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Newsline - August 29, 2006

Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said in Moscow on August 29 that recent statements by Lithuanian officials about the need to impose restrictions on transit rail traffic from Russia to Kaliningrad Oblast, which is surrounded by Lithuania and Poland, in order to repair the track are politically motivated, Interfax reported. Titov argued that such Lithuanian "hints" amount to "political repairs..., which are spurious and provocative. Those who came up with such ideas must be aware that threats of this kind could have consequences for bilateral relations." He acknowledged that the Lithuanian statements about the trunk line came in response to the recent Russian shutdown of the Druzhba-1 oil pipeline to Lithuania's 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. But Titov said that "it is regrettable that an accident on the Druzhba pipeline has given rise to so much speculation. The pipeline cannot be fully restored instantly. The accident [that led to a massive leak] must be investigated and measures taken if an environmental disaster is to be prevented." He claimed that an unspecified amount of Russian oil is still reaching the refinery by "alternative line with signed agreements" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 17, and 22, 2006). PM

President Vladimir Putin and Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Georgy Boos agreed in Sochi on August 26 that a new ferry route to that region will enable Russia to make the necessary deliveries by truck of supplies, including military ones, to Kaliningrad Oblast regardless of the policies of the Lithuanian authorities, the daily "Kommersant" reported on August 28. Boos stressed that the ferry line is "already running" and that "this resolves the problem" of ensuring truck deliveries from Russia. As for what the daily called an "economic war" with Lithuania, Boos noted that it is costing Lithuania money. He concluded that Lithuania "is under pressure from someone. Some source of compensation has appeared" for the Baltic country. He did not elaborate. Boos also used the press conference to publicize his "we are Russians" campaign, which, among other things, seeks to bring schoolchildren from Kaliningrad Oblast to Russia proper to foster a sense of identification as Russians. The daily quipped that it might be necessary to bring the children to Russia while they are still minors, since once they become adults and can obtain their own passports, they might choose to visit other countries instead. PM

An unnamed official of the Japanese Embassy in Moscow was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on August 28 to receive a formal protest about the "challenging provocation" stemming from the alleged entry of 39 Japanese fishing vessels into "Russian territorial waters" -- which are also claimed by Japan -- the previous day, Interfax reported on August 29. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Japan on August 28 to "put an end to poaching in Russian waters," RIA Novosti reported. In an incident on August 16, Russian coast guardsmen killed one Japanese fisherman and took his three colleagues and their ship into custody on Yuzhno-Kurilsk, where the three are awaiting trial. On August 29, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso appealed to Lavrov in a phone conversation for their release, NHK reported. Later that day, Interfax suggested that two of the three men might be freed as early as August 30. Local Japanese on nearby Hokkaido are accustomed to fishing in the disputed waters, particularly at this time of year, which is the peak of crab season (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 22, and 27, 2006). PM

Russian authorities in Khabarovsk are continuing to await help from their Chinese counterparts in monitoring pollution levels in the Songhua River, but the Chinese appear to be "in no hurry" to help, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on August 28. The chemical-pollution problem recalls a similar one at the end of 2005 and stems from an incident on August 20, when a chemical plant in Jilin discharged untreated toxic waste into the river. The Chinese have not provided information on the chemicals involved, according to Viktor Ishayev, who is the long-serving governor of Khabarovsk Krai. He called on the Chinese to observe the international agreements to which they are a party. Russian experts believe that highly toxic benzene derivatives are part of the chemical brew. The Songhua flows into the Amur, which in turn flows through much of southern Khabarovsk Krai to the Sea of Okhotsk. Russian and Chinese authorities signed an agreement in Khabarovsk on December 12 to monitor the quality of water in the Amur at numerous sites in conjunction with the incident at that time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, and 21, 2005, and January 10 and August 25, 2006). PM

Sergei Mironov, who heads the Party of Life and is also speaker of the Federation Council, said in Moscow on August 29 that "today is the first day of the merger" of his party with Motherland (Rodina) and the Russian Party of Pensioners, Interfax reported. He called the development an "historic event," adding that a "majority party will be formed as a result." It is not clear what the new party will be called. It is widely assumed that the merger is a Kremlin-sponsored attempt to manufacture a "two-party system" that will consist of the new party and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. The new party is also seen as a device to lure voters away from the Communist Party (KPRF). Vladislav Surkov, who is one of several deputy heads of the Kremlin's administration and an exponent of the theory of "sovereign democracy," recently met with legislators belonging to the Party of Life to promote the merger of several parties into a leftist "loyal opposition" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26 and August 17, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 7, 2006). On August 16, the daily "Kommersant" published excerpts of the minutes of Surkov's meeting with the legislators. On August 17, "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented that the Kremlin is trying to "put a presentable facade on Russian democracy." "Izvestia" noted that "the authorities need a party on their political left flank." PM

The website has posted a 700-page, six-part report by Yury Savelyev, a member of the Russian State Duma commission that investigated the September 2004 Beslan hostage taking, including the events that triggered the storm of the school in which most of the 332 victims died. Savelev claimed that the authorities were aware of the impending seizure of the school at least three hours in advance; that an initial proposal by then-North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov to try to persuade the hostage takers to release the children in exchange for 800 government personnel was rejected, and Dzasokhov was threatened with arrest if he sought to negotiate with the hostage takers; that the authorities decided to storm the school building, but create the impression that they did so in response to actions by the hostage takers; and security personnel opened fire on the school building from mortars and flame-throwers while the hostages were still inside the building. The initial findings of the Duma commission faulted local police and officials for their response to the hostage taking, but Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel said an investigation by his office failed to establish any failings on the part of law enforcement agencies during the siege (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2005). The commission's official investigative report is expected to be released in September. LF

In a statement posted on August 29 to the Chechen separatist website, the Ingush Sector of the Caucasus Front created last year by then-Chechen President and resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev rejected as fabrications Russian official claims that the Chechen resistance has been seriously weakened by the recent deaths of Sadulayev and of radical field commander Shamil Basayev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20 and July 10 and 11, 2006). The statement listed 15 separate attacks on police and army personnel in Ingushetia since July 24 for which the Ingush Sector claims responsibility. Those attacks did not include the August 9 attack on the home of district prosecutor Gerikhan Khazbiyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 10, 2006). LF

The Ingushetian Interior Ministry's press center denied on August 28 that members of President Murat Zyazikov's bodyguard opened fire on a vehicle in Magas four days earlier, injuring the passengers, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25 and 28, 2006). The initial report of the incident and the allegations that Zyazikov's bodyguards were responsible originated with the website, which recently excoriated Zyazikov's press service head Isa Merzhoyev for refusing accreditation to one of its journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). LF

Henrik Bakunts, a member of the Orinats Yerkir party headed by former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, said on August 28 that the NGO promoting Armenian-Russian cooperation that he heads will continue its work despite the decision by Tigran Torosian, Baghdasarian's successor as speaker, not to provide further funding for it, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 2006). Bakunts described that decision as unfair, but stopped short of labeling it retaliation for Baghdasarian's decision to join the political opposition. The NGO was in line to receive 10 million drams (approximately $25,000) from Armenian parliament funds in 2006. LF

Speaking on August 28 in Bled, Slovenia, where he is attending a conference on "Caspian Prospects," Ilham Aliyev described the ongoing OSCE-mediated talks between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia "the most acceptable way" of reaching a phased solution of the Karabakh conflict, reported on August 29. Also on August 28, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who is attending the same conference, met in Bled with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who is the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group that mediates the Karabakh talks, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. No details of their talks were made public. Oskanian failed to meet on the sidelines of the Bled conference with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadayarov, but may do so at some point next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). LF

Hidayat Orudjev, who was named in July to succeed Rafik Aliyev as chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Communities, warned at an August 28 seminar in Baku that certain religious communities that he did not name seek to "destabilize the situation" in Azerbaijan, while others, both Christian and Muslim, violate the law, Azerbaijani media reported. But Azerbaijan's top Muslim clergyman, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, denied at the same seminar that any Muslim believers violate the law. Orudjev further criticized his predecessor's "superficial approach" and failure to monitor effectively the import of religious literature, reported on August 29. The same paper also reported that Russian customs officials in Derbent recently intercepted a consignment of subversive religious literature and DVDs sent from Azerbaijan to Daghestan. LF

Six Georgian opposition parties -- the Republican party, Industry Will Save Georgia, the National Ideology Party, the Merab Kostava Society, the Conservative Party, and Mother Georgia -- lodged applications with the Central Election Commission on August 28 before the deadline for doing so expired at 6 p.m. local time, Caucasus Press reported. Georgia's Way, which is headed by former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, applied to register earlier. The deadline was made public only earlier on August 28, which was a religious holiday; a presidential administration official said earlier this month that the ballot would be scheduled for December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2006). Zurab Tkemaladze, leader of the Industrialists parliament faction, accused the Georgian authorities of deliberately creating obstacles to opposition participation in the local elections, while Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Conservatives (aka new Rightists) argued that the authorities' tactics show that his party acted correctly in initially deciding to boycott the ballot. LF

Sergei Shamba met in Sukhum on August 28 with Ambassador Jean Arnault, whom UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named last month as his special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). Arnault expressed concern that the peace process is deadlocked, adding that the only way to kick start it is by resuming "political dialogue." Arnault declined to comment to journalists on the recent Georgian police operation in the Kodori Gorge, saying he and Shamba did not discuss it. Shamba for his part said the outcome of efforts to defuse the tensions generated by the Georgian incursion in Kodori will indicate whether Georgia is prepared to resume compliance with earlier agreements that designated Kodori a demilitarized zone. Also on August 28, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin met in Moscow with the ambassadors to Russia of the other four countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) that likewise belong to the so-called Group of Friends of the secretary-general to discuss the stalled Abkhaz peace process, according to a press release posted to the Russian Foreign Ministry website ( LF

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Kazakhstan on August 28, holding talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and signing a memorandum to expand uranium cooperation between the two countries, AP and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Malkhaz Tsotsoria, deputy president of Kazakh atomic agency KazAtomProm, told AP that Kazakhstan, which currently supplies Japan with a small amount of uranium for energy purposes, eventually hopes to meet 25 percent of Japan's demand. In remarks after their meeting, Nazarbaev called prospects for peaceful nuclear cooperation "promising," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Koizumi also referred to "cooperation in uranium mine development and in the field of nuclear energy" as "promising," Kyodo reported. Nazarbaev stressed that Kazakhstan is "interested in attracting direct Japanese investment in the production of goods with high added value, in [Japan's] participation in the industrialization program of Kazakhstan, and we are ready to provide the necessary preferences for this." Koizumi, who is making one of his final official visits overseas before stepping down next month, was expected to continue his four-day Central Asian tour in Uzbekistan on August 29. DK

Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev, who is also President Nazarbaev's son-in-law, told a meeting of a state democratization commission in Astana on August 28 that Britain and the United States have reservations about Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Certain countries, among which the United States and Great Britain stand out, while generally welcoming Kazakhstan's initiative [to chair the OSCE], at the same time view critically the prospects for its chairmanship in 2009," Aliev said. The OSCE is expected to make a decision on Kazakhstan's bid by the end of 2006. DK

The trial of a group of suspected militants charged in connection with a May 12 border incursion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006) began in Osh on August 28, and news agency reported. initially put the number of defendants at four but later corrected it to six. The news agency reported that five men and one woman are charged with aiding terrorists and attacking border guards in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. International warrants have been issued for an additional nine suspects, reported. DK

An apparent split in the Democratic Party of Tajikistan intensified when an extraordinary congress on August 27 elected Masud Sobirov party leader, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Sobirov had announced the creation of a Vatan (Homeland) faction within the party in April, a move denounced at the time by Deputy Chairman Rahmatullo Valiev as an attempt to split the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 6, 2006). Valiev told a news conference on August 28 that the congress that elected Sobirov was held in violation of party rules and is not recognized by the party's leadership, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. First Deputy Chairman Jumaboy Niyazov stated on August 28 that the split in the party is linked to the upcoming November presidential election, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. "Such a split between Tajik democrats is definitely in someone's interests," Niyazov said. DK

The Uzbek Justice Ministry has expelled 14 staff members of the U.S.-based nonprofit group Partnership in Academics and Development (PAD) for allegedly engaging in missionary activities, ITAR-TASS reported on August 28. The ministry has also asked a Tashkent city court to close the NGO, reported. Other allegations against the NGO include the creation of unregistered departments, the provision of Internet services without a license, and the use of an unregistered logo. The move is the latest in a government campaign that has resulted in the closure of most Western-funded NGOs in Uzbekistan over the past two years. DK

"Moskovsky komsomolets" reported on August 28 that Russian film director Aleksandr Valov is working on an erotic film that will mockingly depict Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Valov revealed that his film will show the life of a Belarusian collective farm manager named Luka whose hobbies are limited to skiing, playing hockey, and philandering. The action of the film is to focus on the visit of a foreign delegation to the farm, to which Luka has invited fashion models from Moscow to personify milkmaids. The film will reportedly also parody Ukrainian Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko, a staunch supporter of Lukashenka. Valov assured the newspaper that central characters in the film will bear a "100 percent similarity" to their real-life prototypes. "We will have six erotic scenes. Sex and satire are our main direction," he added. Valov is the author of a scandalous erotic film "Yuliya," which presents a love affair between heroes resembling former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. JM

First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in an interview with the "Profil-Ukrayina" weekly on August 28 that the Ukrainian government expects to obtain gas from Russia in 2007 at a price of $135 per 1,000 cubic meters. "We are basing [our expectation] on an optimistic scenario of developments. In actual fact, the situation may be worse, or it may be better," Azarov said. "If the gas price is higher [than $135], the Cabinet of Ministers will be ready for that -- our budget envisions a stabilization fund of nearly 3 billion hryvnyas ($600 million)," Azarov added. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yanukovych told the Russian television channel Vesti 24 on August 28 that he expects the price of gas imported by Ukraine in 2007 to rise "insignificantly." Yanukovych did not name any specific figure. Ukraine currently pays $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of an imported Russian-Turkmen gas mix. JM

The Serbian government has released a statement suggesting that a grenade attack on a cafe in a Serbian area of Kosova was encouraged by comments by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, AKI reported on August 28. Ahtisaari, the UN envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, said on August 26 that the legacy of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime needs to be taken into account when determining Kosova's future. The same day, a grenade attack in the town of Mitrovica injured nine people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2006). "If something like that is said by a special envoy of the UN secretary-general in the talks on the Kosovo status, then any violence against Serbs in justified and awarded," the government said in its statement. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also criticized Ahtisaari, saying that while the UN is seeking "a just and tenable solution for the status of Kosovo," Ahtisaari seems "determined to do just the opposite." BW

Wolfgang Schomburg, a judge in International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) appeals chamber, said on August 27 that it could be counterproductive for the European Union to link Serbia's EU bid to the capture of war crimes suspects, AP reported. "It can certainly become counterproductive if a country perceives itself taken hostage because of one or two wanted people," Schomburg said in an interview with the Austria Press Agency as cited by AP. Schomburg added that it is the ICTY's job to try individuals, not states. The EU suspended talks with Serbia for a Stabilization and Association Agreement in May due to Belgrade's failure to capture war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). BW

The Kosovar government and the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) have drafted a plan for the breakaway province's integration into Europe in the event of independence, B92 and Beta reported the same day. The document, called the "Kosovo European Action Plan," has been submitted to the European Commission. It identifies the improvement of ethnic relations, refugee return, and freedom of movement as top priorities. "The government continues to work to ensure that the circumstances in Kosovo lead to the return of the refugees, while political leaders' messages to that end are becoming more forceful on all levels," the document said. "The government continues to work to ensure that the circumstances in Kosovo lead to the return of the refugees, while political leaders' messages to that end are becoming more forceful on all levels." Kosovar officials said the document is not an attempt to prejudice the outcome of ongoing final-status negotiations. BW

Nikola Gruevski formally took office as prime minister on August 27, UPI reported the next day. Macedonia's 120-seat parliament approved Gruevski's coalition cabinet by a vote of 68-22 late on August 26. Gruevski's conservative and nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) won the most seats in Macedonia's July 5 general elections and opted for a coalition with the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH). That decision angered the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian party, which staged protest demonstrations and roadblocks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 16 and 17, 2006) BW

President Islam Karimov has proclaimed in the past that Uzbekistan and its 26 million people are heading toward democracy and that democratic reforms are the only acceptable form of political development. But reality is quite different from his rhetoric.

"Fifteen years after declaring independence, we find ourselves behind the starting point, in a deadlock, if not in a complete social catastrophe," Bahodir Musaev, an independent sociologist, told RFE/RL from Tashkent. "The most obvious example is our neighbor Kazakhstan. In 1991, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were at the same point. Today, there is a huge gap between them [in democratic and economic development]."

Uzbekistan seems to trail not only Kazakhstan -- which is now Central Asia's wealthiest country -- but others as well. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Tashkent and a fierce critic of President Karimov's regime, told RFE/RL that in the fight against dissent, the Uzbek regime is the most brutal among all Central Asian countries and even harsher than Turkmenistan.

"I think the violence is worse in Uzbekistan," Murray said. "More people are tortured by the regime than in Turkmenistan. Certainly the repression has increased ever since [the May 2005 violence in] Andijon. There are successive trials of both opposition people and religious people, sometimes in quite large groups. And the scale of political attacks seems to be increasing [in Uzbekistan]."

While the Uzbek government has strengthened repression against political and religious opponents, it has also shut down or squeezed out many foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian groups.

The most recent case of an NGO's imminent closure was on August 28. Authorities accused the Massachusetts-based Partnership in Academics and Development (PAD) of proselytizing among Uzbeks. PAD says it has helped Uzbek university professors with new textbooks and assisted them in expanding contacts with academics in the international community.

As a result of its anti-NGO policy, the sector of Uzbek civil society supported by foreign aid groups has almost disappeared. Meanwhile, authorities continue to strictly control local media, and foreign journalists have been forced to leave the country following harassment and intimidation.

Opposition party members and human rights activists have been either jailed or forced into exile. Bakhtiyor Hamroev, one of the few human rights activists still working in the country, was injured on August 18 in his apartment by a large group that beat him -- in the presence of British diplomats and with police watching.

Another rights activist, publicist Motabar Tojiboeva, who is serving a prison term, is reportedly being ill-treated and tortured in jail.

The situation in the economic sphere does not seem to be any better. And foreign investors have become a target of government pressure. Earlier this month, authorities announced the bankruptcy of Zarafshan-Newmont, a U.S.-Uzbek joint venture, and froze its assets and confiscated gold.

The authorities also revoked the license of Britain's Oxus Gold PLC, preventing it from continuing to develop a high-grade zinc, silver, copper, lead, and gold deposit in the country. On August 24, Uzbekistan stripped an Uzbek-Israeli joint venture of its exclusive rights to process a strategic metal, molybdenum concentrate, produced by the state-owned Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Combine.

Experts say these are signs of the regime getting more desperate as opposition among the people grows stronger. The question is: where is Uzbekistan heading and what options do the people have before them? Murray says a popular upheaval is imminent.

"At the moment, Uzbekistan, undoubtedly is heading into further political and economic isolationism," he said. "And things are simply going to get worse. You can keep people managing to just live at a very low level and you can keep the very wealthy people and President Karimov still managing to steal huge amounts of money from the economy provided that [currently high] gold and cotton prices maintain and the regime keeps its grip on power. But ultimately that's going to lead to violent upheaval."

Musaev agrees. "The country has already entered the period of troubles," he said. "Potential for protest has been growing, there will be social collapses -- local, regional, and then bigger ones. The country had already become unmanageable. It is held together only by fear -- by rubber truncheons and bayonets."

Many Uzbeks are trying to find an escape. Some leave the country. Others find consolation in religion: membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the banned Islamic religious group that offers to create a caliphate, or an Islamic state, as an alternative to the current system, has reportedly been growing despite the authorities' brutal repression.

Michael Hall, the director of the International Crisis Group's Central Asia Program, says political instability, growing unemployment and corruption, as well as repression against dissent contribute to the popularity of radical ideologies. He says the Uzbek government has to change the political and economic situation if it wants to change this trend.

"I think to a large extent, it does depend on the government's policies," Hall said. "Allowing, for example, for greater freedom of discussion, allowing for greater independence from the state of religious institutions, I think this certainly can help. I think there are other aspects of the problem, too. One simple fact: a large number of Hizb ut-Tahrir members are young people. Young people very often don't have much to occupy their time with. The educational system is being underfunded and in some places is inadequate."

Musaev believes the current regime is unlikely to voluntarily begin making reforms. He says Karimov is not willing to give up power and the only way that will happen is to change the whole political system.

"The political system needs to be dismantled," Musaev said. "The regime is going to maintain itself only on [declarations of] the necessity to provide national and regional security. But objectively, this internal policy of using violence amid the absolute poverty of people will create a huge social base for terrorism. And it won't be Islamic at all, just [take] one demographic factor -- people who have no jobs. Karimov's political regime is a complete failure."

(Gulnoza Saidazimova is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

The Afghan National Assembly on August 28 condemned the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti during an operation by Pakistani forces on August 26, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported. An unidentified parliamentarian was quoted as saying that "on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, the parliament condemns this action and expresses its sincere sympathy" to Baluchi tribes and "all freedom fighters of the world." Another unidentified member of parliament reportedly said that while the killing of Bugti was an internal Pakistani matter, "it also has a connection with the people of Afghanistan," since Afghanistan has "always defended the rights of the Baluchis and Afghans (i.e., Pashtuns)." Bugti, the head of Jamhori Watan Party, was a Baluchi nationalist and ardent opponent of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. According to an August 27 report by the Islamabad daily "Pakistan," with Bugti's death, the "network of India and Afghanistan supporters has weakened in Pakistan." Islamabad has accused India of using Afghanistan as a base to support Baluchi separatists inside Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," February 28, 2006). AT

Seventeen people were killed and 47 injured in a suicide bomb attack in a market in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand, on August 28, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Helmand security commander Nabi Jan Mullakhayl said that the identity of the attacker has not been determined. Fifteen children are among those injured, he added. The dead include Khan Mohammad, a businessman and former provincial chief of police during communist rule in the 1980s, AFP reported on August 28. Hajji Mohayuddin, a provincial spokesman, told AFP that Khan Mohammad "had no personal feud with anyone and was not a political figure...but the enemies of Afghanistan killed him." The suicide bomber apparently grabbed hold of Khan Mohammad before detonating the explosives he was carrying. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was among the deadliest suicide bombings of the year in Afghanistan. AT

A Turkish citizen was killed and another Turk was abducted in an armed attack on the highway Kandahar-to-Herat highway on August 28, Anatolia news agency reported. In a separate incident, a Turkish citizen working for a security company was found beaten to death north of Kabul on August 28. Turkey has asked Afghanistan to investigate the incidents and said it expects the assailants to be brought to justice. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. AT

Italian Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, speaking in Telese Terme on August 28, proposed reducing his country's troop deployment in Afghanistan in order to enable deployment to Lebanon, AGI reported. "The international community can understand" the reduction of Italian forces attached to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Mastella said, adding that Rome would "continue to fulfill" its "duties with the UN because they are both [Afghanistan and Lebanon] missions for the UN." Some Afghans raised concerns that an increase in European troops in Lebanon could adversely affect Europe's commitment to Afghanistan. AT

Tehran has accused U.S. officials of incompetence following a suggestion by Washington's UN ambassador that it might seek sanctions outside the auspices of the United Nations if Iran does not curb its nuclear activities, according to IRNA on August 28. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said at UN headquarters in New York earlier the same day that "you can envision sanctions being imposed outside of the [UN] Security Council, as the United States has unilaterally imposed sanctions on Iran pursuant to its own statutes and other governments can do the same," RFE/RL reported. "So, the question what to do about Iran is certainly not confined to the Security Council." Bolton had alluded to such an approach the previous week as well, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on August 26. Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham countered that "[these] remarks show that such officials are not competent to be members of the UN and the Security Council," IRNA reported. BS

Bush administration officials say the White House wants economic sanctions to be imposed after the expiration of the UN Security Council's August 31 deadline for Iran to suspend sensitive nuclear activities, "The Washington Times" reported on August 28. Some observers believe there is a possibility that Iran will stop uranium enrichment by the deadline, although Tehran has emphasized that it will not do so. The daily went on to say that the State Department, White House, and Pentagon disagree on how much leeway to give Iran. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns reportedly wants his boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to concur with a British, French, and German plan to send EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana to make another pitch to Iranian officials, according to "The Washington Times." The daily suggested that officials within Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office and in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney oppose further concessions to Iran. BS

Sanandaj parliamentary representative Amin Shabani criticized local police on August 27 for their violent suppression of a protest by striking workers at the Par-Ris textile factory, ILNA reported. Shabani said workers at textile plants and other factories in Kurdistan Province endure difficult conditions, and thousands of them face joblessness. Unemployment in the province is 25 percent, short-term job-creation programs have not begun, and banks are not lending money to those who want to start businesses, Shabani added. He called the government's privatization program haphazard. Shabani said workers at two factories (Divandareh Lime Plant and Kurdistan Textiles) that belong to the parastatal Oppressed and Disabled Foundation also are facing difficulties. Earlier in the day, ILNA reported that 57 Par-Ris workers went on strike on August 19. Labor representative Behzad Sohrabi said management has been unable to fulfill state-imposed wage hikes and has chosen to sack workers, and it also has hired temporary workers. Sohrabi said the workers demand salaries of 60,000 rials ($6.80) a day. BS

Issa Saharkhiz, managing editor of "Aftab" monthly, was sentenced to four years in jail by the Tehran Public Court on August 28 and barred from press-related activities for five years, ISNA reported. The licenses of "Aftab" and "Akhbar-i Eqtesadi" were also revoked. Saharkhiz was found guilty of publishing articles against the constitution and of propagandizing against the Islamic republic's political system. He also was found guilty of libel and publishing lies against the state broadcasting agency. Saharkhiz told Reuters he will not appeal the sentence because he does not think the judiciary is independent. Also on August 28, the managing director of "Iran" was found not guilty of insulting the country's Azeri minority, Reuters reported. "Iran" belongs to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), and its late-May publication of a cartoon of an Azeri-speaking cockroach led to riots. "I accept that we were not careful enough in publishing that cartoon, but undoubtedly we did not mean to insult our Azeri-speaking compatriots," Gholam Hussein Islamifard said. The cartoonist -- Mana Neyestani -- is awaiting trial. BS

Al-Qadisiyah Governor Khalil Jalil Hamzah reportedly negotiated a cease-fire agreement with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on August 28 after several hours of fighting in the governorate's capital, Al-Diwaniyah, left dozens dead, international media reported on August 29. Western media gave conflicting reports as to what spurred the fighting that began overnight on August 27-28, but it appears that militiamen from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, which is loyal to al-Sadr, launched a string of attacks on police and army units after at least one member of their militia was arrested by Iraqi security forces. "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" quoted an Iraqi general as saying militiamen killed soldiers execution-style in a public square in front of locals, which the militia denied. Major General Uthman al-Ghanimi also claimed other militias fought alongside the Al-Mahdi Army in the clashes. A Defense Ministry spokesman said 20 soldiers were killed in the clashes along with 50 "gunmen," while the Al-Mahdi Army claimed that only two of its fighters were killed, Reuters reported on August 28. A hospital official said 25 soldiers were killed and 51 people, including eight soldiers, were wounded. KR

Police have reportedly fled fighting in Al-Nasiriyah, which is southeast of Al-Diwaniyah in the Dhi Qar Governorate, following several days of fighting there between rival militias, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on August 28. Fighting initially broke out between armed militiamen and security personnel at the city's Al-Batha Mosque on August 24 after the militiamen tried to take over the mosque. Al-Sharqiyah cited the local Al-Nasiriyah news agency as reporting that the city's police commander said he could no longer protect residents from the fighting. As police withdrew from the city, an unidentified militia vowed to kill five hostages and kill those who had opposed it during the second day of fighting on August 25, Al-Sharqiyah reported. The news channel also reported that the local office of Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr called on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's representative in the city to take responsibility for the destruction there. KR

At least 15 people were killed in an explosion at a fuel pipeline near the southern Iraqi city of Al-Diwaniyah on August 28, Reuters reported on August 29. The news agency said locals had gathered at the site of a burst pipe to collect fuel when the blast occurred. A Reuters correspondent counted 15 charred bodies at the scene, while a hospital official said four more bodies were taken to the morgue. A police source said more than 50 people were killed in the blast, but the claim could not be independently confirmed. Reuters reported that the blast appeared unrelated to fighting in Al-Diwaniyah between the Iraqi army and members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army. KR

U.S. Brigadier General Dana Pittard confirmed reports at an August 28 Pentagon press briefing via teleconference from Iraq that an Iraqi battalion refused an order to deploy from Maysan Governorate to Baghdad. "There were some soldiers...about a hundred, that said that they would not deploy.... A decision was made or decision is going to be made whether or not that battalion will actually deploy," Pittard told reporters. He added that this is only the second such incident that he knows of where a battalion refused to deploy. The problem, he contended, is that the army is regionally recruited, and soldiers are hesitant to leave their home areas. "For many of those soldiers, they just thought that they would be operating in their homeland areas, their regional areas. So that is something that's got to be tackled by the Iraqi government," added Pittard, who is the commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, which is responsible for advising the Iraqi army, police, and border guards through embedded transition teams. KR