economic sanctions tend to hit the people in the street rather than the regime, and they're not very effective," Milinkevich told a news conference. Milinkevich attended a European Parliament debate at which some legislators wore red-and-white scarves with the logo "Solidarity with Belarus." Red and white were the colors of the Belarusian flag banned by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after the 1995 referendum intended to demonstrate support for his drive to integrate with Russia and reinstate Soviet-era symbols. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, urged European Parliament lawmakers to keep up pressure on the Belarusian government and provide financial support for opposition political groups and the independent media in Belarus. The EU is reportedly planning to impose travel bans on some 30 Belarusian officials in connection with the March 19 election. JM

BELARUSIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS APPEALS AGAINST ELECTION RESULTS
The Supreme Court of Belarus has rejected requests filed by the two opposition presidential candidates, Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin, to invalidate the official results of the March 19 presidential election, Belapan reported. Supreme Court spokeswoman Anastasiya Tsymanovich told journalists that the appeals were outside the court's jurisdiction. Tsymanovich noted that candidates can appeal only against the Central Election Commission's decision invalidating election results, adding that other decisions are not subject to juridical consideration. "All we can say is that a judiciary based on the separation of powers is dead in Belarus," commented Syarhey Kalyakin, Milinkevich's election campaign manager. "I consider the decision a farce. The Supreme Court chairman deliberately avoided examining [the appeal] to keep clear of responsibility for the recognition of a fraudulent election," Aleh Vouchak, Kazulin's lawyer, told Belapan. President Lukashenka officially received 83 percent of the vote in the presidential ballot. JM

OUR UKRAINE TAKES STEP TOWARD ORANGE COALITION
The Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU), the leading party in the Our Ukraine election bloc, decided on April 5 to support a majority parliamentary coalition with its allies from the 2004 Orange Revolution, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party, Ukrainian media reported. The NSNU drafted a protocol of intentions proposing to form a "coalition of democratic forces." and presented it to the two other parties. The draft protocol calls for the coalition to work for the fulfillment of President Viktor Yushchenko's presidential program. Simultaneously, the NSNU empowered Our Ukraine election campaign manager Roman Bezsmertnyy and Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov to negotiate a coalition program with Yuliya Tymoshenko and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. "It is the beginning of negotiations. It is not a big secret that we desire to create an Orange coalition. On the other hand, we need to be honest and say that we had such a coalition eight months ago. It fell apart, but has the lesson been learned?" Yushchenko commented on the NSNU's move on April 6. According to preliminary election results, the proposed coalition could count on 243 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. JM

EU AGAIN WARNS SERBIA ON MLADIC...
During talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) on April 5, the European Union warned Serbia that negotiations will be suspended if Belgrade fails to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, AP reported the same day. "Let me be very clear, there is no change in the EU policy on conditionality for full cooperation" with the court in The Hague, Reinhardt Priebe, who heads the European Commission's Western Balkans Enlargement Directorate, said. Priebe added that the SAA talks in Belgrade were "constructive and fruitful," but that the next round in early May depends on Mladic's extradition to The Hague. The SAA negotiations are mainly technical negotiations concerning reforms and regulations Serbia and Montenegro must meet before being considered for EU membership. The European Union has extended deadlines for Serbia to arrest Mladic twice this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and April 3, 2006). BW

...AS SERBIAN RADICAL PARTY CLAIMS MLADIC'S RELATIVES ARRESTED, BEATEN
Members of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) on April 5 said police have arrested two of Mladic's relatives, dpa and Reuters reported the same day. The SRS also accused the Serbian government of persecuting Mladic's family in its bid to capture him. Speaking to a nearly empty parliament, SRS deputy Natasa Jovanovic said two of Mladic's relatives "were today brutally beaten and arrested and arrests continue." BW

SERBIA OPENS INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED SLOVENIAN WAR CRIMES
Serbian prosecutors have opened an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Slovenian forces during that country's 1991 war of independence from Yugoslavia, dpa reported on April 5. The investigation was sparked by footage, aired on the Austrian television station ORF, depicting Slovenian forces shooting three soldiers from the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) who were surrendering with white flags. Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, called the footage "dramatic" and said it depicted what was probably the first war crime on the territory of former Yugoslavia. BW

KOSOVA DONORS CONFERENCE RAISES 70 MILLION EUROS
International contributors pledged a total of 70 million euros ($86 million) to Kosova's budget at a donors conference on April 5, dpa reported the same day. Kosovar Economy and Finance Minister Haki Shatri said the funds will be used "mainly in the energy sector," but added that they will also be used for "infrastructure, security-related issues, education, health and institution building." The largest donors were the European Commission, which pledged 55 million euros; the World Bank, with 5 million; and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which donated 2 million. BW

BRIDGE IN DIVIDED KOSOVA TOWN REOPENS
The bridge connecting the ethnic Albanian and Serbian sections of the town of Mitrovica in northern Kosova was reopened on April 5, B92 and Beta reported the same day. The bridge was closed on March 28 due to tensions following the stabbing of Milisav Ilincic, a Serbian youth, allegedly by ethnic Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 29, 2006). In March 2004, fighting at the bridge sparked two days of Albanian rioting across Kosova in which 19 people were killed and hundreds of Serbian properties were destroyed. BW

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES TRANSDNIESTER REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
Vladimir Voronin said on April 5 that a proposed referendum on the nature of Transdniester's relationship with Chisinau will have "no legal bearing," Interfax reported the same day. The proposed referendum "in no way serves to speed up the [Transdniester] settlement process," Voronin said. "There have been referendums of this kind before and they can be held today as well. But they cannot have any legal effect since the decision itself is made by anticonstitutional bodies," he added, referring to Transdniester's unrecognized institutions. "Nobody has annulled the Helsinki agreements on the immutability of borders in Europe, and so a recognition of Transdniester is out of question." Transdniestrian officials decided on March 31 to hold the referendum and are currently deciding the date and exact questions to be put on the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2006). BW

IRAN'S NAVAL DOCTRINE STRESSES AREA DENIAL
Iran's testing of the new Fajr-3 missile, torpedoes, and other types of hardware during March 31-April 6 war games has overshadowed the exercises themselves. But the maneuvers, which are taking place in the Persian Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz, and the Sea of Oman, are significant because they highlight the role of naval power in Iran's military doctrine.

Iran's long coastline -- approximately 2,400 kilometers in the south -- affects its military outlook, Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar said during an early January visit to the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. "One of the strategies of the Defense Ministry is to promote our operation and combat forces' capabilities in the sea," he added. It would achieve this, he said, by building ships and submarines and through cooperation with the gulf's littoral states. Najjar went on to say that the navy applies creative and innovative methods, uses asymmetric warfare, and depends on domestically made products.

Later in the month, an Iranian military official stressed "denial of access" and said the United States is very vulnerable at sea. Mujtaba Zolnur, a high-ranking official at the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), continued, "This is another weak point of the enemy because we have certain methods for fighting in the sea so that war will spread into the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on January 23. "We will not let the enemy inside our borders."

IRGC commander General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said in summer 2005 that the plans of the corps' navy include confronting aggressors by using asymmetric warfare and by improving power-projection capabilities, "Siyasat-i Ruz" and "Kayhan" reported on June 8.

A total of 38,000 men serve in Iran's conventional navy and the IRGC navy, and these forces are believed to have a significant capacity for regular and asymmetric naval warfare.

Rahim-Safavi added that the navy wants to improve its missile systems and its surveillance capabilities, and it wants to strengthen its defense of Persian Gulf islands.

The need to protect bases and oil facilities in the Persian Gulf makes "area denial" through mine warfare a major aspect of Iranian naval doctrine. Mines were used during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Today, Iran has three to five ships with minesweeping and mine-laying capabilities, and many of its smaller vessels can lay mines. Aircraft can drop mines, too.

Tehran has occasionally threatened to use mines to block the Straits of Hormuz, described by the U.S.'s Energy Information Administration as "by far the world's most important oil choke point." In February 2005 congressional testimony, the Defense Intelligence Agency director, Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, addressed this possibility by saying that Iran would rely on a "layered strategy" that uses naval, air, and some ground forces to "briefly" close the straits. Iran's purchase of North Korean fast-attack craft and midget submarines improved this capability, he said.

Missiles are important for "area denial" as well. Iran compensates for limited air power and surface-vessel capabilities with an emphasis on antiship missiles. Four of these systems were obtained from China -- the long-range Seersucker missile, as well as the CS-801, CS-801K, and CS-802 antiship missiles. There are reports that Iran has purchased Ukrainian antiship missiles. Most commercial shipping is within range of missiles based on Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf.

In an effort to limit hostile air power in the region, Iran might target air bases to its south, or it could try to strike aircraft carriers outside the gulf. Submarines could be used for the latter assignment, and the port of Chah Bahar on the Sea of Oman is being modified to serve the kilo-class submarines Iran purchased from Russia in the 1990s.

As the Persian Gulf war games continued and Iran demonstrated new types of equipment, Tehran sought to reassure the international community of its benign intentions. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on April 4 that the country's military doctrine is essentially defensive, IRNA reported.

AFGHAN LEADER SAYS HE WANTS TRANSPARENT CABINET-APPROVAL PROCESS...
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul on April 5, President Hamid Karzai expressed hope that the National Assembly's review-and-approval process for his cabinet nominees will be transparent. Calling it the duty of the parliament to "accept or reject" the choices he has made, Karzai told RFE/RL that he hopes any decision by the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) is based on the nominees' "professional standards," adding that "no other criteria should determine" their suitability. Karzai explicitly cautioned against any decision "based on regional or ethnic grounds." Karzai stressed that he and the public deserve to know why the legislature accepts or rejects nominees. Karzai proposed his cabinet after "a lot of discussion and consultations which have been -- at times -- very difficult," Karzai told RFE/RL. The People's Council began its confirmation hearing for Karzai's proposed cabinet on April 4 with nominees for the National Defense and Justice ministries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2006). The confirmation process is expected to last about two weeks. AT

...AND DISCUSSES REPLACEMENT OF FOREIGN MINISTER
When President Karzai reshuffled his cabinet ahead of its presentation in late March to the National Assembly for approval, he told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on April 5, the most high-profile change was at the head of the Foreign Ministry. Karzai is seeking to give that portfolio, which Abdullah Abdullah held for four years, to former foreign-affairs adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21 and 23, 2006). Karzai said that it was Abdullah, whom he described as a personal friend, who made the decision to leave the cabinet. Abdullah "turned down" his offer of the newly created trade and industry portfolio on the grounds that he is "more qualified" to be foreign minister. No such post -- including the presidency -- should be seen as belonging in perpetuity to a specific ethnic group, Karzai stressed. The proposed cabinet was formed for "practical reasons," Karzai said, not "political reasons." Abdullah was the last member of a United Front (aka Northern Alliance) triumvirate that was regarded as a major power base in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. The other two were Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim (former defense minister) and Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (former interior and then education minister). AT

KARZAI EXPLAINS AFGHAN LAW REGARDING CONVERSION
President Karzai told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on April 5 that the apostasy case against Christian convert Abdul Rahman has been resolved since it has been demonstrated that he is mentally unstable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2006). Afghanistan is a Muslim country that has "sacrificed much for Islam," Karzai added, and the country's laws do not allow anyone coming to Afghanistan to "convert a Muslim to another religion" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 3, 2006). AT

INSURGENTS SUSPECTED IN DEATH OF LOCAL AFGHAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF...
Ghazni Province Governor Sher Alam Ebrahimi said on April 5 that neo-Taliban fighters attacked and killed intelligence chief Abdul Hakim in the Moqor district the same day, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Ebrahimi claimed that several militants were injured and one was captured in the ensuing clash with local police. AT

DISTRICT SECURITY CHIEF KILLED IN SOUTHWESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Mohammad Taher, security chief in the Dilaram district of Nimroz Province, was pulled from his car and fatally shot on April 4, provincial security commander Abdul Khalil Bakhtiar told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP). Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, claimed in a telephone conversation with AIP on April 4 that his group was responsible for Mohammad Taher's death. AT

IRAN TESTS 'TOP SECRET' MISSILE
On the penultimate day of naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, Iran claims to have successfully tested a "top secret missile," state television reported on April 5. The missile, developed by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and fired from a helicopter, reportedly employs "over the horizon targeting" (OTH-T), which is a radar system with a range that exceeds line of sight. State radio falsely claimed, "Iran is the first country to have this capability." The American Harpoon missile has OTH-T capabilities and has existed for nearly 30 years, for example. The Harpoon can also be launched from aircraft, ships, and submarines. In another first, a cruise missile with a 200-kilometer range was reportedly fired from a helicopter on April 5, Iranian state television reported. BS

IRAN MILITARY COMMANDER WANTS U.S. RECOGNITION
General Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said on April 5 that the United States should recognize Iran as a "regional power," state television and IRNA reported. Speaking in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, Rahim-Safavi went on to say that Washington should know that threats or sanctions will work against U.S. and European interests. BS

KURDISH ACTIVISTS JAILED IN IRAN
Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, head of the Organization for the Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan, told Radio Farda on April 5 that Mahabad resident Fateh Tirani has received a six-year sentence, which includes a mandatory two-year imprisonment in the town of Maragheh, and a four-year suspended prison sentence. Tirani did not have legal representation. In the town of Oshnavieh, a Western Azerbaijan Province court has given Suleiman Minapak a two-year prison sentence. The two were sentenced for their alleged membership in the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, and for publicizing its activities. Four other members of the KDP-I were arrested in the town of Bukan the previous week and are still being held. BS

IRAN-U.S. TALKS DRAW PROTEST AND CALL FOR CONCESSION
The Justice-Seeking Student Movement (junbish-i idalatkhah-i daneshjui) on April 5 issued a statement criticizing the upcoming talks between Iran and the United States, Mehr News Agency reported, and announced that a rally against the talks will take place in front of the Supreme National Security Council building in Tehran on April 8. The movement said the official stance on talks with the United States is insufficiently transparent and at present such talks are not in the Iranian interest, so they should not take place. An anonymous source in the Supreme National Security Council told Mehr News Agency on April 4 that the talks will begin on April 8. The Iranian delegation will be led by National Security Council officials Ali Husseini-Tash and Aziz Jaafari and will include Foreign Ministry officials. Islamabad-i Gharb parliamentary representative Heshmat Falahat-Pisheh was quoted in the April 4 "Etemad-i Melli" as saying that Iran should get concessions from the United States in exchange for helping it in Iraq. Falahat-Pisheh said the nuclear issue is a particularly important area in which concessions should be secured. BS

FORMER IRAQI JUDGE APPEARS BEFORE TRIBUNAL
Awad al-Bandar, the former chief of Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Court, told the Iraqi Special Tribunal on April 6 that the 148 Shi'a sentenced to death for an attempted assassination against Hussein in 1982 received a fair trial, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Saying the trial against the 148 lasted 16 days from beginning to end, al-Bandar contended that the Revolutionary Court went to great lengths to examine the evidence carefully and reach a proper verdict. "The court was legal and I practiced my role. The defendants confessed and I issued a sentence that pleases God," he said. The trial will resume on April 12. KR

IRAQI SHI'ITE MILITIAMEN THREATEN SUNNIS IN AL-BASRAH...
Unidentified Shi'ite militiamen in Al-Basrah have distributed leaflets threatening to kill Sunni Arabs unless they leave the city, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on April 5. Violence against the minority Sunni community has escalated dramatically in recent weeks. The Sunni Waqf (endowments) office announced on April 5 that it will close all Sunni mosques in Al-Basrah for a period of 48 hours due to the violence. The office said that the call to prayer will be issued but that people should pray from home. The Waqf office criticized Shi'ite leaders for not speaking out against the violence. Officials said that 12 Sunnis have been killed in sectarian attacks in the past week, RFI reported, while Waqf officials said that the number is closer to 40. KR

...AS CITY'S AIRPORT, U.K. CONSULATE ATTACKED
Insurgents attacked the Al-Basrah International Airport with rockets overnight on April 5-6, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. A British military spokesman said that two Katyusha rockets were fired at the airport but landed in empty lots; the airport itself was not damaged. Earlier, Iraqi media reported on April 5 that between two and four mortar rounds exploded near the British Consulate in Al-Basrah on April 4 while the consulate was hosting a commemoration of the anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. No casualties or damage was reported in that attack. KR

ISLAMIC SCHOLARS TO MEET IN JORDAN ON IRAQ
Jordan's state-run Petra news agency reported on April 5 that King Abdullah II will host a meeting of senior Iraqi religious and tribal leaders in Amman later this month under the banner of the "Iraqi Islamic Reconciliation Summit." The meeting will aim to alleviate religious tensions among Iraqi Muslims through a declaration noting there is no legitimate religious basis for interconfessional fighting, building on a July 2005 Islamic conference in Amman in which 180 scholars signed a declaration condemning the practice of takfir (declaring other Muslims apostates) in order to justify violence. Influential Islamic scholars from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Egypt, including Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar Mosque, are expected to attend the meeting, which is planned for April 22. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa is also expected to attend. KR

IRAQI FORCES CAPTURE AL-QAEDA LEADER
Iraqi security forces have captured the prime suspect in the February 2005 kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, the U.S. military announced on April 6. Muhammad al-Ubaydi, identified as a former aide to the chief of staff of intelligence under Saddam Hussein, was arrested on March 7. When he was arrested, al-Ubaydi was head of the Secret Islamic Army in the Babil Governorate, located just south of Baghdad. The military said he had close ties to Al-Qaeda leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. KR

IRAQ CALLS NATIONAL HOLIDAY FOR ANNIVERSARY OF REGIME'S OVERTHROW
The Iraqi government has declared April 9 a state holiday to commemorate the 2003 overthrow of the Hussein regime, international media reported on April 5. The holiday was first declared by the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003, and has been commemorated by subsequent governments. All ministries and public departments will be closed on April 9. KR

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