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Newsline - June 8, 2006

The advisory and appointed Public Chamber recently called on the State Duma not to allow what it called "extremist" candidates to run for office, "The Moscow Times" reported on June 8. The daily cited opposition sources as saying that the proposal appears to be a move by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party to ban candidates from the Motherland (Rodina) party, or anyone else the authorities might want off the ballot. But pro-Kremlin Public Chamber member Sergei Markov said that the move is aimed at keeping ultranationalists out of the legislature at a time of rising nationalism. The proposed legislation is one of several bills apparently aimed at securing a large vote for Unified Russia in the 2007 election for the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 1, 2006). PM

Rosneft's board of directors voted on June 8 to keep as its chairman Igor Sechin, who is President Vladimir Putin's deputy chief of staff, Russian news agencies reported, citing a Rosneft press release. The recent ouster of Vladimir Ustinov as prosecutor-general was widely interpreted in the Russian media as a blow to Sechin because the two men are linked politically and related by marriage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 2, 2006). The State Duma confirmed Ustinov in office for an additional five-year term shortly before his removal. PM

Shortly after some speakers at the Moscow meeting of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) criticized press freedom in Russia, persistent reports emerged in the Russian and international media that Roman Abramovich, who is reportedly Russia's richest man and politically close to the Kremlin, has bought or is about to buy the Moscow daily "Kommersant," which is one of the few remaining major independent papers, the British daily "The Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5 and June 6 2006). Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and a business partner have acquired a 49 percent share in "Novaya gazeta" in a move aimed at preserving its editorial independence, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on June 7. Staff members own the remaining 51 percent. Shortly after coming to power in 2000, President Putin sought to acquire and consolidate control over television and has since moved to impose similar control on other media. noted recently that "Russia's opposition media have been reduced to a handful of small-circulation Moscow dailies and Internet sites, such as," which, however, includes Rosneft among its advertisers. Some critics have spoken of an increasing "Putinization" of the Russian media, meaning a tendency to depict the authorities in a favorable light and focus attention away from controversial domestic political issues and onto foreign affairs, sport, entertainment, or business. PM

An opinion survey published on June 7 by the Levada Center in Moscow indicates that 59 percent of respondents would approve amending the constitution to enable President Putin to run for a third term, Reuters reported. Current law requires him to step down when his second term expires in 2008. Only 11 percent of respondents said that they have strong feelings against Putin. In September 2005, a similar poll indicated that 44 percent of respondents wanted Putin to serve a third term. Putin himself and several prominent legislators from his Unified Russia party have publicly said that he will step down in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and 19, 2006). In response to the latest Levada poll, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov repeated his earlier opposition to revising the constitution, Interfax reported. Gryzlov said on June 8 that "it would be wrong to modify the constitution to suit one particular person." He did not rule out a third term for Putin at some future time, however, noting that the constitution prohibits serving three consecutive terms. PM

A poll published on June 7 by All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) suggests that 45 percent of respondents in 46 regions would welcome the arrest of their own regional governor if that person were formally charged with corruption, reported. Only 29 percent of respondents would react negatively to such a move. About 54 percent of respondents identifying themselves as opponents of Putin would welcome their governor's arrest if he were charged with corruption, compared to only 43 percent of the president's backers. PM

About 3,000 fishermen and members of their families protested outside the regional parliament building in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on June 8 to demand that President Putin fire Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. They sent a petition to the parliament on June 5, in which they argued that the distribution of fishing quotas was unfair. PM

Ramzan Kadyrov has told RIA Novosti that he considers the cabinet has succeeded in fulfilling in the tasks assigned to it over the three months since his appointment as prime minister, according to on June 7. Kadyrov vowed in early March to step down if the government's performance did not improve over that time period (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 2006). Kadyrov told RIA Novosti that the town of Gudermes has now been completely rebuilt, and reconstruction work is underway in Argun. Meanwhile, the Chechen Media Ministry has launched a new public opinion poll apparently intended to register overwhelming popular approval of Kadyrov, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on June 6. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov protested the first such poll, in which respondents were asked to compare the relative merits of Alkhanov and Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 25, 2006). LF

Chechen human rights commissioner Nurdin Nukhazhiyev rejected on June 7 as untrue reports that human rights groups in Chechnya recently ascertained that a building in Grozny that formerly housed Russian Interior Ministry troops contained a secret prison where detainees were tortured, Interfax reported. Nukhazhiyev said the republican prosecutor's office has investigated that allegation and has asked the media organization that published it to issue a retraction. On May 31, the Chechen resistance website reported that human rights activists and journalists who visited the building two days earlier found on the walls bloodstains and inscriptions by former inmates. The same website posted numbered photographs from a register of detainees found in the building. LF

Over two dozen war veterans, renowned sportsmen, and representatives of the North Ossetian intelligentsia have drafted an appeal to the group that is lobbying to have the republic's former president, Aleksandr Dzasokhov, stripped of his seat on the Federation Council, according to as reposted on June 5 by To date, some 100,000 people have signed the appeal to have Dzasokhov recalled for his failure to prevent the Beslan tragedy and on the grounds that over a period of eight years he ruined the republic's economy, according to on April 19. Dzasokhov's defenders condemned that campaign as an attempt to capitalize on the Beslan hostage-taking to further their own unspecified political ends, and warned that such efforts risk destabilizing the political situation in North Ossetia. Dzasokhov resigned as president one year ago, having refused to do so in the immediate aftermath of the hostage-taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 21 and 24, April 18 and June 1, 2005). LF

Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, signed a decree on June 7 scheduling a referendum on the republic's draft constitution, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Ghukasian will present the draft constitution, prepared by a Constitutional Commission formed two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2004), to the parliament on June 15, and public discussion of it will begin in September. The referendum is scheduled for December 10, the anniversary of the 1991 referendum in which the population voted overwhelmingly to secede from Azerbaijan. LF

Afshar Suleymani was quoted on June 7 by as saying he believes the recent pickets staged by ethnic Azeri students in Iran over the publication of a controversial cartoon were justified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 24, 26, 30, and 31, 2006). The cartoon, published in an official newspaper, constituted an ethnic slur and triggered mass protests in Tabriz and other towns in northwestern Iran. Azerbaijani media have claimed that 40 people died and some 12,000 have been arrested as a result of the protests, according to on June 3 and 6. Questioned about the anticipated arrival in Baku of Mahmud Chehraganli, the leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, Suleymani said he does "not think that Azerbaijani authorities will issue him a visa and permit him to carry on his work here." On June 7, however, quoted Chehraganli, who is currently in Istanbul, as having told a press conference that he will arrive in Baku on June 16. Meanwhile the progressive wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party plans to stage a rally in Baku on June 9 in support of Iran's large Azerbaijani minority, reported on June 8. LF

The Sabunchi district court handed down on June 7 suspended sentences of between one and two years' imprisonment to four residents of the village of Nardaran taken into custody in early February after a standoff in which two police officers were killed, reported on June 8 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, 2006). Three other men received jail terms of four months and were released as they have already spent that time in pre-trial detention. LF

Visiting a building site in Tbilisi late on June 6 accompanied by city mayor Gigi Ugulava, Mikheil Saakashvili announced that he has no intention of setting the date for local elections in the near future, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported on June 7. Saakashvili said that "too much still remains to do" before those elections. According to the Georgian Constitution, the elections must take place before the end of 2006. Opposition Republican Party leader David Berdzenishvili condemned Saakashvili's statement on 8 June as a threat to democracy, Caucasus Press reported. He suggested that Saakashvili may be concerned at the dwindling popularity of the ruling United National Movement (GEM). Speaking at a conference in Moscow earlier this month, Georgian parliamentarian Ivliane Khaindrava, also a member of the Republican Party, estimated the GEM's rating at 30 percent, the same as combined support for the Republicans and other opposition parties represented in parliament, Caucasus Press reported on June 3. Khaindrava said his party hopes to garner at least 12 percent of the vote in Tbilisi in the next municipal elections. LF

Kazakhstan's Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) on June 7 began to examine controversial proposed changes to the country's media law, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Deputy Gadilbek Shalakhmetov, who heads the parliamentary task force that will examine the changes, said a report on the amendments will be ready by October 20. Darigha Nazarbaeva, a parliamentary deputy and the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, condemned the proposed changes, saying, "If we decide today to begin work on this [draft], we're sealing the fate of freedom of speech in the country." Journalists have called on the legislature to reject the changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1 and 6, 2006). Khabar reported on June 7 that a group of deputies plans to present to parliament alternative amendments prepared in consultation with journalists' associations. DK

Miroslav Niyazov, the secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, told journalists in Bishkek on June 7 that talks with the United States on a new agreement for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan are in the "final stage," reported. Niyazov said that Kyrgyz negotiators have presented their request for higher annual lease payments, and that "the American side has reacted to our proposals with understanding," although he stressed that it would be "premature" to discuss concrete figures. Kyrgyzstan initially sought to increase annual lease payments for the base from $2.6 million to $200 million, although the "Financial Times" recently suggested that the Kyrgyz bargaining position might be softening (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). The first round of Kyrgyz-U.S. negotiations took place in Bishkek on May 31-June 1, and the second round is expected to begin shortly. DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev met with representatives of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches in Bishkek on June 7 to discuss the political situation, Kabar reported. Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, Supreme Court Chairman Kurmanbek Osmonov, and 30 members of parliament attended, although opposition lawmakers from the For Reforms movement boycotted the six-hour meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2006), reported. Lawmakers informed Bakiev of their concerns at Kyrgyzstan's possible participation in the World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt-relief initiative, rising labor migration out of Kyrgyzstan, personnel issues, the 2006 budget, language concerns, and a recent Supreme Court ruling on the 2002 shooting of demonstrators in Aksy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006), Kabar reported. Bakiev said that a decision has not yet been made on Kyrgyzstan's participation in HIPC. Bakiev criticized parliamentary deputies for working slowly, but said that he has no intention of dissolving the legislature, reported. DK

Ramazan Abdulatipov, Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, told reporters in Dushanbe on June 6 that agreements reached in recent talks between Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Russian President Vladimir Putin will ensure that Russian advisers continue to play a role on the Tajik-Afghan border, Avesta reported. "We would like to keep Russian advisers in all [Tajik] border outposts and have them involved in special operations," Abdulatipov said. In recent years, Russian border guards have ceded control over the Tajik-Afghan frontier to Tajik guards, who now patrol the border. DK

The leadership of the Belarusian Party of Communists (BKD) condemned ON jUNE 7 what it calls "a government-inspired" attempt to merge it with the pro-government Communist Party of Belarus (KPB), Belapan reported. The BKD issued a statement saying the government intends to "turn the Communists into obedient executors of the will of the authoritarian ruler and a support of presidential autocracy" for the purpose of "weakening and then destroying" the opposition Communists' organization." Valery Draka, secretary of the Central Committee of the KPB, told Belapan that the initiative for the merger came from the rank and file of the BKD. "Common Communists did not like the policy of the BKD leaders, which had the sole purpose of fulfilling orders from the West and the United States and preventing the reelection of the incumbent president for a new term." RK

Containers unloaded on May 27 from a U.S. merchant ship in Feodosiya in the Crimea and bearing the warning "toxic" contained motor vehicle batteries, lubricants, and paint, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv announced, according to Interfax on June 8. The cargo poses no danger if handled properly, the embassy said, and explained that the marking "toxic" is a routine measure required by U.S. occupational safety regulations to protect stevedores. The embassy statement acknowledged that the ship had also brought in small arms and light weapons such as mortars, portable rocket systems, a machine gun, and flares and explosive devices. These armaments will be under strict control and will be used only in U.S.-Ukrainian military exercises, the statement said. The visit of a U.S. cargo ship to Feodosiya last month has sparked ongoing anti-NATO protests on the peninsula. RK

Russia's denial that it violates an agreement with Ukraine on the provisional stationing of the Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory is not true, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Vasyl Filipchuk, said at a news briefing on June 6, Interfax reported on June 7. "These allegations cannot be called anything other than misinformation," he said. The spokesman added that "Russia is withholding navigational and hydrographical facilities belonging to our state [and] has no right to do so." Ukraine has called for an inventory of its property used by the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the course of a conflict over the lease agreement between the two states. "You should get used to fulfilling international agreements in full," Filipchuk said. The spokesman ended his briefing by reaffirming that Ukraine is prepared to continue "transparent and intense negotiations" on the further stationing of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on its territory. RK

The international community has given leaders in Kosova six months to implement 13 measures designed to improve the rights of the minority Serbs, Reuters reported on June 7. The Contact Group, which comprises the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy, gave Kosovar officials a checklist of tasks including the adoption of laws on languages and religious freedom, the allocation of funds for refugee returns, and the opening of more police stations. "To help focus [government] efforts over the next four to six months, the Contact Group has coordinated with the UN Mission a list of priority action items for immediate implementation," the Contact Group announced in a statement. "This list is not exhaustive nor is it intended to minimize the importance of implementing all the standards," the group added, referring to a more comprehensive 2003 UN document. BW

. In a commentary published in "The Washington Post" on June 7, Serbian President Boris Tadic cautioned both his own country and Montenegro against an acrimonious breakup. "Too often in our region this has been a sad and messy affair," Tadic wrote. "Serbs believe that we have an opportunity to demonstrate that it can be reversed and to show how, in this separation, we can maintain the historical good relations between us. Too many of our citizens will live in each other's states to allow pettiness to prevail." Montenegro voted on May 21 to dissolve its union with Serbia and declared independence on June 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22 and June 5, 2006). Serbia followed suit on June 5. Tadic's words appeared to be aimed at Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who vigorously opposed Montenegrin independence, has avoided congratulating the republic's leaders, and turned down an offer of help from the European Union in smoothing the separation. BW

In the same June 7 article in "The Washington Post," Tadic assailed as unpatriotic those Serbs who have protected and assisted wanted war crimes suspects. "Those in Serbia who are complicit in the protection of General Ratko Mladic, who is charged with war crimes in Bosnia, are the least patriotic of Serbs," Tadic wrote. "They are part of that political culture that hijacked Serbia and its history some 15 years ago, using patriotism to camouflage their nefarious actions," he added. "In two world wars in the past century, Serbia aligned itself with the forces of freedom. We want to restore this great Serbian tradition. We believe we are very close to doing so." In early May, the European Union suspended talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement due to Serbia's failure to arrest Mladic by an April 30 deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). BW

Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), criticized Russia on June 7 for failing to hand over a Bosnian Serb accused of atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war, Reuters reported the same day. In August 2005, Russian authorities detained Dragan Zelenovic, a former policeman wanted for atrocities committed after Serbian forces captured the town of Foca early in the war. According to Russian media, Zelenovic was working in construction and living under an assumed name." The long and unexplained delays in the transfer of Zelenovic, who was detained in Russia since August 2005, do not allow for optimism in the future of the ICTY's cooperation with the Russian Federation," Del Ponte told the UN Security Council. She also expressed disappointment over a lack of Russian help in capturing a second fugitive, Vlastimir Djordjevic, a former police general who is under ICTY indictment for ordering the killings of Kosovar Albanian civilians in 1998-99. BW

Transdniestrian Foreign Minister Valeriu Litskai said on June 7 that the breakaway Moldovan region will not back down in its quest for autonomy and views Montenegro's separation from Serbia as a model, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "This year will largely prove a signal one for [Transdniester] settlement in connection with the appearance in Europe of new approaches to the resolution of similar frozen conflicts. They have already been tested in Montenegro, and they will get a confirmation soon in determining the status of Kosovo," he said. Litskai noted that the EU and other international organizations have said they don't see Montenegro or Kosova as models for Transdniester. "In this situation we need to show character and rigidly uphold our stance," Litskai said. BW

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- have been busy for the past two weeks preparing a coalition accord to form a new government. Meanwhile, pro-Russian opposition groups have engaged themselves in fanning anti-NATO protests in Crimea and declaring Russian a "regional language" in some regions.

The June 7 session of the Verkhovna Rada, resumed after a two-week recess, has not clarified the conundrum of who will form the next government in Ukraine. The Orange Revolution forces once again passed a motion adjourning the parliamentary session for one more week in order to finalize a coalition accord.

But the Orange Revolution allies, if reunited after their split in September 2005, are set to restart their government career in a turbulent political climate, in which the Russian language and NATO membership have once again become bitterly divisive issues.

Since the March 26 parliamentary and local elections in Ukraine, regional legislators have declared Russian a "regional language" in a number of eastern and southern Ukrainian regions and cities, including Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Mykolayiv.

President Viktor Yushchenko made clear on June 6 that these decisions are unconstitutional: "Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution defines a common status of the state language, which is Ukrainian. And no regional or city council has the authority to change the status of any language."

However, Yushchenko can do little more beside making indignant statements on this account. Only Ukraine's Constitutional Court can rule that a decision by a legislative body is unconstitutional and subsequently cancel it.

But the Constitutional Court has been nonoperational for nearly a year. The Verkhovna Rada refuses to swear in new judges, fearing that Yushchenko will ask the court to cancel the 2004 constitutional reform that strips him of some substantial powers in favor of the parliament and the prime minister.

Another blow to the apparently dwindling authority of the president came last week from Crimea, where pro-Russian opposition groups -- including the Party of Regions, the Natalya Vitrenko Bloc, and the Communist Party -- have launched anti-NATO protests.

The pretext for the protests was the visit in the port of Feodosiya of a U.S. naval cargo ship, which brought construction equipment and materials to upgrade a training range in Crimea before the multinational military exercise Sea Breeze 2006 in July. The protesters see the U.S. naval visit as an unwelcome NATO intrusion into Ukrainian territory and demand the sacking of the defense and foreign ministers over the incident.

The deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory must be approved by the parliament for each individual case. It is not clear whether the Verkhovna Rada will be able to grant relevant permission before the Sea Breeze 2006 exercise. If not, then President Yushchenko will suffer international humiliation, since participation in the exercise has already been confirmed by 17 countries.

On top of that, the Crimean autonomous legislature on June 6 passed a resolution declaring Crimea to be a "NATO-free zone." Perhaps, as President Yushchenko asserts, the resolution will have no impact on Ukraine's relations with NATO. But the resolution flagrantly defies Ukraine's official policy of integration with NATO.

Why is there no clear and decisive reaction from Kyiv to what is happening in Crimea? Ukrainian political scientist Ihor Losev says the Orange Revolution forces are so busy with haggling over the composition of a future government that they have no time to think about national interests: "When today we are watching this shameful story with the coalition [building], when it is necessary to save Ukraine but the authorities are totally focused on how to prevent [Yuliya] Tymoshenko from taking the chair of prime minister -- it is a pathological situation. It is something outside the boundaries of common sense."

According to Losev, the political class that came to power in Ukraine following the Orange Revolution pursues the same "clannish" and "egoistic" interests that were characteristic of the ruling elite during the previous presidency of Leonid Kuchma.

There are also many commentators who see the current anti-NATO protests and the rekindled Russian-language controversy in Ukraine as elements of a broader campaign inspired from Russia in order to undermine Yushchenko's authority in Ukraine.

According to this line of reasoning, Moscow has realized that Ukraine under Yushchenko has a real chance of integration with Euro-Atlantic structures. Therefore, Gazprom's increase of gas prices for Kyiv in January and the current political turbulence in Ukraine can be seen as Moscow-supported attempts to discipline Yushchenko and keep Ukraine "in the Russian orbit."

Incidentally, President Yushchenko and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk have both suggested that the ongoing anti-NATO protests are sponsored by anti-Ukrainian forces in Russia.

Kyiv-based political scientist Hryhoriy Perepelytsya says that Ukrainians, because of their blurred national identity, can still be provoked by pro-Russian politicians into conflicts about the Russian language and Ukraine's foreign-policy goals. "The problem is that a large part of Ukrainians, particularly those living in eastern regions and Crimea, cannot identify themselves as Ukrainians. They consider [Ukrainians] to be an alien nation with relation to themselves. They do not want to learn or speak the Ukrainian language. This puts them in a situation of terrible discomfort, psychological and ideological discomfort, and this leads to conflict," Perepelytsya says.

According to Losev and Perepelytsya, President Kuchma did not actually want to bridge the West-East divide in Ukraine during his rule, while President Yushchenko has not yet proposed any plan for doing so.

What does President Yushchenko need to do in order to defuse the current rebellious sentiments over the Russian language and NATO in the country? Ukrainian political analyst Oleh Doniy believes that Yushchenko must employ a carrot-and-stick tactic regarding the Russian-language controversy: "In the first place it is necessary to show the authorities' strength. That is, the decisions of local self-government bodies that overstep the limits of their authority should be indisputably canceled by prosecutors."

As for the anti-NATO protests, Doniy advises caution and even abandoning the idea of holding military exercises with NATO troops. He reasoned that: "If the population is now against [staging exercises with NATO troops], it is not [advisable] to break the people's will by force. The worst will happen when this [opposition to NATO] becomes a romantic idea among the population. One thing is to fight political opposition or to fight Russia [and] the Kremlin, but it is quite a different thing if [you have to fight] a romantic idea among Russian-speaking youths in the south and east [of Ukraine]. It is impossible to kill a romantic idea."

Whatever President Yushchenko is going to do in this situation, it is already evident that he needs to be guided not so much by short-term concerns connected with coalition building as by long-term considerations linked to nation building.

Mawlawi Amir Hamza al-Ghazi has promised a "tooth-breaking defeat" of British troops who are being deployed in Helmand Province as part of the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the BBC reported on June 7 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," December 20, 2005). Al-Ghazi told the BBC the reason the Taliban burn some schools is that Christianity is taught there, whereas other schools are burned by "people who wish to defame the Taliban." Al-Ghazi claimed that Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar "is alive" and still commands the Taliban. AT

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and one U.S. soldier and an Afghan interpreter were injured when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Nangarhar Province on June 6, dpa reported on June 7. No one has claimed responsibility for planting the explosive device. AT

In an effort to find a peaceful solution to the security situation in Zabul Province, Governor Delbar Jan Arman convened a jirga (council) of elders in the provincial capital of Qalat on June 7, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The jirga was aimed at taking the tribal elders "into confidence on security issues and implementation of reconstruction projects," Arman said. Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Hotak, a participant in the jirga, said the government should first fulfill the tribal elders' demands. He said the Afghan government should clarify its policy regarding "foreign troops," explaining "whether they have come here for our help or they are our bosses." Hotak added that it is the Afghan government's job to protect the "honor" of its citizens against "irresponsible acts" by such foreign forces. AT

Afghanistan has become a permanent member of the "Central Asia plus Japan" dialogue, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on June 7. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who attended a foreign ministers' meeting of Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan in Tokyo on June 5 as an observer, told Pajhwak that all members of the dialogue accepted Afghanistan's request to become a permanent member of the Japanese initiative. AT

Anonymous U.S. and European officials say the package of incentives drawn up by the so-called 5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) and offered to Iran on June 6 allows for Iran to enrich uranium domestically, "The Washington Post" reported on June 7. Details of the package have not been revealed officially. The sources said that in order to reach the point of domestic enrichment, Iran must suspend its current nuclear activities while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ascertains the peaceful nature of the Iranian program. The UN Security Council must also be convinced that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability, according to "The Washington Post." If correct, the package would represent a significant change from earlier demands that Iran forsake uranium enrichment entirely. The proposal also contains an offer for light-water reactor technology that can be used for electricity generation, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on June 7, as well as cooperation on nuclear research and development. Some of the proposed technology is patented in the United States and built in Europe. The paper adds that it is currently illegal to provide U.S.-patented products for the Iranian nuclear program, regardless of where they are manufactured. BS

Oil prices have fallen in response to Iran's promise to consider the 5+1 group's proposal (see above and "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2006), AP reported on June 7. Continuing uncertainty, however, will contribute to oil price fluctuations. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's veiled June 4 threat to disrupt energy supply routes prompted U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to say on June 6 that under such circumstances, the United States would use its emergency oil reserves. BS

Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Lebanese Hizballah, praised Iranian support for Arabs during a June 6 speech in Beirut, Al-Manar television reported. "Iran is a power for the Arabs," he said. "It is a power for the Muslims. It is a power for all of us. It is a power for Lebanon, Palestine, and for all our Arab and Muslim peoples." He claimed Shi'ite-Sunni conflict is being fostered and Iran is being portrayed as a Shi'ite threat. Nasrallah went on to say that the United States is encouraging "this confrontation," and that "the killers in Iraq, no matter what sect they belong to, are Americans and Zionists and CIA and Mossad agents." Writing in Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" daily on June 5, journalist Qasim Qasir reported that Tehran-Beirut relations have deteriorated. The ceremony marking the most recent departure of an Iranian ambassador, Masud Edrisi, was attended solely by Shi'ite organizations, including Hizballah, Amal, and the Higher Islamic Shi'ite Council. Qasir reported that Edrisi's predecessor, Mohammad Ali Sobhani, established "strong relations" with all Lebanese parties, "especially Christian ones," and a greater variety of people attended his going-away party. BS

Iranian diplomats have improved ties with Druze legislator Walid Jumblatt's enemies in reaction to his open opposition to alleged Iranian interference in Lebanese affairs, journalist Qasim Qasir claims in a June 5 article in "Al-Mustaqbal." Jumblatt said in a May 25 interview with Al-Arabiyah television that Iran should stop sending supplies to Hizballah, and that he has received information that Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel from Iran have come to Lebanon recently. "They are being prepared for special operations," he added, possibly hinting at assassinations. Jumblatt did not identify the prospective targets of such operations. BS

At a press conference broadcast live by state-run Al-Iraqiyah television on June 8, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was killed late on June 7 in a joint U.S.-Iraqi military operation north of Baghdad. Also at the press conference were U.S. Army General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. Casey said that al-Zarqawi's body has been identified by facial recognition and fingerprints, and that the hunt for al-Zarqawi began two weeks ago. Khalilzad hailed the slaying as a great success, but said that it will not end the insurgency in Iraq. DW

The Council of Representatives on June 8 approved Prime Minister al-Maliki's nominees to fill the posts of interior, defense, and national security minister, international news agencies reported. Army General Abd al-Qadir Muhammad Jasim, a Sunni, was named defense minister; Jawad al-Bolani, a Shi'a, was named interior minister; and Sherwan al-Wa'ili, also a Shi'a, was named state minister for national security. Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani swore in the three nominees. DW

The first group of Iraqi detainees from Iraqi and U.S.-controlled prisons was released on June 7, AP reported the same day. The 594 freed are the first part of the 2,500 detainees that Prime Minister al-Maliki promised to release on June 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2006). The release is the largest since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. The move, a gesture for national reconciliation, was encouraged by Adnan al-Dulaymi, a prominent Sunni politician from the Iraqi Accordance Front, to appease mounting sectarian violence, according to AFP. A representative of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni group in Iraq, handed each freed detainee $200 as they were released. He told the released prisoners that the party "will exert the utmost efforts to release detainees and bring a smile back to prisoners' faces," AFP reported on June 7. Despite the large number released, freed detainee Ra'id Jamil, a former coach of the national martial arts team who spent two years in the U.S.-run Camp Bucca, downplayed the number. "It's nothing, because on average they are arresting 1,000 people daily," AFP quoted him as saying. There are reportedly some 20,000 detainees in Iraqi and U.S. prisons in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). BAW

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told reporters in Baghdad on June 7 that Italy will begin reducing the number of its troops in Iraq this month, AP reported the same day. "The Italian military presence in Iraq will conclude by the end of this year," D'Alema said at a joint press conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari, AFP reported. Zebari said that Iraqi forces will be ready to take over responsibility from the Italians for security in the southeast, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on June 7. Zebari added that the withdrawal will be gradual. Italy has 2,700 troops in Iraq, the fourth-largest constituent of the U.S.-led coalition. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has declared plans to cut Italy's troops from 2,700 to 1,600 by the end of June, and for a complete pullout by the end of the year. BAW

In a letter to the Pentagon on June 6, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (Republican, Virginia) asked U.S. Army Major General Eldon Bargewell to be present for a hearing regarding the Al-Haditha incident, "The New York Times" reported on June 7. Bargewell is conducting one of the two investigations into the allegations that Marines killed 24 civilians the town in November 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). "Delays in getting out the official findings of fact due to a protracted review process will mean a mixture of information, misinformation, and unconfirmed facts will continue to spiral in the public domain," Warner wrote. Marine Corps commandant General Michael Hagee told reporters at the Pentagon on June 7 that he is "gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Hadithah and Hamdaniyah," AP reported the same day. He said that the Marine Corps takes such allegations seriously, and pledged that violators will be held accountable, but did not give information on the progress of the investigations. BAW