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Newsline - September 8, 2006

On September 8, Chief Military Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky told Interfax that the prosecutors of the Siberian Military District have sent the criminal case of Major General Vladimir Kiyayev to the Central Military Prosecutor's Office for further investigation on account of "the complexity of the case." Kiyayev was taken into custody on September 4 on suspicion of large-scale fraud stemming from an investigation launched in April into his special-purpose construction department on Territory Number 9, Krasnoyarsk Krai, for dealing in fuel at inflated prices. He is believed to have misappropriated at least $750,000 in the process. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on September 8 that the scandal involving Kiyayev could be much more significant and deeply involve the nuclear industry, which has important facilities in Krasnoyarsk Krai, especially in the Zheleznogorsk area, where Kiyayev was arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2006). One of the projects there is funded by the U.S. Congress with $400 million, the Moscow daily added. PM

Lawyers from the Interior Ministry have drafted a bill that will enable the president to fire governors for almost any reason at the recommendation of the prosecutor-general, reported on September 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 7, and 9, 2006). The bill, which has been sent to the State Duma, provides in particular for the sacking of governors believed to have been negligent in dealing with terrorism. "The Moscow Times" wrote on September 8 that the legislation seems to be directed primarily at officials in the North Caucasus. The daily also quoted an unnamed government website as saying that the bill will "help strengthen the vertical of power in the Russian Federation, as well as help discipline" governors. Some legislators predicted that the bill would be held up to close scrutiny, but noted that some governors "have lost the president's trust." President Vladimir Putin has sought to curb the authority of regional governors, who are now appointed rather than elected, and by pressing legal charges against some of them. Observers have suggested that he is strengthening his hold over the regions and attempting to reduce their number in an effort to recreate the tsarist system of centralized rule administered through loyal governors. PM

Rescuers have found the dead bodies of 12 miners trapped in a mineshaft near Vershino-Darasunsky in Chita Oblast, reported on September 8 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). Some 60 miners were working in the gold mine near the border with China when a fire broke out in the shaft on September 7. Rescuers are continuing to search for 21 others still missing. Officials say the fire has been localized but still not extinguished. PM

Russian Admiral Vladimir Masorin told journalists in Moscow on September 7 that the fatal fire the previous night on the nuclear-powered submarine "Daniil Moskovsky" in the Barents Sea was probably due to old equipment, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). He noted that the "submarine is 16 years old. Of course, it was overdue for repairs. But its operation term was extended in accordance with the established procedure. It had a new battery and it was fully operational, but unfortunately two servicemen died in this incident." The admiral added that "most likely the fire was caused by a short circuit. We will investigate the cause [of the short circuit], of course. There is a lot of smoke and carbon dioxide [when a fire breaks out]. These two servicemen simply couldn't use the [protection] means available to them in time." Elsewhere, a Russian military expert told Reuters that equipment is a problem but the real difficulty lies with poorly trained personnel. An Oslo-based Russian environmentalist said that "the Russian Navy is equipped for parading itself in front of President Vladimir Putin but underneath, there is still a dilapidated infrastructure." Also on September 7, an attempted launch of a Bulava missile from the submarine "Dmitry Donskoi" in the White Sea failed when the missile fell into the sea, Interfax reported. An investigation is under way. PM

Before a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on September 7 that he will visit Russia on October 15 to mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Reuters reported from Jerusalem. Olmert was invited by President Putin; it will be his first visit to Russia as prime minister. In Tel Aviv, Lavrov said on September 8 that Russia seeks to preserve the nonproliferation regime but does not want to "isolate" Iran, Interfax reported. He also called for an international conference on the Middle East "to guarantee reliable security to all countries in the region." PM

President Putin paid a one-day visit on September 7 to Morocco, which is Russia's main trading partner in Africa, Russian and international news agencies reported. King Muhammad received him in Casablanca with a 21-gun salute. Bilateral trade amounts to $1.5 billion per year and centers chiefly on phosphates. Russia has expressed an interest in selling a nuclear power station to Morocco. Russia seeks to conduct an even-handed policy toward Rabat and its rival Algiers, which is Moscow's biggest African customer for military equipment. Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev visited Morocco 45 years ago. PM

In a statement dated September 6 and posted the following day on the Chechen resistance website, the Ossetian jamaat announced its intention to shoot down a Russian military aircraft before the end of this year. The jamaat warned five months ago that it will continue its attacks on Russian military and intelligence targets in North Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). In the same September 6 statement, the jamaat claimed responsibility for the September 6 explosion in Maysky that destroyed a Russian armored personnel carrier, killing four servicemen and injuring four more (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). LF

The Chechen parliament has prepared, and submitted to the Russian State Duma, a draft law that would abolish customs tariffs and introduce tax breaks and other privileges for people wishing to invest in private businesses in Chechnya, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 7 and 8, respectively. The Chechen government would have the right to negotiate directly with potential investors and to issue licenses for business activities, including in the banking sector. quoted Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, as saying he opposes any special privileges for individual regions, while Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Katrenko dismissed the draft bill as "dubious," and Duma Property Committee head Viktor Pleskachevsky warned it could open the door to massive embezzlement, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on September 8. The draft bill appears to be an attempt by the Chechen leadership to circumvent the impasse in negotiations with the federal center over the proposed power-sharing treaty between Moscow and Grozny (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 25, 2004 and January 28, 2005 and "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). LF

Arsen Kanokov met for the third time on September 5 with the mothers of some of the young men killed during the October 2005 attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik, according to as reposted on September 7 by Kanokov told the women that he does not have the authority to release their sons' bodies for burial or he would long since have done so. Russian prosecutors have designated the dead men as "terrorists," to be interred in unmarked graves. Kanokov further pledged to reopen two mosques in Nalchik. LF

A conference of the Armenian chapter of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) opened in Yerevan on September 7, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Among the guests were Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, whose Republican Party of Armenia is the HHD's senior partner in the ruling coalition; Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian; Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian; and representatives of several opposition parties. Hrant Markarian (no relation to Andranik), who is the de facto head of the HHD's worldwide governing bureau, told journalists on the sidelines of the conference that the HHD will not back an anticipated presidential bid by Sarkisian, or any other candidate, in the 2008 presidential ballot in which incumbent President Robert Kocharian is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive presidential term. Hrant Markarian also said the HHD will very probably participate in the 2007 parliamentary elections independently, rather than form an election alliance with some other party. LF

According to an Armenian government statement on September 7, two further bodies will be created to promote political and economic ties with the EU, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Both will be headed by Prime Minister Markarian. A special commission chaired by President Kocharian already exists to coordinate activities aimed at promoting Armenian-EU cooperation. LF

Following pressure from the Azerbaijani government, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on September 7 expressing concern over the extent and consequences of brush fires over recent months in occupied districts of Azerbaijan bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of starting those fires deliberately, which the Armenian government denies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 19, and 29, July 18 and 21, and August 1 and 22, 2006). The UN resolution further expresses support for an OSCE initiative to send a fact-finding mission to the area in question. LF

Tbilisi City Prosecutor Giorgi Ghviniashvili said on September 7 that 14 supporters of former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze have been formally charged with preparing a coup d'etat, reported. That website listed 15 names, however: Guram Papukashvili, Temur Zhorzholiani, Maia Nikolaishvili, Maia Topuria, Kakha Kantaria, Zaza Davitaia, Revaz Bulia, Giorgi Metreveli, Varlam Galdava, Gennadi Archvadze, Gia Tsiskarishvili, Papuna Shonia, Ramaz Samnidze, Vladimir Mikadze, and Vakhtang Talakhadze. Ghviniashvili said weapons were found at Kantaria's home, and he will also be charged with illegal possession of arms. Meanwhile, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava in a television address compared the alleged plotters with the "traitors" who abetted the Bolsheviks in taking power in Georgia in 1921, Caucasus Press reported on September 8. Giorgadze for his part was quoted by on September 7 as comparing the arrests of his supporters with the Stalinist purges of 1937. LF

Veteran dissident Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who heads a charitable organization that bears Giorgandze's name, was interrogated at length on September 7 about the alleged coup plot, Caucasus Press reported. She told journalists later that day that official allegations that Zhorzholiani took part in a meeting on May 4 to discuss the planned coup are demonstrably false as he was in hospital at the time recovering from a heart attack. Sarishvili-Chanturia called on opposition parties to close ranks in a movement for national civil disobedience, vowing that "if the government wants a revolution, it will get one," reported. LF

One Georgian officer died and two others were injured in an exchange of fire on September 8 with suspected smugglers near the village of Nikozi, southeast of Tskhinvali, Caucasus Press reported. The Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, however, told that a Georgian military formation attacked a South Ossetian police post near the village of Tbet, killing three Ossetians and injuring several more. LF

At a special parliament session on September 7, opposition Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili surrendered his mandate in order to register as a candidate for the October 5 election for the post of Tbilisi city mayor, Caucasus Press reported. Also on September 7, the Central Election Commission formally registered an election bloc comprising the Conservative and Republican parties (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," September 1, 2006). LF

Under the terms of a program to legalize migrant workers in Kazakhstan, a total of 45,440 such workers have been registered, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on September 7, citing the press service of the Interior Ministry. They include 33,500 Uzbek citizens (74.4 percent of the total), 6,000 Kyrgyz citizens (13.4 percent), 1,850 Russian citizens (4.1 percent), and 1,450 Tajik citizens (3.2 percent). Most of the migrants (12,935 individuals) were registered in Almaty and Almaty province. Most are employed in the construction industry (24,682), with smaller numbers employed in the service sector (3,946) and agriculture (3,033). The program, which is expected to register 100,000 migrant workers by the end of the year, allows illegal migrants who entered Kazakhstan less than 60 days before the law was passed earlier this summer to legalize their status. The Interior Ministry estimates that Kazakhstan is currently home to 200,000-300,000 illegal migrant workers from CIS countries. DK

A court in Kazakhstan's Karaganda province on September 7 upheld a conviction for hooliganism against Bolat Abilov, co-chairman of the Naghyz Ak Zhol opposition party, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The ruling leaves in force Abilov's three-year suspended sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2006), which bars him from seeking a seat in parliament in 2009 elections. DK

Former Kyrgyz parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev was arrested in Warsaw on September 6 after airport security there discovered nearly 600 grams of heroin in his luggage, reported the next day. Tekebaev is a member of parliament, the leader of the Ata Meken Party, and the head of the For Reforms opposition movement. He stepped down as speaker of parliament after a highly publicized dispute with President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2006). Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Askar Beshimov met with members of the For Reforms movement and told them that the Kyrgyz government will do everything possible to clarify the situation around Tekebaev's arrest, Kabar reported. Tekebaev had arrived in the Polish capital to attend an economic forum. Tekebaev has been charged with narcotics trafficking and faces a five-year prison term if convicted, reported. DK

The Ata Meken Party charged in a September 7 statement that Tekebaev was "the victim of a provocation by the Kyrgyz authorities," reported. Noting Tekebaev's active role in the opposition and his planned participation in upcoming meetings and protests, the party stated, "It is clear that these circumstances caused the authorities to 'lose their heads,' and they decided on such a low, dirty act that does not conform to any human norms." Edil Baisalov, the head of the For Democracy and Civil Society coalition, told RFE/RL, "This is a provocation against the leader of the opposition, ex-speaker Tekebaev, organized by the secret service of Kyrgyzstan." Baisalov continued, "This provocation is to discredit not only the leader of the opposition but the whole of the opposition in the eyes of the international community and before the people of Kyrgyzstan." Opposition parliamentary deputies Bolot Sherniyazov, Melis Eshimkanov, and Erkin Alymbekov announced that they plan to fly to Warsaw on September 8, and opposition leaders promised protests in response to Tekebaev's arrest, reported. DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament has passed a bill giving the National Security Service the authority to command and coordinate all counterterrorism operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2006), reported on September 7. Forty-nine of 58 deputies present voted in favor of the draft bill, which now awaits President Bakiev's signature to become law. The bill would also create a counterterrorism center within the structure of the National Security Service. DK

The U.S. air base at Kyrgyzstan's Manas Airport confined service personnel to base on September 7 as the search continued for Air Force Major Jill Metzger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006, AP reported. Kyrgyz Interior Ministry Nurdin Jangaraev said that police had traced two unanswered phone calls to Metzger's mobile telephone on September 5, the day she vanished. "I rule out the theory that the U.S. citizen may have been kidnapped," Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov said. But a spokeswoman for the U.S. base stated that "nothing has been ruled out." Joel "Scott" Reese, 376th Expeditionary Wing commander, said, "We will not rest until we find Major Metzger," Interfax reported. DK

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Minsk on September 7 that Iran and Belarus will "definitely" improve their cooperation, Belapan reported. According to Mottaki, Iran intends to increase its annual trade with Belarus from the current $500 million to $1 billion. Mottaki met in Minsk with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau, and Chamber of Representatives head Uladzimir Kanaplyou. Lukashenka noted that Belarus and Iran "do not fully use the potential of the solid legal basis for bilateral cooperation" and "have huge reserves to invigorate ties." The Belarusian president also noted that Iran is "a serious point of support" for Belarus in "the far abroad." Meanwhile, Martynau assured Mottaki that Minsk supports Tehran's nuclear program, which has sparked international controversy. "Belarus believes that any nuclear country that adheres to the agreement on nuclear nonproliferation is fully entitled to pursue nuclear activities," Reuters quoted Martynau as saying. "We have no reason to doubt the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," Martynau added. JM

President Lukashenka on September 7 expressed his concern over what he sees as the government's inadequate efforts in the cultural sphere, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. "We hold festivals, concerts, and other events, also at the highest level, but it is insufficient. The Culture Ministry fails to catch up with processes that are taking place in the social and economic life of the country today," Lukashenka told Culture Minster Uladzimir Matsveychuk and presidential aide for ideology Aleh Pralyaskowski. "We need clear and transparent cultural activity in the country," Lukashenka added. The Belarusian president also criticized the country's film industry for its failure to produce "substantial results" despite increased funding and the authorities' "proper attention." Lukashenka reportedly ordered Matsveychuk to reshuffle the management of the national film studio Belarusfilm and other cultural and entertainment organizations. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said during a news conference with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on September 7 that Ukraine now enjoys a period of political stability, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Today Ukraine is in a stage of political stability," Yushchenko said. "The political forces that participated in the parliamentary elections have followed a fairly complicated path to form the parliamentary majority, the government, the basic views of nationwide values, and the attitudes to key issues that stirred the nation for many long years." JM

Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz said on September 7 that he has sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv asking the U.S. authorities to help organize a visit by former Ukrainian presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko to Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. According to Moroz, Melnychenko may be a key witness in the criminal case involving the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in Ukraine in September 2000. In November 2000, Moroz publicized recordings allegedly made by Melnychenko in then President Leonid Kuchma's office that suggested that Kuchma and other high-ranking officials might have been implicated in the slaying of Gongadze. Melnychenko, who left Ukraine in 2000, obtained political asylum in the United States in 2001. Moroz stressed that in urging the resolution of the Gongadze case, he is not guided by a desire to settle scores with Kuchma or former presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk. "I have never said that they [Kuchma and Medvedchuk] had ordered to kill the man [Gongadze]. But the fact that this whole story originated in their office is beyond any doubt," Moroz added. Three former officers of the Interior Ministry are currently standing trial on charges of murdering Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9, 2006). JM

Washington and Belgrade signed a military agreement on September 7 designed to improve ties and foster greater civilian control over the Serbian armed forces, international news agencies reported the same day. Serbian President Boris Tadic and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed the agreement at a ceremony in Washington. The pact will allow the U.S. military to train Serbian forces and to conduct exchange programs. Tadic said he hopes it will lead to closer economic ties, Reuters reported. "Without cooperation in the defense sector, we are not going to have cooperation in the economy," Tadic said. BW

Boris Tadic said in Washington on September 7 that Serbia is prepared to offer Kosova the "strongest autonomy in the world" as part of a settlement over the province's final status, AP reported the same day. Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, Tadic said that under Serbia's proposal Kosova would be allowed to join international financial institutions and thus receive loans for development and financial stability. "We are not going to govern Kosovo Albanians," he said. "We are respecting their rights but we are respecting the rights of Serbs in Kosovo as well." Tadic added that full independence for Kosova "would be a clear and present danger for democracy in the world" and would encourage separatism throughout the Balkan region. "We are not only defending Kosovo's sovereignty but stability in the whole region." BW

Also during his talk at the Heritage Foundation on September 7, Tadic said that arresting war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic is a "legal and moral obligation" for Serbia, AP reported the same day. "Mladic must be found and arrested immediately," he said. Washington suspended $7 million in aid to Serbia in June because of Belgrade's failure to arrest the Bosnian Serb wartime commander. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that during their meeting Rice urged "Tadic to do everything that he could to meet the requirements of the international tribunal in The Hague to turn over these war criminals," dpa reported. BW

Serbia's government announced on September 7 that a long-delayed restitution law will be presented to parliament later this month, AP reported the same day The law, intended to compensate thousands of victims of communist-era confiscation, could be passed by parliament by the end of the year, said Foreign Economic Relations Minister Milan Parivodic. "The law will envisage that nationalized property be returned to the [original] owner wherever possible," Parivodic said. About 130,000 people have already filed claims seeking the return of assets seized from them or their families. BW

The trial of the accused assassins of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic reopened in Belgrade on September 7 after a new presiding judge was appointed, dpa reported the same day. Judicial authorities in Belgrade appointed Judge Nata Mesarovic as the new head of the panel on September 6, less than a week after her predecessor, Judge Marko Kljajevic, resigned, citing "huge pressure" on him. The trial, which originally began in December 2003, had to restart from the beginning with the reading of charges against top suspects Milorad Ulemek (aka Legija) and Zvezdan Jovanovic. Both pleaded not guilty. BW

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) called the past year's rise in Afghan opium cultivation "very alarming" when he presented his report to the Afghan government on September 2. Neighboring Iran is the global leader in opium seizures, and the recent rise in opium production is likely to be reflected in higher seizure rates. Iran's drug problem is not merely supply-driven, however, with domestic opium cultivation making a return and the popularity of synthetic drugs on the upswing.

The UNODC reported in 2005 that some 60 percent of the opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) produced in Afghanistan leave that country via Iran. It makes sense that climbing production figures more recently would be reflected in higher seizure rates. While there are no cumulative data available yet for the year, partial reports nationally and from the provinces support the UNODC contention.

The chief of Iran's national police force, General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, said at the end of August that the seizure of 145 tons of drugs nationwide in the first five months of the Iranian year (which began on March 21) marks a 29 percent increase over the same period last year, IRNA reported on August 29.

Reports from the provinces support the police chief's assertion. The police chief in East Azerbaijan Province, Brigadier Mohammad-Ali Nosrati, said earlier in August that seizures in his area in March-July were up 488 percent, ILNA reported on 31 July and IRNA on 11 August. Heroin seizures topped the list, he said. Nosrati added that the number of arrests for drug dealing had more than doubled (a 132 percent increase).

Authorities reported increased drug seizures and many arrests in the southwestern Ilam Province and the Western Azerbaijan Province. In both provinces, authorities also reported significant numbers of arrests for smuggling, dealing, and drug abuse -- including a jump of more than 50 percent in Ilam's abuse statistic.

Tehran tends to look at domestic drug abuse as a supply-driven issue that can be addressed mainly through interdiction and law enforcement. But a resurgence of domestic opium cultivation suggests that the problem is more complicated.

Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri-Shirazi, a provincial representative for Iran's supreme leader, warned in early July that forests in southern Fars Province are being converted into opium-poppy farms, "Kayhan" reported on July 2. He did not attempt to explain the phenomenon.

But joblessness and other economic woes -- as well as governmental failures -- were cited earlier this year to explain resurgent opium cultivation in Kohkiluyeh va Boirahmad Province.

Opiates originating in Afghanistan are not the only illicit drugs that Iranians are using. Ecstasy (MDMA) was once smuggled into Iran from Europe, but is now frequently produced locally. Other "club drugs" -- such as GHB, Ketamine, LSD, methamphetamines (crank), and Rohypnol -- also appear to be gaining in popularity.

Sniffer dogs in Semnan Province, east of Tehran, uncovered 24 kilograms of concentrated heroin -- known in Iran as "crystal" -- during two vehicle inspections in Shahrud in late August, the Baztab website reported on August 24.

The head of the Justice Department and local public prosecutor in the northeastern city of Nishabur, Hojatoleslam Abbas Ali Fakhrara, said in late June that young people are increasingly turning to ecstasy and crystal, "Khayyam Nameh" reported on July 13.

Counternarcotics experts speculate that the crystallized heroin is smoked. It is highly addictive because it is also highly concentrated -- 15 to 20 kilograms of opium are required for 1 kilogram of crystal, while the normal opium-to-heroin ratio tends to be 10:1.

Tehran's emphasis on supply interdiction versus demand reduction has undergone changes in recent years. Each approach has its proponents. Initially, the government had a law-and-order approach that considered any drug-related offense a serious crime. Penalties for narcotics trafficking were heavy -- possession of more than 30 grams of heroin or 5 kilograms of opium could result in the death penalty. More than 10,000 narcotics traffickers and drug users have been executed in recent decades in Iran, and hundreds more currently face execution. Addicts were arrested and jailed.

This approach filled prisons, but addiction rates continued to rise as the average age of drug users fell. The strategy changed during the latter years of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's presidency (1997-2005), and an increasing amount of the drug-control budget was shifted to demand-reduction efforts and to treating addicts.

Authorities have also emphasized interrupting the flow of drugs from Afghanistan. They claim millions of dollars were spent on building static defenses along the 1,800-kilometer border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such efforts are continuing. National police chief Ahmadi-Moqaddam said in late July that "Iran intends to close 400 kilometers of its eastern borders" by mid-December (the end of Azar), Fars News Agency reported on July 27. Ahmadi-Moqaddam touted authorities' use of "physical measures and...human resources, [and] electronic and aerial devices."

Within a month, Ahmadi-Moqaddam said 100 kilometers of the southeastern border in Sistan va Baluchistan had been sealed, state radio reported on August 19. He added that work was "progressing fast."

The creation in April in the same province of a base for coordinating police, military, and other security agencies is part of the effort. Rasul-i Akram base's deputy commander, General Qasem Rezai, said in early August that some 100 bulldozers and other heavy equipment are involved with sealing the eastern border, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on August 10. As he listed the number of patrols initiated by the base, as well as the number of arrests and seizures, the deputy commander claimed that while bandits are no longer safe, locals have a greater sense of security.

A parliamentary representative from the southeastern city of Zahedan, Hussein Ali Shahriari, has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the Rasul-i Akram base, "Kargozaran" reported on August 15. Shahriari called it a "major strategic mistake" to believe that a single base could salvage the security situation in the regions. He blamed a lack of police officers, and said much more is required to solve the problem. Shahriari cited poverty and unemployment among the culprits, and said investors fear the risk in the same areas. He lamented that "expecting the government to do something to make the private sector active and create job opportunities and wealth is apparently a vague dream that will never be fulfilled."

Iran's state Welfare Organization's prevention and addiction-treatment department claims that 8 percent of the population is addicted to drugs, "Mardom-Salari" reported on June 22. An official in the same department, Mehrdad Ehterami, noted that Iran sees 90,000 new drug addicts every year, with more than 180,000 people treated for addiction in the state or private sector. He listed 51 government facilities, 457 private outpatient centers, and an additional 26 transition centers that exist to combat the problem.

The provincial prosecutor in Ardabil is a critic of existing drug-control policies. Hojatoleslam Rabii argues that the activities of the Drug Control Headquarters and the police are not coordinated, according to "Hemayat" on July 30. He claims legislation is contradictory, with "drug addiction...regarded as a crime" while "addicts are portrayed as patients who must be cured." Rabii contends that attempts to control drug trafficking must be more focused or investment to cure addicts increased. Harsh sentences alone for drug traffickers won't work, he says.

Clearly, the Iranian government recognizes the extent of the drug problem it faces. Still, it does not appear to have decided on a preferred approach. The head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, Fada Hussein Maleki, insisted in early August that his organization and the Expediency Council have formulated general counternarcotics policies, and that they have been referred to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his approval, "Hemayat" reported on August 2. Iranian officials no doubt hope that once that happens, they might reverse the current trend of rising drug abuse.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul with his host, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on September 7, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called for close cooperation between his country and Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. Musharraf's visit followed months of accusations and counteraccusations between Kabul and Islamabad in which the Afghan side accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop cross-border infiltrations by militants or even aiding antigovernment forces in Afghanistan; Pakistani officials countered that Afghanistan has allowed India to use its territory to destabilize Pakistan (see "Afghanistan Report," April 26 and September 4, 2006). Speaking on the last day of his two-day trip, Musharraf called his visit a "mission to iron out any possible misconceptions" about his country's intentions toward Afghanistan, "The New York Times" reported on September 7. "There is only one option, and that one option is to have brotherly relations" between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Musharraf said. Karzai said he hopes his country and Pakistan "can remove the obstacles" between them "very soon." Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in neo-Taliban activity in the southern and eastern parts of the country, which border Pakistan. AT

Addressing a large gathering of senior officials at the Afghan Foreign Ministry in Kabul on September 7, President Musharraf called for a new chapter in Afghan-Pakistani relations, Islamabad-based Pakistan TV 1 reported. "May I request an expectation from our side to you? Please stop blaming us for all that is happening here [in Afghanistan], because that affects the brotherly relations of the people," Musharraf urged his audience, which included President Karzai. Musharraf said that if Afghanistan and Pakistan desire peace and progress, they should "stop the blame game and trust each other." Musharraf said his country desires a stable Afghanistan. "We have a policy of total noninterference" in Afghanistan, Musharraf added in an effort to reassure the Afghan government. Many senior Afghan officials have suggested that much of the militancy in Afghanistan originates in or is supported by Pakistan, particularly that country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "Let me say [that] neither the government of Pakistan nor [the] ISI is involved in any kind of interference inside Afghanistan," AP quoted Musharraf as saying. AT

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta was quoted in the Munich-based publication "Focus" on September 4 as saying that if the international community does not successfully complete its military mission, "Afghanistan will fall into the hands of the Taliban again." Spanta called the Taliban "part of an international, well functioning terror movement, which acts outside of Afghanistan." He stressed that he is not accusing Pakistan, but added that "as a neighbor" he expects that country to cooperate with Afghanistan more "intensively and more honestly." War materials and funds come from Pakistan to the Afghan insurgents, Spanta said, adding, "We have documents and proof of this." AT

NATO's top commander, U.S. General James Jones, called for reinforcements to be dispatched to southern Afghanistan, where NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is battling a resurgent Taliban-led insurgency, AP reported on September 7. "We have to give the commander additional insurance in terms of some forces that can be there, perhaps temporarily, to make sure that we can carry the moment," Jones said, adding that NATO has been surprised by the "level of intensity" of the Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. Jones predicted a "decisive moment" in favor of the Afghan government forces "before the winter." AT

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Iran at a September 7 news conference in Madrid to be more cooperative with efforts to determine the status of its nuclear program, RFE/RL reported. "I think we should insist that Iran reassure the international community that its intention is [peaceful, and that] it has no hidden agenda, as it says," Annan said. "But, if that is the case, it has the responsibility to take steps to reassure all of us that their intentions are peaceful and remove that cloud of uncertainty and doubt that surrounds their [nuclear] program." Annan made similar points during a September 6 press conference in Ankara, RFE/RL reported. "I have urged Iran to do whatever it can to reassure the international community that indeed its intentions are peaceful, and [that it] find ways and means through complete openness to the inspectors of the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to remove the cloud of doubt that surrounds its intentions." BS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said on September 7 in Madrid that Tehran is determined to "hold serious and constructive talks" with the so-called 5+1 group on a range of issues, IRNA reported. The 5+1 group comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, and in June it offered Iran a package of incentives in exchange for suspending its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities and cooperating more fully with nuclear inspectors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2006). Larijani expressed optimism about an upcoming meeting with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. A meeting scheduled for September 6 was canceled, and Solana said on September 7 that the meeting will take place on September 9, AP reported. He did not disclose the location. Larijani is to meet with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on September 8, AP reported. BS

A document drawn up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom and sent to dozens of other countries reveals doubts about Tehran's nuclear intentions, AP reported on September 6. The 5+1 group met in Berlin on September 6 to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue, and the document warned, "The Iranian goal obviously is to split the international community." It accused Iran of seeking to "draw us into a process of talks about talks, on Iranian terms, while making no commitments of its own while continuing with its enrichment program." BS

The social affairs and guidance office of the Abadan police department announced on September 7 that police in that southern city have confiscated more than 100 sets of satellite-receiving equipment and the crackdown is continuing, Fars News Agency reported. Satellite receiving equipment is illegal in Iran but is often tolerated; however, police intermittently confiscate such equipment, particularly when it is displayed too obviously. The most recent round of dish seizures began in August. Brigadier General Mehdi Mohammadifard, the deputy police chief for parliamentary affairs, explained on August 29 that police do not enter private homes but "merely deal with visible and explicit offenses," Mehr News Agency. Mohammadifard said that policy is pursuant to legislation from 1994. The Abadan legal effort applies to more than satellite equipment, according to Fars News Agency, and the police department's social affairs and guidance office said, "Recently a number of residents have been carrying dogs in their cars." Locals were instructed not to transport their dogs this way, and they were warned that such drivers will be stopped and turned over to the judiciary. Muslims consider dogs to be unclean. BS

Iran was classified as "Not Free" in Freedom House's annual "Freedom in the World 2006" report, which was released on September 7, Radio Farda reported. Iran received scores of six out of seven for both "Political Rights" and for "Civil Liberties" -- seven is the least free rating. One hundred ninety-two countries and 14 select territories were surveyed for the report. Radio Farda reported that a recent issue of the U.K.-based "The New Statesman" magazine cites Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a series on "the world's top 10 dictators." The report, by the University of St. Andrew's Ali Ansari, notes Khamenei's alleged authoritarianism, as well as contributions to that process by the judiciary and the Guardians Council in its electoral vetting. BS

"RFE/RL Newsline" on September 7 inadvertently attributed a September 6 statement by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi to the government spokesman, Gholam Hussein Elham. It was Assefi who said on September 6 that President George W. Bush's comments about Iran in a speech one day earlier were "repetitive and baseless," IRNA reported. Such claims -- Bush noted Iran's alleged support for terrorism and its suspected nuclear weapons program -- are meant to counter Iran's reasonable and determined effort to protect its rights, Assefi claimed. The U.S. presence in Iraq contributes to terrorism there, Assefi claimed, adding, "There is now the general belief that the terrorist moves in Iraq take place under U.S. direction and support." He also appeared to imply U.S. responsibility for the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States by Al-Qaeda, saying, "On the threshold of the anniversary of the September 11 explosion of the twin towers and five years after the event, which is still ambiguous, the U.S. officials intend to justify their failure and blunder." Assefi urged President Bush to accept his Iranian counterpart's invitation to engage in a televised debate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 4, 2006). BS

Disagreement among Iraqi lawmakers over the regional formation law on September 7 resulted in the session being closed to the media and then postponed until September 10, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on September 7. The main Shi'ite bloc prepared the draft law and presented it on September 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). The Sunnis have presented their own version. "We presented our own draft in order to unify the many versions presented by the different parliamentary blocs," Salim Abdullah of the Iraqi Accordance Front said, AFP reported on September 7. Abdullah also said that the Sunnis are considering adopting constitutional amendments before implementing federalism. However, parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani objected, saying that "this proposal should have been submitted...two days ago. I just heard about it today," Reuters reported. Al-Mashhadani also said that the deadline set by Article 118 of the Iraqi Constitution to legislate the regional formation law is October 24, six months after the first sitting of the parliament, RFI reported. The strongest objection came from Salih al-Mutlaq, head of Sunni-led Iraqi Front for National Dialogue. "We will not stay in a parliament that leads to the division of Iraq," RFI quoted him as saying. BAW

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, (aka Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), who succeeded the slain Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, posted an audio message on the Internet on September 7, AP reported the same day. Al-Muhajir threatened to carry out more attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi forces, and labeled Sunni politicians traitors. He asked his followers "not to rest until each one of you kill at least one American within the next 15 days, by a sniper bullet, spear, explosive, or martyrdom car." He attacked Sunni political parties, naming the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Accordance Front, telling them: "you have lied to yourself and betrayed your nation.... You claimed you will enter the political process to ease the hardship of the Sunnis, but you were their hardship," Reuters reported. Al-Masri signed the message with what appears to be his real name, Abd al-Mun'im al-Badawi, according to AP. BAW

The Iraqi government has ordered the closure of the Arabic news station Al-Arabiyah for a month as of September 7, Al-Arabiyah reported the same day. A statement by the Iraqi cabinet accuses the station of airing "reports that distort reality and have some degree of inaccuracy, and of adopting a policy that incites sectarianism and promotes violence." The station rejected the Iraqi accusations, noting that it has lost 11 journalists during its coverage of Iraq. Al-Arabiyah was ordered to close in November 2003 by the Governing Council, after it aired an audiotape by ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Iraq has also banned the broadcasting of graphic images portraying blood and killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25, 2006). The other major Arabic satellite news station, Al-Jazeera, has been banned in Iraq since August 2004, although it still reports from the Kurdish region. BAW

In an official letter addressed to the speaker of the Council of Representatives, Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani asked that the parliament address the issue of the Iraqi national flag, Peyamner news agency reported on September 7. Barzani has banned the current Iraqi flag from flying in the autonomous Kurdish region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5 and 6, 2006). Barzani invoked Article 12 of the Iraqi Constitution, according to which "the flag...shall be fixed by law in a way that represents the components of the Iraqi people." BAW

Iraqi Commission on Pubic Integrity spokesman Ali al-Shabut said on September 7 that the commission has filed arrest warrants against 15 Iraqi ministers from the current and former cabinets, Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. "These people will be arrested either through Interpol, or through exemption from their official immunity if they are holding any current positions," al-Shabut said. He also confirmed that former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarra'i is under arrest on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). In the Kurdish region, an audit committee found that in Al-Sulaymaniyah Governorate alone, there are 7,000 government employees who have a conflict of interest in holding two public positions, Radio Nawa reported on September 7. The committee also found that there are 22,000 phantom employees who exist only on payrolls, which has cost the government millions of dollars. BAW