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Newsline - January 17, 2007


RUSSIA GOES ON TERROR ALERT
The authorities across the Russian Federation took various measures to strengthen security for military facilities, state infrastructure, public transportation, pipelines, and other potential terrorist targets following a warning on January 16 by Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) and National Counterterrorism Committee, that Russia has received word from unnamed foreign sources of a possible terrorist attack on ground transportation and an unnamed subway system, Russian news agencies reported. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on January 17 that "the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has taken additional measures to protect the most important military, state, and government facilities. As a whole, the armed forces continue to operate in a normal mode." Colonel General Nikolai Rogozhkin, who commands the Interior Ministry's troops, said that his forces are on high alert and that a total of 5,000 men have been added to the usual forces guarding the subways in Moscow and St. Petersburg and public transportation in "other major centers." Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov noted that security has been stepped up around transportation facilities throughout the capital. In the Far East, officials in Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky said that security has been tightened around ports and shipping facilities, Interfax reported. Interior Ministry officials in Vladivostok said in a statement that "police have been alerted to pay special attention to unattended baggage and have ordered more careful [documentation] checks of suspicious citizens." It did not specify how "suspicious citizens" might be identified. Reuters reported from Moscow that "focus on who would attack Russia [has] turned to Chechnya." In Washington, D.C., on January 16, a spokesman for the FBI declined to confirm or deny that his organization had provided the FSB the information about a possible terrorist attack, RIA Novosti reported. Since the Beslan hostage taking in September 2004, the Chechen resistance and groups elsewhere in Russia aligned with it have said repeatedly that they will in future target only military installations and energy infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines, but not civilians. PM

DEFENSE MINISTER CONFIRMS MISSILE SALE TO IRAN
Defense Minister Ivanov said on January 16 that Russia's long-planned sale to Iran of Tor-M1 antiaircraft-missile systems has gone ahead, news agencies reported. He noted that "we have supplied the modern Tor-M1 short-range air-defense-missile systems to Iran in accordance with [our] contract." Ivanov explained that the recent UN resolution imposing sanctions on Iran does not extend to contracts signed previously, and added that those sanctions do not bar it from acquiring defensive equipment. Iran is, however, under UN sanctions banning it from acquiring nuclear-related technology and materials, and the missile deal with Russia has drawn criticism from Western governments. Ivanov argued that "we develop our military and technological cooperation with Iran, based on international law... If the Iranian leadership has a desire to purchase more defensive weapons for the needs of their armed forces, then why not?" In Washington on January 16, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the sale sends a wrong signal at a time when the international community is trying to pressure Iran over its nuclear activities. Casey stressed that "we certainly don't want to see any kind of lethal aid or assistance given to any country that's a state sponsor of terror. And as we've said, Iran is the leading state sponsor in the world" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 27, 2006). PM

MINISTER DENIES ILL RECRUIT WAS VICTIM OF BULLYING
Defense Minister Ivanov said in Moscow on January 16 that Private Roman Rudakov, who has been hospitalized in intensive care in St. Petersburg for four months, is not a victim of bullying, news.ru reported. Ivanov argued that "this case has absolutely nothing to do with order and discipline in the army -- it is an exclusively medical case." He added that Rudakov "has had a total of 10 operations, and military medics are doing, and will do, everything to save the life of this young man." Rudakov's sister, Svetlana, said in St. Petersburg that he told her in his letters that he had been forced to help construct a building for the military command under very difficult conditions. On January 15, the Soldiers' Mothers Committee said in a statement in St. Petersburg that the soldier has only months to live and is in need of an operation. Military prosecutors are investigating whether his condition is the result of hazing or of medical problems. General Igor Puzanov, who commands the Leningrad Military District, said recently that Rudakov has a serious blood disease that could have become aggravated by "a glass of Coca-Cola or a runny nose." The issue of hazing in the military has been prominent in the media since early 2006, following a particularly gruesome incident at the start of that year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 29, August 4, and October 13, 2006). PM

MINISTRY LAUNCHES PUBLIC RELATIONS EFFORT
In Moscow on January 16, Ivanov and his leading generals heard many opinions about the state and image of the military at the first session of the new Public Council for the Defense Ministry, which was created at the behest of President Vladimir Putin to help improve the image of the armed forces, news.ru reported. Ivanov said that the armed forces will not phase out conscription completely as they move to a contract system. He noted that the military does not have the money to dispense with draftees completely, and that a purely contract army would not be in keeping with "the historical and cultural traditions of Russia." He added that the U.S. experience in Iraq shows the need for a large mobile reserve force. Ivanov stressed that the modern world is fraught with dangers unknown in the past, Interfax reported. He said that "the world is changing dynamically, and the threats are changing with a kaleidoscopic rapidity. The Cold War era, when everything was predictable and precalculated, was paradise compared to the present days." He noted specifically the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation. The Public Council, which includes clerics, pop stars, and others from many walks of life, is chaired by Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning filmmaker known for his pro-imperial and monarchist views (see "Russia: The Fiction And Fact Of Empire," rferl.org, November 3, 2006). PM

IS ANOTHER GAS DISPUTE IN THE MAKING?
Poland's state-owned gas monopoly PGNiG said on January 16 that Gazprom "has partially suspended cooperation" with the operator of the Polish segment of a gas pipeline running to Western Europe, mosnews.com reported on January 17. PGNiG did not say what the practical effects of the alleged Russian move might be, but noted that followed PGNiG's rejection of a Gazprom request for lower transit fees for the transit of Russian gas through the Yamal-Europe pipeline. A Gazprom official acknowledged disagreements over tariffs but denied any suspension of cooperation or attempt to influence the pipeline operator. PGNiG and Gazprom each own 48 percent of the Yamal-Europe pipeline operator EuRoPol Gaz, with PGNiG indirectly controlling the remaining 4 percent. PM

GAZPROM SEEKS TO BOOST ITS IMAGE
A spokesman for Gazprom confirmed on January 16 that his company has hired Philip Dewhurst, a high-profile public relations director from the British nuclear industry, to spearhead a campaign to improve Gazprom's marketing efforts in London, "The Moscow Times" reported on January 17. The daily "Kommersant" noted on January 16 that Gazprom is offering a consortium of Western public relations firms a total of $11 million over a three-year period to help polish up its image abroad in the wake of recent energy disputes with several neighboring countries. The daily "Izvestia," which is owned by Gazprom, suggested on January 17 that "EU leaders and the Western media are gradually becoming less aggressive in their evaluations of the Russian-Belarusian conflict. But this doesn't mean that the damage done to Russia's reputation as an energy supplier has been repaired entirely" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 8, 9, 10, and 11, 2007). PM

ONLY 17 POLITICAL PARTIES TO SURVIVE UNDER NEW LAWS
Under legislation that came into effect on January 1, only 17 of the 32 currently registered political parties will be able to keep that status, RIA Novosti reported on January 17. The others will be dissolved or have the possibility of transforming themselves into "public movements," an official of the Federal Registration Service said. Critics charge that the new legislation is aimed at further reducing the challengers to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and the new "manufactured opposition" party known as A Just Russia in the run-up to the 2007 parliamentary elections. In that vote, the 17 parties now permitted to register will have poll a minimum 7 percent of the vote, instead of the previous 5 percent, to qualify for parliamentary representation. To be entitled to register under the new laws, a party must have at least 50,000 members nationwide and have its own organizations in at least 44 of the 88 federation subjects, with at least 500 members in each of those chapters. On January 17, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" quoted Valery Fedorov, who heads the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), as saying that the dissolution of the 15 parties will not lead "to any serious changes in the political system." PM

FORMER LOCAL LAND-REGISTRY OFFICIAL KILLED BY CAR BOMB
Valery Yakovlev, who is a former head of the local land registry for Moscow's posh Odintsovsky district, was killed on January 16 when a bomb demolished his car, the daily "Kommersant" reported on January 17. The paper suggested that his death might have been linked to unspecified land deals, which require the approval of his former office to take effect and are often very lucrative. The recent influx of millions of petrodollars has led to a real estate boom in Moscow, sending prices soaring and leading to the massive demolition of old buildings and the construction of new structures. PM

PROSECUTORS CHARGE BANKER IN MURDER CASE
On January 17, the Prosecutor-General's Office formally charged banker Aleksei Frenkel with ordering the September murder of Central Bank official Andrei Kozlov, who led efforts against money laundering, news.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12 and 16, 2007). Frenkel, who has been in police detention since January 11, maintains his innocence. PM

TATAR LEADER SLAMS GROWTH OF RUSSIAN EXTREMISM
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 in Kazan on January 16 that the recent "powerful growth of the self-awareness of the Russian people" has led to "manifestations of extremism," including the skinhead movement, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). He noted that the "manifestations" do not "reflect state policy, [and] we should make an objective distinction" between the two. He nonetheless called extremism a "disastrous" phenomenon and urged ethnic minorities to "think about our constructive role in the growth of the self-awareness of the Russian people in order to prevent it taking extremist forms.... This is a very serious problem. We should be able to traverse this path in a civilized way until the intensity of the growth of self-awareness becomes more stable." He argued that isolation and globalization are equally dangerous for any national culture. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on January 16 that the recent multiple stabbing of an antiextremism activist in St. Petersburg shows that that city "is on the way to becoming a battlefield for extremist groups and antifascist organizations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2006). The daily "Novye izvestia" noted on January 16 that the killing suggests that pacifism has become "mortally dangerous" in St. Petersburg. PM

OSCE OFFICIAL ASSESSES PROSPECTS FOR ARMENIAN ELECTION
Ambassador Christian Strohal, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), met in Yerevan on January 15 and 16 with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, and other officials to discuss the preparations for the parliamentary elections due in May, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The parliament press service quoted Strohal as having told Torosian that there are "good prerequisites" for ensuring that the vote meets democratic standards, and that it should mark "a turning point" in Armenia's transition to democracy. ODIHR monitors assessed all previous Armenian national elections over the past decade as failing to meet international standards for a free and fair ballot. Torosian also told Strohal that a formal invitation to ODIHR to monitor the May election will be issued as soon as President Kocharian sets the date of the ballot, which he is expected to do in early February. LF

AZERBAIJANI POW REPATRIATED
The authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh handed over to International Committee of the Red Cross representatives on January 16 in Aghdam Azerbaijani serviceman Eldaniz Quliyev, Noyan Tapan and echo-az.com reported on January 16 and 17, respectively. Quliyev was taken prisoner on December 31 after inadvertently crossing the Line of Contact. A second Azerbaijani serviceman, Samir Mammadov, who was captured on December 24, is still being held, despite the agreement reached last October between the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan that all prisoners should be handed back within three days, echo-az.com noted. The two ministers may meet again this month, day.az reported on November 11. LF

COUNTERFEIT NATIONAL CURRENCY SURFACES IN AZERBAIJAN
An indeterminate quantity of counterfeit manat banknotes are currently in circulation in Azerbaijan, day.az reported on January 16. Only lower denomination notes (of one, five, and 20 manats) have been intercepted to date. Azerbaijan introduced new banknotes last year when the currency was redenominated, and the new bills have multiple security features to deter counterfeiters. In April 2001, the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry reported that counterfeit manats were being manufactured in Tabriz and Iranian Kurdistan for shipping to and circulation within Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIA CALLS FOR DEMILITARIZATION, DEMINING OF SOUTH OSSETIAN CONFLICT ZONE
Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze released a statement on January 16 calling for the complete demilitarization of the South Ossetian conflict zone after two Russian peacekeepers were wounded by a land mine in the village of Tsveriakho the previous day, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. South Ossetia's Foreign Ministry blamed Georgia for the blast, which it claimed was intended to destabilize the situation and discredit the Russian peacekeeping force. Antadze on January 16 rejected those allegations as an attempt to mislead the international community; South Ossetian Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzayev in turn rejected Antadze's call for demilitarization as "cynical," Caucasus Press reported. Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the OSCE Mission to Georgia, was quoted by Caucasus Press on January 17 as saying that the OSCE has both the experience and the resources to undertake the demining of the conflict zone. He added that such explosions have occurred more frequently since 2004 when, he said, both sides began laying land mines without keeping detailed maps of their location. Vladimir Sanakoyev, chairman of the pro-Tbilisi Ossetian Salvation Union, similarly called on January 16 for the removal of all land mines from the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. Also on January 16, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity met in Tskhinvali with an EU delegation that included special envoy Peter Semneby and Hugues Mingarelli, who is European Commission director for Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia, Caucasus Press reported. Kokoity reaffirmed his readiness to cooperate with those foreign partners "who are interested in preserving peace and developing trust between the conflict sides." LF

STUDY SAYS KAZAKHSTAN TOP MIGRANT MAGNET IN REGION
A new study by the World Bank has found that Kazakhstan is the ninth most popular destination worldwide for migrants and the top destination for migrants from neighboring Central Asian states, Kazinform and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on January 16. The report, titled "Migration and Remittances: Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union," forecasts that labor migration will continue to grow and urged the countries involved to coordinate policy better. The study found that, according to 2003 data, the top 10 countries receiving migrants were, in order: the United States, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Kazakhstan, and Poland. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT NOMINATES ACTING PREMIER TO KEEP POST
President Kurmanbek Bakiev has nominated acting Prime Minister Feliks Kulov to head the new government, Kabar reported on January 16. Lawmaker Kamchybek Tashiev told akipress.org that parliament's Constitutional Law Committee will review Kulov's candidacy on January 17, after which the legislature will vote on it. Iskhak Masaliev, who heads the committee, told the news agency that Kulov's chances of holding on to his post are "50-50." DK

TAJIK ECONOMY EXPANDED 7 PERCENT IN 2006
Tajikistan's GDP rose 7 percent in 2006 to 9.272 billion somonis ($2.6 billion), Avesta reported on January 15, citing data from the country's State Statistics Committee. The report noted that goods produced made up 45.3 percent of GDP, services 43.6 percent, and taxes 11.1 percent. DK

TAJIK PRESIDENT STRESSES COOPERATION ON VISIT TO CHINA
President Imomali Rakhmonov attended a Chinese-Tajik business and investment forum in Beijing on January 16, Xinhua reported. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi told forum attendees that China intends to bolster business ties between the two countries. Tajik presidential spokesman Abdufattoh Sharipov told Asia Plus-Blitz on January 16 that Chinese President Hu Jintao, who met with Rakhmonov on January 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2007), has "instructed the Chinese government to provide Tajikistan with 70 million yuans ($9 million) in no-strings-attached aid." DK

CHINA TO DELIVER $200 MILLION IN DRILLING EQUIPMENT TO UZBEKISTAN
China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) will deliver $200 million worth of drilling equipment to state-run Uzbek oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz, uzreport.com reported on January 16. Under a December 25, 2006, contract, CNPC will supply 23 drilling units to Uzbekneftegaz over the next 15 months. DK

NEW UZBEK MEDIA LAW GOES INTO EFFECT
President Islam Karimov has signed amendments to the country's media law tightening state control over the press, press-uz.info and "Narodnoe Slovo" reported on January 16. The new legislation, which went into effect on January 15, bars legal entities in which foreigners hold stakes of at least 30 percent from setting up media outlets in Uzbekistan. It also makes all media outlets responsible for the "objectivity" of their coverage and sets stringent guidelines for covering religious extremism and separatism, AP reported. In the wake of unrest in Andijon in May 2005, Uzbekistan has tightened media controls and expelled a number of foreign media organizations, including RFE/RL (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 13, 2005). DK

GERMANY SAYS BELARUSIAN ELECTIONS FELL SHORT OF DEMOCRATIC STANDARDS
The German government that currently holds the EU Presidency said in a January 15 statement that local elections in Belarus did not meet democratic standards, Belapan reported on January 16. "The European Union has received reports of police raids on campaign offices, the registration of candidates being hampered, and the arrest of opposition politicians and Belarusian election monitors," the statement read. "The practice of early voting, in some cases under duress, a process particularly prone to falsification, was used again. State agencies influenced the elections at all levels in favor of pro-government candidates." The German government expressed the EU's readiness to cooperate with Belarus within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, but stressed that the Belarusian authorities should first "clearly state" their commitment to democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law. AM

BELARUS COUNTERS ELECTION CRITICISM
Central Election Commission Secretary Mikalay Lazavik said on January 16 that European criticism over Belarus's local elections is groundless, Belapan reported. "It is strange to hear such statements from the heads of the organizations that were not in the country, [and] did not observe preparations for the elections and the vote itself," Lazavik said in response to statements by the German government and the EU external relations commissioner. Lazavik suggested that the statements were based on "allegations" made by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC). "I must say that the BHC did not send a single observer to polling stations," Lazavik said. He also accused the United States of criticizing the elections before they started and said the European Union echoes "the same ungrounded assessment supported by no arguments." AM

BELARUSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS RUSSIA MISCALCULATED ITS MEASURE OF SUPPORT
Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakou disagrees with Russian President Vladimir Putin's estimates of Russia's financial support to Belarus, Belapan reported on January 16. Putin recently said that Belarusian-Russian agreements on gas and crude-oil supplies to Belarus in 2007 were in effect a subsidy of $5.8 billion to Minsk. Kabyakou said that estimate is based on "inaccurate calculations." "It is necessary to base [one's calculations] on the economy of agreements currently in force and the sides' mutual obligations for giving such assessments," Kabyakou said, recalling that Belarus and Russia have agreements on free trade. "If someone is going to fulfill one thing and not to fulfill another...the Belarusian side will naturally treat facilities on our territory in the same way. This naturally concerns both payments for land and...military facilities," Kabyakou said. AM

BELARUS PROPOSES ENERGY TALKS TO EUROPEAN COMMISSION
German Ambassador to Belarus Martin Hecker said on January 16 that the Belarusian government has proposed to the European Commission a dialogue on energy issues, Belapan reported. "Brussels usually studies such proposals very thoroughly and slowly because of the need to follow all procedures, but the European Commission has already announced its readiness for a dialogue on energy," Hecker said, adding that the proposal is of particular significance in the context of the recent Belarus-Russia energy dispute but that, in general, "this is quite a common occurrence." AM

INJURED UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER IN INTENSIVE CARE
Yevhen Kushnaryov, deputy chairman of the Party of Regions caucus in the Verkhovna Rada, was wounded on January 16 during a hunting trip, Interfax reported. Party of Regions lawmaker Hanna Herman told the agency Kushnaryov was taken to the hospital emergency room with a gunshot wound to his liver. Kushnaryov remains in the intensive-care unit of an Izyumin hospital, in the Kharkiv region. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on January 17, Kushnaryov's condition is critical. Police are investigating the incident. AM

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CALLS TARASYUK'S OUSTING 'ARTIFICIAL DRAMA'
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a January 16 statement that it informed Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in advance about Foreign Minister Borys Tarsyuk's official visit to the Czech Republic earlier this week, Interfax reported. Yanukovych has demanded Tarasyuk's ouster, saying he "cannot be considered an official who is authorized by the state to conduct an official visit abroad" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2007). "The artificial making of a drama about the official visit of Foreign Minister Tarasyuk is harming Ukraine's image," the Foreign Ministry statement said, adding that "this visit was agreed with head of state Viktor Yushchenko." AM

BOSNIAN WAR CRIMES COURT ENTERS PLEAS FOR TWO HUNGER-STRIKING DEFENDANTS
The War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Court on January 15 entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of two Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects, Reuters reported the same day. The two, who are among a group of hunger-striking war crimes defendants, refused to enter pleas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11 and 16, 2007). Mitar Rasevic and Savo Todovic, former detention-camp guards, have been charged with the imprisonment and persecution of non-Serbs in and around Foca during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. "The accused chose not to be present to enter the plea and therefore I record that both the accused entered a plea of not guilty," Judge Pietro Spera said. "The accused are free to declare themselves guilty any time in the future." BW

ONE RIGHTS GROUP CRITICIZES SERBIA FOR FAILURE TO CONFRONT PAST...
A report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized Serbia for an unwillingness to confront its past, B92 reported on January 15. "The Serbian government's unwillingness to confront the past seriously, as well as delays in undertaking legal and other reforms, contributed to a still unsatisfactory human rights situation in 2006," the report said. "The authorities' failure to locate Bosnian Serb wartime General Ratko Mladic undermined relations with the European Union and United States, and destabilized the governing coalition, in turn setting back its reform agenda." The report also expressed concern about political interference in the judiciary and about the conditions of the Romany minority. It noted the positive development that the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court has been conducting trials in 2006, although the overall number remains low. BW

...AND ANOTHER ASSAILS SERBIAN KINDERGARTEN FOR NOT RESPECTING MUSLIM DIET
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia has criticized the policy of serving pork at a kindergarten that includes Muslim children, B92 and UPI reported on January 15. Parents of Muslim children attending the Nova Varos kindergarten have protested the practice, but the school's principal said religious customs could not be observed at such an institution. In a statement, the committee called the practice "yet another example of discriminatory behavior in Serbia, whose citizens are well aware that Muslim religious code prohibits the use of pork." The committee also called on all institutions to show "respect [for] cultural and religious identity," as opposed to "the...discrimination displayed so far." Muslims account for approximately 8.5 percent of Nova Varos's population. BW

SERBIAN PREMIER REFUSES TO REVEAL COALITION INTENTIONS
Vojislav Kostunica said on January 16 that he will not reveal which parties his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) will consider forming a coalition with until after the January 21 elections, B92 reported the same day. "In normal democratic societies, talk about coalitions starts after the elections," Kostunica said in an interview with B92 television. He added that cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and integration with the European Union are his main goals. Many analysts say a coalition between Kostunica's DSS and President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) would assure a pro-European liberal government. There are also fears that divisions between the two parties could open the door for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) to enter government. BW

KOSOVAR NEGOTIATOR SAYS ESSENCE OF STATUS REPORT MORE IMPORTANT THAN DETAILS
Hashim Thaci, a member of Kosova's final-status negotiating team, said that the essence of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal for the province is more important than the specific procedures it endorses, B92 and Beta reported on January 16. "I am convinced that Martti Ahtisaari's proposal will be in line with the interest and the will of the citizens of Kosova to have an independent and a sovereign state," Thaci told reporters in Prishtina. Press reports citing unidentified officials say Ahtisaari will propose a form of "supervised independence" for the province that will stop short of recommending full independence, but leave the possibility open for individual states to recognize Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 5, 2007). BW

THERE IS NO END NOTE TODAY


AFGHAN INTELLIGENCE ARRESTS PURPORTED TALIBAN SPOKESMAN
Afghan intelligence agents arrested Dr. Mohammad Hanif, the purported chief Taliban spokesman, on January 15 as he attempted to enter the country at a border crossing at Torkham, Pakistan, AP reported the next day. Hanif often contacted the Pakistani and Afghan media claiming to speak on behalf of the Taliban. Hanif provided purported statements from Taliban chief Mullah Omar and acted as the supposed liaison for an e-mail interview with Omar published in early January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 4, 2007). Hanif contacted an AP reporter as recently as January 11 to refute NATO claims that its troops killed as many as 150 insurgents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11, 2007). Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghan intelligence, did not comment on where Hanif was being held, afgha.com reported on January 16. No official comment from the Taliban has been released since Hanif's reported capture. JC

GATES MEETS WITH AFGHAN PRESIDENT, REAFFIRMS U.S. COMMITMENT TO AFGHANISTAN
Visiting Kabul on January 16, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reiterated Washington's commitment to restore peace and rebuild Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the same day. Speaking jointly with President Hamid Karzai, Gates said the U.S. will maintain the strategic partnership between the 26 NATO members and the Afghan government to achieve peace and stability in the country. Gates identified the crossing of militants from Pakistan as the cause of the recent increase in the insurgency in the southern region of Afghanistan and said the United States is working closely with Islamabad to address cross-border infiltration and pursue terrorists hiding along the border. Gates also said he will discuss with President George W. Bush the possibility of sending more troops to Afghanistan if the coalition commanders consider it necessary. JC

NEW KABUL POLICE CHIEF TAKES OFFICE
Major General Esmatullah Daulatzai became Kabul police chief on January 14 during a ceremony at police headquarters, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the same day. Daulatzai was appointed police chief the previous day, replacing Amanullah Guzar, who was removed in a large reshuffling of provincial interior ministers and police chiefs as part of the government's police reform program to curb corruption, Bakhtar News Agency reported the same day. Daulatzai said at the ceremony that he will try to strengthen security in the capital, but that this cannot be accomplished without the help of the people. Before being named head of Kabul's police, Daulatzai served as regional commander of the Kandahar zone. Daulatzai was one of 40 officials -- including 16 provincial police chiefs -- who were removed or reshuffled in the third phase of the police department reforms program. JC

NURISTAN PROVINCIAL COUNCIL MEMBER SHOT DEAD
Armed men shot dead Ahmad Shah Wakilzada, the deputy head of the Nuristan provincial council, as he traveled to the capital of the province, Kamdesh, on January 15, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the same day. Wakilzada was shot in the Nangraj district, according to provincial security chief General Ghulamullah. Wakilzada was the son of a former Wolesi Jirga member, Mohammad Sakhi. In October 2006, Kandahar provincial council member Mohammad Younas Husseini and Faryab provincial council member Sayed Noor Mohammad Agha were killed by unidentified gunmen in Kandahar in separate incidents. Ghulamullah said he suspects antigovernment insurgents were responsible for Wakilzada's death and has launched an investigation. JC

CORRECTION:
In the "RFE/RL Newsline" item "U.S. Senator Heads Three-Member Delegation To Afghanistan" on January 16, the U.S. congressmen who visited Afghanistan should have been identified as Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrat, New York) and Evan Bayh (Democrat, Indiana) and Representative John McHugh (Republican, New York).

IRANIAN CLERIC DENOUNCES U.S. ROLE IN REGION
Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in Tehran on January 16 that Iran's is a peaceful nuclear program and the country has never been a threat to regional states, despite the divisive accusations of its enemies, IRNA reported. He said in a meeting with Indian Ambassador Manbir Singh that "unfortunately with America's influence and temptations among certain regional states, concerns have arisen about Iran," although Iran's history since its 1979 revolution has shown that it is not a regional threat. He said that "colonial states" are working to "create religious discord in [Saudi] Arabia," while the "Hijaz region, for its importance to all Muslims, must be a secure region, but unfortunately negative policies have been recently noted there." He did not elaborate. Jannati added that "the terrorists in Iraq are protected by America," and he expressed hope "intelligent rulers" will take office in the United States "and put aside anti-popular policies." He also stressed that Iran has so far "not violated international regulations" over its nuclear program "nor will it, and only seeks to make peaceful use of nuclear energy." But it would not submit to resolutions, he said. VS

GERMAN ENVOY SEES TALKS AS SOLUTION IN ATOMIC DOSSIER
Germany's ambassador to Iran, Herbert Honsowitz, told the IRNA and Fars news agencies on January 16 that the European Union considers talks the only path to a solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program, IRNA reported. Germany currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. Honsowitz said the ball is now in Iran's court, following the UN resolution issued on December 23, designed to end atomic-fuel making and related activities by Iran. Honsowitz denied in his interview that the EU walked out of talks with Iran, countering that it was Iran that ended talks and failed to honor commitments made to the EU. Honsowitz said that UN Security Council Resolution 1737, approved on December 23, envisages certain sanctions on Iran that may be imposed after 60 days, but leaves open the door to renewed talks. Iran has 60 days from the resolution to decide if it will follow the Security Council's demands, he said, adding that everything would depend on Iran's response and the next report to be given to the Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, IRNA reported. VS

SAUDI ARABIA UNWILLING TO MEDIATE BETWEEN IRAN, U.S.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a January 16 news conference in Riyadh that his country will not mediate between Iran and the United States, Radio Farda reported, citing Western media. Reuters quoted the Iranian Foreign Ministry as denying the same day that it has asked for any mediation. Reuters quoted an unnamed Saudi official as saying that when Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani met with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh on January 14, he gave him a message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asking the monarch to convey an Iranian message of goodwill to Washington. The visit has been reported more simply in Iranian media as an opportunity to promote improved Shi'ite-Sunni relations. Saud al-Faisal was speaking at a January 16 joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. U.S. officials have accused Iran of obstructing its efforts to stabilize Iraq, and of intending to build nuclear bombs. Rice said the issue is not of a conflict between Iran and the United States, but rather of Iran responding to the "requirements of the international community," notably on its atomic program. "There is no need for mediation," AFP reported her as saying. VS

IRAN'S CHIEF JUSTICE WANTS CONSCIENTIOUS JUDGES
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi told a gathering of judicial trainees in Tehran on January 16 that judges must be responsible for their decisions, which he said affect essential aspects of Iranians' lives, IRNA reported. Shahrudi, who took over the judiciary in 1999, has frequently criticized the performance of the apparatus he runs. He told the gathering of trainee judges that, as judges, they would deal with "people's lives and secrets...their families, honor, and reputations," and "the slightest fault or mistake" would entail "grave harm." Shahrudi said judges differ from other officials and must be aware of their own weaknesses and desires. Lawyers, "fixers," and the rich will come to them, he said, to persuade or influence them. "You must recognize them well and avoid them," Shahrudi said. He said "do not shut your eyes to problems" nor "think that you must only decide on the basis of legal stipulations. Inspect detention centers and see what is going on in there." Shahrudi urged the trainees to be patient, inquisitive, and respectful of "people's rights...[and] maintain their dignity and do not crush people's personalities in courts." "Know that you are in a position of power and [the defendant] may be afraid," IRNA quoted him as saying. VS

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT CAUGHT BY SURPRISE BY EXECUTIONS...
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said during an interview with Britain's Channel 4 News on January 15 that he was caught off-guard by the executions of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar, two top officials in the government of former President Saddam Hussein. "We were consulted and I was caught by surprise because the Presidency Council had made an appeal to postpone this execution, but nevertheless this execution was effected by the government without any prior consultation with us," al-Hashimi said. On January 10, President Jalal Talabani called for a delay in the executions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11, 2007). According to Iraqi law, the tripartite Presidency Council is supposed to ratify execution orders before they are carried out. Al-Hashimi also expressed reservations over the way the executions were conducted, an apparent reference to the decapitation of Barzan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2007). On January 15, the government showed a video of the hangings to a selected group of journalists in an effort to counter criticism that Barzan and al-Bandar were mistreated. SS

...AND ACCUSES IRAN OF PLAYING DANGEROUS ROLE IN IRAQ
Vice President al-Hashimi on January 16 accused Iran of inflaming sectarian tensions in Iraq, the London-based "Al-Hayat" reported the same day. "Our neighbors in the east [Iran] are playing a catastrophic role inside Iraq. We have plenty of evidence that Iran has become a big partner in Iraq," al-Hashimi said. He said that the recent U.S. raid on an Iranian consular office in Irbil on January 11 and the arrest of four Iranian officials in Baghdad in December 2006 were indications that Iran is interfering in Iraq's affairs. Al-Hashimi added that the Sunni Arabs, who are widely assumed to be behind the insurgency, want nothing more than to be genuinely included in the political process. "They [Sunnis] do not care who rules Iraq, provided that the ruler complies with democracy, protects the interests of all the Iraqis without discrimination, and respects human rights," he said. SS

UN SAYS MORE THAN 34,000 KILLED IN IRAQ IN 2006
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) announced on January 16 that at least 34,452 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2006, international media reported the same day. That figure is more than double that cited by the Iraqi government on January 1, when it announced that 14,298 civilians were killed in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of UNAMI's office in Baghdad, also announced that 36,685 Iraqi civilians were wounded last year. He said 6,376 civilians were killed in December alone, 4,731 of them in Baghdad. Magazzeni said the numbers were compiled from information obtained through the Health Ministry, hospitals across the country, and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad. "Without significant progress in the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control," Magazzeni warned. There was no immediate response from the Iraqi government, but it has disputed previous UN casualty figures, describing them "inaccurate and exaggerated." SS

BAGHDAD ATTACKS KILL DOZENS
A double bombing at a Baghdad university on January 16 killed 60 Iraqis and wounded more than 110, international media reported the same day. Local police said a car bomb went off near the main gate of Al- Mustansiriyah University as students were leaving the campus, and moments later a suicide bomber blew himself up. "The majority of those killed are female students who were on their way home," an official at the university's media office told Reuters the same day. Another double bombing at a Baghdad market on January 16 killed at least 15 Iraqis and wounded more than 70, international media reported the same day. The first blast took place as people milled about at a market in Baghdad's Bab al-Sheikh neighborhood. Then as onlookers gathered at the site of the first attack, a second blast went off. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry said that a bomb went off the same day on a bus in Al-Sadr City, killing four people and wounding more than 10. SS

IRAQI TURKOMAN LEADER SAYS KIRKUK SHOULD HAVE SPECIAL STATUS
Sadettin Ergec, the leader of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, said in Ankara on January 15 that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk should be granted special status, the Ankara Anatolia news agency reported the same day. "Kirkuk is not a normal province. Rather, it is Iraq's national asset. Therefore, all the Iraqis should have a say in its future," he said. Ergec was addressing a panel called "Kirkuk 2007," sponsored by the Global Strategy Institute. The panel's aim is to discuss the future of Kirkuk with the participation of Iraqi Sunni, Shi'ite, Turkoman, and Assyrian groups. However, no representatives from Iraqi Kurdish groups were invited, but the organization committee said they were asked to send their written views. Ergec also said that the Turkomans will do everything to ensure the unity and integrity of Iraq, and he stressed that it is absolutely necessary that the central government have control over Kirkuk. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution calls for the "normalization" of Kirkuk, after which a referendum is to be carried out sometime in 2007 to determine whether the city is to be part of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. SS

IRAQI FORCES ARREST 92 SUSPECTED MILITANTS NEAR BAGHDAD
The Iraqi Defense Ministry announced on January 15 that Iraqi forces have arrested 92 suspected militants and seized a large cache of weapons south of Baghdad, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "In a preemptive and qualitative operation, Iraqi security forces raided hideouts of terrorists in the Sayyid Abdallah region of Al-Mahmudiyah. The operation ended in the arrest of 92 terrorists, including 40 wanted men. The forces also seized caches of weapons," the ministry said in a statement. SS

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