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Newsline - August 28, 2006


RUSSIAN MINISTER REMAINS SKEPTICAL ABOUT U.S. MISSILE-CONVERSION PLANS...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Fairbanks, Alaska, on August 27 that he has "concerns" about U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's proposal to replace the nuclear warheads on some U.S. long-range ballistic missiles with conventional weapons for potential use against terrorist targets anywhere in the world, "The Washington Post" and Interfax reported on August 28. Ivanov added that he is "not ready to say that Russia agrees to join the initiative.... [Rumsfeld's plans] envision expanding capabilities of preventive strikes as much as possible." Ivanov suggested that Russia might have as few as 10 minutes after the United States launched such a missile to decide whether it carried a nuclear warhead aimed at Russia or a conventional warhead aimed at a third party. He suggested that medium-range or cruise missiles might be a better option, since these generally carry conventional warheads and would not be mistaken for a nuclear attack. He noted that "we will closely cooperate with the [United States], and our experts will be able to discuss every aspect of the problem." Referring to the disagreement between Washington and Moscow over the recently announced U.S. sanctions against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, and the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi for alleged violations of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, Rumsfeld agreed to reconsider the matter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). PM

...AND DENIES REPORTS OF NEW DEFENSE DOCTRINE
Speaking in Fairbanks, Alaska, on August 28, Defense Minister Ivanov denied recent reports in the Russian media that he has been tasked with preparing a new defense doctrine, Interfax reported. He said that he does not "know anything about this. [The papers] write all manner of things." On August 25, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote that Ivanov is preparing a new doctrine for unveiling in 2007. Its underlying assumption allegedly is that Russia might find itself allied with some countries in certain kinds of conflicts but opposed to them in others. The daily wrote that, according to Major General Yury Kirshin, this model "means that Russia could form a military coalition with the United States and NATO against international terrorism or an irresponsible dictatorship threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, the United States and its NATO allies may become Russia's adversaries in a war to establish a new world order. It is therefore necessary to make lists of the democratic, authoritarian, and even totalitarian regimes Russia might ally itself with in this case." Also on August 25, the daily "Gazeta" suggested that the Far East, which Ivanov is currently visiting, is so remote that the only way Russia could defend it against an invasion "would be with the assistance of nuclear weapons...a nuclear blow against our own territory." PM

MINISTER HAILS U.S.-SOVIET WARTIME COOPERATION
Defense Minister Ivanov participated on August 28 in the dedication of a memorial in Fairbanks to U.S.-Soviet Lend-Lease cooperation in World War II, Interfax reported. He called the program a "weighty component of the weapons that won the victory" over Nazi Germany. He added that "one cannot forget the brotherhood-in-arms and the great union of the states of the anti-Nazi coalition that protected mankind from the threat of fascist enslavement. Nor can there be any doubt that Allied supplies for the [Soviet Union] under Lend-Lease were a weighty component of the weapons that won the victory." Ivanov noted that "in addition to the goods and various materials that were needed at the front, the United States sent about 8,000 warplanes from Fairbanks between 1942 and 1945, which seriously influenced the outcome of the fight against the Nazi invaders in Europe. It was airplanes that were the first essential type of armaments that the Allies began to supply to the [Soviet Union] as early as the end of August 1941. The planes defended Murmansk and Moscow." The minister said that the experience of wartime cooperation "is an extremely vivid example for new generations of defenders of peace, freedom, and independence. This experience must not be allowed to be forfeited. And it is our sacred duty to prevent the memory of the heroic past fading away, both for now and for future generations." PM

LEADING LEGISLATOR OPPOSES SENDING PEACEKEEPERS TO LEBANON
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on August 25 that he opposes deploying a Russian peacekeeping contingent to southern Lebanon as part of the proposed UN-backed force, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that this is his "personal view." Mironov added that he has no objections to Russian specialists helping restoring roads and other infrastructure, but "as far as the peacekeepers are concerned, let [the UN] use the military contingent of France or other countries." President Vladimir Putin is still considering whether to send Russian peacekeepers to Lebanon. Defense Minister Ivanov believes that several important questions regarding the peacekeeping mandate need to be clarified before Russia can make its decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24 and 25, 2006). PM

FORMER AMBASSADOR SLAMS JAPANESE PREMIER'S VISIT TO CENTRAL ASIA
Outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left on August 28 for a four-day visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the first-ever trip by a Japanese leader to Central Asia, NHK reported (see "Central Asia: Japanese Premier Visits Energy-Rich Region," rferl.org, August 27, 2006). The Japanese international broadcaster cited recent remarks by Aleksandr Panov, one of Moscow's former ambassadors to Tokyo, to the effect that Koizumi is seeking to "confront" Russia and China in Central Asia on behalf of the United States. Panov argued that Koizumi will achieve nothing. PM

NO EARLY HOMECOMING FOR JAPANESE FISHERMEN
An official of the local prosecutor's office said in Vladivostok on August 28 that Japanese fishing-boat Captain Noboru Sakashita will be held there until his trial for poaching is completed, Interfax reported. The official added that the case will go to the Yuzhno-Kurilsk District Court "no later than September 7" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18 and 22, 2006). The two crew members will also remain in custody until the trial is completed. An additional crew member was killed in the August 16 incident, during which Russian officials maintain that the Japanese captain executed dangerous maneuvers. Colleagues in Japan have called Sakashita a cautious man. PM

MOSCOW MARKET BOMBERS 'NO ANGELS'
Moscow city police department chief Vladimir Pronin told reporters on August 28 that the three young men allegedly responsible for the fatal August 21 bomb blast at the Cherkizovsky market might be responsible for at least eight additional bombings in Moscow and the Moscow area, news.ru reported. He said that he had spoken with two of the three, adding that they are "no angels" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2006). The three cited racist and xenophobic reasons as their motive. Pronin added that there were no victims in the earlier blasts but that the three had plans for more deadly attacks in the future. PM

ABDUCTED CHECHEN JOURNALIST SAID TO BE FIELD COMMANDER'S WIFE
Elina Ersenoyeva, a journalist who was abducted by armed men in Grozny on August 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 2006), was coerced into marrying radical field commander Shamil Basayev in a secret ceremony in November 2005, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported on August 25, citing human rights activists in Moscow and Grozny. Basayev died last month in Ingushetia in circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 18, 2006). A spokeswoman for the Chechen Council of NGOs was quoted by the Russian daily "Kommersant" on August 25 as suggesting that pro-Moscow Chechen police may have snatched Ersenoyeva in order to force her to reveal the location of Basayev's war chest and personal archive. LF

THREE MILITANTS, THEATER DIRECTOR KILLED IN DAGHESTAN
Daghestan Interior Ministry forces surrounded and opened fire on a private home on the outskirts of Makhachkala early on August 26, killing three suspected militants and former Deputy Culture Minister Zubail Khiyasov, a Kumyk journalist and theater director, Russian media reported. One of the militants was identified as Gadji Melikov, said to have succeeded Rasul Makarsharipov as emir of the Makhachkala jamaat following Makarsharipov's death last summer in a similar shoot-out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2005). Two women identified as the wives of the slain militants, one of them said to be Makarsharipov's sister, surrendered to police, kommersant.ru reported on August 28. LF

MILITANTS CONTINUE TARGETING POLICE, MILITARY IN INGUSHETIA
Armed militants staged three separate attacks on police and military facilities in Ingushetia on August 26, Interfax and the website ingushetiya.ru reported, leading one commentator to brand the ongoing upsurge in violence "a partisan war." Three servicemen died when militants opened fire on a truck near the village of Voznesenskaya in Malgobek Raion, close to the border with North Ossetia, and two more were injured by an explosion that damaged a truck transporting servicemen near the village of Nesterovskaya in Sunzha Raion; two police patrolmen were seriously injured when militants opened fire on their vehicle in the village of Ekazhevo on the eastern outskirts of Nazran. Meanwhile, the Russian agency regnum.ru on August 27 quoted unnamed Ingushetian Interior Ministry officials as blaming members of President Muat Zyazivov's bodyguard for the August 24 incident in Magas in which unknown men opened fire on a private vehicle that refused to cede the right of way (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25, 2006). LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER RISE IN NORTH CAUCASUS 'TERRORISM'
Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika chaired a meeting in Rostov-na-Donu on August 25 to assess rising crime in the Southern Federal District since the beginning of 2006, according to a statement posted on genproc.gov.ru. Also present were Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, and the heads of the North Caucasus republics. Patrushev expressed concern that the focus of militant attacks has shifted from Chechnya to neighboring Ingushetia and North Ossetia, regnum.ru reported. He said 18 terrorist attacks have taken place in Ingushetia so far this year and 11 in North Ossetia, which is a 50 percent increase over 2005. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST HINTS AT 2008 PRESIDENTIAL BID
Umid (Hope) party Chairman Iqbal Agazade said in an interview published on August 26 by the online daily echo-az.com that "if events unfold normally," he will run for president in the ballot due in late 2008. Agazade, who is one of a small handful of opposition parliament deputies and whose party was a founder member of the Center for Opposition Political Coordination, downplayed the inactivity of opposition parties since the November 2005 parliamentary election. He further expressed doubts over the likelihood of progress in the near term toward resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WRONGFOOTS OPPOSITION OVER TIMING OF LOCAL ELECTIONS
After consulting with parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has scheduled local elections for October 5, Caucasus Press reported on August 28. Three weeks earlier, presidential administration head Giorgi Arveladze told journalists the vote would take place in early December, according to Caucasus Press on August 7. On August 22, Giga Bokeria, a leading member of the majority United National Movement parliament faction, accused the opposition 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 the local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL CALLS FOR TALKS BETWEEN ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT IN EXILE, BREAKAWAY LEADERSHIP
Once the Abkhaz government in exile is relocated from Tbilisi to the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge, the leadership of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia will have no option but to work together with that body, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Kote Kemularia told Caucasus Press on August 26. The Republic of Abkhazia leadership has hitherto rejected contacts with some members of the government in exile whom it suspects of having committed war crimes against civilians during the 1992-93 fighting. LF

GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA EXCHANGE ALLEGATIONS OF SHELLING
The information service of the government of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia accused Georgian forces on August 26 of subjecting the republic's capital, Tskhinvali, to mortar fire the previous night, Caucasus Press reported. Tbilisi rejected that allegation, claiming in turn that militants opened fire on a Georgian police post in Ergneti from the villages of Gudjabauri, Mamisaantubani, and Prisi. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA PLANS REFERENDUM
An initiative group was established in South Ossetia on August 25 to prepare for a referendum on independence, Caucasus Press reported. Respondents will be asked "Do you want the republic to retain its present status as an independent state and to be recognized [as such] by the international community?" according to Unity party Chairman Zurab Kokoyev. The similarly unrecognized Transdniester Republic is to hold an analogous referendum next month, the outcome of which is unlikely to be recognized by the international community as legal and valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 24, and 27, 2006). Visiting U.S. Senator John McCain told Georgian journalists on August 27 after meeting in Tskhinvali with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity that in contrast to Kosova, he doubts Washington would ever recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, rustavi2.com reported. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN NAVY COMMANDER CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT
Georgian military police arrested former Georgian Naval Commander Levan Bakradze on August 24 on suspicion of having misappropriated some 40,000 laris ($21,948) between 1997-2005, Caucasus Press reported. The Poti municipal court sentenced Bakradze to two months' pretrial detention on August 26. LF

CHINESE-KAZAKH POLICE EXERCISE ENDS IN CHINA
A two-stage Chinese-Kazakh counterterrorism exercise ended in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region on August 26, Xinhua reported. The second phase of the exercise, which followed a first phase in Kazakhstan, involved 700 policemen and 100 observers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Vyacheslav Kasimov, head of the SCO's Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, said the exercise demonstrated regional leaders' commitment to fighting the "three evils" of separatism, terrorism, and extremism. SCO member states (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) plan to hold counterterrorism exercises in Russia in 2007. DK

KAZAKHSTAN TAKES STOCK OF MIGRANT-LEGALIZATION PROGRAM
Some 24,000 migrant workers have profited from a Kazakh program to legalize the status of unregistered migrant workers that got under way earlier this summer, Khabar reported on August 26. The program, which will continue until the end of the year, is expected to legalize 100,000 workers, mainly from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia. Under the program, recently arrived illegal workers are able to receive migration cards and work legally. DK

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN REPORTEDLY AGREE NO-VISA CROSSINGS
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have reached an agreement that will allow citizens of those two countries to spend up to 60 days in the other country without obtaining a visa, akipress.org reported on August 25. The agreement was reportedly reached during a visit by Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov to Tashkent on August 24-25, and it is expected to be signed when Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev visits Uzbekistan in the fall, ferghana.ru reported. DK

INTERPARLIAMENTARY FORUM LOOKS TO BOOST RUSSIAN-TAJIK TIES
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov told a Russian-Tajik interparliamentary forum in Dushanbe on August 25 that Tajikistan wants Russian companies to come to the country with long-term plans, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmonov stressed the importance of the Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric plant, which is being reconstructed by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), noting, "We hope that the facility will be commissioned on time." Sergei Mironov, speaker of Russia's Federation Council, said that Russia hopes to expand education cooperation by increasing the number of Tajik university students in Russia, from the present 3,000. Mironov also held one-on-one meetings with Rakhmonov and Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov to discuss bilateral relations and regional integration, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. DK

TURKMEN COURT SENTENCES RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT, RIGHTS ACTIVISTS TO LENGTHY JAIL TERMS
RFE/RL correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova received a six-year prison term and codefendants Sapardurdy Khajiev and Annakurban Amanklychev were given seven-year terms in a brief, closed trial on August 25, AP reported. The three were found guilty of illegal possession of ammunition. They were arrested in June following espionage allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2006). In a 25 August statement, RFE/RL acting President Jeff Trimble blasted the trial as a "mockery of justice" and vowed that RFE/RL will "continue to do all it can for [Muradova's] freedom." The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) also issued a statement on August 25 expressing outrage at the peremptory trial and sentencing. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon stated, "We demand that Turkmen authorities release our colleague Ogulsapar Muradova at once, and overturn this bogus conviction." DK

UZBEK OFFICIAL DENIES ASYLUM-SEEKER ABDUCTIONS
Ismoil Pulatov, head of a detention center in Andijon, told press-uz.info on August 25 that media reports that Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers from Osh, Kyrgyzstan, might be in custody in Andijon are untrue. "No Uzbek citizens, allegedly disappeared from the southern Kyrgyz town of Osh, have been held in custody at the remand center in [the Uzbek] town of Andijon," he said. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan have both expressed concern at reports that as many as five Uzbek asylum seekers and refugees who recently disappeared in Osh might now be held in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25, 2006). DK

UZBEKISTAN CONFIRMS RETURN OF 41 REFUGEES
A representative of Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry confirmed on August 26 that 41 Uzbek refugees have returned to Uzbekistan from the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 2006), press-uz.info reported. The source noted that the Uzbek Embassy in the United States provided the refugees with "maximum assistance" in their return. In mid-July, 12 Uzbek refugees returned to Uzbekistan from the United States despite doubts by rights groups about their rationale for doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006). DK

GOVERNMENT TO REVISE BELARUSIAN ORTHOGRAPHY
Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkou told Belapan on August 25 that his ministry is currently working to update the Belarusian language's spelling and punctuation rules. Radzkou said he discussed this issue with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka earlier the same day. Lukashenka reportedly gave the Education Ministry two weeks to submit a revised version of the Belarusian orthography. "The point is that the existing rules were enacted as far back as 1957. For this reason, as well for the reason that the rules are being understood differently, the president believes that there is an urgent need for modern, clear spelling rules," Radzkou noted. JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER SENTENCED TO NINE YEARS IN U.S. PRISON
A U.S. court on August 25 sentenced Pavlo Lazarenko, who served from 1996 to 1997 as Ukrainian prime minister, to nine years in prison and fined him $10 million, Reuters reported. A U.S. jury convicted Lazarenko in 2004 of 29 counts of extortion, money laundering through U.S. banks, fraud, and transportation of stolen property. The judge presiding over Lazarenko's case later threw out 15 counts. "The defendant's conduct was egregious -- he misused his office to generate tens of millions for himself at the expense of the Ukrainian people and then sought to avail himself of our banking system to safeguard his criminal proceeds," U.S. prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. Lazarenko's lawyers said they will appeal the verdict. Lazarenko applied for political asylum in the United States in 1998. He was arrested in 1999 and accused of money laundering in 2000. He has been kept under house arrest in San Francisco since 2003. A Swiss court tried Lazarenko in absentia in 2000, finding him guilty of money laundering and sentencing him to 1 1/2 years in prison and a $6.6 million fine. JM

GRENADE ATTACK IN DIVIDED KOSOVAR TOWN INJURES NINE...
A grenade attack at a cafe in the ethnically divided northern Kosovar town of Mitrovica injured nine people on August 26, international news agencies reported the same day. "Someone passing by threw an explosive device at the cafe," Reuters quoted a UN police spokesman as saying. The BBC reported that seven Serbs and a British UN police officer were among the injured in the attack. B92 reported that one of the injured was a pregnant Dutch woman. The cafe is located near the Ibar River, which divides Mitrovica's Serbian and ethnic Albanian communities. Police have detained an ethnic Albanian teenager as a suspect in the attack, Reuters and AFP reported. The cafe serves as a base for the "bridge watchers," who belong to a Serbian parallel structure regarded as illegal by the UN administration. The possible motive for the attack is not clear. Several hundred Serbian protesters gathered on the bridge separating the northern and southern parts of Mitrovica after the attack. BW

...AS SERBIAN LEADERS CONDEMN ATTACK
Serbian President Boris Tadic condemned the attack at the cafe and demanded that those responsible be punished, B92 reported on August 27. "President Tadic views this bomb attack as a terrorist act and demands the international community to urgently react and punish the perpetrators," a statement released by Tadic's office said. Marko Jaksic, a member of Belgrade's negotiating team for Kosova's final-status talks, called for any suspects in the attack to be turned over to the Serbian criminal justice system. Jaksic said justice as administered by the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) is not effective. "We will also demand that the bridge over the Ibar River be closed down until the final status of Kosovo and Metohija is resolved. The bridge will be guarded by citizens who are self-organized," Jaksic said. BW

UN ENVOY SAYS LEGACY OF PAST IS IMPORTANT IN KOSOVA SETTLEMENT...
Marti Ahtisaari, the UN envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, said on August 26 that the legacy of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime needs to be taken into account when determining Kosova's future, B92 reported the same day. "Every nation in the world has a burden it has to pay for," Ahtisaari said. "The democratic leadership in Serbia today cannot be held accountable for the actions of Slobodan Milosevic, but the leaders in Belgrade have to face the heritage and responsibility," he added. "This historical heritage cannot be ignored, but rather must be taken into account in the process of finding a solution for the future status of Kosovo," Ahtisaari said. BW

...SPARKING PROTEST FROM SERBIAN OFFICIALS
Oliver Ivanovic, leader of the Serbian List for Kosovo party, among other Serbian officials, took issue with the claim that Serbs must pay a price for Milosevic's rule, B92 reported on August 26. "Although we are all aware of the mistakes that were made by a regime that lasted as long as it had, my opinion is that the entire Serbian nation should not be made to pay such a steep price," Ivanovic said. Rada Trajkovic, vice president of the Serbian National Council for Kosovo, said she agrees "that...the authorities in Serbia are facing the consequences of Milosevic's rule," but disagreed that this should be a factor in the Kosova negotiations. Leon Kojen and Slobodan Samardzic, coordinators for Belgrade's negotiating team on Kosova, accused Ahtisaari of overstepping his mandate. "As an individual and public official Ahtisaari has the liberty to think whatever he wants, but as the UN secretary-general's special envoy for Kosovo status negotiations, he is obliged to stick to his mandate and the appropriate norms of international conduct," they said in a statement. BW

BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS CRITICIZE CHAIRMAN OF PRESIDENCY OVER SECESSION COMMENTS
Bosnian Serb leaders have protested comments made by Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's rotating Presidency, in which he ruled out a referendum on independence, AKI reported on August 25. Tihic said on August 23 that Bosnia-Herzegovina is indivisible and those who want to secede can pack up and leave, "but can't take with them an inch of Bosnian territory" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25, 2006)."Bosnia isn't his private property," Borisav Paravac, the Serbian member of the three-member presidency, said in response to Tihic's comments, which he called "irresponsible" and "scandalous." Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik called Tihic's comments an example of "hate and chauvinism" that will inflame ethnic passions. "In Tihic's statement one can easily recognize an Islamic concept which sees Bosnia as its exclusive right," Dodik said. BW

TAJIK OPPOSITION DISORGANIZED AS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION NEARS
With less than three months to go before the presidential election due in November, Tajikistan's three major opposition parties are in disarray.

The Islamic Renaissance Party (HNIT) is still coming to terms with the death earlier this month of its longtime, charismatic chairman, Said Abdullo Nuri, the senior figure within Tajikistan's opposition leadership. Mohiedin Kabiri, the party's young, forward-thinking leader, now has the daunting task of leading the party out of Nuri's shadow. He also needs to bring energy and a new strategy for his party in the presidential election, and must assert his authority to impose unity on the HNIT's estimated 26,000 members.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, the 42-year-old Kabiri spoke of his concerns about what he describes as outside attempts to break up the HNIT. He claims the party is fully united behind his leadership, but he is hesitant when asked if he will be a candidate in the presidential election, indicating that he will "first present his case to the party convention in September." "If the party convention insists and says it has no alternative, I will have my conditions [for becoming a candidate]," he said. "But I'm hopeful that this will not be the case and they will accept my argument, and perhaps have a different view on the selection of a candidate."

But if Kabiri does not want to be HNIT's presidential candidate, who are the possible alternatives? Veteran politician Said Ibrahim Nazar, one of the founders of the Islamic Renaissance Party, seems to be the favorite. Another possible candidate is the hard-line Mohammad Ali Haiit, who has remained one of the party's top officials since 1990. There is also uncertainty about the party's official policy, and Kabiri seems to want to wait before deciding on a strategy.

"In the present circumstances, the easiest and simplest choice, in my view, is to influence the thinking of those in power," he said. "If they are not ready to accept others in power, this could have severe repercussions...if they intend, for example, to stay in power by any means, even by resorting to violence, this is not very helpful. So the best way for keeping peace in society and having influence is to influence those in power."

An even bigger task confronts the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (HDT) following the sentencing in October 2005 of its influential leader, Mahmudruzi Iskandarov, to a 23-year prison term on terrorism charges. The acting leader of the party, Rahmatullo Valliev, planned to announce his candidacy. But there are at least four other contenders and the final choice was be made by party members at a mid-September convention. Valliev, who is in his early 50s, said the party's entire managing board may be changed.

The HDT, which was one of the most influential political parties in the early 1990s, still suffers from a split in its ranks that took place in 1994. This has led to a chronic leadership crisis that heated up some six months ago when some members -- allegedly encouraged by the ruling People's Democratic Party -- reportedly became pro-government under the name Vatan.

With that lost support it will be almost impossible for Valliev -- or any other HDT candidate -- to collect the 160,000 signatures needed to register as a candidate. Even though the HDT has only 4,500 members, according to the best estimates, Valliev told RFE/RL in an interview that he is convinced they will get enough signatures to register a candidate.

"I think once the party selects a candidate then we will work with our provincial branches to ensure they collect the necessary number of signatures," he said. "So today we are working hard preparing for the elections. Some of our members are in Russia and we have requested the Central Election Commission to create the necessary procedure for collecting the signatures of those in Russia...to give them the necessary forms to fill in and so on."

But Valliev's chances now seem even more remote following the election of Vatan faction head Masud Sobirov at a party congress on August 27 as nominal head of the entire party, even though Iskandarov's supporters claim that ballot was invalid.

Many observers had hoped that the outspoken leader of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Rahmatullo Zoirov, would pose a serious challenge -- if only verbal -- to President Immomali Rakhmonov. However, even that possibility receded after Zoirov suffered a stroke last month that affected his speech.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service visited Zoirov at his home on August 22. He has recently returned from treatment in Switzerland, and he seemed to have made a good recovery and spoke articulately. He said he will indeed put forward his name as a presidential candidate. He reiterated his stance that Rakhmonov has been ruling unconstitutionally since 1999. Zoirov said if Rakhmonov is a candidate he will have to withdraw his candidacy from what, in his view, will be an illegal presidential election.

"I am adamant that I was right from the start," he said. "I spoke to several legal experts of high caliber in Russia; they studied the details of the [Tajik] Constitution and said collectively that according to the constitutional amendment in 2003, Imomali Rakhmonov does not have the legal right to put his name forward as a candidate."

Rakhmonov, meanwhile, is benefiting from the might of his political apparatus and his near-total control of the media, and he has found pretexts to jail any other possible contender, including his former bodyguard, General Ghaffor Mirzoiev, and former Interior Minister Yaqub Salimov. Rakhmonov continues to undermine the chances of opposition candidates by all means possible while appearing to promote what he describes as democratic elections.

(Massoumeh Torfeh is the head of RFE/RL's Tajik Service.)

SON OF EDUCATION CHIEF BEHEADED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
The son of the education department in Paktika Province's Khairkot district was beheaded by unidentified assailants on August 25, Kabul-based Ariana Television reported the next day. A security official in Paktika wishing to remain anonymous told Ariana that the education chief's son had been kidnapped prior to the discovery of his corpse. The source blamed "antigovernment elements" for the killing. AT

AFGHAN TRUCK DRIVERS COMPLAIN OF BRIBERY BY HIGHWAY POLICE
A number of Afghan truck drivers have lodged complaints against highway police on the main highway between Kabul and the western Pakistani city of Peshawar, Tolu Television reported on August 25. The Afghan deputy minister of public works said that since the highway is only supposed to be open to truck traffic overnight, some highway policemen are taking advantage of the system by permitting trucks to use the road during the daytime in exchange for money. Truck drivers say the going rate for travel during the day is 300-400 afghanis (approximately $6-$8). Some 700 trucks use the road daily. AT

TWO FRENCH SOLDIERS KILLED IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
Two French soldiers were killed and two sustained injuries in clashes between suspected Taliban and U.S.-led coalition forces in Laghman Province, south of Kabul, on August 26, Tolu Television 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 26 that two "Americans" were killed and four others injured when their tank was blown up in Laghman by "mujahedin" -- a term that is increasingly being used by the Taliban to identify their fighters. AT

...AND ONE BRITISH SERVICEMAN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A British soldier attached to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed in an attack in Musa Qala' in the southern Helmand Province on August 27, the U.K. Defense Ministry announced. Helmand is a stronghold of the neo-Taliban. AT

BOMB KILLS TWO POLICEMEN IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
A roadside improvised explosive device (IED) detonated next to a police vehicle in Khost Province on August 27, killing two policemen and injuring four, AFP reported. Khost's deputy police chief, Mohammad Zaman, blamed the Taliban for planting the explosive, which he described as a remote-controlled device. Purporting to speak for the Taliban, Mohammad Hanif told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on August 27 that "the Taliban killed six Afghan policemen by blowing up their vehicle using a remote-controlled mine." AT

IRANIAN PRESIDENT INAUGURATES HEAVY-WATER PRODUCTION FACILITY
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a heavy-water production facility in Arak on August 26, Radio Farda and state television reported. It is easier to extract bomb-grade plutonium from fuel rods used in a heavy-water reactor than from a light-water reactor; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board urged Iran to reconsider building a heavy-water reactor in early February, and a February 27 report from the IAEA called on Iran to halt plans to build a heavy-water reactor (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," February 17 and March 8, 2006). Iranian Atomic Energy Organization official Mohammad Saidi said that testing of the Arak complex has taken some 16 months since construction was completed, and now it is fully operational. "We are now producing heavy water with 99.8 percent purity," he said, adding that heavy-water reactors are used for electricity production and for agricultural, medical, and other forms of research. Igor Linge, a nuclear-energy specialist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said on August 26 that starting a heavy-water facility is not a remarkable feat, Interfax reported. It is the controversy surrounding the Iranian nuclear program that makes the development noteworthy, Linge said. BS

IRAN TESTS SUBMERGED-LAUNCH MISSILE DURING WAR GAMES
A Saqeb missile was fired from a submerged Iranian submarine on August 27, state television reported. The test took place during the Zarbat-i Zolfaqar war games that began one week ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2006). The missile reportedly can be fired from surface units as well. Iranian navy Admiral Sajjad Kuchaki described the missile's characteristics: "It is a long-range missile. It is smart. It makes a very small impact on radar and can avoid radar detection. It has a very high degree of precision and is very fast, taking the enemy by surprise. The missile has a massive destructive power." The missile is reportedly manufactured domestically. Other aspects of the exercises involved maneuvers by marines (tofangdaran-i daryai) and submarine raids in the Gulf and Sea of Oman. BS

POSTPONEMENT ANNOUNCED IN IRANIAN ELECTIONS
Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai said in an August 26 question-and-answer session with reporters that elections for the Assembly of Experts and municipal councils have been postponed, ILNA reported. It was unclear, however, whether Kadkhodai was saying the elections have been postponed indefinitely or referring to a previously announced delay until December. He explained that the Interior Ministry cannot hold the elections because it will be conducting a national census at the time. The date of the elections has been pushed back already. The last election (in 1998) took place in October, but in May Kadkhodai announced a November election date; and on August 13, Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said the elections would take place on December 15, or Azar 24 on the Iranian calendar (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 12 and August 14, 2006). Purmohammadi did not allude to any delay when he discussed the elections on August 25, Isfahan provincial television reported. "The necessary preparations have been made for the holding of the elections, and we hope that they would be held in a healthy atmosphere and a serious competition," he said. Training of election officials is under way, Purmohammadi said. "We hope to be able to witness a large-scale participation of the people in the elections which will be held during the month of Azar [beginning 22 November], God willing." BS

IRANIAN SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS DEATH PENALTY FOR BOMBERS
Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei announced on August 26 that Iran's Supreme Court has approved the death penalty for six people sentenced in connection with bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Fars News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 1, 2006). Mohseni-Ejei said the Supreme Court will consider the cases of 10 other people sentenced to death for their involvement in the Ahvaz bombings, and he added that all the people involved in these incidents have been arrested and sentenced. "We intend to raise the level of our intelligence gathering with better efficiency and vigilance," he said before advising people who "cooperate with foreign agents and are trying to cause insecurity in Iran" to cease their activities and seek pardons. BS

SCORE OF SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN ISFAHAN ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE
Isfahan security personnel have arrested more than 20 people who were allegedly behind a pyramid scheme, provincial television reported on August 26. A local security official identified as Major Husseinzadeh said that 140,000 provincial residents have lost money to such schemes. "Such companies use psychological and scientific tactics and produce misleading advertisements which cause enormous economic problems for families," he said. BS

BRITISH DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS IRAQ
U.K. Defense Minister Des Browne arrived in Baghdad on August 28 for meetings with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other high-level Iraqi and U.S. officials, Reuters reported. Talks are expected to focus on security in southern Iraq, where British forces are based, following increased violence against those troops in recent weeks. Reuters reported that the talks may also focus on the possible handover of the Dhi Qar Governorate to Iraqi forces. British forces handed over control of the Al-Muthanna Governorate to Iraq last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). KR

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER RECEIVES CREDENTIALS OF NEW AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has received the credentials of the newly appointed Australian Ambassador to Iraq, Mark Innes-Brown, the ministry's website announced on August 27. Zebari thanked Innes-Brown for Australia's continued support of Iraq, not only militarily, but also through the provision of training opportunities for members of the new government. Innes-Brown told reporters following the meeting that Australia intends to remain committed to Iraq. "My country supports Iraq not only at the diplomatic level, but also at the security and development fields through assistance programs," Al-Sharqiyah television quoted him as saying. Zebari has received the credentials of several other foreign representatives to Iraq in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). Many countries were hesitant to open diplomatic missions in Iraq since 2003 following several high-profile attacks and kidnappings against the international diplomatic corps there. KR

IRAQI PREMIER SAYS VIOLENCE NOT INCREASING, AIDES SIGNAL CABINET RESHUFFLE
Nuri al-Maliki told CNN's "Late Edition" on August 27 that violence is not on the rise in Iraq. "The violence is not increasing. We're not in a civil war. Iraqi will never be in a civil war," he said. Some 70 people were killed in attacks across Iraq on August 27. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih confirmed rumors of a pending cabinet reshuffle, telling Reuters that cabinet members with ties to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will be dismissed because of their poor performance, the news agency reported on August 27. Al-Maliki's spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh made similar remarks to "The Washington Post," saying one or two cabinet members loyal to al-Sadr will be replaced. He denied, however, that al-Maliki was seeking to purge his cabinet of al-Sadr supporters, saying the cleric "is more and more coming to work as a political force" within the government, the daily reported on August 28. Three cabinet ministers loyal to al-Sadr reportedly resigned in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27, 2006). Al-Sadr himself claims no political role in Iraq, but permitted his supporters to take part in the December parliamentary elections. Al-Sadr supporters now control some 30 out of 275 seats in the Council of Representatives. KR

IRAQI TRIBES PLEDGE SUPPORT FOR NATIONAL RECONCILIATION PLAN
Hundreds of Iraqi tribesmen pledged their support for Prime Minister al-Maliki's national reconciliation plan at the August 26 Iraqi Tribes Conference in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Maliki opened the conference by telling tribesmen it is their duty to help fight terrorists and infiltrators. All Iraqis should put the country's interests over their personal, party, or pan-Arab interests, he added. The conference addressed several outstanding issues that have thus far hindered national unity, including the disbanding of militias, forced displacement, de-Ba'athification, and sectarianism. Several Sunni Arab tribal leaders also pressed for a reconstitution of the Iraqi army, disbanded in 2003, and recognition of the "honorable resistance." Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani said the parliament could play a more active role by activating its Tribes Committee, which will liaison with tribal leaders from across the country, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The satellite news channel said some 600 chieftains attended the one-day conference. KR

KIDNAPPED SUNNI LAWMAKER FREED IN IRAQ
Kidnapped Sunni Arab parliamentarian Taysir al-Mashhadani was freed by her abductors on August 26, international media reported. Al-Mashhadani was kidnapped in Baghdad on July 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 3 and 10, 2006). Al-Mashhadani said after her release that she was held by Shi'a who told her they targeted her because she was a Sunni. The abductors handed al-Mashhadani over to Prime Minister al-Maliki's office; representatives of the prime minister declined to comment on al-Maliki's role in the release. KR

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