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Newsline - August 14, 2006


RUSSIA CALLS ON ALL CONCERNED TO RESPECT MIDDLE EAST CEASE-FIRE
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 12 that Russia "hopes that all parties concerned will undeviatingly observe the [August 11] resolution of the UN Security Council," RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9 and 11, 2006, and "Russia: As Middle East Heats Up, Russia Maintains Balancing Act," rferl.org, August 10, 2006). The statement added that "Russia's initiative on a humanitarian cease-fire helped reach a consensus around the [actual] resolution.... Its adoption is the first step toward overcoming this acute crisis." On August 14, rosbalt.ru reported that "Israel is once again leaving Lebanon." News.ru noted that the cease-fire has come into effect and appears to be holding. Lenta.ru reported that "Hizballah congratulates the Lebanese on their victory." RIA Novosti noted that "Israel is continuing its sea and air blockade of Lebanon." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that the fighting is likely to "continue for a minimum of at least another two weeks until the peacekeepers arrive." PM

WILL RUSSIA SEND PEACEKEEPERS TO MIDDLE EAST?
Viktor Ozerov, who heads the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee, told Interfax on August 14 that "it would be expedient for a Russian military contingent to take part in a peacekeeping operation in southern Lebanon under the aegis of the UN, since Russia made great efforts for the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution to put an end to the hostilities between the warring sides." He added that the Federation Council would probably agree to such a proposal. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said recently that it is too early to discuss Russian participation in such a force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2006). For his part, President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in the Middle East by telephone with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on August 11 and with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the following day, kremlin.ru reported. PM

BOEING SIGNS MAJOR DEAL WITH AVISMA
Alan Mulally, who is president and CEO of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, signed agreements on August 11 in Moscow with Russia's VSMPO-Avisma on a 50-50 joint venture on titanium, with a potential long-term value of up to $18 billion, Mayak radio reported. Boeing wants the metal, which plays a key role in building lighter, more fuel-efficient planes, for its 787 Dreamliners. Boeing officials said recently that they are reviewing the possible impact of recently announced U.S. sanctions against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, which seeks to buy Avisma, and against the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi for alleged violations of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, but doubt that Boeing will be affected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 8, 10, and 11, 2006, and "U.S./Russia: Arms Sanctions Threaten Business Ties," rferl.org, August 11, 2006). President Putin told Mulally that Boeing has proven itself to be "a reliable partner over the past 14 years," kremlin.ru reported. Putin added that he will support Boeing's "development plans in Russia." Also taking part in the signing ceremony were Thomas Pickering, who is a senior vice president of Boeing and a former U.S. ambassador to Russia; Sergei Kravchenko, who is Boeing's chief representative for Russia and CIS member states; Sergei Prikhodko, who is Putin's foreign policy aide; Igor Ivanov, who heads Russia's Security Council; Sergei Chemezov, who leads Rosoboroneksport; and Vladislav Tetyukhin, who heads Avisma. PM

PUTIN HAILS CASTRO...
President Putin sent congratulations to his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro to mark the latter's 80th birthday on August 13, kremlin.ru reported. Putin told the Cuban leader: "You are well-known in Russia as one of the modern world's most influential and outstanding political figures of our age. We highly value your unswerving commitment to strengthening the relations between our two countries, relations that for many decades now have been suffused with the spirit of mutual respect and sympathy. These relations represent a capital that we treasure and will strive to multiply." Putin also wished Castro a speedy recovery from recent surgery. PM

...AS OLD FRIENDS REMINISCE
Vitaly Vorotnikov, a political hard-liner, Soviet ambassador to Cuba from 1979-82, and longtime friend of Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro, said that "Fidel is a unique and legendary person comparable to [Indian leader Jawaharlal] Nehru, [Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser, and [French President Francois] Mitterrand," "The Moscow Times" reported on August 14. Vorotnikov added that Fidel Castro "knows how to listen.... He immediately makes contact with people, whether he is talking with a child or an old man. He wouldn't kiss a child on the stomach like [President Putin did in June]. He treats children as adults -- with sincerity and respect." The former ambassador argued that when the Soviets withdrew from Cuba, "80 percent of the Cuban economy crumbled. Now, it is growing by 7 percent to 8 percent per year, while the Russian economy is only growing at a rate of 5 percent per year, and that is mostly because of high oil prices. Cuba is getting better every day." The same article quoted Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as observing that "a person can live many lives in one lifetime, and Castro has had several lives." Referring to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Yevtushenko argued that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev put missiles in Cuba to "protect" Castro and the other young revolutionaries. The poet added that "Khrushchev had no aggressive intentions toward the United States.... He was already an elderly man, one of the last who had participated in the October Revolution." PM

MILITANT REPORTED KILLED IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA
Police and security officials killed a fighter subsequently identified as a member of the Yarmuk jamaat in an exchange of fire on August 12 on the southwestern outskirts of Nalchik, Russian media reported. Interior Ministry officials said the dead man was one of a group of four whom they claimed were planning terrorist attacks against two public meetings scheduled to take place in Nalchik later that day. That allegation seems dubious given that Yarmuk has hitherto targeted only police, but not civilians, in line with the strategy promulgated by Chechen Presidents Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev in their capacity as successive leaders of the North Caucasus resistance of which Yarmuk is a part (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 15 and 16, 2004, and October 17, 2005). Both public meetings -- one to condemn Georgia's policy vis-a-vis the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and the second to protest the redistricting law that incorporated the predominantly Balkar-populated districts of Khasanya and Belaya Rechka into the Nalchik municipality -- passed off without incident. Police and security officials continued on August 13 their search for the remaining militants, but without success. LF

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER REFORMS SECURITY COUNCIL
Alu Alkhanov issued a decree on August 11 transforming the republic's Security Council into a Council for Economic and Social Security, according to the website of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration (http://www.chechnya.gov.ru). Alkhanov himself will chair that body; he appointed as its secretary his former adviser German Vok, who headed his election campaign in 2004. The council will focus on human rights issues and law and order and on the interaction between Chechen government bodies and federal agencies in the sphere of economic and social security, according to regnum.ru on August 11. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DENIES FIRING PREDECESSOR'S LOYALISTS
Tigran Torosian, who is a member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), rejected on August 11 allegations that he has systematically dismissed parliament staff affiliated with the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State, OY) party headed by his predecessor as parliament speaker, Artur Baghdasarian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on August 11. Baghdasarian resigned that post in May following a policy disagreement with President Robert Kocharian, and OY quit the ruling HHK-led coalition to join the opposition (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 5 and 25, 2006). At the same time, Torosian said that he has liquidated three superfluous parliament committees that he implied Baghdasarian created to provide posts for his supporters. LF

OPPOSITIONIST CLAIMS ARMENIA IS BECOMING ONE-PARTY STATE
OY Deputy Chairman Mher Shahgeldian told a press conference in Yerevan on August 12 that the HHK has launched a large-scale recruitment program that threatens to turn Armenia into a one-party state, regnum.ru reported. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian joined the HHK last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, 2006), and Shahgeldian claimed that other prominent government officials and some criminal elements have also done so. He advocated launching a broad social movement to ensure that the parliamentary elections due in May 2007 are fair and transparent, and said OY is ready to work with all political forces to ensure that the ballot meets international standards for free and fair elections, regnum.ru reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTER COMMENTS ON TRIAL OF FORMER SUBORDINATES...
Speaking on August 11 in Lenkoran, Colonel General Ramil Usubov expressed "regret" that individual members of his ministry led by former senior official Haci Mammadov "managed to evade arrest" over a long period, Azerbaijani media reported. The trial of 27 members of a gang headed by Mammadov that committed a series of high-profile killings and kidnappings over a period of some 10 years opened in Baku last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26 and 27, 2006). Usubov implicitly shifted the blame for the failure to arrest Mammadov on to the Prosecutor General's Office, claiming that his ministry alerted that agency to reports of suspected crimes, zerkalo.az reported on August 12. He added that the crimes Mammadov and his henchmen committed do not reflect badly on himself and his deputies. But Shahbuz Hudoglu, a close friend of opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov, for whose murder in March 2005 Mammadov has claimed responsibility, told day.az on August 11 that he is convinced both Usubov and other senior ministry officials were aware of Mammadov's criminal activities and received a cut of the proceeds from them. LF

...AS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL IMPLICATES FORMER MINISTER IN JOURNALIST'S KILLING
On August 8, Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov corroborated Mammadov's claim to have murdered Huseinov at the behest of then Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev, echo-az.com reported on August 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2006, and "Azerbaijan: Former Police Official Confesses To Journalist's Murder," rferl.org, July 26, 2006). Garalov claimed that Mammadov's telephone number was listed in Aliyev's address book. Aliyev's lawyer Elton Quliyev told day.az on July 26 that his client never met with Mammadov and is not acquainted with him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2006). LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY ACCUSES RUSSIA OF SIDING WITH ABKHAZIA...
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued on August 11 a formal response to a Russian Foreign Ministry press release of August 9 summarizing the visit on August 7-8 by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin to the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. The Russian statement termed the deployment of Georgian troops in late July to the Kodori Gorge a violation of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement. It said that deployment has negatively affected the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict and stressed Abkhazia's insistence that the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone should remain there. It further advocated resuming talks between Abkhazia and Georgia under the aegis of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council, and the drafting of a formal pledge of nonresumption of hostilities. The Georgian response openly accused Russia of siding with Abkhazia and thus supporting "aggressive separatism." It denied that the deployment of Georgian forces to Kodori in what it termed an "anticriminal police operation" constituted a violation of the May 1994 agreement. The Georgian statement concluded with the suggestion that Russian noncompliance with agreements it has signed has become a habit, as evidenced by Russia's closure of the Verkhny Lars border crossing with Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2006) and its failure to comply with bilateral agreements signed with Georgia intended to pave the way for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. LF

...SETS DATE FOR DECISION ON WITHDRAWAL OF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS
Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists after a government session in Tbilisi on August 11 that his ministry is engaged in an analysis of the legality of the agreements under which Russian peacekeepers are currently deployed in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones, Caucasus Press reported. He said the conclusions will be presented to the National Security Council in the fall. The Georgian parliament voted last month to demand that the Georgian government take immediate measures to secure the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their replacement by an international contingent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2006). LF

U.S. CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICE CONTINGENT FOR ABKHAZIA
The U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released a statement on August 11 expressing concern at the recent escalation of tensions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and calling on "all parties to continue showing restraint while refraining from...actions that could worsen the situation," Caucasus Press reported. The statement endorsed the Georgian operation to restore order in, and expressed support for proposals to demilitarize, the Kodori Gorge. It commended the restraint shown by the Abkhaz side, but termed "unhelpful" threats by individual Abkhaz politicians to resort to military force. It also called for the withdrawal and disbanding, in line with the May 1994 cease-fire agreement, of volunteer forces from Russia now in Abkhazia, and for the deployment in Abkhazia of an international police force. The statement condemned the shooting of three Georgian policemen in South Ossetia on August 7 and the intimidation of OSCE officials there, and called for "meaningful progress" towards implementation of the Georgian peace plan for South Ossetia endorsed at the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Ljubljana last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 13, 2005). LF

U.S. OFFICIAL MEETS WITH KYRGYZ PRESIDENT
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek on August 11 to discuss bilateral relations, akipress.org reported. Talks focused in particular on the need to draw U.S. investment to Kyrgyzstan, news agency 24.kg reported. In remarks to journalists, Boucher said that "corruption and crime constitute a serious problem for Kyrgyzstan," akipress.org reported. Boucher said that the United States is working with Kyrgyzstan to carry out programs "which allow real changes to be made in the judicial and law-enforcement systems to improve this situation." On the recent reciprocal expulsions of U.S. and Kyrgyz diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12 and August 3, 2006), Boucher commented, "Our position...is as follows: the Kyrgyz government took certain measures and we responded to them. Nothing will be done in this direction any longer." DK

SLAIN IMAM'S SON TAKES FATHER'S PLACE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Rashot Kamalov, the son of the late Muhammadrafiq Kamalov (also known as Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin), has replaced his father as the imam of the Al-Sarakhsiy Mosque in Kara-Suu, news agency 24.kg reported on August 11. Kamoluddin was killed on August 6 in a joint operation by Kyrgyz and Uzbek security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"August 8, 2006). Also on August 11, approximately 600 people held a peaceful demonstration in Kara-Suu calling for an investigation of the circumstances of Kamoluddin's death, akipress.org reported. Ferghana.ru reported that Kyrgyz security forces, which initially claimed that Kamoluddin was linked to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), have since suggested that the slain imam may have been taken hostage and used as a human shield by militants. DK

FORMER TAJIK DRUG ENFORCER SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON
On August 11, Tajikistan's Supreme Court sentenced former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev to life in prison for a coup attempt, abuse of office, and murder, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Fifteen other defendants received prison terms ranging from 12 to 16 years, Interfax reported. Mirzoev, who maintained his innocence throughout the closed-door case, was arrested in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2006). Before heading the Drug Control Agency, he had commanded the Presidential Guard. During Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, he was a field commander in the Popular Front. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT ORDERS CONSTRUCTION OF 'INDEPENDENCE PYRAMID'
President Saparmurat Niyazov has allocated $4.5 million for the construction of a 40-meter pyramid in Ashgabat to commemorate Turkmenistan's independence, turkmenistan.ru reported on August 11. The 15-layer pyramid, which is set to be completed in time for the 15th anniversary of independence on October 27, will stand in an octagonal pool of water with 15 fountains. DK

PAKISTANI POLICE APPREHEND SUSPECTED IMU MEMBER FROM TURKMENISTAN
Pakistani security forces in the country's North Waziristan tribal region have arrested a Turkmen national believed to be a leading member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Pakistan's "Dawn" reported on August 10. According to Pakistani officials, Abdur Raheem admitted to training Central Asian militants at a camp belonging to IMU offshoot Islamic Jihad Group. "Dawn" identified the Islamic Jihad Group's leader as Mansur Sohail, an Uzbek located in North Waziristan. An unnamed Pakistani official told the newspaper that Raheem is an explosives expert who had trained at Al-Qaeda's Al-Farooq camp in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The report said that Raheem and his wife will be deported to Turkmenistan. DK

U.S. COMPANY SAYS JOINT VENTURE FACES CRIMINAL CASE IN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek authorities have opened a criminal case into a joint venture partly owned by U.S.-based Newmont Mining over a $48 million tax claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 2006), the "Rocky Mountain News" reported on August 11, quoting company officials. "At this point, the company no longer has day-to-day control over [Zarafshan-Newmont joint venture's] operations given these disputes and the threat of criminal charges against our personnel," Newmont spokesman Randy Engel said. The company said it has put employees on leave at the joint venture, which employs 900 people. Newmont called the Uzbek government's move an attempt to "effectively expropriate" its share in the joint venture and vowed international arbitration, Reuters reported. DK

BELARUS OPENS IRANIAN CAR PLANT
Belarus's and Iran's industry ministers -- Anatol Rusetski and Ali Reza Tahmasebi, respectively -- inaugurated an assembly plant for Iran's Samand cars outside Minsk on August 11, Belapan reported. Dzmitry Yahorau, director general of Unison, the Belarusian partner in the project, said the plant will for the time being assemble the Samand LX model equipped with a 1.8-liter, 100-horsepower Peugeot engine. The car will cost around $12,500. According to Yahorau, the plant is expected to manufacture up to 800-820 vehicles by the end of 2006, and its output is projected to rise to 6,000 the following year. Unison hopes to export Samand cars to Central and East European countries, the Baltic states, Russia, Ukraine, and also sell them in Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER SEES NEED FOR LAW TO SUPPORT RUSSIAN LANGUAGE...
Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in Crimea on August 11 that he sees no possibility for the time being of giving the Russian language official status in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. Yanukovych explained that in order to change the status of the Russian language, at least 300 lawmakers would have to support a change in the constitution or the issue would have to be subject to a referendum. "Both the first and the second option are unrealistic at the present moment," Yanukovych added. According to him, Ukraine should instead adopt a law regulating the use of the Russian language and enforce the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. JM

...AND SIGNALS POSSIBLE DELAY IN WTO TALKS
Yanukovych also told journalists in Crimea on August 11 that his government is committed to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) but may delay talks to ensure that WTO membership conditions meet producers' needs, Reuters reported. President Viktor Yushchenko wants Ukraine to join the WTO by the end of this year, but Yanukovych believes that more time to study all conditions may be required. "If we manage to [join the WTO] in 2006, then it will be 2006. But our task is to resolve this issue in a clear way and within national interests. If we need to extend the term to do it, then we will extend it," Yanukovych noted. JM

CRIMEAN TATARS SCUFFLE WITH MARKET TRADERS
Some 300 Tatars got involved in a brawl with a similar number of vendors at an outdoor market in Bakhchysaray in Crimea on August 12, Ukrainian media reported. Both sides reportedly used stones, batons, and smoke candles in the fight, which led to several dozen injuries. A special police unit fired several shots in the air to break up the scuffle. Crimean Tatars demand that the market be closed since it is located at the site of a former Muslim burial ground. JM

BLAST AT UKRAINIAN COAL MINE KILLS SIX
An explosion at the Sukhodilska-Skhidna coal mine in Krasnodon in Luhansk Oblast on August 13 killed six miners and injured seven, Ukrainian media reported. Local authorities have opened an investigation into the accident. JM

SERBIAN OFFICIALS SEND MIXED SIGNALS ON KOSOVA PARTITION
Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said on August 13 that Belgrade will allow neither the independence nor the division of Kosova, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "Serbia is stating that it will not accept anything that any free democratic country would not accept. Serbia will not be the first [country] to give up its own territory," Jocic said. "You cannot amputate the limb of a patient on his deathbed without consent, much less amputate 15 percent of a democratic nation's territory in the 21st century." Jocic's comments appear to indicate discord in Serbia's government over Kosova. On August 12, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, the head of Serbia's Council for Kosovo, said that Belgrade is prepared to accept the partition of Kosova if no other solution can be found, B92 and Beta reported the same day. BW

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SAYS SERBS IN KOSOVA FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES
Boris Tadic said on August 13 that despite promises from the international community to protect them, Serbs in Kosova are still living in fear, AP reported the same day. "Serbs live in constant fear for their lives and the lives of their families," he said. Tadic was speaking on the third anniversary of an attack on the village of Gorazdevac in which gunmen killed two Serbian teenagers and injured four (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14 and 15, 2003). "The international community must find the perpetrators of this crime and provide security for all," Tadic added. He also urged Kosova's ethnic Albanian leaders to "do something against extremists and criminals in their ranks," adding that "words are not good enough." BW

LARGEST MASS GRAVE TO DATE UNEARTHED IN BOSNIA
Forensic experts in Bosnia-Herzegovina said on August 11 that they have discovered the largest mass grave in the country to date, finding 133 complete skeletons and more than 900 body parts, Reuters reported the same day. The Jaz mass grave is the ninth site found near the eastern village of Kamenica, containing the remains of victims of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. "We will continue with the exhumation for another two to three days and we expect to unearth more remains, but it is difficult to estimate how many," Murat Hurtic of Bosnia's Committee for Missing Persons said. Hurtic said it is also difficult to estimate how many bodies could be ultimately identified from the incomplete remains in the Jaz grave, but added that it could be in the hundreds. BW

TOMB OF BOSNIA'S FORMER PRESIDENT BLOWN UP
The tomb of Bosnia-Herzegovina's late wartime president, Alija Izetbegovic, was blown up in an explosion on August 11, international news agencies reported the same day. "The tomb...was damaged by an explosive device," Reuters quoted an unidentified duty officer as saying. The explosion, which slightly damaged surrounding buildings but caused no injuries, took place at about 3 a.m. The police have cordoned off the Muslim cemetery where Izetbegovic is buried in Sarajevo, which is also the final resting place of Bosnian army soldiers killed during the 1992-95 siege of the capital. BW

BOSNIAN, INTERNATIONAL OFFICIALS CONDEMN BOMBING AND CALL FOR CALM
The chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's rotating three-member Presidency, Sulejman Tihic, called the attack a "terrorist and criminal act," B92 reported on August 11. "This is an attack on Bosnia-Herzegovina, peace and coexistence, and an effort to destabilize the situation in our country," Tihic said in a written statement to the media. Bosnia's High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling condemned the attack and called on the country's top officials to demonstrate leadership to avert a crisis. "I condemn this act, as I do every other act of violence, because they lead in the opposite direction of where this country needs to be going," Schwarz-Schilling said, calling the attack a great dishonor to the dead. "I am calling on the political and religious leaders to demonstrate their leadership roles and make sure that understanding wins out," he added. BW

BOMB KILLS AT LEAST ONE ON TRANSDNIESTER BUS
At least one person was killed and 11 were injured in an explosion on August 13 on a trolleybus in Moldova's separatist pro-Moscow Transdniester region, international and Russian news agencies reported the same day. The explosion took place in Transdniester's capital, Tiraspol. Alla Ivanchenko, a spokeswoman for Transdniester's Interior Ministry, said five of the injured are in serious condition in an intensive care unit and the other six are in a traumatic surgery department, RIA-Novosti reported. The explosion was the second in Moldova this summer. On July 6, a bomb blast on a bus in Tiraspol killed eight people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006). BW

NEW AFGHAN SUPREME COURT COULD MARK GENUINE DEPARTURE
Parliament's recent approval of a new chief justice and eight other members of the Supreme Court could mark a notable step on the road to long-term stability and a democratic society.

While Afghanistan has flirted with real and "kangaroo" parliaments in the past, genuine power has historically been held by the executive -- represented by kings, presidents, and commanders of the faithful. However, with few exceptions, the executive branch has had to walk a fine line with the judiciary, a branch that remained to varying degrees independent or even at odds with the executive branch.

The judiciary -- formally or informally -- also assumed the role of safeguarding Islamic values and character. This prerogative became more entrenched after the communist takeover in 1978 and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union the following year.

During the period of resistance to Soviet forces and their surrogates in Kabul, the elements who traditionally controlled and represented Afghanistan's judiciary became a vanguard of the struggle.

In 1992, those same elements took power in the capital, seemingly placing the executive and judiciary branches in the hands of a single group of people: They were the judges and the court functionaries, the ulama (mullahs), the clergy, and important hereditary religious families. Those groups have traditionally preserved their power bases and legitimacy by steering the Islamic sensibilities of the Afghan public in a highly conservative -- and unwavering -- direction.

To date, Afghanistan's judiciary has remained mostly in the hands of men from conservative religious circles. Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, conservative circles have been in firm control of the judiciary, most notably the Supreme Court.

The importance of the Supreme Court is boosted by the abysmal state of Afghanistan's formal judicial system. That situation has resulted in increased involvement for the Supreme Court in even minor legal aspects of the country's development.

Moreover, the Supreme Court as envisaged in the constitution holds tremendous power over lower courts -- all the way down to district courts. That authority extends all the way to judicial appointments and directives on points of law.

The makeup of the Supreme Court sworn in on August 5 is based to a lesser extent than its predecessor on strong ties to past Islamist governments and to prominent Afghans.

This new court is headed by Abdul Salam Azimi. Azimi is a moderate technocrat with experience in law and education not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, the Middle East, and the United States. He was also among the main drafters of the country's current constitution.

The other eight justices (Mohammad Qasem Hashemzai; Abdul Rashid Rashed; Gholam Nabi Nawai; Bahuddin Baha; Zamen Ali Behsudi; Mohammad Qasem; Mohammad Alim Nasimi; and Mohammad Omar Barakzai) include highly educated technocrats with seemingly moderate views and no obvious ties to conservative Islamist circles. The average age of new members is under 62, with the oldest member (Behsudi) 70 years old and the youngest (Nawai) 46.

Critics accused the previous court of allying itself with conservative elements in the National Assembly in an effort to systematically challenge Afghanistan's generally reform-mined executive branch.

The new court is more likely to seek to establish itself as a contributor to stability. Its justices are arguably more disposed to safeguarding the Islamic character of Afghanistan as enshrined in the constitution while allowing gradual reforms within legal limits. They might also be expected to seek to respect Afghan traditions while trying not to perpetuate reactionary measures that might impede progress toward democracy.

The Afghan Constitution adopted in January of 2004 creates the judiciary branch as an organ of the state independent of the other two branches -- executive and legislative.

Chief Justice Azimi and his new colleagues on the bench face a daunting task. They will certainly be tempted to reeducate Afghanistan's judiciary branch from top to bottom. But they will also be expected to work to prevent the various centers of power in Afghanistan -- both formal and informal -- from thwarting further progress.

PAKISTAN SAYS LONDON PLOT HAD LINKS TO AL-QAEDA IN AFGHANISTAN...
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said in Peshawar on August 12 that his country's role in foiling the terror plan to blow up passenger aircraft en route from the United Kingdom to the United States showed the "extraordinary efficiency" of Pakistan's intelligence agencies, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Sherpao responded to a journalist's question by saying that there are connections between the thwarted terrorist plot in the United Kingdom and Al-Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan. AT

...PROMPTING KABUL TO REJECT THE CLAIM
In a statement issued on August 12, the Afghan Foreign Ministry rejected Pakistani Interior Minister Sherpao's claim that the organizers of the London terror plot foiled in early August had links to Al-Qaeda cells in Afghanistan, Tolu Television reported. The Afghan response claimed that Al-Qaeda has no bases in Afghanistan, as alleged by Pakistan. Afghanistan has "become an inhospitable environment for Al-Qaeda to commission any terrorist attacks outside Afghanistan," the ministry statement added, according to AP on August 13. Without naming Pakistan, the Afghan statement said that, "As the recent evidence and ongoing investigations have revealed, Al-Qaeda continues to enjoy safe haven outside Afghanistan." AT

NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD DENOUNCES MOVE TO SHUT DOWN POLITICAL PARTY...
Freedom Party (Hizb-e Azadi-ye Afghanistan) head General Abdul Malik on August 12 condemned reported attempts to disband his political party, Ariana Television reported. Afghan Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel is seeking to disband Abdul Malik's party along with the National Islamic Movement (Hizb-e Junbish-e-Melli-ye Afghanistan), which is believed to be under the unofficial control of its founder, General Abdul Rashid Dostum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006). Moqbel accused the two parties of continuing to maintain military wings and causing unrest in Faryab Province in northern Afghanistan. Abdul Malik told a news conference that his party has no militia troops and suggested Moqbel should "resign and let a professional person, who is able to address security problems" in the country assume control of the police force. In a telephone interview with Ariana, Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanizai described Abdul Malik's comments as "baseless." Stanizai said Moqbel has made "remarkable achievements" in improving the security situation in the country. AT

...WHILE RIVAL WARLORD'S SUPPORTERS URGE PRESIDENT KARZAI TO RESIGN
Demonstrators in Maymana, the provincial capital of Faryab, denounced the decision by the Interior Minister Moqbel to seek to disband Dostum's National Islamic Movement, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The rally was attended by "as many as 1,000" Dostum supporters, who called for the resignation of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Interior Minister Moqbel. Protesters alleged that the central government in Kabul is not Islamic. Dostum and Abdul Malik are onetime allies who have clashed since the mid-1990s, when Abdul Malik accused Dostum of killing his brother. Abdul Malik -- who sided with the Taliban against Dostum before turning against the Taliban, as well -- maintains a power base is Faryab. Dostum hails from the neighboring Jowzjan Province but once controlled wide swaths of Afghan territory. Forces loyal to the two men have fought sporadic battles in Faryab since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2005 and March 3, 2006). AT

RADIO STATION SOUTH OF KABUL DESTROYED IN ARSON ATTACK
Logar Province security chief Abdul Majid Latifi said on August 12 that the "country's enemies" set ablaze a local radio station in the district of Baraki Barak, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The "Estiqlal" radio station, which was established with the help of the U.S. funds, broadcasts eight hours of programming to areas within around 30 kilometers, the report added. AT

UN'S CEASE-FIRE RESOLUTION ON LEBANON WARNS WOULD-BE ARMS SUPPLIERS...
The UN Security Council resolution calling for an Israeli-Hizballah cease-fire and authorizing the presence of foreign peacekeepers in Lebanon includes an embargo on arms not destined for the Lebanese military, "The Washington Post" reported on August 12. Resolution 1701 states that UN personnel will back efforts to prevent arms smuggling. Iran is believed to have supplied Hizballah with a variety of missiles; Hizballah has used one such missile against an Israeli naval vessel and has fired many others at Israeli population centers. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an August 11 speech to the Security Council, "We call upon every state, especially Iran and Syria, to respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the will of the international community," AFP reported. The resolution authorizes the deployment of foreign peacekeepers to the area between the Israeli border and the Litani River in Lebanon until August 31, 2007. It also calls for the "unconditional release" of two Israeli soldiers seized by Hizballah on July 12, and urges prompt settlement of the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Israel. The resolution also refers to the Shabaa Farms -- Hizballah cites the farms' occupation by Israel as a pretext for retaining its arms -- and says this must be resolved. BS

...AND TEHRAN GIVES UN RESOLUTION COLD RECEPTION
Iranian officials have reacted unenthusiastically to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, local and international media reports suggest. "This resolution is unbalanced and the delay in passing it has harmed the credibility of the UN Security Council and has led to the UN Security Council's disgrace among the world's public opinion," RFE/RL quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi as saying on August 13. Assefi called the resolution unfair because "it does not condemn the Zionist regime and its crimes in Lebanon," Reuters reported. He added that it is "unreasonable" and "illogical" to disarm Hizballah. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Sanaa on August 12 that Resolution 1701 is "a one-sided resolution which mainly takes the Zionist regime's interests into consideration," and he called for its amendment, IRNA reported. Mottaki predicted Lebanon would reject the resolution, but the Foreign Ministry later said he was reacting to an early draft. BS

IRAN AND TURKEY SHELL KURDS
As operations against the Kurdish Pejak group continue, Iranian and Turkish artillery fired on areas predominantly inhabited by Kurds along their shared border on August 13, Iraq's Al-Sharqiyah Television reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," July 7, 2006). Pejak is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The Iranian artillery reportedly shelled Khumyrah, Lulan, and Nazdaridakh, and Turkish artillery shelled Qabir Zahir, Khwakurk, and Gurghan. BS

IRANIAN ELECTION DATES CHANGED
Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi announced on August 13 that the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts and for municipal councils will take place on December 15 (Azar 24 in the Iranian calendar), Mehr News Agency and ISNA reported, rather than on November 17, as previously announced. He added that parliamentary by-elections in Ahvaz, Bam, and Tehran will take place in December as well. The main reason for the delay, Purmohammadi explained, is the heavy workload associated with preparations for holding them simultaneously. The short amount of time before the elections, reformist legislator Iraj Nadimi said in the August 12 issue of "Aftab-i Yazd," means parties must form coalitions if they want to have a serious presence. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the elections, Nadimi continued: "With the nuclear issue, the workings of parties, the divide in society and international developments, one cannot say definitely what impact the coming elections will have on the results of parliamentary and presidential elections." Another reformist legislator, Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, said the parties do not have the financial wherewithal to compete in simultaneous elections, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He also questioned whether the government would save any money, because the procedures for the different races vary greatly. BS

IRANIAN POLICE AMBUSH BACKFIRES
Eight policemen were killed and three others were wounded in an August 12 gunfight with bandits along the Bam-Zahedan road in southeastern Iran, state radio reported. "The incident took place during an ambush laid by the [police] to capture the bandits in that region," Interior Minister Purmohammadi said on August 13, according to ISNA. Eastern Iran has been plagued by violence for many years in what appears to be a low-level insurgency and also in incidents relating to smuggling, and Purmohammadi said more military bases will be established in the region. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT BLAMES FUEL CRISIS ON TERRORISM
Jalal Talabani told reporters in Al-Sulaymaniyah on August 12, "I realize the real suffering of the people from the lack of fuel and electricity, but this is not the fault of either the government in Kurdistan or in Baghdad. Terrorists have blown up many power stations as well as the pipeline that delivers crude oil from the Kirkuk [oil fields] to the Baiji refinery," 250 kilometers north of Baghdad, pukmedia.org reported the same day. Talabani was speaking in the autonomous Kurdish region following recent demonstrations against shortages of fuel, electricity, and other services (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," August 11, 2006). Talabani added that two Iraqi ministers are currently in Tehran to arrange for fuel to pass through Iranian territory. Moreover, in a telephone conversation on August 12 with his Turkish counterpart, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki requested aid in facilitating oil-product imports from Turkey, iraqigovernment.org reported the same day. Due to corruption and insurgents, gasoline has jumped to $4 per gallon in a thriving black market, AP reported on August 13. BAW

OFFICES OF KURDISH PARTY ATTACKED IN SOUTHERN IRAQ
On August 11, gunmen loyal to the Al-Fadilah party stormed Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) offices in southern Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. Windows of the PUK office in Karbala were smashed, while a guard was injured when the party's office was burned in Al-Kut. Gunmen also attacked offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PUK in Baghdad, and set offices of the Asiacell phone company on fire in Al-Basrah and Umm Qasr, "Awene" newspaper reported on August 11. Shi'ite anger rose against the PUK, which is led by President Talabani, following an editorial in the official PUK newspaper, "Al-Ittihad." On August 8, "Al-Ittihad" responded to an earlier statement by Al-Fadilah's founder, Ayatollah Sheikh Muhammad al-Ya'qubi, saying that he was "pouring oil on the fire to inflame a war between Arab Shi'a and Kurds" in Kirkuk. Al-Fadilah spokesman Sabah al-Sa'idi told reporters on August 10 that his "party demands an apology from the president of the PUK," Reuters reported. Later on August 10, Talabani received a delegation from Al-Fadilah, and his office issued a statement saying that he "regretted" the incidents. The statement added that "neither [Talabani] nor the politburo of the PUK had advance knowledge of the article," the Voices of Iraq news agency reported on August 11. A demonstration in Al-Basrah ended on August 11 after the statement was issued, according to Reuters. BAW

IRAQ WILL NOT HARBOR PKK, IRAQI OFFICIALS ASSURE TURKEY
In a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart on August 12, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki maintained that Iraq will not be a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), AFP reported the same day. Al-Maliki told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his government will work with the United States and Turkey against the PKK. Al-Maliki also told Erdogan that PKK offices will be closed and its activities suspended in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on August 12. In an unofficial visit to Turkey, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi met with Erdogan on August 9, and told reporters on August 10, "We respect the rights of neighboring countries to be free of terrorism; we are ready to take steps," "The New Anatolian" quoted him as saying. Turkey has threatened to take military action against PKK fighters along the Turkish-Iraqi border unless the Iraqi and U.S. governments take steps to deal with them (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," July 21 and 28, 2006). BAW

U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS IRAN INCITES VIOLENCE IN IRAQ...
In an interview with "The New York Times" on August 11, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said that Iran is inciting Iraqi Shi'ite militias to increase their attacks against the U.S.-led coalition forces in response to Israeli attack on Lebanon, and to pressure the United States and the United Nations over Iran's nuclear program. He said that a splinter group of Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army has ties to Iran and Hizballah, and is behind recent attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone. With regard to mainstream Shi'ite leaders, Khalilzad said, "Generally the Shi'a leadership here have behaved more as Iraqi patriots and have not reacted in the way that perhaps the Iranians and Hizballah might want them to," adding that Iran and Hizballah would like to see Iraqi Shi'ite leaders "[mobilize] against the coalition or take actions against the coalition." Leaders affiliated with al-Sadr have admitted that some groups within the Al-Mahdi Army are beyond their control, according to "The New York Times." BAW

...AS IRAQI SHI'ITE LEADER CALLS FOR SECURITY COMMITTEES
Hadi al-Amiri, a Shi'ite member the Iraqi Council of Representatives and head of the Badr Organization, a Shi'ite militia affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said on August 13 during a televised debate that security committees should be created in neighborhoods to defend them against militants and insurgents, Reuters reported the same day. "Our [Iraqi] forces are not complete [sic] to take on this wide terrorism," al-Amiri said. It is not clear whether such committees have already been formed, but young men in mosques have reportedly been approached to join them, according to Reuters. However, "we think that the case of popular committees is a maneuver around a law on dissolving militias," Sunni politician Haidar al-Mulla said. Al-Amiri argued that the militias will exist as long as the security situation keeps deteriorating. "Now all the guards of officials are militias, all the guards of parties and movements are militias, all the guards of companies are militias, all the guards of ministers...are militias," he added. BAW

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