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Newsline - August 23, 2006

On August 22, 170 people died when a Pulkovo Airlines flight from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St. Petersburg crashed near Donetsk in Ukraine, leaving no survivors, reported. This was the 98th reported crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 since 1973. Pulkovo is one of Russia's largest airlines and widely regarded as among the best. Initial speculation for the reasons for the crash included lightning, a cabin fire, and human error. Some eyewitnesses said that the plane was intact when it hit the ground. A spokeswoman for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry at first ruled out a terrorist attack. But on August 23, RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed Russian Interior Ministry "high-ranking source" as saying that a contingent from the ministry's Department For The Fight Against Organized Crime And Terrorism (DOPT) has left for Ukraine to join in the investigation and explore the possibility that the crash was due to terrorism. Officials from the Russian and Ukrainian Interior and Emergency Situations ministries are conducting the investigation. President Vladimir Putin has ordered Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to set up a commission to look into the crash. The flight data recorder and voice recorder have been recovered. PM

Moscow prosecutor Yury Syomin said on August 22 that three suspects have confessed to involvement in the August 21 bomb blast at the Cherkizovsky market that left 10 killed and 49 injured, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21 and 22, 2006). He noted that "all three detainees have given evidence, confessing [to participating in the attack]. Their apartments have been searched and components of explosive devices found." He added that "two [of the people detained in connection with the explosion] are now being charged with premeditated murder of two and more people in a manner endangering others. We are adding more charges to this accusation based on newly acquired evidence, [additional charges being] namely [murder] by a group of two and more people and [murder] out of ethnic hatred." Syomin said that the two young men who have been charged, Ilya Tikhomirov and Oleg Kostyrev, decided to plant the bomb "because there were too many people of Asian backgrounds [at the market], whom they intensely disliked." Syomin added that the two do not belong to any extremist group. Warrants have been issued for their formal arrest. The third suspect, Valery Zhukovtsov, was supposed to cover the escape of Tikhomirov and Kostyrev. The authorities are deciding whether to formally charge him. PM

Ten men wearing the black uniforms of the Guinean Navy have boarded the Russian tanker "Luchegorsk," charged it with violating Guinea's economic zone, and took it to Conakry, where it and its 20-man crew were then held, Russian news agencies reported on August 22. The ship is registered in Nakhodka to the Primorye Shipping Company. On August 23, RIA Novosti reported that the uniformed men at first demanded a payment of $20,000 and took the ship to Conakry only when the Russian captain said that he had only $7,000. The captain then managed to "convince" the Guinean authorities that his ship was in the waters of Sierra Leone what it was seized, and the authorities then dropped all charges against the "Luchegorsk." A spokesman for Primorye said in Vladivostok, however, that "the company will probably have to pay a fine for illegal operations in Guinean territorial waters" before the ship can leave. Guinean officials said that the ship has been chartered by a Swiss company that was using it to supply vessels conducting unspecified "illegal operations," probably fishing, in Guinean waters. Interfax reported that the legally mandated fine for unlawful entry into Guinea's economic zone is not $20,000 but 20,000 Guinean francs, which are worth about $3.65. PM

On August 22, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga presented Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, with its highest award in gratitude for what she described as his "historic" role in the liberation of Latvia from Soviet rule, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. As president, Yeltsin both agreed to the Baltic state's independence in 1991 and oversaw the withdrawal of Russian forces from Latvian territory. Also on August 22, a group of ethnic Russians in Latvia accused Yeltsin in an open letter of "betraying" them by accepting the award. PM

The Federal Forestry Agency recently announced plans to lease 1 million hectares of woodlands to China for 49 years, "The Moscow Times" reported on August 23. The daily carried a commentary from Ekho Moskvy radio that argued that "Russia has not undertaken anything on this scale since selling Alaska to the United States in 1867." The article noted that it would be unwise to conclude such an agreement given "the Chinese people's diligence, sheer numbers, and ability to think in terms of centuries.... Suppose 49 years from now, Russia realizes there are no ethnic Russians living on those 1 million hectares. How would it ask the Chinese to leave?" The commentary also argued that "the Kremlin is cozying up to China to spite the United States.... [But] however much the Kremlin dislikes the United States, Washington is not after Russian land or witnessing enormous emigration, and is certainly not interested in Russia falling apart and the appearance of, for example, a Chinese-Finnish border and a Caucasian caliphate." The article suggested that the Kremlin dislikes the United States because Washington "has the unpleasant habit of raising questions about human rights and official corruption." PM

About 1,000 supporters of Russia's liberal opposition held a rally in Moscow on August 22 to mark Flag Day and honor the memory of those who resisted the 1991 coup attempt, "The Moscow Times" reported. The gathering of mainly middle-aged and older people was organized by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18 and 21, 2006). SPS leader Nikita Belykh told the rally that "in 1991 we made our choice. We are once again at a crossroads, democracy or totalitarianism, Europe or North Korea." Meanwhile on Sakhalin Island in the Far East, members of the nationalist youth movement known as Our Country (Nasha Strana) arrived with an 85-meter-long flag that they had transported through dozens of Far Eastern towns during a 12-day car rally, Interfax and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 2006). PM

In a recent video address summarized on August 22 by the websites and, Doku Umarov expressed regret that not a single European or Western state has called on Russia to halt the war in Chechnya and the extermination of the Chechen people, even though those governments "are perfectly well informed" of developments in Chechnya. Umarov attributed that complicity to Europe's dependence on supplies of Russian oil and natural gas and to its perception of Russia as "a strong state." Umarov further paid tribute, again, to his slain deputy, radical field commander Shamil Basayev, noting above all the latter's energy, his grasp of the nuances of Russian politics, and his political sophistication. In contrast to his April 2006 interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, in which he said the resistance has enough men, money, and arms, but is running out of time, Umarov affirmed in his most recent address that "time is working to our advantage." LF

The upper chamber of the Chechen parliament rejected on August 22 pro-Moscow administration head Alu Alkhanov's proposed candidate for Constitutional Court chairman, Akhmed Elmurzayev, reported on August 23. Only 11 of the 17 deputies present (of a total of 21) approved Elmurzayev's candidacy. Elmurzayev served for many years under Alkhanov when both men worked for the Chechen Interior Ministry. LF

Yerevan police on August 22 took businessman Artak Babadjanian to a local precinct for questioning, but released him several hours later, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Their stated rationale for doing so was information that a person wanted by police was allegedly hiding in his apartment. Babadjanian's brother Arman, editor of the independent twice-weekly newspaper "Zhamanak Yerevan," was arrested two months ago and is currently on trial on charges of evading military service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2006). LF

Several prisoners in Azerbaijan's Gobustan jail have appealed to human rights ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova to inspect conditions at that facility following the August 14 suicide of a prisoner placed in solitary confinement for allegedly defying warders, reported on August 22. But the online daily reported on August 23 that Suleymanova visited Gobustan "several days ago." A number of prisoners serving life sentences at Gobustan declared a hunger strike last month to demand that their terms be commuted to 15 years' imprisonment, the maximum possible sentence prior to the abolition of capital punishment in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2006), but on August 23 quoted Azerbaijani human rights campaigner Eldar Zeynalov as saying he is not certain whether they have abandoned that protest following warning threats from the prison administration. LF

Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who is chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told journalists in Tbilisi on August 22 following talks with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli that Washington supports Georgia's aspirations to NATO membership, Georgian media reported. Lugar was further quoted as saying the United States similarly backs Georgia's insistence on the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones, but he advocated a differentiated approach to resolving those two conflicts, given that the situation in South Ossetia "is not as complicated as in Abkhazia," Caucasus Press reported. Lugar urged the Georgian government to take steps to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, but at the same time admitted that even if Tbilisi reaches an agreement with Azerbaijan on increasing its purchases of Azerbaijani natural gas, it will still need to import some gas from Russia. LF

Giga Bokeria, a leading member of the majority United National Movement parliament faction, accused the opposition at a news conference in Tbilisi on August 22 of holding secret consultations in London with exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili in a bid to engineer the latter's election as Tbilisi mayor, Caucasus Press reported. Representatives of the opposition New Conservative (aka New Rightist) and Republican parties construed Bokeria's allegations as evidence that the ruling party is "in a panic" in the run-up to local elections expected to be held in December 2006, Caucasus Press reported on August 23. David Usupashvili, a leading Republican party member, denied on August 23 that his party is considering nominating Patarkatsishvili as its candidate for Tbilisi mayor, while David Gamkrelidze of the New Rightists said his party hopes the opposition will join forces and nominate Patarkatsishvili as its sole candidate to challenge incumbent Gigi Ugulava for that post. LF

Galym Mustafin, deputy head of the antidrug committee in Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry, told "Kazakhstan Today" on August 22 that the number of drug overdoses in Kazakhstan in 2006 has risen sharply compared to the previous year. Mustafin said that 99 people died from drug overdoses in the first seven months of 2006. He did not provide 2005 figures but said that the number "is considerably up on the same period last year." The largest number of overdoses, 47, was registered in Almaty. Mustafin also said that 645 people died after "consuming drugs over the long term, when all forms of treatment became useless." He noted that Kazakh police have seized 114 kilograms of heroin and more than 13 tons of other drugs in the first seven months of 2006. The report stated that, according to the Prosecutor-General's Office, more than 54,000 people have been registered as drug addicts in Kazakhstan. DK

Police in Bishkek have detained four suspected members of the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in August, reported on August 22. Bakyt Jumaev, head of the Bishkek police department's section for combating religious extremism, told that 10 instances of the distribution of extremist literature have been recorded in Bishkek this year. Jumaev described Hizb ut-Tahrir as a "threat to the sovereignty of Kyrgyzstan." DK

Kyrgyz security services have arrested five suspected extremists in the south of the country over the past week, reported on August 22. But an Osh resident identified as Ayubkhon told the news agency that security forces plant evidence and warned that the arrests, which are primarily of ethnic Uzbeks, are exacerbating ethnic tensions. Kara-Suu Mayor Makhmudjan Rakhimov said that frequent security operations in that town are sparking discontent, as residents ask local authorities whether such measures are really necessary. DK

Prosecutors-general from CIS member states and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) met on August 22 in Dushanbe to discuss cooperation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said that the meeting "will give a new impetus to the common fight against such threats to the modern world as terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking, and transnational organized crime," Regnum reported. Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, chairman of the CIS prosecutors' coordinating council, called on SCO prosecutors to develop "unified approaches and standards for monitoring money transfers, the movement of finances of individuals and organizations suspected of involvement in terrorism," "Moskovsky komsomolets" reported. SCO prosecutors agreed to simplify procedures for providing assistance on criminal cases, Regnum reported. For their part, CIS prosecutors agreed to work together to fight corruption. DK

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has issued a resolution allowing Turkmenistan's State Bank to accept a $300 million loan from China's Export-Import Bank, reported on August 22. The 20-year, 3-percent loan is earmarked for upgrades to production facilities in Turkmenistan. DK

Turkmenistan was to limit the throughput capacity of the Central Asia-Center (CAC) IV natural-gas pipeline to 66 million cubic meters per day for eight days starting on August 22, Turkmen TV reported the same day. The limits on the pipeline, which carries Turkmen gas through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Russia, are being imposed at the request of Russia's Gazprom, which will be making repairs. Similar limits were imposed on the CAC IV pipeline in late July. DK

Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Vasil Dalhalyou told journalists on August 22 that negotiations on Russia's gas price for Belarus in 2007 will start no earlier than October or November, Belapan reported. Belarus currently pays $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas. Russian media signaled earlier this year that Gazprom may increase the gas price for Belarus in 2007, even up to as much as $200 per 1,000 cubic meters. Belapan quoted Gazprom deputy chief Aleksandr Ryazanov as saying in a recent interview that Gazprom could accept Belarus's "petrochemical assets" as payment for gas in the future. "In any case, we should have a market price for gas, although we could accept petrochemical assets as part of payments so that Belarus would be able to bring its economy within the next two or three years to a level enabling it to pay those market prices," Ryazanov said. "We have an interest in Beltranshaz [Belarus's gas pipeline network] and low-pressure lines of Belpaliuhaz [fuel and gas distribution organization]. We could consider the possibility of acquiring petrochemical assets, including the Mazyr oil refinery, in which we have a 42 percent stake via Slavneft." JM

Alla Karol, a member of the Committee for Support of Political Victims, told Belapan on August 22 that as many as 393 students who have either been expelled from higher educational institutions in Belarus or face expulsion for political reasons, have applied to the committee for assistance. Karol added that more than 380 Belarusian students are to start this new academic year in neighboring or EU countries, including 233 in Poland, 77 in Ukraine, and 25 in the Czech Republic. The Committee for Support of Political Victims, which was set up by opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich's team this spring, aims to provide assistance to people who suffered from political persecution during and after Belarus's presidential election in 2006. JM

A district court in Hrodna on August 22 sentenced Andrzej Poczobut -- an activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus, which is not recognized by the Belarusian authorities -- to 10 days in jail, finding him guilty of petty hooliganism, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Reporters of the local television in Hrodna accused Poczobut of preventing them from filming a wreath-laying ceremony at a local cemetery, which was organized on August 18 by the SPB. Poczobut and one of his colleagues were detained during that ceremony, after which the Polish Foreign Ministry issued a note of protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2006). JM

Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko visited Moscow on August 22 to discuss gas supplies to Ukraine with Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller, Ukrainian media reported. Quoting an unidentified source in Gazprom, the "Kommersant-Ukraine" website ( wrote on August 23 that Boyko urged Gazprom to consider the anticipated gas deficit in Ukraine in 2006 to the amount of 8 billion cubic meters as a "common" problem. "We were told straight-out that the gas-deficit problem in Ukraine is a shared one," the Russian source told "Kommersant-Ukraine." "And that this problem should be resolved jointly, otherwise Russian gas transit [via Ukraine] to Europe cannot be guaranteed in full. Ukraine has proposed two ways to resolve this problem -- either to jointly pressurize Turkmenistan into setting a price for its gas not higher than $75 per 1,000 cubic meters or to sell an additional 8 billion cubic meters from underground storage facilities of RosUkrEnergo and UkrGasEnergo [intermediaries in gas settlements between Gazprom and Ukraine] at a price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters." Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych assured the BBC on August 22 that Kyiv is not going to siphon off Russian gas intended for Europe from underground reservoirs in Ukraine this coming winter. JM

Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, arrived in Prishtina on August 22 as part of an effort to jumpstart the negotiations, B92 and Beta reported the same day. In addition to meeting with local and international officials, Ahtisaari is slated to visit Kosovska Mitrovica. "He will try to discuss some of the issues, such as decentralization and minority rights, on the political level, but only if those questions have not been solved by the experts who have already arrived in Prishtina and have...held meetings with the Albanian side," Ahtisaari's spokesman Remi Durlo said. "Technical negotiations depend on the decentralization talks' outcome, as well as on the results of the experts' visit to Belgrade, scheduled for next week," he added. BW

The EU envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, Stefan Lene, said on August 22 that the process is nearing a conclusion and urged Prishtina to become more engaged in negotiations, B92 reported the same day. Lene was speaking in Prishtina after meeting with Hashim Thaci, the head of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) and the leader of Kosova's negotiating team at the talks. The EU envoy also recommended that the Prishtina delegation amend its proposals for protecting minority rights in the province. "The process is entering its final phase. I believe Ahtisaari's visit is significant and that he will give very clear recommendations to the Kosovo negotiating team," Lene said. BW

A top Serbian official on August 22 rejected the latest allegations made by International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that Belgrade is dragging its feet in the hunt for war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, Beta reported the same day. Del Ponte made the allegations at the opening of the trial of seven Bosnian Serb paramilitary officers accused of participating in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). "It seems to me that the accusation is related to a period in the past," Rasim Ljajic, the head of Serbia's Hague Cooperation Council, said. "There is a political will and readiness and I hope that the action plan will give results soon." BW

The Albanian government has signed a $17 million contract with the U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin to build and install a maritime surveillance system, AP reported on August 22. Tirana said the system will help it to combat organized crime along its Adriatic and Ionian coasts. "The surveillance system will help Albania identify all vessels in the seas, make it more efficient in the fight against trafficking, and also increase Albania's cooperation with NATO in the fight against terrorism," Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu said. The surveillance system will consist of command and sensor centers with radars. BW

Diverse degrees of continuing attachment to traditional culture go further towards explaining the variance in demographic behavior among ethnic groups in the Russian Federation than do variations in material well-being, according to an analysis of data collected since the last Soviet census in 1989. Consequently, policies predicated on the assumption that money alone can change such behavior are doomed to failure and may even prove counterproductive, unless officials recognize this fact and combine them with other measures as well.

In an article for the Russian Civilization Foundation, sociologist Vardan Bagdasaryan describes what he calls "the ethno-confessional limits of the demographic crisis in Russia" and discusses the difficulties involved in changing the current situation.

Comparing the findings of the 1989 Soviet and 2002 Russian censuses, Bagdasaryan notes that the total population of Russia in 2002 was 98.7 percent of that in 1989, while the percentage of ethnic Russians among Russia's population fell by a further 2 percentage points over that period, to 96.7 percent in 2002.

Looking at the issue more broadly, he reports, not only the Russians but all other peoples of Russia, except for the Ossetians "who belong to the Orthodox cultural world," declined during this period, while all the Muslim and Buddhist peoples of Russia "without exception" saw their numbers increase.

Bagdasaryan notes that only 18 subjects of the Russian Federation currently have a positive balance of births over deaths, and 17 of these are non-Russian national-territorial formations. The only exception to this pattern is the predominantly ethnic Russian region of Tyumen. Indeed, he continues, the demographic crisis of excess deaths over births that has been characteristic of the Russian and more generally Orthodox part of the population has "simply passed [the Muslims and Buddhists] by."

Many analysts attempt to explain this development by pointing to the location of these groups -- more Muslims live in the southern portions of the country -- or to their level of urbanization -- Russians are more urbanized than most other national groups in that country. But such explanations are not supported by the facts, Bagdasaryan says. On the one hand, birthrates among ethnic Russian women living in national republics turn out in every case to be lower than the representatives of Muslim or Buddhist groups among whom they live.

And on the other, pagan groups in the Far East, Siberia and the North grew rapidly during this intercensal period -- with the Manis increasing by 44.6 percent and the Khantys by 30 percent, for example -- despite the extreme climatic conditions in the regions where they live.

This pattern suggests, Bagdasaryan says, that those peoples who traditionally embraced Orthodox Christianity were affected to a far greater degree by Soviet atheistic propaganda, a trend that left them without the kind of cultural defense that other religious traditions -- including Islam, Buddhism and paganism -- provided their followers. That finding in turn inevitably leads to the conclusion, Bagdasaryan continues, that there is little possibility of overcoming the current demographic decline by material stimuli alone.

In support of that argument, he reports on a study of the influence of various factors on demographic behavior such as birthrates. With one being a maximum, the greatest influence on demographic behavior, with a coefficient of 0.83, is the ideological and spiritual condition of the various peoples. Other factors had a smaller influence, he reports: the national orientation of the Russian state -- 0.75, state administrative policies -- 0.59, and material conditions of life -- 0.49, or only a little more than half the impact on demographic behavior that cultural factors do.

Given that pattern, Bagdasaryan continues, the use of monetary mechanisms to stimulate the birthrate may well produce exactly the reverse result. Such investments will have little impact on the Russians and other Orthodox communities, but will result in even higher birthrates among Muslims.

They will have one positive consequence, however, Bagdasaryan acknowledges: they will improve the quality of life of the existing population and thus may contribute to the reversal of falling life expectancies among Russians -- but that is not how the case for such investments is typically made.

In support of his belief that attachment to traditional culture helps to promote more favorable demographic outcomes, Bagdasaryan puts forward two sets of data: one concerning demographic data in Russia over the last 150 years and the other on demographic behavior in European countries.

At the end of the 19th century, he notes, when the Russian Empire was an Orthodox state committed to Orthodox values, birthrates among ethnic Russians were almost 1.5 times higher than those among Muslims living within the boundaries of that empire. But Soviet policies, including "the detraditionalization of the Russian people," reversed that trend, with the result that by the time the USSR collapsed, the desire to have a successor generation was lower among Russian women than among those of any titular nationality of the union republics. Moreover, that negative trend was exacerbated by the "antinational" policies of the Russian government in the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, policies that undermined the confidence of Russians and other traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups in the future and thus deterred many couples from having children.

Bagdasaryan's other set of data focus on demographic behavior in Europe. He reports that 2002 data from 33 European countries supports his contention that traditional culture is the most important factor in explaining birthrates and other forms of demographic behavior. At first glance, he acknowledges, the differences among these countries in terms of birthrates may seem relatively small. But if one divides the European countries into two categories -- the eight that have monarchies and the 25 that are republics -- one can easily see the continuing impact of traditional values.

Of the eight monarchies, Bagdasaryan reports, all have birthrates above 10 per 1,000 annually, whereas among the 25 republics, only seven of them exceed that figure.

"Of course," he acknowledges, "in contemporary constitutional monarchies, the crowned heads have only nominal and largely decorative power. However, the very fact of the preservation of traditional political institutions provides evidence of the presence of a certain traditional potential." Bagdasaryan stops short, however, of arguing that Russia could resolve its current demographic problems by restoring the monarchy.

Another article published earlier this month provides additional context. "Vechernyaya Moskva" noted on August 8 that Russia's demographic situation is becoming so alarming that the question may soon be not "how to live?" but rather "who will [still] be alive?" Comparing fertility rates in various countries, the paper noted that in Tajikistan, women on average have 3.68 children. In the United States, this figure is 2.06, and in China 1.68. But in Russia as a whole, the average woman has 1.34 children, and the average Muscovite woman has 1.14. Maintaining population levels requires about 2.2 children.

The Moscow paper further pointed to a still more worrisome fact: Russia's current very low birthrates are likely to have an even more negative impact in the future, even if they rise slightly in the short term. That is become the number of young women who could become mothers is much smaller than in the preceding generation.

The paper's only positive finding concerned the dwindling number of abortions in the Russian Federation: while in 1990, there were 206 abortions for each 100 live births, now, there are 122 abortions for every 100 new babies.

(Paul Goble is the former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government.)

In a commentary on August 21, Kabul's state-run English-language newspaper the "Kabul Times" defended Tolu Television's right to show members of the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) during embarrassing moments in parliament. The Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs' commission that addresses media law violations issued a warning to Tolu after complaints made by Wolesi Jirga member Safia Sidiqi against Tolu for allegedly showing her napping during a session of the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). The commission charged that Tolu's showing of such scenes was creating "tension." In a commentary, the "Kabul Times" said the Afghan media law does not permit the media from disseminating slanderous broadcasts, but in the case of public personalities, part of their private lives are public domain. As such, "if a member of parliament is caught napping by a TV crew when a serious discussion" is taking place, perhaps the next time that individual will not "take a catnap" in the parliament. As such, the commentary adds, Tolu "has committed no offense" by broadcasting "a deputy napping or another yawning" since, as public figures, the people have a right to know how their elected officials behave while representing them. AT

Several insurgents have been killed in a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) air strike in the Nawzad District of Helmand Province, an August 21 press statement issued by ISAF indicated. Hajji Zahir, "a prominent insurgent," is believed to have been among those killed. Hajji Mohayuddin, speaking for Helmand's governor, claimed that 15 militants were killed in the attack, Xinhua reported on August 22. Speaking for the Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yusof said on August 22 that only two "Taliban were martyred and three others were wounded" in the air strike in "Nawzad District...last night," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country used during the rule of the Taliban -- reported on August 22 the death of three civilians in an aerial attack by the "NATO occupying force." According to the posting, there were no casualties among the "mujahedin" -- the term which is increasingly being used by the Taliban to identify their members. Contradictory remarks attributed to the neo-Taliban have become a hallmark of the organizations fighting in Afghanistan under the banner of the ousted Taliban regime. AT

A suspected suicide attacker struck a convoy of ISAF soldiers in the city of Kandahar on August 22, leaving four soldiers and a civilian injured, an ISAF press release reported. The convoy belonged to the Canadian contingent within ISAF, AP reported on August 22. A web posting the same day on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan website claimed that in a "martyrdom-seeking mission," Abdul Halim from Kandahar destroyed a Canadian main battle tank, killing eight soldiers and injuring others. There were no other media reports of such an event having taken place. AT

Sayyed Agha Saqeb, security commander of Farah Province, said on August 22 that in a clash between "robbers" and Taliban in the Bakwa District, five people were killed and six others sustained injuries, Herat-based Sada-ye Jawan Radio reported. Saqeb denied reports indicating that members of his forces were also killed in the clash. It is not clear who the "robbers" were or what were the circumstances of their clash with the Taliban. AT

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, met with diplomats from China, France, Germany Russia, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland -- which represents the United States in Iran -- on 22 August, Radio Farda reported. Larijani was responding to a June proposal from these countries that was meant to resolve the controversy over the Iranian nuclear program. Details were not immediately available, because the diplomats must convey the written Iranian response to their home governments. Strong hints on the nature of that response were made by Mohammad Saidi, a top official in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. He said on August 22 that the international proposal has "fundamental and serious ambiguities," Mehr News Agency reported. He added that although suspension of uranium enrichment is no longer an appropriate precondition, Tehran is willing to hold talks. Saidi also criticized aspects of the proposal that emphasize deterrence and ignore nuclear cooperation. BS

Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who now serves as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's foreign policy adviser, said on August 22 that Iran's nuclear accomplishments are more important than the adverse publicity they have garnered, ISNA reported. He therefore dismissed the international pressure Iran faces, and he added that this is inevitable, saying, "You can be sure that whatever we try to do in the sphere of advance technology will be confronted by influential states in the world." Iran should disregard international pressure, he said, adding that the nuclear issue is not open to "international debate." BS

An Iranian naval vessel opened fire on an offshore drilling rig belonging to the Romanian Oil Services Group (Grup Servicii Petroliere; GSP), on August 22 and arrested the crew, Rompres reported. The crew comprised seven Romanian oil workers and seven Indian catering staff. GSP press officer Radu Petrescu said the seizure relates to a dispute over payment of fees. "For almost two years now we have been operating with two oil rigs in the Persian Gulf for the Iranian oil company, but in the last six months, our beneficiary defaulted on his contractual clauses, specifically he failed to issue a new bank letter of credit for the current year," Petrescu said. The attack came after the Romanians terminated the contract. Petrescu added that a second rig, "Fortuna," was towed to Sharjah safely a few days ago. Petrescu said later that Iranian soldiers and police were aboard the rig, as were representatives of the firms with which there is a dispute -- Oriental Oil and PetroIran. Still later the same day, Iran's ambassador to Bucharest, Ali Akbar Farazi, was summoned to the Romanian Foreign Ministry and told that the use of force to resolve a commercial dispute is unacceptable, Rompres reported. Farazi said he has not succeeded in obtaining information from Iran because of the national holiday (see item below). BS

The National Iranian Oil Company's managing director, Gholam Hussein Nozari, said on August 22 that a $2.5 billion shipment of gasoline has reached Iran and this should be enough for five months, Mehr News Agency reported. The Iranian government recently decided against the imposition of gasoline rationing despite heavy subsidies to keep gasoline prices low. BS

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) congratulated the Iranian people on August 22, the day of Mab'ath, which is the anniversary of the day that the Prophet Muhammad had the first of his revelations. Some Iranians mark the holiday by gathering in mosques and other holy places. August 22 also coincides with Mi'raj, the day when the Prophet ascended to heaven on a winged horse named Buraq. Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis noted the religious significance of August 22 in an editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" on August 8 in which he also noted it was the date by which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad promised a response to the nuclear proposal submitted to Iran by the international community. BS

An Iraqi Kurdish woman testified on August 22 that her brother and son were killed in a 1987 chemical-weapon attack on her village nearly a year before the formal start of the Anfal campaign, international media reported the same day. Adiba Awla Bayiz said she and her children were blinded in the attack, adding that she continues to have eye problems today. Bayiz is reportedly the wife of Ali Mustafa Hama, who was the first witness to testify in the Anfal trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). She said her and her children's skin peeled off in the days that followed the attack. She testified that after hiding in the mountains, she and her children were eventually rounded up and transported to Irbil by Saddam Hussein's regime. The detainees were eventually photographed and women and children were released, while the men remained in detention. Bayiz said she subsequently miscarried twice following the attack. KR

Former Iraqi military officers concluded a two-day conference in Amman on August 22 with the announcement of the establishment of a political movement called Rights: The Patriotic and National Forces Movement, Arab media reported this week. "Our goal is to stop bloodshed," movement Chairman Hamid Ga'ud told the daily "Jordan Times" of August 23. Ga'ud called for good relations with the U.S., British, and Arab governments, and said the group supports the political process in Iraq despite its reservations about the constitution. The movement's secretary-general, Hasan al-Bazzaz, told Al-Jazeera television on August 21 that the movement seeks to prevent the division and dismemberment of Iraq. The group also advocates the release of detainees and the setting of a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces. The group has denied ties to the deposed Ba'ath Party but it supports the abolishment of the de-Ba'athification Commission, the "Jordan Times" reported. Al-Jazeera reported that some 100 political, intellectual, and tribal figures took part in the conference, while the "Jordan Times" reported some 500 people took part, electing an 85-member "council of founders." KR

Ayham al-Samarra'i, who served as electricity minister in the interim Iraqi government, was arrested on August 22 on charges of corruption, the Commission on Public Integrity announced the same day. Al-Samarra'i was arrested when he appeared before the court to answer questions about his alleged mismanagement of the ministry, Karbala news network reported on August 22. The news agency reported that an arrest warrant was also issued for his successor, Abd al-Muhsin Shalash, after Shalash failed to appear at the same court session. Iraqi graft inspectors have said that at least $4 billion has been pilfered from state coffers, Reuters reported on August 22. KR

Kurdish intellectuals in the Dahuk Governorate have rejected a newly passed Kurdish law identifying the Sorani dialect as the official dialect of the Kurdish region, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on August 22. Sorani is the dominant dialect in the Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah governorates, while Kurmanji (Badinani) is the dominant dialect in Dahuk. In a petition to the Kurdish autonomous region's government, the intellectuals argued that more than 70 percent of Kurds use the Badinani dialect. KR

Iraqi Accordance Front leader Adnan al-Dulaymi called on Iraqis during an August 22 press conference in Baghdad to set aside differences and unite, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Addressing Sunnis, Shi'a, Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans, Muslims and non-Muslims, al-Dulaymi said: "We are brothers in God. We have lived in this country as brothers who have cooperated with each other. We have religious and national ties. We should preserve those ties and endeavor to achieve calm, security, and stability." Al-Dulaymi said the recent instability in the country has seriously impacted the economic situation, with many small business owners closing their shops and emigrating. Such out-migration will further strain the unemployment situation in Iraq, he added. Al-Dulaymi also called on the Iraqi government to release detainees arrested in recent days, and to issue a general amnesty for wanted persons. KR

Iraq's Central Bank said in an August 22 statement that inflation rose dramatically in July, Reuters reported the same day. "The consumer price index, as a measure of inflation, recorded an increase of nearly 70 percent by the end of July 2006 compared to the same month in 2005," the bank said in a statement. Consumer prices rose 52.5 percent in the year until June, the news agency reported. "If the current price developments are compared to unemployment levels and their high averages that reached around 50 percent, then this indicates that the overall economy is sinking in what is called stagflation," the Central Bank said, describing economic periods marked by sluggish growth and rising prices. KR