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Newsline - August 16, 2006

A Russian patrol boat on August 16 fired on the Japanese fishing schooner "Kisshin Maru No. 31" near Kaigara Island in the southern Kuriles, which are held by Russia but claimed by Japan, and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 14, 2005, and February 22, March 23, and August 3, 2006). One fisherman died in the gunfire, the first fatality since October 1956 in an area where maritime incidents are otherwise common. Russian officials took the Japanese ship, the remaining three crew members, and the body of the dead fisherman to Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Interfax reported. The Military Prosecutor's Office in Sakhalin is investigating the incident, in which Russian officials claim that the "Kisshin Maru" ignored repeated warnings to stop. The Japanese authorities are also investigating. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, calling the killing "totally unacceptable" and demanding compensation and the repatriation of the crew. The Russians rejected the claim on the grounds that the schooner had violated Russian territorial waters, RIA Novosti reported. Russian officials said that the crew lacked documents or other identification, and that the ship carried a large quantity of illegally caught crab and octopus. The Russian authorities will file criminal charges against the Japanese captain for illegal entry into Russian waters. PM

Semyon Vainshtok, who heads the pipeline monopoly Transneft, was quoted by "The Moscow Times" on August 16 as saying that Russia could be "forced" to shut down the damaged section of the Druzhba-1 Pipeline that provides crude to the Mazeikiu oil refinery, which is the only refinery in the Baltic states and which a Polish firm is about to acquire at the expense of Russian interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 3, and 8, 2006). Lithuanian officials have suggested that Russia is holding back on repairs to exert political pressure on Lithuania and punish it for making a deal with Poland rather than Russia. Vainshtok argued, however, that the normal life of a pipeline is 30 years, whereas the Druzhba-1 line is 42 years old and made with metals that are now prohibited. He denied that Russia is motivated by politics, saying that "we are an apolitical company.... But the oversight agencies, which are becoming stricter and stricter every year, have forbidden us to work [on the pipeline] under high pressure." One Western expert told the Moscow-based daily that Transneft could clear up suspicions by inviting independent monitors to inspect the pipeline and make recommendations. PM

On the sidelines of the three-day informal summit of the Eurasian Economic Community, to which Ukraine is an observer, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and his new Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych met in Sochi on August 16 to take stock of bilateral relations for the first time following the recent change of government in Ukraine, RIA Novosti reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," August 15, 2006). Yanukovych said that "we have to eliminate disproportion in the relations between Russia and Ukraine," adding that both countries should "maintain and intensify intergovernmental contacts aimed at establishing a common economic space." For his part, Fradkov expressed satisfaction regarding Yanukovych's intention to make relations with Russia a foreign-policy priority. "Our governments have many objectives to accomplish: to increase trade turnover, coordinate efforts to join the [World Trade Organization] WTO, establish market relations in the energy sector, and develop cooperation in aerospace industry," Fradkov said. The Eurasian Economic Community consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with Armenia and Ukraine as observers. The summit's agenda is expected to center on energy and water issues, the formation of a customs union, issues related to the WTO, and strengthening the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Uzbekistan's relations with it, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on August 16. PM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych said in Sochi on August 16 that Ukrainian and Russian delegations have agreed on "price parameters" for Ukraine's gas purchases from Russia through the end of 2007, Interfax reported. He added that the price, which will be announced at an unspecified later date, "will be market-based, but the price mechanism will be transparent and reflect the level of economic relations between Ukraine and Russia." Elsewhere, President Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of coordinating plans for the formation of a customs union for members of the Eurasian Economic Community with plans to join the WTO, Interfax reported. PM

An unnamed "Kremlin official" told RIA Novosti on August 15 that Belarus is stalling over the price of natural-gas supplies from Russia in hopes of getting a better deal. He added that Russia has no intention of "subsidizing gas supplies to Belarus" any longer and has not received a reply to its proposals on new, higher gas prices. "Belarus is under the illusion that something can change in Gazprom's position on the price of supplies to that country," the official said. PM

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on its website on August 16 that it has suspended the deportation of 12 Uzbeks and one Kyrgyz to Uzbekistan, where they are wanted for their alleged involvement in the May 2005 antigovernment protests in Andijon, RFE/RL reported. The statement notes that the extradition procedure has been halted until the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights decides on the fate of the would-be deportees. Russian authorities on August 3 said they had decided to meet an extradition request from Uzbekistan and deport the 13, who have been kept in custody in the central city of Ivanovo since June 2005. PM

General Thomas Hobbins, who commands the U.S. Air Force in Europe, made the first visit in years by a man of his rank to Russia's Lipetsk air base on August 16 to promote bilateral relations and confidence building between the two air forces, and reported. He flew Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum and SU-27 Flanker aircraft together with top Russian commanders. PM

Lieutenant General Sergei Kliments, who commands the Railway Troops, announced on August 15 that Colonel Mikhail Klimenko will be sacked and discharged from the military as a result of a recent incident, in which one of his subordinates, Captain Vyacheslav Nikiforov, allegedly kicked to death a soldier, Dmitry Panteleyev, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006). Nikiforov is now in custody and faces criminal charges that could result in sentences of up to 25 years in prison. The issue of hazing in the military has been in the forefront of media attention in 2006, following a particularly gruesome incident at the start of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 22, and 29, and August 4, 2006). In related news, Interior Ministry spokesman Vasily Panchenkov said on August 15 that a unit of the ministry's troops based in Zheleznogorsk in Siberia will be reformed and restructured but not eliminated altogether, Interfax and reported. Panchenkov said that a series of killings, suicides, and serious injuries within Unit 3377 since May 2004 was the result of "heavy work loads." One of the "reforms" is to increase the number of psychologists assigned to the unit from one to three, he added. Zheleznogorsk is a nuclear center, formerly known as Krasnoyarsk-26. Unit 3377 guards a weapons-grade plutonium facility. PM

Chermen Tedeyev, who heads the as yet unregistered North Ossetian youth movement Sons of Ossetia, was summoned on August 14 to the republic's Interior Ministry, reported the following day. Tedeyev met on August 8 in Vladikavkaz with Rustam Archakov, leader of the Youth Movement of Ingushetia, to discuss the tensions engendered by the Ingush territorial claim on North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion, which was part of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR until 1944. Tedeyev argued during that meeting that North Ossetia should cede Prigorodny Raion to Ingushetia in order to end the mutual hostilities between the two peoples, and he claimed that many young Ossetians think likewise. LF

The opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Idea) convened a conference in Baku on August 13 at which Anar Guseynoglu announced that the movement's leadership has expelled from its ranks former leaders Ruslan Basirli, Said Nuriyev, and Ramin Tagiyev, and reported on August 15 and 16, respectively. Basirli and Tagiyev were sentenced last month to seven and four years imprisonment, respectively, in a strict regime camp on charges, widely regarded as fabricated, of having conspired with Armenian intelligence to stage a coup d'etat (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 15, 2005, and "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11 and 13, 2006). Nuriyev received a suspended five-year prison term on the grounds that he suffers from thalassaemia. Nuriyev told journalists later on August 13 that Guseynoglu was not authorized to make any statements on behalf of Yeni Fikir, and he implied that Guseynoglu is acting at the behest of the Azerbaijani authorities in a bid to discredit the organization. LF

A group of legal experts has appealed to Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov to close the criminal case opened in 1994 against Ali Kerimli, who has since been elected chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, and reported on August 16. The investigation into Kerimli's activities was shelved, but never closed, and it was recently adduced as the rationale for refusing to issue him a passport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006). LF

Members of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone began patrolling the lower, Abkhaz-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge on August 15, Georgian media reported. Vladimir Anikin, a spokesman for the Russian peacekeeping force, said representatives of the Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia also took part in the patrol, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Mandjgaladze told journalists the same day that Tbilisi has not yet decided whether to permit the Russian peacekeepers to enter the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the gorge when the UNOMIG observers extend their patrol on August 20, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian First Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava explained that Georgia has the right to deny the Russians admission to the upper reaches of Kodori because that region does not fall under the cease-fire agreement signed in Moscow in May 1994. LF

Speaking in Moscow on August 15, Lieutenant General Valery Yevnevich, who is deputy commander of the Russian army ground troops, said that the consent of all CIS heads of state is required in order to withdraw from the Abkhaz conflict zone the Russian peacekeepers deployed there under the CIS aegis in 1994, Caucasus Press reported. Yevnevich estimated that the withdrawal process would take at least one year. Yevnevich also accused Tbilisi of violating the 1994 Moscow cease-fire agreement by deploying at least 2,500 servicemen to the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, reported on August 16. LF

The unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia began issuing its own passports on August 15, the first of which was presented to the region's president, Eduard Kokoity, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on August 16. Kokoity earlier announced that he has acquired Russian citizenship, but South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva told the Russian daily that the unrecognized republic's constitution makes provision for dual citizenship. A Georgian Justice Ministry official told Caucasus Press on August 15 that the South Ossetian passports are not legally valid anywhere in the world. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Mandjgaladze for his part told foreign diplomats in Tbilisi that the decision to distribute the new passports is illegal, and constitutes a deliberate attempt to exacerbate tensions between South Ossetia and Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili said on August 10, and again on August 15 at the reservists' camp in Osiauri where he is undergoing training, that Georgia should double the number of reservists it can mobilize at need from the present 50,000 to 100,000, Caucasus Press reported. National Guard commander Akaki Bobokhidze said on August 15 that he believes it will be possible to do so within six to eight months, Caucasus Press reported. He added that young women too should undergo elementary military training. But military expert Kakha Katsitadze argued on August 12 that it will not prove possible to mobilize 100,000 reservists, Caucasus Press reported. He added that the three-week basic training course that reservists undergo is inadequate preparation for combat. LF

The Tbilisi Municipal Court passed sentence on August 15 on three men found guilty of the murder four years earlier of Nika Lominadze, financial manager of the electricity distribution company AES-Telasi, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2002). Giorgi Gvichiani, who worked with Lominadze, pled not guilty to masterminding the killing to preclude Lominadze discovering he had embezzled money. Gvichiani was sentenced to life imprisonment, as was Nika Chemia who likewise pled not guilty to the actual killing. Avtandil Kherkiladze, who was also charged with the murder, received an eight-year prison sentence. LF

The National Assembly of Azerbaijanis of Georgia issued a statement on August 15 implicating the Georgian authorities, including a special police unit, in the killings of three Azerbaijanis over the past two weeks, Caucasus Press reported. In recent years the Azerbaijani community in Georgia, estimated to number at least 500,000, has repeatedly alleged official discrimination on the part of the Georgian authorities. On August 16, assembly President Dashgyn Gyulmamedov told that the religious leader of Georgia's Azerbaijani minority, Sadreddin Palangov, was shot dead last year on verbal orders from Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. LF

Speaking during a cabinet meeting in Astana on August 15, Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov criticized Russia's plan to repatriate ethnic Russians from other former Soviet republics, warning of the negative economic consequences for Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Akhmetov stressed that the Russian plan may lead to a significant loss of skilled workers from among Kazakhstan's ethnic Russian minority, which accounts for almost one-third of the country's total population. The repatriation plan, linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent focus on his country's demographic decline, would provide ethnic Russians who migrate to Russia with cash payments, social benefits, and preferential assistance in acquiring Russian citizenship. RG

Prime Minister Akhmetov warned on August 15 of signs that the Kazakh economy is in danger of "overheating," Interfax reported. In a report to the Kazakh cabinet, Akhmetov reportedly said the sharp rise in GDP suggests that "the economy is starting to experience serious inflationary pressures." Akhmetov also presented statistical data showing 9.3 percent economic growth for the first six months of 2006. RG

Family members and supporters of slain Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev vowed on August 15 to boycott the trial of 10 defendants charged with his murder, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Sarsenbaev, murdered in February along with a bodyguard and a driver, was a prominent leader of the For a Just Kazakhstan opposition group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). He was also affiliated with the opposition parties Ak Zhol and Naghiz Ak Zhol, and was a member of Zharmakhan Tuyakbai's team during his unsuccessful challenge of President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the December 2005 presidential election. His murder followed the previous shooting death of another opposition figure, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, although Kazakh authorities ruled that death a suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 30 November 2005). RG

Kazakh authorities turned over on August 15 an Uzbek refugee to representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), RFE/RL reported. The unnamed Uzbek national, who sought refuge in Kazakhstan after fleeing from his native Uzbekistan in 1999, was arrested by the Kazakh police in June after Uzbekistan presented an extradition request. UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis stated on August 15 that the man would be immediately resettled in an undisclosed third country, citing concerns for his safety if he was returned to Uzbekistan. In a widely criticized move, officials in neighboring Kyrgyzstan earlier this month extradited to Uzbekistan four UN refugees and one asylum seeker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 10 and 11, 2006). The extradited Uzbeks were sought for their alleged participation in protests in Andijon that reportedly sparked a military crackdown that killed hundreds of unarmed civilians last May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 13 and 16, 2005). RG

A five-day military exercise began on August 15 at the Russian military base in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus reported. The live-fire exercise, focusing on counterterrorism operations, includes battalion-level joint maneuvers involving some 2,000 troops supported by artillery, assault helicopters, and combat aircraft. The exercise will also include simultaneous operations at the Lohur, Sunbula, and Mumirak military ranges in southern Tajikistan. RG

Muhiddin Kabiri was formally chosen on August 14 to lead Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) in the wake of longtime leader Said Abdullo Nuri's death, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Asia-Plus. An official meeting of senior party officials in Dushanbe approved the nomination of Kabiri to replace Nuri, who died on August 9 after a lengthy battle with cancer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 10, 2006). The 40-year-old Kabiri is a former deputy chairman of the party and the sole remaining IRP representative in the lower house of the Tajik parliament. RG

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office released a report on August 15 claiming the breaking up of over 1,000 drug groups in Uzbekistan since January 2005, Interfax reported. The report stated that the "activities of 1,088 interregional criminal groups, which attempted to use the territory of Uzbekistan as a corridor for smuggling drugs to CIS and European countries, were stopped in the country from January 2005 to June 2006." Uzbek authorities added that the vast majority of the drugs seized were "of Afghan origin" and "smuggled via Uzbek districts bordering on Tajikistan." The report further revealed that Uzbek security forces also targeted the "delivery and distribution of religious and extremist literature," seizing some 52,800 copies of printed material and more than 10,200 audio and video products "propagating religious extremism and fundamentalism." RG

The defense teams of Mikalay Astreyka and Tsimafey Dranchuk have filed appeals with the Minsk City Court against prison sentences handed down to them earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2006), Belapan reported on August 15. In a trial held behind closed doors, Judge Leanid Yasinovich punished Mikalay Astreyka with two years in jail, Tsimafey Dranchuk with one year, and Enira Branitskaya and Alyaksandr Shalayka with six months each for running an unregistered election-monitoring organization that allegedly "infringed upon the interests and rights of citizens." The Minsk City Court has two months to consider the appeals. Since the four were arrested in February, Branitskaya and Shalayka are to be released next week. Amnesty International declared the four prisoners of conscience. JM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said at a news conference following talks with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, in Sochi on August 16 that the two sides have agreed on the price of gas for Ukraine until the end of 2006 and for 2007, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "The price parameters have been defined and approved until the end of 2006 and for 2007. The price will be market-based, but the price mechanism will be transparent and reflect the level of economic relations between Ukraine and Russia," Yanukovych said. He did not name the price, adding that he will reveal it later. JM

Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov declared to Belarusian Ambassador to Ukraine Valyantsin Vyalichka on August 15 that Kyiv is ready for "constructive political dialogue" with Minsk, Belapan and UNIAN reported. Azarov stressed that a key priority for Ukraine is to increase economic cooperation with Belarus and boost bilateral trade, which he said is expected to total more than $2 million this year. Azarov also emphasized the need to sign a bilateral agreement to ease border crossing formalities for employees of the closed Chornobyl nuclear plant residing in the town of Slavutych. Employees have to travel through Belarus to get to work as the road linking Slavutych with Chornobyl, as well as the rail route between them, run through Belarus's Homel Oblast. JM

Ethnic Albanian political leaders in Kosova praised the choice of German diplomat Joachim Ruecker to head the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), B92 reported on August 15. "Ruecker is known as a dynamic man who stimulated the privatization process in Kosova," said Ljuljzim Zenelji, spokesman for the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the province's largest political party. "He left a good impression with his work, he is familiar with the situation in Kosova and the political actors involved." Likewise, former Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) Vice President Bajram Rexhepi called Ruecker "the right person and the best solution," adding that the German diplomat "is very familiar with the issues in Kosova and Kosovar politics generally." BW

Marko Jaksic, a member of Belgrade's negotiating team for Kosova's final-status talks, said Kosovar Serbs are disappointed with Ruecker's appointment, B92 reported on August 15. Jaksic added, however, that regardless of who leads UNMIK, it is Washington that really dictates the international community's Kosova policy. "We can now only hope that relations toward Serbs in Kosovo will not be as bleak as they have been," Jaksic said. "But our experience tells us that the UNMIK chiefs are just figureheads, and that their deputies usually make the most important moves from the shadows, and they are regularly Americans," he added. Randjel Nojkic, a member of the Serbian List for Kosovo party, said he hopes Ruecker will learn from the mistakes of his predecessors in dealing with the Serbian minority. BW

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said on August 15 that he will not give up his entity's separate police force, UPI reported the same day, citing FoNet. "We cannot give up what we consider a minimum, and that is the police of Republika Srpska as an organizational unit with clear authority within the reconstructed police of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Dodik was quoted by FoNet as saying. Reform of Bosnia's police, including the unification of the forces of Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, is a key condition in the country's negotiations with the European Union for a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The EU warned Bosnia in June that the Republika Srpska was moving too slowly on police reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, 2006). BW

With the announcement of a new government that excludes them imminent, activists from Macedonia's Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) set up roadblocks in the center of Skopje and other cities on August 15, Makfax reported the same day. In a statement read on Macedonian Radio, the BDI, Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian party, announced a full-day blockade of the parliament building. The BDI won 17 seats in the 120-seat parliament in the July 5 general elections. But the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), which won the most votes, decided to form a coalition with the BDI's archrival, the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), which won 11 parliamentary seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 2006). Prime Minister-designate Nikola Gruevski is expected to announce the new cabinet this week. BW

A top security official for Moldova's separatist Transdniester province said on August 15 that a fatal bomb blast in Tiraspol was a terrorist act, RIA Novosti reported the same day. "It was not an accident. It was a terrorist attack," State Security Minister Vladimir Antyufeyev said. Antyufeyev added that the August 13 blast that killed two people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006) was designed to destabilize the region by sowing panic and discontent with law enforcement agencies. Transdniester's security services initially said the blast was linked to the criminal underworld. 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

Facing official restrictions on meaningful participation in political affairs, some Iranians have come to view nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as a way to get involved and help themselves and others. But hard-liners associated with Iran's president have expressed misgivings about NGOs. The most recent expression of official distrust was the government's ban in early August of a human rights group led by Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

There are thousands of such entities currently operating in Iran, with estimates ranging from 8,000 to 20,000. They include charities, as well as organizations that deal with youth affairs, environmental issues, women, human rights, and vulnerable groups.

The former administration of reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) encouraged the creation of NGOs and earmarked funding for their establishment. The main goal of the reformists was political development. And the development of civil-society entities like NGOs was seen as an essential part of this process. Even as his second term in office ended, Khatami revealed his continuing confidence in NGOs by registering a group that would focus on the "dialogue among civilizations," the motto of his presidency.

But not everyone shares this enthusiasm for NGOs. Some Iranian conservatives regard them as suspicious Western-style institutions that are inappropriate for the Islamic republic. The hard-line Islamic Coalition Party's Hamid Reza Taraqi called it "impossible to deal with the people's demands by setting up NGOs," "Etemad" reported on July 28, 2005. Taraqi argued that such groups "are based on the Western way of thinking and models that are not in tune with [Iran's] cultural structure and civilizations."

Taraqi also criticized the Khatami administration for allocating funds for NGOs. He predicted that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration would adopt a different approach. "Instead of promoting such formations and Western models," Taraqi said, Ahmadinejad "will try to make use of the mosque and religious order to pursue public demands." He suggested that such institutions "are more commensurate with the indigenous culture."

Taraqi's prediction appeared prescient when the Ahmadinejad administration submitted its budget to the parliament. The amount of money allocated to religious institutions, seminaries, and outreach entities was increased. In some cases, the budget increases surpassed 100 percent, "Etemad" reported on February 15.

The initial impression might be that this change in emphasis reflects the conservative tendencies of the president and his associates, and some legislators objected to these developments.

It is noteworthy that such a shift -- and an accompanying reallocation of resources -- is not peculiar to the Ahmadinejad administration. Other Iranian executives have done the same, and these moves could merely reflect Ahmadinejad's effort to distance himself from the policies of his predecessor. Moreover, shifting funds to mosque-based organizations could be a way of working with those civil-society institutions that are most familiar to the president's political base among the country's more traditional classes.

However, the changes in funding reportedly have had the greatest effect on NGOs working on politically sensitive issues like women's rights.

Legislation regulating NGOs also presents obstacles. Laws are "overcomplicated and cumbersome," according to attorney Negar Katirai. Writing about the Iranian legal environment for NGOs in "The International Journal Of Not-For-Profit Law," Katirai said the activities of a large number of decision-making centers are not coordinated. Registration and regulation is often inconsistent.

The NGO community and the Interior Ministry met in November 2003 and eventually developed a revised law on NGOs. Katirai noted that the law was reworked several times before its eventual rejection by the legislature. But some of its components were incorporated in "Executive Regulations Concerning the Formation and Activities of Nongovernmental Organizations" of June 2005.

In addition, the country's restrictive media environment makes it difficult to disseminate information about civil-society activities and needs.

But any efforts to eliminate NGOs would likely meet with stubborn resistance. Many of them have helped many Iranians assert greater control over their lives. And they are institutions built on a culture of self-help and mutual assistance.

NATO officials on August 15 said the alliance is willing to enter into a formal, long-term commitment in Afghanistan, AFP reported. NATO's senior civilian representative, Hikmet Cetin, told reporters in Kabul that a formal agreement under consideration would pave the way for NATO to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. "Next month, NATO and Afghanistan may sign an agreement on the NATO-Afghanistan enduring partnership cooperation," Cetin said. "To do that will require a long-term commitment not just of NATO but [of] the whole international community, and will need more resources than are currently committed." NATO's command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is its first-ever mission outside the Euro-Atlantic area. MR

Afghan forces along with international coalition troops killed a suspected "Al-Qaeda facilitator" and detained 13 other militants in a raid in southeastern Afghanistan on August 15, AFP reported. The raid reportedly targeted a residential complex in the Ya'qubi district of Khost Province, one of the most active areas of the insurgency in Afghanistan. A U.S. military statement said Afghan and coalition troops killed the suspected Al-Qaeda operative when he tried to escape disguised as a woman. "The purpose of this operation was to capture a known Al-Qaeda facilitator considered a significant threat to Afghan and coalition forces," the statement said. It added that the raid came after "credible intelligence linked the targeted terrorist to weapons and explosive smuggling in the Khost Province." The identities of the others detained in the raid remain unclear. MR

Pakistani authorities arrested 29 suspected neo-Taliban fighters on August 15 as they gathered at a hospital near the border with Afghanistan, AP reported. Pakistani authorities made the arrests at Al-Khair Hospital in Quetta, which sits just inside the border of Pakistani, not far from the Afghan city of Kandahar. Ten of the men were thought to have been at the hospital for treatment for wounds suffered during fighting in southern Afghanistan, where Afghan and NATO troops have been battling intense militant violence. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said two local commanders were among those arrested. Afghanistan often accuses Pakistan of doing too little to stop neo-Taliban militants from using Pakistan as a base for raids in Afghanistan. MR

Militants have killed five policemen in western Afghanistan, AFP reported on August 15, quoting local officials. Three other policemen were wounded in fighting that reportedly erupted when militants attacked a two-vehicle police convoy in the Gulistan district of Farah Province late on August 14. "Five police, including the former police chief [of the district], were killed in a Taliban attack and three police were wounded in the incident," local official Mohammad Qasim said. Purported neo-Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the guerrilla group was behind the strike. "Taliban attacked a police convoy on the road between Farah city and Gulistan district and killed all police in the convoy," Ahmadi said. Neo-Taliban attacks have been less common in western Afghanistan than in the southern and eastern parts of the country. MR

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the northwestern Iranian city of Ardabil on August 15 that "we can see that God's pledges came true in Lebanon" as he hailed a Hizballah "victory" in the recent Israeli-Lebanese conflict, state television reported. Israel once saw itself as "invincible," Ahmadinejad continued, but Hizballah defeated "these idolatrous powers within 33 days with the help of God, and [now they] fly the flag of victory in the proud Lebanon." BS

The Iranian parliament's speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, said on August 15 that Hizballah emerged as the victor in its recent conflict with Israel, IRNA reported. "The army of the Zionist regime showed itself powerless for the first time after failing to break the determination of the Lebanese people and the Islamic resistance movement [Hizballah] 33 days after the start of the war in Lebanon," Haddad-Adel said. He went on to congratulate the Lebanese people -- nearly 1 million of whom were displaced by the fighting -- and government, as well as Hizballah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Haddad-Adel also spoke out against Arab states that were silent, and he criticized UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ushered in a cease-fire. Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami, a substitute Tehran Friday Prayer leader and member of the Assembly of Experts, said on August 15 that the conflict in Lebanon should serve as a lesson to Israel and the United States if they are considering an attack on Iran, state television reported. "The Lebanese Hizballah's 70-kilometer-range missiles transformed Israel into a country of ghosts," Khatami said. "So if one day they decide to carry out even a minor aggression against Iran, they must fear the day that our 2,000-kilometer-range missiles strike the heart of Tel Aviv." Israel and the United States should forsake "their aggression and expansionist policies," Khatami said. BS

Lebanese parliamentarian Walid Jumblatt, who is the leader of the Druze sect and the Progressive Socialist Party, has spoken out against the Iranian and Syrian roles played in his country's affairs, "Le Monde" reported on August 15. Jumblatt conceded that Hizballah has destroyed the image of Israeli invincibility but put it in the context of "the Syrian-Iranian game." "Iran is negotiating on the scorched earth of Lebanon the terms of the continuation of its nuclear program," Jumblatt said. "As for Syria, it wants to avenge itself in Lebanon, from which its troops were chased out [in April 2005], and it is now sidelined by Iran." Jumblatt added, "The Syrians and Iranians wasted no time saying that the UN resolution [1701] is not in Lebanon's interest." BS

Police in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad have arrested more than 1,000 foreigners recently who did not possess valid documents, ISNA reported on August 15. In the month beginning October 22, new measures will be implemented in an effort to curtail the employment of foreigners working illegally in Iran, "Kayhan" reported on August 13. Mohammad Hussein Salehi-Maram, director-general of foreigners' affairs at the Labor Ministry, said 1 million foreigners -- mostly Afghans -- are working illegally in Iran and they take jobs from Iranians. Many foreigners work in construction, tailoring, or textiles, he added. Salehi-Maram said foreigners are used because they are cheap, because some employers are ignorant of the law, and because the foreigners themselves are unfamiliar with the relevant legislation. He added that some contractors in the state sector and the parastatal sector also use illegal foreigners, and this sets a bad example. Under the new plan, those who employ illegal foreigners will be fined five times the daily minimum wage, 300,000 rials ($34). BS

Following increasing calls for him to step down, Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani told "The New York Times," "Maybe now is the best time for me to withdraw.... My hand won't be stained as they want it to be stained," the newspaper quoted him as saying on August 14. But al-Mashhadani said he will retain his seat in parliament. The main Sunni bloc in parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, is expected to nominate al-Mashhadani's replacement, according to parliamentarians cited by "The New York Times." Adnan al-Dulaymi, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, said that if al-Mashhadani "is ready to submit his resignation...this is good and will help a lot in avoiding a crisis in the country," AP reported on August 15. However, al-Dulaymi added that al-Mashhadani "has not talked to us in this regard yet and of course we will agree with the majority opinion." Angered by al-Mashhadani's comments praising the insurgency and his opposition to dividing Iraq into self-ruling regions, Kurdish and Shi'ite blocs in parliament have called for his ouster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). BAW

In a surprise visit, Jordanian Prime Minister Maruf al-Bakhit arrived in Baghdad on August 15, accompanied by several cabinet ministers, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. In his first official visit to Iraq, al-Bakhit met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, while Jordanian ministers discussed commercial agreements with their Iraqi counterparts. Al-Maliki told reporters following the meeting that the two governments agreed on a "memorandum of understanding...through which Iraq will export oil to Jordan at a preferential price for a limited time.... The agreement also includes using Jordan as a commercial gate." Al-Maliki added that the memorandum also includes extending and rehabilitating a pipeline from Iraqi oil fields to Jordanian refineries. Answering a question regarding people in Jordan wanted in Iraq, al-Bakhit said: "Jordan will not allow any person who harms Iraq and its people to be on its soil. We will cooperate with Iraq on this matter and exchange information." Al-Maliki described al-Bakhit's visit as "a successful business trip." Al-Bakhit was also expected to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. BAW

White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters on August 15 that U.S. President George W. Bush has rejected suggestions to partition Iraq into smaller states as a means to contain mounting sectarian violence, AFP reported the same day. "[Bush] doesn't buy it... it's not practical...[and] most Iraqis don't want it," Snow said. He added that "Iraqis look upon themselves not as -- at least in all cases -- as Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurd, but as Iraqis, as descendants of a Mesopotamian civilization that has been around for a very long a nationality rather than unmeltable ethnic groups," AFP quoted him as saying. BAW

The Mosul office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is led by Iraqi President Talabani, was attacked by a suicide car bomber on August 15, reported the same day. Kurdish regional Health Minister Zryan Othman said at a hospital in Irbil, where the injured were brought for treatment, that eight people were killed and 44 injured in the blast, which also demolished the building. An injured eyewitness told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that a large truck driven by two suicide bombers exploded in front of the office, and that mortar attacks followed the blast. BAW

Gunmen loyal to Shi'ite cleric Mahmud al-Hasani clashed with Iraqi security forces in Karbala, 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, on August 15, international media reported the same day. Violence erupted in the relatively quiet city after Iraqi soldiers raided the office of al-Hasani on August 14, after his supporters took over some land behind his office, according to Ahmad al-Ghazali, an aide to the cleric, AP reported on August 15. In a later statement, al-Hasani's office said the raids were due to "the nationalist attitude of this cleric opposing the [U.S.] occupation," Reuters reported. Despite a curfew declared by local authorities, police and security offices were attacked with mortars and machine guns throughout the city, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Backup forces from the nearby governorate of Al-Hillah, as well as fighters from the Badr Organization and Imam Al-Mahdi Army, were called in to help security forces restore control in the city. Eight people were killed and 15 injured in the clashes, according to RFI on August 15. BAW