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Newsline - December 7, 2006


BRITAIN SAYS FORMER SECURITY OFFICER'S DEATH 'MURDER'
British authorities investigating the recent unexplained death in London of British citizen and former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko decided on December 6 to treat the case as one of "murder," British media reported on December 6 and 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 5, and 6, 2006). London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement that "detectives investigating the death of...Litvinenko have reached the stage where it is felt appropriate to treat it as an allegation of murder. Detectives in this case are keeping an open mind and methodically following the evidence. It is important to stress that we have reached no conclusions as to the means employed, the motive or the identity of those who might be responsible for Mr. Litvinenko's death." PM

FORMER PRIME MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA'S 'POLITICAL ENEMIES' POISONED HIM
Former Russian acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar wrote in the Russian daily "Vedomosti" and Britain's "Financial Times" of December 7 that his recent unexplained illness in Dublin, Ireland, was undoubtedly the result of poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, and December 1 and 6, 2006). Gaidar said that he does "not have any property to speak of, nor a profitable oil or gas company. So, if this was attempted murder, politics was behind it." He added that he "rejected the idea of complicity of the Russian leadership almost immediately. After the death of...Litvinenko...another violent death of a famous Russian on the following day is the last thing that the Russian authorities would want. In case of an explosion or skirmish in Moscow, one would think about radical nationalistic thugs first of all. But Dublin? Poisoning? This is obviously not their style." Instead, Gaidar argued that "some obvious or hidden adversaries of the Russian authorities stand behind the scenes of this event, those who are interested in further radical deterioration of relations between Russia and the West." He added that "comparing the dates of events that took place during the past six weeks, I formulated a rather logical and consistent hypothesis on the reasons behind this." Gaidar said that he is convinced that his analysis is correct, even if it is unpleasant. He did not elaborate, but some observers suggested that he probably had Western governments or Russian exiles in mind. It is not clear why he chose the time frame of six weeks, which would appear to exclude the slaying of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya on October 7 but include the U.S. midterm elections on November 7. PM

IS POLAND BUDGING ON EU-RUSSIA TIES?
Polish authorities on December 6 ended their opposition to a meeting of EU and Russian officials slated for December 8 to discuss energy matters, Reuters and news.ru reported. Poland still insists, however, that Russia lift its ban on Polish agricultural products and sign the EU's Energy Charter before Warsaw will agree to launching EU-Russian talks aimed at preparing a new and expanded partnership agreement to replace the current one, which expires in 2007 but which can be renewed automatically if a new document has not been agreed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 27, 2006). It is not clear whether the change in Poland's position on the December 8 meeting is a one-off decision or a sign that Warsaw's overall position is beginning to change. It is also not clear whether the Polish decision on the December 8 meeting is a result of the recent meeting between Polish President Lech Kaczynski, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Jacques Chirac in Mettlach in western Germany. PM

PUTIN CALLS FOR 'CONSIDERATION' ON DIRECT ELECTIONS TO UPPER HOUSE...
President Vladimir Putin told leaders of several political parties near Moscow on December 6 not to rush any decision on having members of the upper house, or Federation Council, be directly elected instead of appointed by regional governors and parliaments, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, July 13 and 21, and December 4, 2006). Putin said that "if you feel that additional steps need to be taken regarding this issue, let us think them over together." Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov first proposed direct elections to the Federation Council in June, and Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, speaking on December 2 at a congress of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia (ER) party, urged the State Duma to expedite passage of the appropriate legislation. Chuvash President Nikolai Fyodorov, who is a member of ER's Supreme Council, said in Yekaterinburg on December 5 that he considers such direct elections "essential" for a "full-blooded" Federation Council, regnum.ru reported on December 6. PM/LF

...AND FOR MEASURES TO CURB 'EXTREMISM'
Also at the December 6 meeting, Putin told the party leaders that more must be done to crack down on "extremism," Russian media reported. He said that "the federal law on countering extremist activities has legal holes in it" and called for "making sure that punishment is handed down that is commensurate with the gravity of the crime." Putin signed the measure into law on July 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). Ekho Moskvy radio on July 28 quoted legal expert Mikhail Fedotov as saying that the law makes no provision for dealing with real extremism but instead is geared to fighting the opponents of the current authorities. Other media outlets noted that the law contains some vague provisions that would enable the authorities to ban people from political activity on the basis of dubious, Soviet-style charges. On April 4, the Moscow-based daily "Novye izvestia" commented that the official antiextremism campaign seeks to channel political protests so that they do not focus on the authorities and to portray the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in a favorable light. PM

PROSECUTOR WANTS 'ANTICORRUPTION CAMPAIGN'
Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika told the cabinet on December 7 that "Russia has ratified international conventions on the suppression of corruption, and we must adopt the appropriate laws and a special program in fulfillment of these conventions," Interfax reported. He added that his office "is ready for active participation in this effort." Chaika said that his office has "conducted inspections in 11 federal ministries and agencies as part of its campaign to eradicate corruption.... Following the checks, 18 orders to remedy legal violations have been issued, and warnings have been handed down to four department heads at the federal and regional levels." He did not elaborate but added that the most frequent violations involve "ignoring the requirements of federal law stipulating that officials must declare their incomes and property." President Putin recently called for ridding the State Duma of corruption. Recent studies by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the nongovernmental organization Transparency International rank corruption in Russia on a level with that in some African countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 22 and 28, 2006). PM

SAKHALIN-2 PUT ON ICE
Russia's Natural Resources Ministry said in a statement on December 7 that the Amur department of the Federal Water Resources Agency (Rosvodresursy) has temporarily revoked licenses from a subcontractor of the Sakhalin-2 gas production-sharing agreement (PSA) between Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi in Russia's Far East, Interfax reported. The statement says the subcontractor has two months to correct violations of environmental law, failing which its licenses will be withdrawn. Russia has been threatening for several months to cancel key permits at Sakhalin-2 after Shell announced the cost of the project would double (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22 and 27, and October 5 and 19, 2006). Observers suspect, however, that Moscow's real concern is not the environment -- which many Russian firms are known not to respect -- but rather a desire to renegotiate the PSAs in order to include Russian state monopolies like Gazprom and Rosneft. PM

DUMA AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA
Deputies debated and approved on December 6 two separate statements affirming support for the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian media and the State Duma's website (http://www.duma.gov.ru) reported. The statement on Abkhazia was unanimously approved by 423 votes and called on the international community to support the October 18 appeal by the Abkhaz parliament to the Russian president and legislature to recognize the republic of Abkhazia as an independent state and establish associate relations with it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). It further called on Tbilisi to comply with the October UN Security Council resolution requiring the withdrawal from the Kodori Gorge of the Georgian troops deployed there in late July. The statement in connection with the November 12 referendum in South Ossetia, in which that republic's Ossetian population reaffirmed its desire for independent statehood, was approved by 418 votes, regnum.ru reported. It noted the Georgian authorities' failure to begin a dialogue with the South Ossetian leadership, and stressed that the conflict must be resolved by peaceful means. It further blamed unnamed Western politicians who allegedly supply Georgia with weapons and thereby contribute to the likelihood of a new conflict and to the deterioration of Georgian-Russian relations. In Tbilisi, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili appealed to the international community to condemn the Duma's "unfriendly move," Caucasus Press reported on December 6. Both Bezhuashvili and Niko Gvaramia, who is deputy chairman of the parliament's Defense and Security Committee, pointed out that the Duma statements have no legal force, regnum.ru reported. Opposition parliamentarian Levan Berdzenishvili likewise dismissed the two resolutions as "senseless," Caucasus Press reported on December 6. Also on December 6, between 20,000 and 30,000 Abkhaz congregated in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum(i), to express their support for the parliament's request to Russia and the international community to recognize the republic of Abkhazia as an independent state, Russian and Georgian media reported. LF

PUTIN PROPOSES CANDIDATE FOR ADYGEYA PRESIDENT
President Putin on December 6 proposed to the Republic of Adygeya State Council the candidacy of Maykop State Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov to succeed Khazret Sovmen as republican president, Russian media reported. Tkhakushinov was one of three possible candidates suggested to Putin two months ago by presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). Supporters of Sovmen then launched a last-ditch campaign to have him reappointed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 30 and November 13, 2006). Although the State Council initially approved the candidacy of Tkhakushinov, the Union of Slavs of Adygeya has since withdrawn its support for him, chairwoman Nina Konovalova told regnum.ru on December 7. But Rashid Mugu, a member of the majority Unified Russia faction that initially put forward Tkhakushinov's name, predicted that "there will be no surprises" in the vote to endorse Tkhakushinov. LF

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER REJECTS RUMORS OF PRETERM PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on December 6, Andranik Markarian dismissed as "absurd" speculation that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian's recent increased involvement in domestic politics is in preparation for anticipated preterm presidential elections, regnum.ru reported. The Armenian Constitution bars incumbent President Robert Kocharian from seeking a third term in 2008, and Sarkisian is widely regarded as one of the most likely candidates to succeed him. On December 4, Kocharian's national-security adviser, Garnik Isagulian, told journalists that Kocharian will retain his "considerable influence" on domestic politics even after his second term expires, but he did not specify in what official capacity. LF

SUSPECT IN ARMENIAN TAX OFFICIAL'S KILLING RELEASED
Businessman Gurgen Virabian, one of two suspects in the September 6 death in a car-bomb explosion of State Tax Service department head Shahen Hovasepian, was released late on December 5 from pretrial detention due to his deteriorating health, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on December 6, quoting a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office. Virabian and his brother Armen, who worked in the department Hovasepian headed, were arrested on September 13, apparently on the basis of testimony given by Hovasepian's driver, Andranik Charchian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). A lawyer for the Virabian brothers, who deny trying to kill Hovasepian, has repeatedly rejected Charchian's testimony as false, and Armenian media reported on December 6 that Charchian intends to retract it. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL HINTS THAT PRESIDENTIAL TERM MAY BE PROLONGED
Mubariz Qurbanli, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told the website day.az in a December 7 interview that he considers incumbent President Ilham Aliyev a young, talented, and energetic leader and a worthy successor to his deceased father and predecessor Heydar Aliyev. For that reason, Qurbanli argued, it is expedient to consider, as parliamentarians proposed earlier this week, the possibility of either abolishing the article of the constitution that bars anyone from serving more than two-consecutive presidential terms, or alternatively prolonging the presidential term from five to seven years. LF

GUAM WITHDRAWS FROZEN-CONFLICTS PROPOSAL
Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on December 7 that the GUAM member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) have asked the UN General Assembly to postpone discussion, originally scheduled for December 7, of GUAM's draft resolution on so-called frozen conflicts on its members' territory, Caucasus Press reported. The website izvestia.ru attributed that request on December 7 to disagreements among the four GUAM members over the proposed text of the draft resolution. On November 21, Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, unveiled an appeal to UN member states adopted on October 4 by the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester, to reject the GUAM initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 22, 2006). That appeal argued that the decision to raise the issue with the UN General Assembly, rather than the UN Security Council, reflects a desire to enlist support for their bid to use force "to quash the legitimate aspiration of our peoples to live in...peace and equality." On December 1, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned that such a UN General Assembly debate would create obstacles to the ongoing search for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ASTANA WORTHY OF OSCE CHAIRMANSHIP
Qasymzhomart Toqaev announced in Astana on December 6 that Kazakhstan is "quite worthy of becoming the chair of the OSCE," ITAR-TASS reported. On December 5, foreign ministers from OSCE member states postponed until 2007 a decision on Kazakhstan's bid to chair the organization in 2009 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006). Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev, who is also the son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, pronounced the postponement a "victory for Kazakh diplomacy," "Kazakhstan Today" reported on December 5. Aliev noted that thanks to Nazarbaev's visits to Washington, London, and Brussels, "We still have good chances to chair the OSCE in 2009." Ministers will reconsider Kazakhstan's bid in 2007 at a meeting in Madrid. DK

U.S. SOLDIER KILLS CIVILIAN EMPLOYEE AT KYRGYZ BASE
A U.S. serviceman at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan shot and killed a local employee, a Kyrgyz national of Russian descent, on December 6, agencies reported. The Manas Air Base public affairs office released a statement saying that the shooting occurred "in response to a threat," AP reported. The report identified the man killed as Aleksandr Ivanov, an employee of a fuel company. A co-worker told AP that Ivanov was fatally shot at a checkpoint after getting out of his truck, which was reportedly carrying fuel. U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch met later on December 6 with officials at Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry, who gave her a note expressing concern and requesting clarification, akipress.org reported. For her part, Yovanovitch expressed regret and vowed a full investigation, AP reported. DK

NEW CONSTITUTION APPEARS IN KYRGYZ AND RUSSIAN
Kyrgyzstan's new constitution, which was passed by parliament on November 8 and signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev the next day, has finally been published in Kyrgyz and Russian, akipress.org reported on December 6. The delay in publication resulted from efforts by specialists to ensure that there are no discrepancies between the two texts, Tazar reported. The constitutions can be found at http://akipress.org/tmp/kon_kg.doc (Kyrgyz) and http://akipress.org/tmp/kon_kg.doc (Russian). DK

KYRGYZ STATE SECRETARY CRITICIZES 'U.S.' DEMOCRACY
Adakhan Madumarov told professors and students at Kyrgyz State University in Bishkek on December 6 that U.S.-style democracy has not brought tangible benefits to Kyrgyzstan, RIA Novosti reported. Madumarov said, "Kyrgyzstan's friends in the person of the United States are pushing the country toward democracy, where freedom of speech reigns, but we are not getting richer or better-fed from this democracy." Comparing the situation in Kyrgyzstan with neighboring Kazakhstan, Madumarov commented, "For example, in Kazakhstan there is discipline, while democracy reigns in Kyrgyzstan." Madumarov also alleged that the media in Kyrgyzstan are "shattering the process of strengthening statehood" with their insistent focus on killings and scandal. DK

TWO INTERPOL EMPLOYEES ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN ON CORRUPTION CHARGES
Tajik prosecutors have confirmed the arrest of two Interpol employees in Sughd Province on December 5 on corruption charges, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported the next day. Fayzullo Solehov, the director of Interpol's Sughd bureau, and Shahobiddin Ahmadov, were arrested on charges of extorting a $1,000 bribe from a local resident. Interpol's Khujand bureau declined comment on the incident. DK

TAJIKISTAN TO RECEIVE 80 MILLION EUROS FROM EU
Victor Andres Maldonado, head of the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia section of the European Commission, told a session of the Tajik-EU joint committee in Dushanbe on December 6 that the EU will allocate 80 million euros ($106.4 million) for poverty reduction and economic development in Tajikistan from 2007-2010, Avesta reported. The allocations are part of the EU's new assistance strategy for Central Asia, under which Tajikistan will receive 16-17 million euros in 2007. Also on December 6, Adriaan van der Meer, head of the European Commission's delegation to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe, Tajik television reported. Van der Meer commented, "We very much anticipate the joint implementation of some very important reforms, for instance in the agricultural sector, as well as the development and expansion of economic activities in Tajikistan and in other economic sectors in the future." DK

BELARUSIAN WRITERS URGE IMPRISONED OPPOSITIONIST TO END HUNGER STRIKE
The Union of Belarusian Writers and the Belarusian PEN center on December 6 adopted a joint statement urging Alyaksandr Kazulin to end his hunger strike, which he began on October 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006), Belapan reported. "He has approached the line between life and death. The authorities cynically ignore this tragic fact despite their verbal claims that human life has the highest value in the country," the statement says. Kazulin is serving his 5 1/2-year prison term in a correctional facility near Vitsebsk. JM

BELARUSIAN CATHOLICS GRANTED CONSTRUCTION PERMIT FOLLOWING PROTEST
The authorities in Hrodna, northwestern Belarus, have granted a local Roman Catholic community permission to build a new church in the city after a priest and a dozen parishioners launched a hunger strike last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2006), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on December 6. "We are satisfied with the decision and are stopping the hunger strike for the time being. But we are resolute to continue our fight for justice if need be," Reverend Alyaksandr Shemet told RFE/RL. Meanwhile, the Cabinet of Ministers' Committee for Religious and Nationality Affairs has told seven Polish priests and five Polish nuns working in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hrodna to leave Belarus by the end of this year. The committee refused to renew their work permits, citing the need to provide jobs for Belarusian graduates of the Roman Catholic seminaries in Hrodna and Pinsk. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2007 BUDGET...
The Verkhovna Rada on December 6 adopted a budget bill for 2007, Ukrainian media reported. The bill envisages government spending at 161 billion hryvnyas ($32 billion) and revenues at 147 billion hryvnyas, thus setting a budget deficit at the equivalent of some $2.8 billion. The bill projects $2 billion in income from privatizations in 2007. The bill also sets the monthly subsistence minimum at 492 hryvnyas ($97) and the monthly minimum wage at 400 hryvnyas ($79) as of 1 January 2007. JM

...AND PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM
The Verkhovna Rada on December 6 passed a privatization plan putting dozens of potentially attractive state-run enterprises up for sale, Ukrainian media reported. The bill was supported by 226 deputies, the minimum required for approval. The most valuable enterprises for sale include minority stakes in the Ukrtelekom telephone communications provider, the Odesa Port Plant producing fertilizers, and 12 regional producers and distributors of electricity. JM

SERBIA ASKS ICTY TO ALLOW RADICAL LEADER TO BE TREATED IN BELGRADE
Belgrade asked the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on December 5 to transfer Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj to a hospital in Belgrade, Reuters reported the same day. Seselj, who is on trial at the ICTY for war crimes, has been on a hunger strike since November 11. His health has seriously deteriorated and doctors say he could die within weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2006). "Having in mind that this is a case of life or death for Vojislav Seselj, it would be good if the tribunal decided for Seselj to be transferred to Belgrade to be hospitalized," Serbian Ambassador to the Netherlands Radoslav Stojanovic said after meeting with ICTY President Fausto Pocar. The tribunal had no immediate comment. BW

PARTY SAYS OSCE TO PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO SANDZAK REGION IN SERBIAN ELECTIONS
The Sandzak Democratic Party has announced that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has pledged to pay particular attention to the Sandzak region in Serbia's January 21 parliamentary elections, B92 and Beta reported on December 6. "Because of the increased accusations of the opposition political parties of irregularities during elections in Novi Pazar, Sjenice, and Tutine, the OSCE will, with the goal of securing conditions for holding fair and democratic elections, employ their observers," the Sandzak Democratic Party said in a statement. The statement added that the parties in the region will sign a code of conduct. The Sandzak Democratic Party will contest the elections as part of the Democratic Party (DS) list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 16, 2006). BW

ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTIES IN SOUTHERN SERBIA TO UNITE FOR ELECTIONS
Ragmi Mustafa, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, said on December 6 that five ethnic Albanian parties from southern Serbia have formed a united list, B92 and Beta reported the same day. Mustafa said the list for the January 21 general elections will be made up of parties that have officials in municipal administrations in Presevo and Bujanovac. The decision to unite the ethnic Albanian parties was made on December 5 at a meeting in southern Serbia that was attended by representatives from the OSCE. The candidates on the list and its leadership will be announced by the end of the week, Mustafa said. BW

EU OFFICIAL SAYS KOSOVA SITUATION UNIQUE
In comments published on December 6, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Kosova represents a unique case that requires a special solution, B92 reported the same day. In an interview with the Sarajevo-based daily "Dnevni avaz," Rehn said it is important for Kosova's final solution to be clear and unambiguous so Prishtina can begin talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU as soon as possible. "It is also important to always keep in mind that the Kosovo case is 'sui generis.' It does not present a precedent which can be used anywhere else in the world," Rehn said. BW

NATO INVITATIONS TO BE ISSUED FOR BOSNIA, SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
NATO officials said on December 6 that Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia are expected to formally join the alliance's Partnership for Peace program next week, AP reported. Citing unidentified NATO officials, AP reported that Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is expected to hand the formal invitation to representatives of the three countries on December 14. At the alliance's summit in Riga last month, NATO agreed to admit the three Balkan countries despite reservations from the ICTY about Belgrade's lack of cooperation in arresting war crimes suspects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). Unidentified diplomats said NATO wants to boost the chances of liberal pro-Western Serbian politicians in the January 21 elections. BW

BOSNIAN SERB REPUBLIC SELLS STAKE IN TELECOM TO SERBIAN COMPANY
Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska announced on December 5 that it will sell 65 percent of its telecom operator Telekom Srpske to Serbia's Telekom Srbija, international news agencies reported the same day. Telekom Srbija bid 646 million euros ($860 million), beating Telekom Austria, which offered 467 million euros ($621 million). Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik opened the two submitted bids personally at an open session of the Bosnian Serb republic's parliament on December 5, AP reported. "This money will have to reach every citizen. Half of it will be spent for helping employment and the social sector," he said. BW

THERE IS NO END NOTE TODAY


EIGHT DEAD IN SUICIDE BOMBING IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A suicide bomber detonated a bomb near the office of a U.S. security contractor on December 6 in the Afghan city of Kandahar, killing himself and seven others, AFP reported. Two Americans and five Afghans were killed outside the heavily guarded U.S. Protection and Investigation (USPI) compound; all of the dead worked for the firm, according to a statement issued by USPI. It was the sixth suicide attack in Kandahar Province in the past nine days. Texas-based USPI is one of the biggest security contractors operating in Afghanistan, where it has been working since 2002. It employs 45 expatriates and hundreds of Afghans. RR

PAKISTAN WORRIES ABOUT DRUG TRADE IN AFGHANISTAN
Pakistani Health Minister Mohammad Naseer Khan, speaking at a UN meeting in Bangalore on drug use and HIV/AIDS on December 6, expressed concern that Afghanistan's opium trade is booming while Pakistan works to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, especially among intravenous drug users, Reuters reported. Khan said that Pakistan's efforts to control the spread of the disease must coincide with measures to tackle Afghanistan's growing output of opium. "Today in Afghanistan, you have the highest production of opium to date. Ten years ago it nearly reached zero.... More has to be done by the government of Afghanistan and also all the donor agencies and coalition forces to stop that production," Khan said. "The UN is very much concerned," UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan Jan Vandemoortele told the meeting. "Our program of poppy eradication, of course, is not yielding the results required," he said. RR

FIRST DAIRY COOPERATIVE ESTABLISHED IN AFGHANISTAN
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced in Kabul on December 6 the establishment of the first ever dairy union in Afghanistan in an effort to boost production and the marketing of dairy products, IRIN reported. Approximately 400 dairy farmers from seven cooperative societies in the southeastern Logar and central Wardak provinces established the union in cooperation with the FAO and the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (MAAH), said Assadullah Azhari, FAO public information officer. Afghan Agriculture Minister Obaidullah Ramin said that the move is an important step towards developing the private sector and promoting livestock in Afghanistan, where 85 percent of the population is employed in the agriculture sector. "We are planning to create hundreds of such independent farmers' unions across the country in order to reduce food insecurity, poverty, and unemployment," Ramin said. RR

CONSENSUS ON IRAN SANCTIONS REMAINS ELUSIVE
The French government appeared to be pushing for the imposition of sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities at a Paris meeting of officials from the so-called 5+1 Group (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany) on December 6, Reuters reported. The gathering failed to decide on the draft resolution, apparently because of Russian foot-dragging. An anonymous European diplomat told Reuters, "The gap between Russian and U.S. positions is still huge." French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy acknowledged the difficult task facing the six countries, RFE/RL reported. He said in Paris, "we have to propose sanctions that all the international community agrees on but, at the same time, they have to be proportionate and reversible." He added that the objective is to tell Iran to "come back to its senses, come back to the international community" rather than being isolated, and to offer the possibility of developing its civilian nuclear program. Douste-Blazy also said, according to Reuters, that there is an urgent need to decide on a course of action because "the credibility of the United Nations Security Council is at stake." BS

IRANIANS MARK STUDENTS DAY WITH DEMONSTRATION
Hundreds of students demonstrated in Tehran on December 6, Students Day, in an event called "The University Is Alive" that was organized by the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, Radio Farda reported. Demonstrators demanded independence from government-run student organizations and criticized restrictions on the matriculation of student activists. Mohammad Hashemi, a spokesman for the Office for Strengthening Unity, told Radio Farda on December 6 that representatives from many student groups participated in the demonstration, including Kurds and Turks. Security forces cordoned off the Tehran University campus and restricted access to it, but Hashemi said there were no clashes or arrests. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER OPPOSES HOLDING MAJOR ELECTIONS SIMULTANEOUSLY
Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on December 6 that he opposes a recent legislative proposal that presidential and parliamentary elections be held simultaneously, Mehr News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2006). Haddad-Adel said he favors holding simultaneous elections, but it should be a major poll and a minor one, such as the presidential and Assembly of Experts polls, or the parliamentary and municipal council polls. Haddad-Adel also encouraged voters to turn out for the elections on December 15, IRNA reported. BS

IRAQ STUDY GROUP SUGGESTS ENGAGING IRAN
White House spokesman Tony Snow said on December 6 that the executive branch has "ruled out" direct bilateral talks with the Iranian government about Iraqi affairs, Reuters reported. There is no chance of such talks taking place, he said, "Unless Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities." Snow was reacting to the long-awaited report from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, which came out on the same day. The report urges Washington to launch a "new diplomatic offensive" that includes all the countries that are interested in Iraq's stability, "including all of Iraq's neighbors." The report advises engaging Iran and Syria, adding that Iran should stop the influx of arms into Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty, and influence Iraqi Shi'ites positively. The Iranian nuclear issue, the report continues, should be dealt with by the 5+1 group. BS

LEBANESE LEGISLATOR LEVELS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST IRAN
Lebanese parliamentarian Saad Hariri has defined the current political crisis in his country as "a real coup against Lebanese legitimacy" and a "Syrian scheme sponsored by Iran," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on December 6. The Lebanese crisis is connected, in part, with UN demands for the disarmament of the country's militias. Hizballah is the main organization that has yet to disarm, and the Hizballah leadership has defended its actions on the grounds that it is protecting Lebanon from Israel. Hariri said Hizballah's weapons were tolerated when the organization was resisting Israel, but he warned against turning the weapons against internal opponents. Hariri said the Syrian government seeks the downfall of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Several days of street demonstrations organized by Hizballah and its allies are meant to gain the party a greater say in the country's politics; the confessional system gives Shi'a, now believed to be the majority, a disproportionately small share of political offices. Hizballah seeks more cabinet seats. BS

U.S. IRAQ STUDY GROUP SAYS SITUATION 'GRAVE AND DETERIORATING'
The report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, released on December 6, described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating" and called for the United States to change its primary mission in Iraq, international media reported the same day. Although the 142-page report contained 79 recommendations, the document is nonbinding for the administration and does not carry any legal weight. One of the major recommendations is for a short-term increase in U.S. forces devoted specifically to training and equipping Iraqi security forces. It recommended that the U.S. administration "engage directly with Iran and Syria" to help end the violence in Iraq, and said Washington should "consider [offering] incentives and disincentives" for the two countries. The report said the United States should work faster to implement assistance programs in Iraq and reduce its "political, military, or economic support" for Baghdad if the Iraqi government cannot make substantial progress toward taking care of its own security. Shortly after the release of the report, U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to take it "very seriously" and to act on it in "a timely fashion." The Iraq Study Group is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton. SS

FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT APPEARS IN COURT
During the December 6 session of the Anfal trial, former President Saddam Hussein appeared in court despite an earlier threat to boycott the hearings, international media reported the same day. On December 5, Hussein allegedly sent a letter to Chief Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi accusing him and prosecutors of repeated "insults" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2006). It was unclear what prompted Hussein to appear in court. Meanwhile, a Kurdish doctor, Faiq Muhammad Ahmad Qulpy, testified about how he treated victims of a chemical attack in April 1987. Qulpy said he treated a 9-year-old boy who suffered from severe burns after he "played with pieces of a bomb that had been dropped by an Iraqi aircraft on his village." He said that the chemical attack was the first in a series of assaults by Iraqi forces against Kurds in northern Iraq. SS

TOP AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ FIGURES KILLED IN AL-BASRAH
Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said during a December 6 press conference that Iraqi forces backed by coalition troops killed two top lieutenants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri in Basra (aka Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Rubay'i said Umar al-Faruq and Abu-Taha were killed and several junior aides to al-Masri were arrested. He also said Iraqi forces recently arrested 10 leaders of the Ansar Al-Sunnah group in the towns of Bayji and Ba'qubah. "The message I would like to address to you is that with the support of the multinational forces, the Iraqi security forces have achieved great success over the past few days against the terrorist Ansar Al-Sunnah group and the terrorist Al-Qaeda organization," al-Rubay'i said. SS

ATTACK IN BAGHDAD KILLS 10
Mortar attacks on a commercial district in central Baghdad on December 6 killed 10 people and wounded more than 50, international media reported the same day. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said eight mortar rounds landed in the Al-Midan district in central Baghdad. Elsewhere, fierce clashes were reported between Shi'ite militias and armed Sunni residents in the predominantly Sunni Al-Adil district of Baghdad. An Interior Ministry official said members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, invaded the Sunni neighborhood, firing mortars and clashing with residents. The ministry said five people were wounded in the clashes. SS

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