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Newsline - November 13, 2006


WILL POLAND BLOCK EU-RUSSIA ENERGY SUMMIT?
Polish Economy Minister Piotr Wozniak said in Warsaw on November 10 that his country insists that Russia ratify the transit protocol of the EU-Russia Energy Charter, which Russia signed in 1994 but never ratified, as a precondition to Poland's backing for any talks on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, European dailies reported on November 11 and 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30 and 31, 2006). The Energy Charter would require Moscow to open up access to its pipelines. Wozniak and other Polish officials said that Poland will veto any proposal to start talks on a new EU-Russia comprehensive cooperation agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which runs out in 2007, unless Brussels agrees to pressure Moscow to grant greater access to its pipelines. The state-run monopoly Gazprom currently controls Russia's pipeline system and effectively blocks access to independent gas projects. EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on November 13 to discuss a possible EU-Russia energy summit. Some news agency reports suggest that Lithuania backs the Polish position. Wozniak also criticized on November 10 the projected Russo-German Nord Stream gas pipeline (formerly the North European Gas Pipeline) on the grounds that it will increase European dependency on Russian gas supplies. He said that Polish suspicions about the deal persist despite efforts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to reassure Warsaw. He added that Germany should "forget" the project. PM

SPANISH MEDIA REVEAL DETAILS OF EU LEADERS' VIEWS OF RUSSIA
Minutes of the October 20 working lunch in Lahti, Finland, during which EU leaders outlined their ideas for that same evening's dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin, found their way into a wastebasket at the Spanish Foreign Ministry and have been analyzed in depth in the Madrid press in recent days, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on November 11 and Russia's news.ru on November 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 24, and 26, 2006). According to those reports, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that it is necessary "to keep cool" in dealing with Putin. He argued, however, that Russia and the EU "are interdependent. We need their energy and they need our markets." Europe must nonetheless seek out other energy suppliers, such as Norway, Algeria, and Turkey, he added. French President Jacques Chirac reportedly agreed with Barroso's remark about "keeping cool" and said that "Europe's security and stability depend to a good extent on Russia. Russia has obligations and interests, and so do we. We must demonstrate mutual understanding and concentrate on the most important [things]: the security and stability of Europe." German Chancellor Merkel is said to have stressed the importance of diversifying Europe's sources of energy supplies. She said that "one must bring Russia around to more constructive positions. The EU's negotiating position is sufficiently solid [to do so]." PM

EUROPEANS STRESS THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES IN DEALING WITH RUSSIA
According to the minutes of the EU summit in Lahti, Finland, Polish President Lech Kaczynski agreed with Chancellor Merkel about the importance of energy diversification, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on November 11. He also stressed the importance of "stabilizing the situation in Georgia." Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is said to have argued that the EU leaders should bring up Georgia and Chechnya with President Putin. The leaders of the three Baltic states reportedly noted their concerns about possible environmental disasters and reductions in energy supplies as a result of eventual accidents at refineries or along pipelines in Russia. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is said to have called attention to the extent to which the Baltic states are geographically "isolated" from the EU's internal market. He thanked Germany and other EU partners for their help in overcoming this obstacle. Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany reportedly stressed that Russia's relations with its EU partners are "asymmetrical" and that Russia "could cut off [energy] supplies for a month and cause us damage without suffering themselves." Czech President Vaclav Klaus is said to have noted that the underlying reason for the diversity of views around the table is that the respective countries have different geographical situations and different historical experiences. EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana reportedly argued that all potential energy suppliers are unstable, with the exception of Norway. He urged EU member states to reconsider their positions on nuclear energy with that in mind. PM

RUSSIA, U.S. REACH DEAL 'IN PRINCIPLE' ON WTO MEMBERSHIP
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement in Washington on November 10 that Russian and U.S. negotiators have reached an agreement in principle for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26 and 31, and November 9 and 10, 2006). Officials from both sides said final details need to be worked out for a formal deal to be signed by the countries' top trade negotiators soon in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which both countries' presidents will attend. Russia is the largest economy outside the 149-member WTO and has been formally seeking accession for 13 years. The United States is the last major country whose approval it needs to join the body, which sets global trade rules. The daily "Kommersant" noted on November 10 that "Russia and America are close as never before," but added that Moscow still must overcome objections from Tbilisi to its WTO membership. Russia recently imposed tough sanctions, including a blockade, on Georgia. Moldova and Costa Rica must also agree to Russian WTO membership. In related news, German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said in Moscow on November 13 that the United States and Russia will soon sign an agreement on copyright protection, Interfax reported. PM

DOES RUSSIA HAVE NEW IDEAS ABOUT RESTARTING SIX-PARTY TALKS WITH IRAN?
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on November 11 after a meeting between President Putin and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, that Russia wants to restart talks between Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members, plus Germany, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 3, and 6, 2006). Lavrov added that "there is an agreement that our contacts will be continued and, of course, we will work on achieving our common goal, the resumption of six-party talks. In the near future we will continue having contacts with the members of the six-party talks, who have offered Iran some ideas as the basis for resumption of the talks and Iran has responded to it." Meanwhile, in Tehran, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran is ready to consider a proposal to enrich uranium in Russia but will not stop similar work in Iran. On November 13, the countries belonging to the six-party group are slated to continue discussions about a EU-sponsored draft UN resolution on Iran. Russia has offered amendments that would reduce the scope of the sanctions proposed by the EU countries, which include travel bans and financial restrictions on Iranian scientists working on the nuclear and missile programs. PM

TATARSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR RESPECT FOR REGIONAL DIFFERENCES
Mintimer Shaimiyev, who is Tatarstan's long-serving president and a co-chairman of the Supreme Council of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, said at a meeting of the party's Tatarstan branch in Kazan on November 11 that he does not believe that federal legislation should necessarily have priority over regional laws, news.ru reported on November 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 1 and November 9, 2006). That statement constituted implicit criticism of the draft party program, which is slated to be adopted in two week's time in Yekaterinburg. Shaimiyev argued that there should instead be "unity" between federal legislation and "regional specifics and traditions." He also warned against reducing the idea of strengthening the federation to economic issues alone. Shaimiyev said that "our country can be united only if the state and society proceed from [the idea] of respect for the rights and interests of the various peoples and religions." He called on Unified Russia to act as "the representative of the interests of the multinational community [that is] our country." The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that Shaimiyev's statement makes clear that the draft party program does not enjoy unqualified support throughout Unified Russia. It also noted that Shaimiyev reached agreement just days earlier with President Putin on a power-sharing agreement between Tatarstan and the federal government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24 and 26, August 31, and September 1, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 7, 2006). PM

CHERKESS RALLY BEHIND OUTGOING ADYGEYA PRESIDENT
The public organization Adyge Khase addressed an appeal on November 11 to President Putin to permit Khazret Sovmen to serve a second term as president of the Republic of Adygeya, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on November 13. Sovmen's term expires in January 2007, and presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak has proposed as his successor Maykop Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov. The Adygeya parliament has approved Tkhakushinov's candidacy, but Putin has not yet formally endorsed it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 4, 16, 20, 26, and 31, 2006). On November 10, numerous other public organizations in Adygeya issued statements of support for Sovmen, as did Adygeya and Krasnodar Krai Mufti Nurbyy Emidzh and Panteleimon, archbishop of Maykop and Adygeya, regnum.ru reported. LF

MOSCOW POLICE HUNT FOR CHECHEN PREMIER'S FORMER ALLY
Traffic police in Moscow are on the alert to intercept two vehicles belonging to Movladi Baysarov, former commander of the Gorets (Mountaineer) battalion and an erstwhile close ally of Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, according to kavkaz.memo.ru on November 10 and reposted by kavkazweb.net. Baysarov is wanted for questioning by the Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office in connection with the abduction and killing of some 10 members of the Musayev family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and November 8, 2006). Baysarov was quoted by regnum.ru on November 9 as saying the charges against him were fabricated in order to "prevent him from telling the truth" about the current situation in Chechnya, in particular Kadyrov's activities. The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented on November 13 that the recent sharp increase in Russian military casualties in Chechnya negatively affects Kadyrov's chances of replacing Alu Alkhanov as republic head. Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, who in May said the legislature would back any such call for Kadyrov's promotion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006), was quoted on November 10 by RIA Novosti as saying any speculation on that subject is "premature." LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER REJECTS JAILED JOURNALIST'S APPEAL
Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on November 10 that his ministry is not empowered to call for the annulment of a court ruling sentencing opposition journalist Arman Babadjanian to four years' imprisonment for avoiding compulsory military service, according to lragir.am and the A1+ website, as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and 28, July 3 and 7, and September 11, 2006). Sarkisian explained that the ministerial committee that assesses such cases may not intervene when a court verdict has been already handed down, as "the committee cannot be higher than the court." LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RESHUFFLES CABINET
Mikheil Saakashvili reshuffled the Georgian cabinet on November 10, dismissing Agriculture Minister Mikhail Svimonishvili and naming Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili economy minister, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili explained that latter transfer in terms of Okruashvili's talents as an organizer and manager, in light of the need to strengthen the economy, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Meeting on November 11 with his new subordinates, Okruashvili admitted that "my heart and soul remain with the army," Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili named to replace Okruashvili as defense minister Finance Police head David Kezerashvili, who vowed in an interview with the television station Rustavi-2 that "restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia remains our major goal, and nothing has changed," Caucasus Press reported. In a move predicted one year ago, former Kakheti Governor Petre Tsiskarishvili was named to succeed Svimonishvili as agriculture minister. Also on November 10, Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation Head David Ingorokva stepped down following allegations of corruption against one of his subordinates, and Economy Minister Irakli Chogovadze was named to succeed him. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER REELECTED TO SECOND TERM
In a ballot branded as illegal by the OSCE and as "unnecessary, unhelpful, and unfair" by the Council of Europe, Eduard Kokoity was reelected on November 12 for a second term as president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia with 96 percent of the vote, regnum.ru reported the following day. In a simultaneous referendum, 99 percent of the region's voters expressed support for its independent status and for efforts aimed at securing international recognition of that status (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006). Georgian residents of South Ossetia and Ossetians opposed to Kokoity's regime cast their ballots in an alternative presidential election the same day in which National Liberation Union Chairman Dmitry Sanakoyev garnered 88 percent of the vote, Caucasus Press reported. Voter turnout in the alternative ballot was estimated at 42 percent. LF

IS CASPIAN PIPELINE CONSORTIUM ON VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY?
Russia's Industry and Energy Ministry has rejected a proposal by the nonstate shareholders in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) to expand the throughput capacity of that export pipeline, which transports Kazakh crude to Novorossiisk, according to the daily "Kommersant" on November 13. The Russian government is the largest single shareholder in the CPC with a 24 percent stake. Kazakhstan owns 19 percent, Oman holds 7 percent, Chevron 15 percent, the joint venture LUKoil and BP 12.5 percent, the joint venture Rosneft and Shell 7.5 percent, the Mobil Caspian Pipeline Company has 7.5 percent, Agip International 2 percent, British Gas Overseas Holding Limited 2 percent, Kazakhstan Pipeline Ventures 1.75 percent, and Oryx Caspian Pipeline 1.75 percent. The nonstate shareholders' proposal, made in August in response to a demand by the Russian government for 4.7 billion rubles ($175 million) in unpaid back taxes, envisages raising the transport tariff by $2.5 to $29.88 per metric ton, increasing the annual throughput capacity from 34 to 67 million tons, and restructuring the consortium's debt. Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko has called for an almost 40 percent increase in tariffs; he has also proposed writing off the CPC's debts but increasing the throughput capacity on a "take or pay" basis that would penalize Western oil companies. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY'S HOME ATTACKED
Unknown perpetrators threw two grenades at the Bishkek home of parliament deputy Isa Omurkulov during the night of November 11-12, regnum.ru reported. The blasts caused some damage but no injuries. Kyrgyz "power" ministers met on November 12 to discuss the incident; National Security Service Chairman Murat Sutalinov called on deputies to inform police immediately of any anticipated similar attacks. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH DEFEATED RIVALS
Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on November 13 with his defeated rivals in the November 6 ballot in which he was reelected for another seven-year term with 79.3 percent of the vote, regnum.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2006). He invited Party of Economic Reforms Chairman Olimjon Boboyev, Agrarian Party Chairman Amir Karokulov, Socialist Party leader Abdulkhalim Gaffarov, and Communist Party candidate Ismoil Talbakov to submit their election programs to the government for consideration. Rakhmonov did not, however, raise the possibility of any of them participating in the government. LF

EU EXTENDS POST-ANDIJON SANCTIONS ON UZBEKISTAN
The Council of the European Union, which is the bloc's main decision-making body, voted on November 13 to extend the arms embargo on Uzbekistan for another 12 months, consilium.europa.eu reported the same day. The embargo was imposed following the military crackdown in the Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005. The council said in a statement that visa restrictions on Uzbek officials will be extended for another six months. The council said it "remains profoundly concerned by the human rights situation in Uzbekistan," and urged President Islam Karimov's government "to implement fully its international obligations related to human rights and fundamental freedoms." the council decided to resume "technical meetings" with the Uzbek leadership in the hope of achieving progress on rights issues. The sanctions were imposed after Karimov refused to let the international community investigate the Andijon upheaval. Uzbek authorities claim 187 people, including many security officers, were killed in what they describe as a foreign-funded armed Islamist uprising. Rights groups, in turn, say government troops killed several hundred unarmed civilians while reasserting control over the city. JCP

UZBEK GOVERNMENT TO 'MANAGE' FOREIGN MEDIA ASSISTANCE
Uzbekistan's government has set up a special fund to control and manage foreign financial assistance to the country's media outlets, vesti.uz and press-uz.info reported on November 13. State-controlled news agencies say that foreign states and organizations are now forbidden to provide grants directly to Uzbek media and that the amount of foreign help any media outlet can receive will be strictly regulated. Uzbekistan has tightened its grip on independent media since the crackdown in Andijon. JCP

BELARUSIAN EXPERT SEES NO GAS SUPPLIER OTHER THAN RUSSIA OVER NEXT DECADE
Aleh Hamolya, acting head of the external relations department of Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas pipelines operator, said at a Belarusian-German conference in Minsk on November 10 that Russia will remain the only supplier of gas to Belarus for the next decade, Belapan reported. "Beltranshaz certainly studied the possibility of diversifying the gas-supply sources. Unfortunately, we do not see possible alternative sources for the short-term and medium-term future," Hamolya added. Hamolya refused to predict the price Belarus will have to pay for Russian gas supplies in 2007. Meanwhile, a November 10 meeting in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka did not clarify the gas-price issue. The Russian president's press service commented after the meeting only that Belarusian-Russian economic relations will be based on "a mutually beneficial basis and market principles." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS FOREIGN MINISTER DISMISSED
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych called on President Viktor Yushchenko and parliament in a television interview on November 11 to dismiss Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "How can I react to a minister who says he is in opposition to the government? What does this mean? This means he disagrees with the program the government is fulfilling. If you are a man, if you have principles, resign. Do this on your own. But if you are not, if you don't want to -- we'll help you, of course. This is certain," Yanukovych said. Yanukovych also alleged that the "unscrupulous and irresponsible" Tarasyuk prevented a meeting between the Ukrainian prime minister and Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis last week. Earlier this month, the Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution demanding that Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko on November 15 deliver reports on their performance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 3, 2006). Ukraine's defense and foreign ministers are nominated by the president and confirmed by parliament, which also has the right to dismiss them. JM

UKRAINIAN PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY ELECTS LEADING BODY
The pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) held the second stage of its congress on November 11, Ukrainian media reported. At the first stage of the NSNU congress last month, President Yushchenko, who is also NSNU honorary chairman, called on the party to profoundly reform itself and elect new leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). The November 11 convention elected an NSNU Council composed of 214 activists, including current NSNU leader Roman Bezsmertnyy and his close associates: Petro Poroshenko, Mykola Martynenko, David Zhvaniya, Oleksandr Tretyakov, Yevhen Chervonenko, and Roman Zvarych. The NSNU also confirmed its earlier stance that it will remain in opposition to the government of Prime Minister Yanukovyvh. The NSNU Council is expected to appoint a new party leader in the near future. JM

UN DELAYS KOSOVA DECISION...
The United Nations announced on November 10 that it will postpone a decision on Kosova's final status until after Serbia holds general elections on January 21 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006), Reuters reported. "In light of the announcement by President [Boris] Tadic...and after consulting with the Contact Group today, I have decided to present my proposal for the settlement of Kosovo's status to the parties without delay after parliamentary elections in Serbia," UN special envoy for Kosova Martti Ahtisaari said. The Contact Group -- comprising Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States -- originally promised Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority a decision by the end of 2006. But Reuters quoted an unidentified EU official as saying that Brussels "did not see this as a long delay." Western officials are concerned that a decision to grant Kosova independence could bolster nationalist parties in the Serbian election. BW

...AS POLITICIANS ON BOTH SIDES REACT
Serbian officials welcomed the UN's widely expected decision to delay a final-status decision, while Kosova's leaders said they are willing to work with the international community, Reuters reported on November 10. Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, head of Serbia's Council for Kosovo, said the delay shows the improvement in Serbia's standing in the world. "It also opens up the possibility to continue direct talks that could go on into next year," she said. Hashim Thaci, a member of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team, said Serbia's elections "might have an impact on the timing, but not on the substance" of the decision, which he predicted will be "independence and sovereignty" for Kosova. "Kosova was never betrayed by the West," Thaci said. "We liberated Kosova together with the international community and we will declare independence when we all agree." Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on November 9 that the province might consider unilaterally declaring independence if a UN-sponsored settlement does not grant statehood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006). BW

SERBIAN OFFICIAL WARNS STATES AGAINST RECOGNIZING KOSOVA
Serbian Science and Environment Minister Aleksandar Popovic has warned that governments that recognize Kosova's independence will face serious consequences, B92 and Beta reported on November 12. "Our government is sending out a clear warning that any unilateral recognition of Kosovo's independence would have serious consequences," Popovic, a member of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said. "This applies to the NATO countries in particular, those that [bombed] Serbia [in 1999]. In that case we would have to ask whether Serbia was in fact [bombed] so that 15 percent of our territory could be taken away," he added. Popovic also accused UN envoy Ahtisaari of "secretly working behind [Serbia's] backs" to give Kosova independence. "The real reason why it fell through is Russia's firm and principled position that the UN Charter cannot be breached," he added. Russia has indicated that it may use its UN Security Council veto to block Kosova's independence. BW

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ELECTION A CHOICE BETWEEN HIS PARTY AND RADICALS
Serbian President Tadic said on November 12 that upcoming elections present a clear choice between his Democratic Party (DS) and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), B92 and FoNet reported the same day. "There is obviously a choice here: DS or SRS. These are the two opposed, battling policies," he said. "I do not wish to see people in conflict, as that would lead Serbia back to the 1990s. I want to see policies and political ideas battling so that voters get a clear idea about what they will choose." Tadic added that his party represents Serbia's strongest link to Europe, and that the DS has several potential candidates for prime minister. "I will decide on the candidate myself, while his or her role will be to lead a state policy agreed upon in a democratic way," he said. BW

SERBIAN RADICAL LEADER BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE IN THE HAGUE
War crimes defendant Vojislav Seselj began a hunger strike on November 11, two weeks ahead of his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), dpa reported the next day. "He informed staff around lunchtime [on November 11] that he would refuse food," dpa quoted an unidentified ICTY spokesman as saying. Aleksandar Vucic, an official from Seselj's SRS, said he is "refusing food or drink except plain water," and he also declines any medication for his high blood pressure and asthma, AP reported on November 11. Seselj is demanding that the ICTY allow his wife to visit him. He also wants "free choice of legal advisers, and normalization of conditions for preparing his defense," Vucic added. Seselj's trial is scheduled to begin on November 27. BW

NEW MASS GRAVE FOUND IN NORTHEASTERN BOSNIA
Forensic experts in Bosnia-Herzegovina said on November 10 that they have found a new mass grave containing the remains of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, AP reported the same day. The grave is located in the village of Snagovo in northeastern Bosnia, about 51 kilometers north of Srebrenica, and is believed to contain the remains of more than 100 people. "So far we have exhumed 19 whole bodies and four incomplete bodies. We have found blindfolds, wires, [and] wallets of the victims of Srebrenica massacre from 1995," said Alma Dzaferovic, the prosecutor in charge of genocide crimes. The grave was found after experts received a tip from an undisclosed source, according to Murat Hurtic, the head of Bosnia's Missing Persons Commission. BW

MOLDOVA CONDEMNS SOUTH OSSETIA'S REFERENDUM
Moldova's Foreign Affairs and European Integration Ministry released a statement on November 12 criticizing South Ossetia's independence referendum, Interfax reported the same day. "We declare that this unilateral and counterproductive measure by the South Ossetian regime will only raise a new wave of political tensions," the statement said. "The pseudo-referendum, held in the Republic of Moldova's Transdniester region on September 17, 2006, and South Ossetia's current illegitimate referendum represent a concerted attempt to undermine the world community's efforts to settle conflicts in the post-Soviet space." In a referendum that was widely unrecognized by the international community, Transdniester overwhelmingly voted for independence on September 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). BW

ARGENTINIAN WARRANTS URGE FORMER IRANIAN OFFICIALS' ARRESTS
A judge in Argentina has issued international arrest warrants for former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and eight other onetime officials over a deadly bombing on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more.

The arrest order came two weeks after Argentinian prosecutors formally charged a number of former Iranian officials, including Hashemi-Rafsanjani, for their alleged roles in the bombing. Prosecutors say Hashemi-Rafsanjani and other senior officials commissioned the attack. They say that while it was carried out by the Lebanese Hizballah militia, the decision to target the Jewish center came from the "highest authorities" within the Iranian government.

Argentinian federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral issued the arrest order for what he called "crimes against humanity" and asked Interpol to arrest the suspects. "We activate the arrest warrant, on the one hand, with a request to Interpol requesting the capture of certain people -- and with an international exhortation that would be transmitted by the chancellery at the right time, soliciting that they proceed with the detention," Canicoba Corral said.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who served two presidential terms that spanned much of the 1990s (1989-97), currently heads the Expediency Council, an appointed body that among other things mediates between parliament and the Guardians Council.

Judge Canicoba Corral has also requested the arrest of a former minister of intelligence and security, Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani, and of foreign affairs, Ali-Akbar Velayati, as well as onetime commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Mohsen Rezai and other former officials.

Tehran has repeatedly denied any involvement in the deadliest terrorist attack ever on Argentinian soil. On November 9, Iran's charge d'affaires in Argentina, Mohsen Baharvand, dismissed the investigation as politically motivated. "Because of the shortcomings of Argentina to find the real perpetrators of this act and as a result of the seeds of 'Iranophobia' and 'Islamophobia' disseminated throughout the world by the United States and Israel, again, this [Argentinian] judicial system has accused Iran and Hizballah [of] something that has been done 12 years ago," Baharvand said.

Baharvand also said Iran will urge Interpol not to act on the warrants. But observer Dr. Abdolkarim Lahidji, deputy head of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, said that Interpol acts based on judicial orders and not political appeals.

"Interpol cannot go to Iran and arrest them," Lahidji said. "But if any of these officials whose names are on the arrest warrant are seen in a country and the police in that country have a copy of the arrest order, then they can be arrested -- then it would be up to that country to extradite the arrested person to Argentine for questioning."

The arrest order might have largely symbolic significance for the victims of the attack and their relatives, since it is highly unlikely that Tehran would place those former officials at risk of arrest.

Lahidji told RFE/RL that the arrest warrant suggests a body of evidence implicating those former officials. "If there were no such evidence, then an arrest order would not have been issued," Lahidji said. "Therefore [the arrest order] demonstrates that, despite what Iranian officials have said, the dossier is not empty."

No one has been convicted in connection with the July 18, 1994, bombing, which reduced the seven-story Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) to rubble. Local Jewish groups and some officials have long accused Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah of being behind the attack.

Iranian officials have been targeted by international authorities before over alleged roles in attacks in Europe on opposition members. In 1997, a German court issued a warrant for former Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Ali Fallahian in connection with the 1992 murder of Iranian Kurdish opposition leaders at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. The court said the so-called Mykonos murders were carried out with the knowledge of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Fallahian is among those targeted in the Argentinian warrants.

Lahidji noted that the warrants will limit travel options open to Iranian officials. "Since the issuing of the court order in the case known as 'Mykonos,' senior Iranian officials have not traveled to European countries, and, as far as I can remember, Rafsanjani has had several trips to Saudi Arabia and maybe to Syria," Lahidji said. "So merely the fact that the traveling [options] for the officials of a country are limited is like sanctions -- like the measures against senior Iranian officials that could be put in place regarding Iran's nuclear case."

In 2003, Iran's former ambassador to Buenos Aires, Hadi Soleimanpour, was jailed in London at Argentina's request but later freed for lack of evidence.

Prosecutors allege that Argentina's decision not to provide Iran with nuclear technology was the motive behind the 1994 bombing. Tehran has described the charges as a "Zionist plot" aimed at diverting attention from crimes it says Israel has committed against women and children in Palestine.

(Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

AFGHAN, PAKISTANI, NATO LEADERS REVIEW PLANS FOR INTELLIGENCE CENTER
Military officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO met in Kabul on November 11 to review plans for a cooperative joint intelligence center to assist in battling extremist militants in Afghanistan, AFP reported the same day. The center, to be staffed by Afghan, Pakistani, and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials, will "work to understand what information can quickly be shared in a mutually beneficial fashion," an ISAF official told AFP. Afghan General Sher Karimi, Pakistani Major General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and ISAF General David Richards attended the meeting. Reports were given on border security and efforts to counter the use by insurgents of improvised explosive devices. Afghan and international officials have recently alleged that Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces are directing the insurgency in Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan. CJ

FIGHTING IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN LEADS TO TALIBAN DEATHS
General Murad Ali, the deputy Afghan army commander for Paktika Province, said that recent fighting in the province may have resulted in the deaths of up to 60 militants, but acknowledged that only 20 deaths are confirmed, AP reported on November 12. Ali claimed that air strikes and artillery destroyed two trucks carrying Taliban rebels in the Bermel district, possibly killing up to 40 fighters. Four NATO soldiers and three Afghan soldiers were also injured in the recent fighting. Bermel is home to a military base for both Afghan and U.S. soldiers. CJ

IRAN POISED TO SUPPORT AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION
During a meeting with two members of the Afghan upper house, the Meshrano Jirga, on November 11 in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad emphasized his country's support for Afghan reconstruction efforts, Fars News Agency reported the same day. Ahmadinejad told Yunis Qanuni and speaker of the upper house Sibghatullah Mojaddedi that Iran is a longtime friend of Afghanistan. He said Tehran "is ready to help the Afghan government in reconstruction and development" and "is also prepared to assist the country in educating Afghan youth and young adults," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. "Enemies of the regional nations are seeking to establish instability and insecurity in Afghanistan," he said, "and the Afghan people and officials should try to defuse plots and conspiracies and traverse the long path of progress." He also emphasized that security, stability and progress in Afghanistan would benefit other states in the region. CJ

REPORT INDICATES LEVEL OF INSURGENT ATTACKS ON THE RISE
The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, tasked with supervising reconstruction in Afghanistan, released a report on November 12 indicating insurgent violence in the country has quadrupled since 2005, AP reported. According to the report, militants conducted approximately 130 attacks per month in 2005, 300 per month by March of 2006, and more than 600 per month by the end of September. Insurgent violence has killed more than 3,700 people this year. The report claims the violence "threatens to reverse some of the gains made in the recent past, with development activities being especially hard hit," resulting in the partial or total withdrawal of some international agencies. The report notes that increased drug trade is bolstering the insurgency and slow development is fueling unrest, driving people into the drug industry. Afghanistan has seen a record number of roadside bomb and suicide attacks, and much of the violence has occurred in the southern and eastern provinces, near the border with Pakistan. CJ

'CONFESSIONS' OF CONVICTED IRANIAN-ARAB BOMBERS TO BE TELEVISED
The "confessions" of persons sentenced to death for their parts in fatal bombings that occurred in Ahvaz last year will be televised on November 13, Khuzestan Province television reported on November 12. Bombings occurred in the province in June and October 2005, and in January 2006. Provincial security officials said the program -- called "Expressions of Illusion" -- will cover details of the bombings as well as the bombers' objectives. Previous "confessions" were televised on March 1, one day before two of the purported bombers were hanged. The Khuzestan Province justice department's director general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said on November 9 that 10 people will be executed soon and another nine will receive sentences of varying severity, provincial television reported. Human Rights Watch on November 11 said the "10 Iranians of Arab origin" were sentenced to death in secret trials, and it added that at least 13 ethnic Arabs have been sentenced to death for armed activities against the state in the last year. HRW added that one of those facing capital punishment was actually in jail at the time of his alleged crime. BS

TWO BOMBINGS IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN
Two explosions occurred in different parts of the southwestern city of Ahvaz on November 10, Fars News Agency and Mehr News Agency reported. The authorities described percussion grenades filled with TNT, and although windows were broken, nobody was injured. BS

WHITE HOUSE CONTINUES STATE OF EMERGENCY ON IRAN
Iran and Hizballah make up a "global nexus of terrorism," according to a November 11 statement from White House spokesman Tony Snow, Reuters reported. The statement praised an Argentinean court's warrant for the arrest of Iranian officials in connection with a 1994 bombing in Argentina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006). The state of emergency with respect to Iran will continue for a year as of November 14, because relations between Iran and the United States "have not yet returned to normal," according to a November 9 announcement from the White House. The Iran emergency was declared on November 14, 1979, "to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the situation in Iran." This is distinct from the "national emergency with respect to Iran" signed by President George W. Bush in March 2005 because of Iran's support for terrorism, its active opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 2004 and 23 March 2005). BS

TEHRAN DENOUNCES ARGENTINIAN COURT VERDICT
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Mohammad Ali Husseini said in a statement on November 11 that a recent Argentinian arrest warrant for several Iranian officials -- including former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and former Intelligence and Security Minister Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani -- is not legal and the charges lack evidence, state television and Fars News Agency reported (see End Note and "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006). Husseini said the case has been dismissed by a British court, that Interpol released 12 Iranians in a related case, and the previous Argentinian judge was corrupt. Husseini added, "Using the statements of a group of antirevolutionary Iranians who are agents of the CIA and Mossad, the newly assigned judge has rephrased the 800-page case compiled by the former judge of the case and issued his verdict very hastily under the influence of the Zionist lobbies and without presentation of any proof for the allegations." On November 12, Husseini said in Tehran that the Iranian government will provide Interpol with documents proving the innocence of the accused, IRNA reported. BS

ALLEGED VIDEO OF IRANIAN TV STAR UNDERLINES SOCIETAL CHANGES
An alleged homemade pornographic movie of an Iranian state television star has appeared on the Internet, forcing the young woman to defend herself publicly, Radio Farda reported on November 12. Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, star of a soap opera called "Narges," has denied that she is the person in the allegedly poor-quality video, and the man who distributed the tape has fled the country. Appearance of this kind of video is not a recent development, Radio Farda reports. The authorities acknowledge the existence of a significant black market in Iran for information about celebrities, and pictures of cinema and sports stars' weddings and parties are available just hours after the events take place. An anonymous commentator told Radio Farda that societal values have changed significantly since the 1979 Islamic revolution: respect for privacy has deteriorated, and neighbors can inform on each other to the security forces. BS

IRAQI PREMIER CALLS FOR MAJOR CABINET RESHUFFLE
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a major reshuffle of his 39-member cabinet during a closed session of parliament on November 12, international media reported the same day. "The prime minister has called for a comprehensive cabinet reshuffle appropriate for the current situation in the country," the prime minister's office said in a statement issued shortly after the parliamentary session. Al-Maliki also derided lawmakers for their continued squabbling and called on them to stop criticizing his government. Instead, he urged them to declare their loyalty to a unified Iraq, not their political parties or religious sects. Al-Maliki was responding, in part, to public accusations by some Sunni legislators who accused his government of being complicit in the killing of Sunni Arabs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 3, 2006). Shi'ite lawmaker Bassam al-Sharif quoted al-Maliki as telling lawmakers that he will "choose according to [a perspective candidate's] qualifications", while rejecting "any incompetent candidate." Deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Atiyah, who chaired the session, said the government's performance has been "unconvincing" and al-Maliki wants to improve it. Dhafir al-Ani, of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, said al-Maliki's statements were disappointing because he blamed much of the violence on Sunni extremists and didn't accept blame for Shi'ite militias. SS

SAUDI OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQ 'MAJOR TERRORIST BASE'
During an interview with Al-Arabiyah satellite television on November 11, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif Bin Abd al-Aziz referred to Iraq as a major base for terrorism. He said the security situation in Iraq is steadily deteriorating and the country is becoming a threat to the entire region. "There is no doubt that Iraq now forms a main base for terrorism. The situation in Iraq is changing day after day, and this situation has numerous threats," he said. Naif also said Saudi youth are being lured by extremist groups to fight in Iraq. U.S. officials announced in April that Saudis were one of the top five nationalities among foreign fighters captured in Iraq. The kingdom has been steadily moving forward with a plan to build a fence along its border with Iraq. SS

AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ LEADER SAYS GROUP HAS 12,000 FIGHTERS
A new audio recording posted on a jihadist website and attributed to Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir said his group has 12,000 fighters in Iraq who are willing to "die for the cause of God", international media reported on November 11. Al-Muhajir (aka Abu Ayyub al-Masri) said his group is training another 10,000 fighters as well. In addition, he said victory is approaching faster than expected and vowed that his fighters will not rest until they retake Jerusalem and destroy the White House. "Oh monotheists, rest assured, by God we will not rest from our jihad anywhere but under the olive trees in Rumiya [Mount of Olives in Jerusalem] after we blow up the filthiest house, which is called the White House," he said. Al-Muhajir gloated over the defeat of the Republican Party in the U.S. midterm elections, which he blamed on the unpopularity of the Iraq war in the eyes of the U.S. public. "The American people have put their feet at the beginning of the right path to save themselves from their predicament, and they have begun to realize the treachery and subservience of their president and his clique to Israel. Thus, they voted with some sense in their latest elections." SS

IRAQI CLERICS CALL FOR HUSSEIN TO BE EXECUTED QUICKLY
An aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on November 10 called for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be executed quickly in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on November 11. "I wish to hang Saddam between the two shrines in Karbala. Injuries will not heal unless the scaffold is placed here to carry out the sentence," Sheikh Ahmad al-Safi said during Friday Prayers at the shrine of Imam Husayn in Karbala. In the Shi'ite city of Al-Kufah, Jabar al-Khafaji, the imam of the Al-Kufiyah Mosque and a senior aide to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, also called for Hussein to be executed quickly. "We want Saddam to be executed soon. We also want some countries not to try to apply their laws on Iraq in order to protect Saddam," he said. On November 5, an Iraqi court sentenced Hussein and two of his co-defendants to death in connection the killing of 148 Shi'a in the town of Al-Dujayl in 1982 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2006). SS

IRAQI BUSINESS FAIR OPENS IN AL-SULAYMANIYAH
Hundreds of international firms interested in doing business in Iraq gathered in Al-Sulaymaniyah on November 11 to take part in a business fair hosted by the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce, AP reported the same day. Nearly 400 companies, including five from the United States, 50 from Germany, and 24 from Italy, are taking part in the four-day conference. Most of the companies specialize in infrastructure and construction, and several firms are expected to sign deals with the Kurdish regional government. Kurdish region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani inaugurated the fair, saying, "The entire Kurdistan region is ready for business and the Kurdistan regional government will do its best to be supportive," he said. SS

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