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Newsline - January 26, 2007


RUSSIA, U.S. TRADE CHARGES OVER MISSILE-DEFENSE SYSTEM
Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said in Washington on January 25 that the missile-defense system the United States wants to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic is not aimed against Russia, but against a potential long-range missile threat from Iran or other "rogue nations," news agencies reported. Obering acknowledged there is currently no long-range Iranian missile threat. He stressed, however, that the United States wants to anticipate where a threat may develop in the future and plan accordingly. Obering rejected Russian statements that the project could upset the regional security balance, saying there is no way the planned system could neutralize the large Russian arsenal. The United States wants to establish up to 10 ground-based missile interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar station in the Czech Republic. Poland and the Czech Republic have agreed to start discussions with the United States on hosting the facilities. Speaking in New Delhi on January 24, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reiterated recent Russian criticism of the U.S. plans, suggesting that the system is directed against Russia, news.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22 and 24, 2007). On January 26, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that the U.S. plans amount to "a move in the wrong direction" that could threaten global security, RIA Novosti and mid.ru reported. He stressed that "the deployment of a U.S. antimissile base in Europe is nothing but an attempt to reconfigure the United States' military presence in the region." He repeated a previous Russian call for talks between Moscow on one side and Washington and its allies on the other. PM

IS U.S. HINTING AT NEW SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA OVER IRANIAN ARMS SALES?
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested on January 24 that the United States might consider additional sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its recent and long-planned delivery of Tor-M1 antiaircraft-missile systems to Iran, news.ru and mosnews.com reported on January 25. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a second U.S. diplomat said on January 24 that any new sanctions would most likely be directed against specific Russian arms sellers rather than against the government, pravda.ru reported on January 25. It is not clear to what extent Washington might already be preparing any new sanctions. State arms trader Rosoboroneksport is currently under U.S. sanctions for alleged violations of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006, and January 23, 2007). Moscow maintains that it is doing nothing illegal in selling Iran defensive weaponry, whereas Washington stresses that the sale sends a wrong signal at a time when the international community is trying to pressure Iran over its nuclear activities. PM

PUTIN ENDS INDIAN VISIT WITH 'MUCH POMP BUT LITTLE SUBSTANCE'
Speaking after meeting in New Delhi with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 25, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that "energy security is the most important emerging dimension of our strategic partnership," Britain's "Financial Times" reported on January 26 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23 and 25, 2007). Singh added that "Russia's position as a global leader on energy issues is widely recognized. We look forward to a long-term partnership with Russia in this vital field." He indirectly acknowledged that relations between Moscow and New Delhi are no longer as close as in Cold War days, at least in part because India has emerged as a serious global player in its own right and has improved its relations with the United States and China. He noted that "though there has been a sea change in the international situation during the last decade, Russia remains indispensable to the core of India's foreign-policy interests." On January 26, India's "The Economic Times" wrote that Putin's two-day visit "was marked by much pomp but little substance." Yury Federov, who is Russian foreign-policy analyst at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, told RFE/RL on January 25 that India "prefers a very 'multivectoral' policy. Russia is an important partner for India, yet not the only one." He added that "India is seeking partnership relations [in addition] with the United States, and also with China -- the Indo-Chinese relationship is improving." In the Cold War days, Moscow could rely on New Delhi as a major customer for its arms. Russian Defense Minister Ivanov is working hard to preserve that situation in the face of rising competition from countries like the United States, France, and Israel. India's "The Hindu" of January 25 quoted Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, as suggesting that Russia might sell additional arms to Pakistan if India moves away from Russia as its main arms supplier. PM

PROSECUTORS SAY THEY WILL NOT EXTRADITE MURDER SUSPECT TO U.K.
Unnamed officials of the Prosecutor-General's Office were quoted by Interfax as saying on January 26 that they will not send businessman and former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi to Britain if the authorities ask for his extradition. The officials noted that the constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens, but allows for them to stand trial in Russia for crimes committed abroad. Lugovoi is widely assumed to be a prime suspect in the Aleksandr Litvinenko murder case. Britain's "The Guardian" reported on January 26 that London wants the extradition of Lugovoi and is prepared for a cooling of relations with Moscow if and when the Russian authorities turn down such a request (see "Russia: Speculation Still Rife About Litvinenko Case," rferl.org, January 24, 2007). PM

DUMA MOVES TO BAN CIVIL SERVANTS FROM ACCEPTING FOREIGN GRANTS
On the second of three readings, the State Duma voted overwhelmingly on January 26 to approve a bill banning civil servants from conducting acadmic or other research with grants from foreign donors, RIA Novosti reported. They are already banned from accepting grants from Russian sources. The latest measure also prohibits Russian officials from sitting on the boards of foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or their Russian affiliates. Getting to the heart of the matter, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who also leads the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, recently described as "unacceptable" the current situation, in which financial sponsorship is legal if it comes from abroad but not from a Russian. He argued that "if civil servants -- from a government official to a military serviceman or a judge -- receive money from Petrov or Sidorov [typical Russian names], this is a bribe. But if it's from [U.S. financier George] Soros, this is a grant. This servant-of-two-masters type of situation is unacceptable to our civil servants." The bill seems likely to pass on its third reading, after which it will be signed into law by President Putin. It is the latest in a series of measures that critics say are aimed at weakening civil society in Russia by cutting it off from outside sources of funding and support. PM

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADER DENIES HE PLANS TO STEP DOWN
The press service of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov released a statement on January 25 saying comments he made the previous day in Rostov-na-Donu have been misquoted, according to chechnya.gov.ru. Alkhanov's statement that he will not seek a second term after his present term expires in 2008 was construed as heralding his imminent resignation or dismissal. On January 25, he dismissed that speculation as intended either to destabilize the political situation in Chechnya or misinform the population. Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak was quoted by "Kommersant" on January 25 as saying that the possibility of replacing Alkhanov "is not under discussion." LF

COURT REJECTS VILLAGER'S CLAIM FOR DAMAGES AGAINST DEFENSE MINISTRY
Moscow's Presnensky Raion Court rejected on January 25 the first of 42 claims filed by residents of the village of Borozdinovskaya in northeastern Chechnya against the Defense Ministry, the daily "Kommersant" reported on January 25. Each of the plaintiffs is demanding 3 million rubles ($113,000) compensation for material damage incurred during a search operation conducted in June 2005 by members of the Defense Ministry's Vostok battalion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 22, 23 and 24, 2005 and November 14, 2006). The Moscow district court noted that the Chechen government has already made compensation payments of 350,000 rubles to the owners of four houses in Borozdinovskaya that were burned down, while the remaining households received 200,000 rubles. LF

ADYGS CRITICIZE SUPREME COURT RULING ON LANGUAGE
Representatives of the International Cherkess Organization and the Cherkess Congress have criticized the ruling by the Adygeya Republic Supreme Court that the study of the Circassian language in the republic's schools should not be designated compulsory for children of that ethnic group, regnum.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2007). Cherkess Congress Deputy Chairman Zaur Dzeukozhev pointed out that even though Circassian and Russian are both designated state languages in Adygeya, only one hour per week is allocated for the teaching of Circassian. Newly appointed Education Minister Ramzan Bedanokov said a bill on protecting the Circassian language will be submitted to parliament. LF

ARMENIAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HE WILL RESIGN
Lieutenant General Artur Aghabekian told journalists on January 25 that he will "soon" submit a letter of resignation to Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Aghabekian said he will rejoin the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), the junior partner in the coalition government, and that the HHD will then decide whether to select him as a candidate for the parliamentary elections due in May. Aghabekian declined to comment on rumors that Sarkisian may name him defense minister in the event that Sarkisian succeeds incumbent Robert Kocharian in the 2008 presidential ballot. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE USE FORCE TO DISPEL PROTESTERS
Police in Baku resorted to force on January 26 to disperse some 20 members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) and the Liberal Party who tried to stage a picket outside a government building to protest the steep price hikes for electricity, gas, and gasoline announced earlier this month, day.az reported. Between 10-15 protesters were detained. The Baku city authorities rejected a request by the Azadliq bloc, of which the AHCP is a member, to stage a march and rally on January 26 to protest those price increases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2007). LF

OSCE OFFICE OFFERS MEDIATION BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP, OPPOSITION
Robin Seward, the acting head of the OSCE Office in Baku, was quoted by day.az on January 26 as welcoming the stated readiness of the Azerbaijani leadership and some opposition parties to engage in dialogue (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 22, 2006). He said the OSCE is ready to help organize such a dialogue. The office organized three rounds of talks between the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and selected opposition parties in the summer of 2005 in the runup to the parliamentary elections in November of that year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 5, 2005 and "RFE/RL Newsline," August 2, 2005). LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA RESUME WTO TALKS
Russian and Georgian experts embarked in Geneva on January 24 on talks on the conditions that Georgia has set for approving Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, Georgian and Russian media reported on January 25. Georgia has reportedly dropped some of those demands, according to Caucasus Press on January 25, but continues to insist that Russia closes customs posts on its border with the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2007). Georgia argues that those customs posts are illegal. LF

ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT IN EXILE DENIES NEW OFFENSIVE IMMINENT
Temur Mzhavia, chairman of the so-called Abkhaz government in exile, told journalists in Tbilisi on January 26 that Abkhaz allegations of an imminent Georgian attack on Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion are "absurd," Caucasus Press reported. Mzhavia referred to Russian and Abkhaz media reports that Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili has formed a 1,500 man unit to launch such an attack. On January 25, Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, said he has repeatedly warned the international community that "Georgia is a militarily oriented state.... Their only objective is to resolve the problem of Georgia's territorial integrity by force," Caucasus Press reported. Speaking in western Georgia on January 24, President Mikheil Saakashvili said that while Georgia advocates a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the status quo in the conflict zones is "inadmissible." He added that Georgia will fight "to the end" to defend the rights of its citizens "to return to their homes and live in a safe environment." LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY OFFICIALLY REGISTERED
An unnamed official from the Kazakh Justice Ministry announced on January 25 that the opposition National Social Democratic Party has received formal registration, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The party is led by Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, a former speaker of the lower house of parliament. The party first filed for official registration with the ministry in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2006). Tuyakbai unsuccessfully challenged incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the December 2005 presidential election, running as a candidate for the For A Just Kazakhstan opposition political bloc (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," December 16, 2005). Since its founding in September, the National Social Democratic Party has reportedly grown to include some 140,000 registered members. Its platform includes calls for an immediate suspension of the government's privatization program, the provision of free universal higher education, and a lowering of the retirement age. RG

KAZAKH PREMIER DISCUSSES ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WITH REGIONAL GOVERNORS
Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov on January 25 discussed the government's plan for regional economic development at a meeting in Almaty with the governors of the country's 14 regions and the mayor of Almaty, Khabar TV reported. The governors presented reports on conditions in their respective regions and pledged to meet the priorities of small and medium-sized business development announced by President Nazarbaev. The meeting is to be followed by a tour of the regions by the newly installed Masimov in the coming weeks. RG

KAZAKH TRIAL OVER 2006 RIOTS DISRUPTED
A trial in the Shanyrak district of the Kazakh capital Almaty was jointly disrupted by defendants and observers in the courtroom on January 23, Kazakh television's Channel 31 reported. Relatives and friends of the unspecified number of defendants -- who are charged with murder, hostage taking, and antistate activities stemming from riots in the summer of 2006 over the demolition of some 114 privates homes by the authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006) -- condemned the lack of a jury trial. One of the main defendants, Aron Atabke, reportedly "injured himself" during the court proceedings. The trial resumed after several hours and the clearing of the courtroom by police. RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT NOMINATES AGRICULTURE MINISTER TO LEAD NEW GOVERNMENT...
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev on January 26 signaled his intention to nominate Agriculture Minister Azim Isabekov, an economist who is regarded as a staunch Bakiev ally, to head the next government, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev reportedly offered key political leaders in parliament two alternatives -- the first of which would have allowed lawmakers to draw up a shortlist of possible nominees and the second of which was to let him propose a candidate. Like outgoing Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, Isabekov is from Kyrgyzstan's northern Chu region. ITAR-TASS reported on January 26 that the official nomination was sent to parliament, but lawmakers were not expected to debate the nomination until at least January 29. A presidential spokesman, Nurlanbek Shakiev, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Bakiev consulted with key politicians from various parties in the hours before the nomination. AH

...AS REPORTS TRACK OUTGOING PRIME MINISTER'S FATE
Parliamentary deputy speaker Kubanychbek Isabekov said legislators' opposition to the nomination of acting Prime Minister Kulov stems from the latter's support for the controversial Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt-relief program, Kabar news agency reported. Reports suggest that Kulov will be offered a senior level post in the next Kyrgyz government, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. RG

KYRGYZSTAN SIGNS NEW MILITARY AGREEMENT WITH TURKEY
The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry announced on January 25 that Turkey will provide more than $800,000 in military assistance to Kyrgyzstan, AKIpress reported. The aid stems from a new bilateral agreement on military assistance and technical cooperation between the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry and the Turkish General Staff. Kyrgyzstan signed a similar agreement with the Turkish military in 2006. RG

U.S. TO PROVIDE COUNTERTERRORISM TRAINING TO TAJIK BORDER TROOPS
Unnamed officials from Tajikistan's State Committee on National Security have said a small group of U.S. military experts will provide counterterrorism training to Tajik border troops in a joint exercise set to begin on January 28, Asia-Plus reported on January 25. The exercise, the first such joint training in Tajikistan, is to be held at the Fakhrobod military training complex outside Dushanbe and will last until March 9. RG

VISITING IRANIAN MINISTER SAID TO PLEDGE COOPERATION WITH TAJIKISTAN
Speaking to reporters in Dushanbe, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov reported on January 25 that his meeting with visiting Iranian Education Minister Mahmud Farshidi resulted in an agreement on Iranian assistance and cooperation in the fields of science, education, and culture, Asia-Plus reported. Farshidi reportedly added that Iran will provide particular assistance in expanding cooperation in the education and technology sectors, and said that Tehran wants to increase the number of exchange students between Iran and Tajikistan. Farshidi also announced that Iran has donated nearly 400,000 textbooks for use in Tajik secondary schools. Tajik Education Minister Abdujabbor Rakhmonov announced that the Tajik government has allocated land for the construction of a new joint Tajik-Iranian educational institution, to be funded by Iran's Education Ministry, and welcomed the plan for the coming academic year for a quota of 100 places for Tajik students to study at Iranian institutions of higher learning focusing on natural sciences, health care, and energy. RG

TAJIK COURT SENTENCES ISLAMIC EXTREMIST
A court in the Tajik town of Khujand on January 25 sentenced a 38-year-old defendant found guilty of being an active member of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group to a 10 1/2-year prison term, Asia-Plus and ITAR-TASS reported. Mahmudjon Shokirov was arrested in 2006 after he was caught distributing "antigovernment" leaflets and was found to be in possession of a large quantity of Hizb ut-Tahrir literature advocating the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia. He was convicted by the same court on January 23 and found guilty of "inciting ethnic, religious, and racial hatred, organizing a criminal organization, and membership in an extremist organization." RG

ACTING TURKMEN PRESIDENT PROMISES INTERNET ACCESS FOR ALL
Acting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov pledged on January 25 to provide every family in Turkmenistan with a "mobile phone and access to the Internet," according to ITAR-TASS. Berdymukhammedov, a candidate in the presidential election set for February 11, added that "the installation of telephones in every part of Turkmenistan will be completed by 2015" and said the country will have its first electric train in the coming year, in line with a plan by late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Berdymukhammedov, who worked as a dentist before becoming a deputy prime minister and health minister, was appointed interim president on December 21 and has emerged as the front-runner in the race to succeed Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 22, 2006). RG

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTY MOVES AWAY FROM FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
In a statement adopted last week, the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) criticized former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich's plans to form a broad opposition movement, Belapan reported on January 25. The BNF particularly disapproves of what it sees as Milinkevich's "recruitment" of members of the Youth Front, the BNF's youth wing, into the For Freedom movement, which Milinkevich launched in March 2006. "[Our party] cannot be diluted in a vague movement that has neither a program of actions, nor clear-cut goals and tasks. That's why we have to draw a distinct line between the BNF and Mr. Milinkevich's For Freedom," BNF Deputy Chairman Yury Khadyka told Belapan. The BNF's support was crucial in securing Milinkevich's selection as the united-opposition presidential candidate for the March 2006 presidential ballot in Belarus. Meanwhile, a district court in Minsk on January 25 fined Milinkevich 4.65 million rubles ($2,200), finding him guilty of illegally crossing the state border. The offense dates back to November 2006, when Milinkevich, while crossing the Belarusian-Latvian border, mistakenly presented the passport of his son, also named Alyaksandr (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ATTEMPTS TO WOO WESTERN INVESTORS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview published by the German daily "Die Welt" website (http://www.welt.de) on January 25 that the recent conflict with Russia over gas and oil prices has shown that Belarus badly needs investors from Europe and the United States. "If Western energy companies had shares in the Belarusian energy transport system, Russia would not be so cruel to us," Lukashenka said. Lukashenka also appealed to European leaders for an "open, honest dialogue," adding that the first step toward such a dialogue should be a lift of the EU travel ban on Belarusian officials. "We cannot shout over the fence," Lukashenka added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER URGES PROLONGATION OF ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE TO EUROPE
Viktor Yanukovych said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 25 that he is working to promote the completion of the Odesa-Brody pipeline to carry Caspian oil directly to the European Union, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on January 26. The pipeline, which was originally planned to send Caspian oil to Poland, has carried Russian oil in the opposite direction since 2004. Yanukovych said that the construction of pipeline links from Brody to Poland and Slovakia would bring an additional 12 million tons of oil a year to the EU from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. According to Yanukovych, with the recent row over oil duties with Belarus in mind, Russia is also interested in sending its oil via the Odesa-Brody pipeline to Europe. "We believe Russia will decide quite soon how big their interest will be, in terms of the amount of oil they put in the pipeline," Yanukovych said, adding that Russian oil could be shipped by tankers from Novorossiisk on the Black Sea and fed into the pipeline in Odesa. JM

PACE RESOLUTION ON KOSOVA PASSES DESPITE SERBIAN OPPOSITION
Serbia's delegation voted against a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution on Kosova on January 24, after failing to get several amendments added to the document, B92 reported the next day. Despite the Serbian opposition, the measure passed by a vote of 99-36, with 14 abstentions. "A few of the amendments we suggested, demanding that the...Parliamentary Assembly accept the reality that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia as is [written] in the UN [Security Council] Resolution 1244, did not pass," Milos Aligrudic, the head of the Serbian delegation, said. "Our amendment to erase the part which mentions the possibility of an imposed solution also lacked support. That's why we could not vote in favor of the resolution." As Serbia demanded, the resolution does not contain the word "independence." But Belgrade failed to get a clause inserted that calls for the region's current borders to be maintained. Serbia also failed to have removed from the document a clause allowing for an imposed solution for Kosova should negotiations become deadlocked. BW

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS INDEPENDENCE
Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on January 25 he believes UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari will propose independence for Kosova, AP reported the same day. "I strongly believe that Ahtisaari will propose independence for Kosova and will propose a concrete mechanism and procedures to guarantee all the rights of the communities that live in Kosova," Ceku said. "After his proposal, the minorities, namely Serbs, will have no reason to refuse Kosova's independence or to refuse to live in an independent Kosova." Ahtisaari is scheduled to unveil his status proposal to the Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States -- on January 26. He is scheduled to present it to Serbian and Kosovar leaders on February 2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2007). Media reports have quoted officials as saying the proposal will give Kosova a form of limited or supervised independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2007). BW

DEMOCRATIC PARTY CANDIDATE TOUTS SERBIA TO INVESTORS IN DAVOS
The Democratic Party's (DS) candidate for prime minister, Bozidar Djelic, met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with key foreign investors engaged in Serbia, B92 and Beta reported on January 25. "I explained to the foreign investors the real situation in Serbia and encouraged them to keep investing," Djelic said. He added that he met with representatives of the Icelandic pharmaceutical company Actavis, which owns Zdravlje Leskovac, about the possibility of increasing investment in Serbia. He also met representatives of the Lafarge company, which owns the cement factory in Beocin. Additionally, Djelic met with officials from the University of California at Berkley, Harvard University, and other educational institutions to discuss establishing scholarship funds for Serbian students. BW

SERBIAN RADICALS NOW SAY THEY WANT TO LEAD
An official from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) said on January 25 that the SRS should lead the new government, AP reported the same day. SRS Vice President Aleksandar Vucic urged President Boris Tadic to allow the SRS to nominate a prime minister, though Vucic did not specify which parties the SRS could work with to form a parliamentary majority. The SRS won the most votes in Serbia's January 21 general elections, but fell far short of a majority. SRS officials initially said they would not be able to form a government since they lack coalition partners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22, 2007). The only chance for the SRS to form a government, analysts say, would be if Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) agreed to a coalition. Kostunica has still not revealed his intentions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 2007), but he is widely expected to join Tadic's DS in a liberal cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2007). BW

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER PROMISES NO VIOLENCE OVER KOSOVA DECISION
Republika Srpska (RS) Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said on January 24 that his government will move to quell any violence that might erupt in the Bosnian Serb republic should Kosova be granted independence, AKI reported the next day. "No one in the RS will start an armed revolution; there will be no violence here and we will prevent any such attempts," he said in a televised interview. Dodik added, however, that Bosnian Serbs will wonder why ethnic Albanians in Kosova have the right to independence, and they don't. "I will ask the international community to explain why one rule applies to Kosovo and another to the RS," he said. Dodik has in the past called for an independence referendum for Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14 and 15, 2006). BW

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE APPROVES AID TO MOLDOVA
The International Trade Committee of the European Parliament has approved 45 million euros ($58 million) in economic aid to Moldova, moldova.org reported on January 25. The purpose of the aid, which still must be approved by the whole legislature, is to support Moldova's balance of trade in the wake of Russia's recently lifted ban on Moldovan wines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006, and January 22, 2007). The aid is contigent on Moldova meeting several conditions. Chisinau must show demonstrable progress in making its public finances more transparent, and it must apply the International Monetary Fund's macroeconomic and budgetary recommendations. Additionally, Moldova is expected to show respect for human rights. BW

THERE IS NO END NOTE TODAY


U.S. TO INCREASE SPENDING IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to ask Congress for $10.6 billion in aid for Afghanistan in the next budget, "The New York Times" reported on January 26. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters on January 25 that about $8.6 billion will go toward security, including arming and training Afghan troops, with the remainder to be spent on reconstruction projects. Washington hopes that other NATO member states will match the U.S. figures, "if not in actual dollar figures but in terms of their commitment to do everything they can do to defeat the Taliban," State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said in Washington on January 25. Rice is expected to attend a ministerial meeting of NATO member states in Brussels on January 26 in which Afghanistan is expected to be the center of attention. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has 20 percent fewer troops than have been pledged by NATO member states. AT

DISTRICT INTELLIGENCE CHIEF KILLED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Unidentified gunmen killed La'l Marjan, a "senior official" in the Ya'qubi district of Khost Province on January 25, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Ya'qubi district chief Gol Qasem Jihadyar told Pajhwak that Marjan had no enemies, and accused the enemies of Afghanistan -- a term used for the neo-Taliban -- of killing him. Meanwhile, a website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on January 25 that mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate assassinated Marjan, identified as the intelligence chief of Ya'qubi district. According to the website, Marjan, who is accused of torturing "mujahedin," had been singled out for execution. According to Pajhwak, unidentified assailants recently killed Mursal Mangal, the head of the investigation branch of the Khost Province intelligence department. AT

INDEPENDENT BROADCASTERS CRITICIZED FOR AIRING UN-ISLAMIC PROGRAMS
In an editorial, the state-owned Kabul daily "Hewad" noted on January 24 that a number of independent broadcasters, especially the visual media, are airing programs that are "contrary not only to the Afghan culture, but also Islamic injunctions." According to the editorial, Afghanistan's Ministry of Information and Culture has asked independent media outlets to respect the Muslim month of Muharram -- during which Husayn, one of the Prophet Mohammad's grandsons, was killed -- and refrain from programs that might be deemed offensive to those mourning during the month. On the contrary, Afghanistan's young generation is encouraged by the independent television and cable stations to "adopt foreign cultures and trends," "Hewad" lamented. "One can see that most young Afghan [boys] have long hair and wear jewelry and clothes that only suit women," the editorial added. Afghanistan's mass media, which has been one of the brighter spots in progress toward a more democratic society, has recently come under criticism from more conservative elements in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 25, 2007). AT

FIRE EXCHANGED ON AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER
A least 10 mortar shells landed inside Pakistani territory from Afghanistan, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on January 25, hitting the Gholam Khan and Saidgai areas of the North Waziristan tribal agency. There are no reports of casualties. According to unidentified Pakistani sources, militants fired three rockets at an Afghan border post in Khost Province from North Waziristan. In retaliation, the Afghan side fired the mortars into Pakistan. In September, Islamabad signed a peace deal with North Waziristan in an attempt to stop cross-border incursions from Pakistan into Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," November 7, 2006). AT

IRANIAN AND SAUDI SECURITY OFFICIALS MEET...
Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani met with Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Tehran on January 25, ISNA reported. Prince Bandar, who heads Saudi Arabia's National Security Council, discussed the situation in Iraq and Lebanon as well as Iran's nuclear dossier in their meeting, ISNA reported. Prince Bandar said both sides stressed the need to avoid Shi'ite and Sunni division, "because we all worship the same God." If "there is solidarity between regional states," he said, "foreign states would not interfere in [their] internal affairs, and regional states must not allow such interferences." Regarding Iran's controversial nuclear program, Prince Bandar said Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council -- of which it is a member -- approve of the peaceful use of nuclear power. Larijani said Iran will continue working with UN inspectors and consulting "with various countries." He urged "those who left the negotiating table" to return "because negotiation is the best solution." VS

...AND COMMENT ON REGIONAL POLITICS
Larijani said in a joint conference with Prince Bandar that Iran "does not have a direct role" in events in Lebanon and Iraq, though he said it could help resolve problems there, ISNA reported. He said that "states naturally take decisions" based on their national interests, but Iran and Saudi Arabia have common interests that they could use to expand ties. Larijani added that Iraq has given Iran "favorable promises" on the release of Iranians arrested by U.S. forces in Irbil on January 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 2007). He also dismissed the likelihood of U.S. strikes on Iranian nuclear-program installations. "This is some kind of psychological warfare they have provoked" and is "unlikely," he said. He said he is sure that Saudi Arabia's position on the Iran nuclear dossier is supportive. He said Prince Bandar has "defended peaceful nuclear technology," and Persian Gulf states "are interested in peaceful nuclear technology." He urged respect for the wishes of the Lebanese people and said that "foreigners" should not be allowed "to impose their wishes, " ISNA reported. VS

RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEPLORE IRANIAN HANGINGS
Iran hanged four ethnic Arab Iranians in the southwestern city of Ahvaz on January 24 for their alleged involvement in bombings in that city in 2005, agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," June 20, 2005). The executions prompted objections by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, which stated on January 25 that the men's trials were unfair. Iran had hanged three men convicted on similar charges in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 22, 2006). Activist Emadeddin Baqi, the president of the Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights in Iran, told Radio Farda on January 25 about the condition while in detention of at least one of the men who was hanged. He said Abd al-Amir Farajullah Kaab had been on a hunger strike to protest being kept in solitary confinement for months before his execution. Baqi has sought for the past year to have the death sentences commuted, Radio Farda reported. He told the broadcaster that "an official" told him on January 23 that certain officials might agree to this if the families of the bombings' victims would consent. He told Radio Farda that as Iran is in a holy month that disallows killing, he thought there would be time to obtain a reprieve. But "hours" after his conversation with the official, he was informed the men had been hanged. "This...shows these people do not even abide by the religious norms they claim to espouse," he said. VS

IRANIAN WEBSITE DISMISSES RUMORS ABOUT LEADER'S HEALTH
Fars agency stated on January 25 that recent "rumors" about the impending death from cancer of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are "designed" to "assess the people's reaction." It reported that the rumors began to circulate when they were mentioned in pajamasmedia.com on January 4 and then on January 10 by Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, whom "some identify...as responsible for planning the overthrow of the Islamic Republic." The reports were taken up by other networks, Fars reported, including the U.S. television station Fox News, "run under the supervision of the Pentagon," and then spread among the Iranian public. Fars compared the rumor with similar rumors of illness it said were circulated for years about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's leader after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which "Iraqi and Israeli radios pursued...more than others." Khamenei has "for some time" had a "relatively severe cold," noticeable when he speaks, Fars reported, and for which doctors have advised him to reduce his workload. It added that when rumors of his death were circulating, there were television reports of his meeting with people in Qom. VS

IRAQI PREMIER OUTLINES SECURITY PLAN...
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki outlined his Baghdad security plan in an address to the Iraqi parliament on January 25, vowing to go after armed groups no matter where they are, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "There will be no safe place -- no school, no home, no [Sunni] mosque or Shi'ite mosque. They will all be raided if they are turned into launch pads for terrorism, even the headquarters of political parties," al-Maliki said. He urged politicians to support the security initiative and stressed that no illegal armed group, regardless of sectarian affiliation, will be spared. "We have worked hard to get professional officers to lead this plan, with no political affiliations. So let's all help these officers," he said. Furthermore, al-Maliki called on the parliament to pass a new oil law quickly in order to develop "the oil industry in all parts of Iraq." SS

...AND AL-SADR'S MOVEMENT VOICES SUPPORT
Baha al-Aaraji, a member of Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement, announced on January 25 that the movement will support Prime Minister al-Maliki's Baghdad security plan, international media reported the same day. "We are in favor of this plan," he said. "The parliamentary bloc of al-Sadr announces its support for this plan as presented by the prime minister." On January 21, al-Sadr's political bloc ended a two-month boycott of the parliament and government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22, 2007). Meanwhile, Al-Sadr City Mayor Rahim al-Darraji announced that he has reached an agreement with Iraq and U.S. officials to avoid a military operation in the area, AP reported on January 25. He said that only Iraqi government forces will be allowed to control weapons in the region. "We told them [the Iraqi government] there will be no armed presence, but you should guarantee security in the city," al-Darraji said. "We told the Americans that Al-Sadr City is a heavily populated neighborhood and currently has a very small number of police and army forces. We want more recruitment from the neighborhood in order to reduce unemployment." SS

KURDISH LEADER CALLS FOR GOOD RELATIONS WITH TURKEY
Kurdish regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announced on January 25 that he has sent a message to Turkey calling for good relations, Kurdistan satellite television reported the same day. "Our message to Turkey is the message of brotherhood. Turkey is an important neighboring country; we would like good and friendly ties with it on the basis of mutual respect," Barzani said. "The Kurdistan regional government will continue its policy and extends a helping hand to Turkey and we expect the same attitude from it, given that the era of military threats is over." He said recent threats emanating from Turkey are the product of the Turkish media and not the Ankara government. Furthermore, Barzani stressed that Iraqi Kurds are not interested in Kirkuk for its oil, but "are concerned about the land and the return of the displaced." He said that delaying the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, concerning the future of Kirkuk, would "increase problems." SS

SUICIDE CAR BOMBER IN IRAQI CAPITAL KILLS 26
A suicide car bomber at a market in the Al-Karradah neighborhood of central Baghdad on January 25 killed 26 people and wounded more than 50, international media reported the same day. In a similar attack, a motorcycle exploded at the Al-Shurja market in central Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 23, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. Meanwhile, two mortars were fired into the heavily fortified Green Zone, Al-Iraqiyah satellite television reported on January 25. There were no reports of injuries or casualties. SS

SENTENCING FOR FORMER IRAQI OFFICIAL DELAYED
The Iraqi High Tribunal on January 25 delayed a decision on whether to sentence Taha Yassin Ramadan, a top aide to former President Saddam Hussein, to death, international media reported the same day. On November 5, the tribunal sentenced Ramadan to life in prison for his role in the killing of 148 Shi'a in the town of Al-Dujayl (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 6, 2006). However, last month an appeals court ruled that Ramadan's life sentence was too lenient and that he should receive the death penalty. A decision was postponed until February 12 because lawyers for the Al-Dujayl victims were absent from the proceedings. SS

U.S. SOLDIER SENTENCED TO 18 YEARS FOR MURDERING IRAQI
Private First Class Corey Clagett was sentenced to 18 years in prison on January 25 for murdering an Iraqi detainee and taking part in the killings of two others, international media reported the same day. Clagett and three other soldiers are accused in the deaths of three detainees during a raid on the Al-Muthana chemical complex in Samarra on May 9, 2005. The soldiers originally told investigators they shot the detainees because they were attempting to flee, but then said commanders had given them orders to kill all military-age males. In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Clagett pleaded guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He will also be demoted to private and dishonorably discharged. If he does not cooperate with prosecutors, he could be sentenced to life in prison with a chance of parole. SS

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