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Newsline - July 12, 2007

Britain's "Financial Times" wrote on July 12 that Moscow and London "could be facing a diplomatic showdown following [Russia's] refusal to extradite the chief suspect in the [2006] murder in London of [Aleksandr] Litvinenko, the former KGB officer" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2007). The daily quoted an unnamed British "government insider" as saying that the government is reviewing its options, and "you can expect something to be announced in...parliament very soon." In Moscow on July 11, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said the Russian authorities were "surprised by London's position, which is trying to hold the future development of our multifaceted, positive cooperation in various areas hostage to one issue -- the extradition of a Russian citizen," which is prohibited by the Russian Constitution, Russian media reported. Kamynin noted that for years, the West has "persistently called on Russia to build a state functioning according to the law." Also on July 11, Russian Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov argued that "if a country is abiding by its constitution, it's hard to understand why another country, in this case the United Kingdom, gets offended." In an apparent allusion to the case of Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled oligarch and political enemy of President Vladimir Putin, Mironov noted that Britain has refused on the basis of its own laws to honor Russian requests for the extradition of persons wanted in Russia. Mironov said that he nonetheless expects that the Lugovoi affair ultimately "will have little impact on the traditionally good partnership between Britain and Russia." PM

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on July 11 that U.S. and Russian experts will have their first meeting on an unspecified date in late July to discuss the technical aspects of the planned U.S. missile-defense system, which calls for 10 interceptors to be placed in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, and July 3, 9, and 10, 2007). He added that "the object of this exercise is to follow up on some of the proposals that have been made by President Putin at his recent meetings, both in Germany as well as up in Kennebunkport, regarding missile defense." McCormack noted that "this initial technical assessment will be bilateral. I expect that also at some point, the issue is going to come up before the NATO-Russia Council.... The first step is for our experts to get together and do a down-in-the-weeds technical assessment of capabilities, matching those capabilities up against the mission." Washington argues that a careful analysis of technical issues regarding the missile-defense project will alleviate Russia's purported fears that the system is directed against it. Critics of the Russian position say the Kremlin is using Soviet-style tactics to split NATO and the EU and to present itself as a victim in order to justify massive hikes in its own military spending. "The Moscow Times" commented on July 12 that the Kremlin "has offered to create a joint global antimissile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military standoff if Washington refuses its proposal and if [Washington] develops its antimissile system in Europe." The Moscow daily concluded that Russia "has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin's successor." PM

Czech Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova said on July 11 that Russia has sent a formal protest to the Czech Republic against the recent removal of bronze emblems from at least 48 gravestones of Soviet Red Army soldiers in Prague, Czech media reported. The Czech authorities suspect criminal rather than political motives behind the thefts and are examining the stocks of some scrap metal dealers in an effort to find the emblems. Some media commentaries noted that Moscow recently used the issue of the transfer of a Soviet World War II-era memorial and graves from central Tallinn to a military cemetery at the edge of the city in an attempt to bully Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5 and 15, 2007). PM

Russia and Norway signed an agreement on July 11 to demarcate the northern sea border between the two countries, reported from Moscow. The new agreement describes in detail the border, which was formally set down in 1957, and outlines the two countries' respective jurisdictions in the sea around Varangerfjord. Some media reports suggested that the deal could help resolve an old border dispute in the Barents Sea, where important oil and gas deposits may be located. PM

Russia's state-run Vneshtorgbank (VTB) said in a press release on July 11 that it is considering selling its 5 percent stake in the European aircraft manufacturer EADS, the parent company of Airbus, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on July 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2007). It is not clear whether VTB actually plans to sell in order to reap a profit on its original investment or whether it seeks to influence an upcoming meeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in hopes of obtaining a say in running the company. Merkel and the management of EADS, which seeks lucrative U.S. defense contracts, previously vetoed Russian efforts to acquire blocking rights and a seat on the board. PM

Sergei Stepashin, who heads Russia's Audit Chamber, said in Moscow on July 11 that President Putin should take charge of the planned organizational committee for the 2012 Sochi Winter Olympics, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2007). Stepashin, who is a former Federal Security Service (FSB) chief and prime minister, argued that the committee "should be headed by a very authoritative politician, so that all issues are resolved without hold-ups. I would trust that to...Putin." Stepashin did not specify whether Putin should take the post immediately or only after his presidential term expires in 2008. On July 11, Putin discussed providing security for the games and preventing embezzlement of funds earmarked for them with Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, the state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on July 12. The daily noted that "questions associated with the games cannot wait." The weekly "Argumenty i fakty" noted in its July 11 issue that "the Sochi games are becoming a political factor, in domestic politics and foreign policy alike.... We need to make proper preparations and do a good job of hosting the games." The paper added that "the authorities will have to intensify antiterrorist preventive measures, and keep the peace in [nearby] Chechnya at all costs.... The authorities will also have to intensify efforts to counter xenophobia and nationalism." The weekly suggested that Russia will have to moderate its policies toward Georgia and on missile defense lest it foster an international atmosphere that would not be conducive to successful games. The paper concluded that "what Russia needs now is an image as an open, friendly country that doesn't intend to fight anywhere other than in a sports arena." PM

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who heads the Russian People's Democratic Union and has presidential ambitions, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on July 11 that a March of Dissent will take place on October 7 in Moscow to demand that the December 2007 legislative elections be fair and free (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2007). Kasyanov said that he "calls on all organizations that we regard as our supporters and allies, such as Eduard Limonov's and Garry Kasparov's Other Russia, Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces [SPS], Vladimir Ryzhkov's [Republican Party of Russia], and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation [KPRF], to take part" in the march. He stressed that "the most urgent demand is that the authorities ensure the observance of the constitution at least with respect to the fundamental principle of fair and free elections in this period of time." PM

The Federation Council on July 11 approved a new version of a power-sharing agreement between federal institutions and those of the Republic of Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. The treaty gives the oil-rich region more autonomy than other federation subjects. The document outlines how Tatar and federal authorities will coordinate on solving issues relating to Tatarstan. The adopted document is an amended version of a previous document that the council rejected in February as unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22 and April 24, 2007). The State Duma approved the new version of the treaty on July 4. Rafgat Altynbayev, who chairs the council's Committee for Federation Affairs and Regional Policy, stressed that the new version was carefully drafted to remove earlier objections by critics that it gave too much power to Tatarstan in violation of federal laws. PM

The crime rate in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) rose by 24.2 percent during the first six months of 2007 compared with the same period last year, reported on July 10 quoting republican prosecutor Oleg Zharikov. He noted that the number of murders has increased "significantly," and that several prominent killings, including that in May 2005 of Artur Zokayev, mayor of the village of Khasanya on the outskirts of Nalchik, have not yet been solved (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 6, 2005). Zharikov suggested that the registered increase in crime is at least in part the result of more stringent record keeping, but that "social factors" also play a role. In December 2006, and again in January and April 2007, KBR Interior Minister Yury Tomchak criticized the work of the police as "unsatisfactory," especially with regard to combating "terrorism and "religious extremism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22 and April 19, 2007). Addressing the same meeting of prosecutor's office staff in Nalchik, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Sydoruk predicted that the security situation in the North Caucasus will deteriorate in the run-up to the Russian State Duma elections in December 2007 and the Russian presidential ballot in March 2008. Sydoruk said that recent attacks on senior officials and police "are only the beginning." LF

Responding to an appeal by the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) Election Commission, the Russian Supreme Court has overturned an April 20 ruling by the KChR Supreme Court that validated the March 11 mayoral elections in the town of Karachayevsk and that confirmed opposition candidate Magomet Botashev as the winner, reported on July 10 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21, April 24, 25, and 30, and May 15 and 16, 2007). The KChR Election Commission earlier annulled the ballot, in which initial returns indicated that Botashev defeated rival candidate Sapar Laypanov by a few hundred votes. Laypanov and Botashev enjoy the support, respectively, of KChR President Mustafa Batdyev and of outgoing KChR Supreme Court President Islam Burlakov, one of Batdyev's unsuccessful challengers in the 2003 KChR presidential election, who has not been renominated for a second term as the republic's top judge, reported on May 25. LF

Vartan Oskanian met in Paris on July 10 with the French and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, and with a senior U.S. State Department official, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on July 11. According to a statement released by the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the discussions focused on the results of the June 9 meeting in St. Petersburg between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, the "possibilities of bringing the positions of the two sides closer to each other," and "further steps in the negotiating process." U.S. co-Chairman Matthew Bryza was quoted on July 9 as saying that the talks have reached the stage where the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers have "shown political will and taken the negotiations about as far as they can go," and that the two presidents now "need to make some serious decisions." Bryza said the mediators favor a "compromise" between the internationally recognized principles of the territorial integrity of states and the right to self-determination, but that there is "no universal formula" for achieving such a compromise. It is not clear whether and when the co-chairs will hold a similar meeting with Oskanian's Azerbaijani counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov, noted on July 10. LF

In line with a ruling handed down in March 2007 by the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Azerbaijani authorities have paid Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Sardar Jalaloglu 10,000 euros ($13,785) in compensation for the physical mistreatment to which he was subjected following his arrest in October 2003 following the clashes between opposition supporters and police in Baku in the wake of the presidential election, reported on July 11. LF

Deputies approved on July 11 in the third and final reading by a vote of 117 in favor and 19 against a bill that would pave the way for the return to Georgia of the Meskhetians who were deported to Central Asia on Soviet leader Josef Stalin's orders in November 1944, together with their descendants, Caucasus Press reported. Those Meskhetians who want to return to Georgia will have to provide documentary evidence that they (or their parents) were indeed deported, and lodge a formal application with the Georgian government by December 31, 2008. The Georgian authorities will not be obliged to provide those who return with any financial assistance. The Meskhetians are Muslims, but their ethnogenesis is disputed: some claim they are Georgians; others, Turks. They first began agitating to be allowed to return to Georgia following the 1957 decree that exonerated the various deported peoples of collaboration with Nazi Germany and lifting the travel restrictions imposed at the time of their deportation. Unlike the Chechens, Ingush, Karachais and Balkars, the Meskhetians were for decades refused permission to return to Georgia, and began doing so only in the 1980s. Many fled Uzbekistan in 1989 following ethnic clashes in which some 100 Meskhetians were killed and resettled in the North Caucasus, from where several thousand have emigrated either to Turkey or the United States. Georgia pledged on joining the Council of Europe in 1999 to allow all Meskhetians who wished to do so to settle in Georgia, but failed to create conditions for them to do so. The number of Meskhetians likely to take advantage of the new law to settle in Georgia is estimated at between 40,000 and 100,000. The opposition Conservative Party has consistently opposed allowing the Meskhetians to return to Georgia, questioning whether they consider themselves Georgian, speak Georgian, and will prove to be loyal citizens. LF

Deputies also approved on July 11 in the third and final reading by a vote of 117 in favor and 18 against a draft law banning the use of video recordings and photo coverage of ongoing trials, Caucasus Press reported. But they rejected an additional proposal that would similarly have imposed a blanket ban on audio recording, although the presiding judge at any given trial will be empowered to impose such a ban at his discretion. Opposition deputies criticized the new law as an attempt to introduce "censorship," while Ombudsman Sozar Subeliani said he considers the ban inappropriate in a country where legal reform is still incomplete, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Speaking at a news conference on July 11 in Astana, Kazakh Deputy Interior Minister Alik Shpekbaev announced that Interior Ministry police have held large-scale antiriot drills in the capital, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Shpekbaev said the drills were aimed at coordinating police efforts to "suppress and prevent unsanctioned rallies" and react to "violations of public order by groups which destabilize the situation." The exercise, which ended on July 11, involved several different police bodies and state agencies under the Interior Ministry's leadership and included more than 1,600 police officers, 71 special police vehicles, an armored personnel carrier, and a helicopter. RG

After a meeting in Bishkek on July 11, the Kyrgyz and Kazakh prime ministers, Almaz Atambaev and Karim Masimov, signed an agreement to set up a $120 million investment fund aimed at implementing bilateral economic projects, Kabar and Kazinform reported. Kazakhstan pledged an initial contribution of $100 million to the Kyrgyz-Kazakh Investment Fund, and Kyrgyzstan donated another $20 million. The agreement followed a meeting on July 10 in Bishkek between Kyrgyz Finance Minister Akylbek Dzhaparov and a delegation from Kazakhstan's Kazyna sustainable development fund, led by its chairman, Kayrat Kelimbetov. A further memorandum on mutual understanding is expected to be formally signed in Bishkek early next month. The first investment project under consideration for the joint fund involves the reconstruction and modernization of a cement factory in the town of Kyzyl-Kiya, in the southern Batken region of Kyrgyzstan, according to AKIpress. In a separate development, an unnamed official of the Kazakh Ministry of Industry and Trade announced on July 11 at a Kazakh-Kyrgyz business forum in Bishkek that Kazakhstan will invest $100 million in a joint project to construct a ferroalloy plant in the town of Tash-Kumyr in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, Kabar reported. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek on July 10, the deputy speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, Kubanychbek Isabekov, reported that recent state figures show that an expected 70,000 Kyrgyz nationals will acquire dual Russian citizenship in 2007, according to AKIpress. Isabekov noted that the number of Kyrgyz people seeking dual citizenship has significantly increased in recent years, with some 50,000 Kyrgyz nationals obtaining Russian citizenship last year. RG

The deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Rahmatullo Valiev, announced on July 11 that two rival factions of the party agreed at a recent party congress to reunite, according to the Avesta website. The smaller group, a splinter faction loyal to jailed opposition leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, agreed to rejoin the main wing of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, led by Saidjaffar Ismonov, after renouncing their initial selection of Masud Sobirov as their own leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 6 and August 29, 2006). Sobirov, who sought to maintain the split within the party, was the preferred candidate of the Tajik Justice Ministry. That support prompted Valiev to accuse the ministry of trying to divide the opposition party. He added that "the Justice Ministry had no authority to interfere in the party's activities," and noted that Sobirov has been expelled from the party. RG

A Belarusian government delegation led by Viktar Sheyman, the state secretary of the Security Council, arrived in Caracas on July 9 on an official visit, Belapan reported on July 11, quoting the Security Council's press office. The visit, which continues until July 14, is to focus on "working out joint measures aimed at increasing the efficiency of cooperation between the two countries and making relations dynamic." Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on July 7 reportedly appointed Sheyman to head the delegation and act on behalf of the Council of Ministers. According to the Security Council, "Venezuela is ready to actively solve issues regarding the purchase of Belarusian products, as well as the construction on its territory of joint enterprises for oil production and the manufacture of tractors, road and quarry equipment, household appliances, construction materials, and other enterprises." AM

The Constitutional Court of Ukraine resumed its work on July 11, ruling that the suspension of all social benefits in the 2007 budget violates the Ukrainian Constitution, Interfax reported. The work of the Constitutional Court came to a standstill last month due to the dismissal of some judges by President Viktor Yushchenko and the government, and the resignation of the court's chief, Ivan Dombrovskyy. The court, which comprises 18 judges appointed in equal numbers by the president, the parliament, and the Council of Judges, on July 10 elected Andriy Stryzhak as its new head. Ukraine's supreme judiciary body is now slated to examine the presidential decrees that disbanded the Verkhovna Rada and scheduled early parliamentary elections for September 30. AM

Mykola Azarov, Ukraine's first deputy prime minister and finance minister, on July 11 appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office, Interior Ministry, and Justice Ministry to investigate the circumstances under which publication of the government-run "Uryadovyy kuryer" newspaper was disrupted, Interfax reported. Azarov described the disruption of publication as "a rough interference of the special services" in the work of the government newspaper. The newspaper's publication was suspended after it published the text of a bill on state purchases that was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada after its dissolution by the president. Five thousand copies of "Uryadovyy kuryer" were distributed, which, Azarov argued, means that the bill came into force, but the publication of the bill was in violation of a recent decree by President Yushchenko suspending the publication of legislation until a new Verkhovna Rada convenes. Ihor Pukshyn, the deputy head of the Presidential Secretariat, said the same day that "all bills adopted by the illegitimate Verkhovna Rada have no legal legitimacy," but he added that if Azarov has evidence of the special services' interference in the newspaper's work, the case should be investigated. AM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement released by his office on July 11 that "Serbia firmly rejects the new U.S. draft resolution at the UN Security Council because it is a preparation for Kosovo's independence." The draft -- the fourth prepared by Western members of the council -- calls for Belgrade and Prishtina to resume bilateral talks for 120 days, but, in contrast to the third draft, does not contain a stipulation that the UN will act on a proposal to grant Kosova independence if talks fail. However, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told Serbian officials in Belgrade on July 10 that he expects talks to lead "one way or the other" to independence for Kosova. In a statement that closely echoed one made by U.S. President George W. Bush on June 10, Fried said the U.S. position "is clear: Kosovo will be independent." The draft is due to be finalized later this week. Belgrade also said on July 11 that the Serbian parliament will later this month discuss retaliatory measures that could be taken against any country that recognizes Kosova's statehood. In Kosova, Prime Minister Agim Ceku on July 11 reiterated that "we need to stop pretending that the Security Council has an answer to every question," AP reported. Ceku was speaking after meeting with the EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, who immediately poured cold water on Ceku's position by saying that the EU is united in believing the status of Kosova should be decided by the UN Security Council. AG

Serbia's government intends to hold presidential and local elections in October if the UN Security Council agrees that talks on the future of Kosova should continue, the daily "Blic" reported on July 11. If no talks are held and Kosova's status is decided in the near future, elections will be held in February or March 2008, the paper reported. "Blic" also stated that the members of the ruling coalition -- the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and the G17 Plus bloc -- would support Tadic in his anticipated bid to remain in office. AG

Some 30,000 people on July 12 attended the burial of another 465 of the approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslims slaughtered at Srebrenica in 1995, local media reported. The burial was the centerpiece of ceremonies to mark the 12th anniversary of the massacre. The ceremony was not attended by most senior political figures from the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated autonomous region in which Srebrenica lies. In a comment that alluded to his view that the creation of the Republika Srpska was a product of genocide, the Bosnian Muslim member of the country's presidency, Haris Silajdzic, said the victims "died because of an idea not worthy of man," and urged Bosnians to "do everything, all of us together...for Bosnia-Herzegovina not to be the way the perpetrators of crimes wanted it." In another speech broadcast by national television, Srebrenica's mayor, Abdurahman Malkic, likened Srebrenica to Auschwitz, describing Srebrenica as "a horrendous truth about man in modern times; Srebrenica is the world's shame, but also a shame for us, ordinary citizens." Malkic said "Srebrenica must be our institution of remembrance, but also of growth, development, solidarity, and respect for differences," and concluded that the town of "Srebrenica cannot and must not be exclusive; it must be broad enough for everyone wanting to live in mutual respect." Both speeches had strong political resonances, as the continued existence of the Republika Srpska, the status of Srebrenica, and the status of the Srebrenica memorial itself have been at the forefront of political debate in Bosnia since February, when the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2007). AG

The Srebrenica commemoration ceremony was also attended by the chief prosecutor of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte, despite demands by an association of victims' relatives that she not be present. Members of the Association of Srebrenica Mothers interviewed on Bosnian national television on July 8 said the demand was an expression of disappointment at her failure to capture the chief instigators of the massacre, anger at the ICJ's judgment that Serbia was not guilty of genocide at Srebrenica, and anger over an alleged deal in which Del Ponte supposedly allowed Serbia to withhold secret documents from roughly the time of the massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 17, and 23, 2007). Bodies from the Srebrenica massacre are still being found across Bosnia, in part because some of the perpetrators exhumed some victims and reburied them elsewhere in an effort to conceal their crimes. AG

In a statement released on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, Serbian President Tadic paid tribute to the victims and stressed the importance of "respecting other people's victims and understanding other people's misfortunes." Tadic said that through respect, "we can find the strength for reconciliation, without which there will be no better lives in the Balkans." The two suspected masterminds of the genocide, the Bosnian Serbs' military leader Ratko Mladic and their wartime president Radovan Karadzic, remain on the run from the ICTY. The ICTY believes Mladic is hiding in Serbia, but says it has "no idea" where Karadzic is (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19 and 28, 2007). Tadic underlined Serbia's commitment to finding the two fugitives, saying "this is not only our international obligation; we also owe this to ourselves and our neighbors," B92 reported. A report on Bosnia-Herzegovina Radio 1 noted the lack of interest in the Srebrenica anniversary in Serbia and the lack of coverage in the Serbian media, saying that only the news agency Beta and the daily "Danas" reported "comprehensively" on the event. In February and March, Tadic attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the Serbian parliament to issue a declaration condemning the massacre. Roughly half of all Serbs believe the slaughter did not take place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 27, and 28, and March 1, 2, and 11, 2007). AG


Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on July 11 that Canada has no plans to extend its military mission in Afghanistan beyond its February 2009 commitment, claiming that any continued role there would be a "new" mission, the CanWest News Service reported. In an interview on Canadian radio, Harper reiterated his intentions to seek parliamentary support before deciding on a mission extension or change in Afghanistan. He also said that extended Canadian support would be contingent on an improved NATO presence. On July 10, two Canadian soldiers outside Kandahar city were injured by a roadside improvised explosive device blast while riding in a tank, according to military spokesman Lieutenant John Nethercott, CanWest reported. JC

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on July 11 that terrorists, and specifically Taliban militants, are enemies of both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, and he called for the two countries to unite against terrorism, Xinhua news agency reported. The same militants killing "Afghan sons" and destroying Afghanistan are those who have perpetuated the Red Mosque crisis in Pakistan, Karzai said, referring to the recent confrontation between pro-Taliban students and Pakistani law enforcement. Religious extremists loyal to the Taliban took over the Red Mosque in Islamabad, demanding the government enforce strict Islamic law, or Shari'ah, as imposed under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Pakistani troops ended the nearly two-week standoff on July 10 after launching an attack against the militants in the mosque. Karzai noted the victory, stating that the government of Afghanistan cooperates with Pakistan in the war on terrorism and hopes Pakistan will reciprocate by continuing to fight terrorism as it did in this instance. JC

The UN World Food Program (WFP) announced on July 11 that food-aid deliveries have resumed in parts of Afghanistan, Asia Pulse reported on July 12. WFP halted food-assistance deliveries to Afghanistan's southern and western regions last month after its delivery trucks were repeatedly attacked, looted, or set on fire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2007). In a press statement, WFP Afghanistan Country Director Rick Corsino noted that while problems still exist, resumption along the "ring road" is a major step forward for the organization. "Some 100,000 very poor Afghans have been awaiting food for weeks, for [them] this will bring very welcome relief," Corsino said. Between July 4 and July 9, WFP transported 280 metric tons of food from Kandahar to Herat provinces, where food had begun to run out. WFP will gradually increase shipments along the ring road as long as security conditions remain acceptable, Corsino said. JC

A roadside bomb destroyed a security vehicle traveling in southeastern Afghanistan on July 11, killing six Afghan policemen, Reuters reported. An unidentified police official in Khost Province said the attack occurred while the U.S.-led convoy was traveling on a dirt road near the border with Pakistan. There were no reports of military casualties from the blast, he added. Roadside bombs have become more prevalent in Afghanistan, where Western forces have seen a shift in tactics from conventional fighting to what are considered insurgent tactics, such as suicide attacks and beheadings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2007). The past 18 months have been the deadliest period since U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001. JC

Iran's government on July 9 dissolved the Management and Planning Organization, the state economic planning body, and merged it with the office of the presidency, media reported on July 10 and 11. This was a seemingly unexpected decision by the Higher Administrative Council (Shura-i aali-yi edari) headed by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The Management and Planning Organization, whose authority had already been reduced by the government, is now the Department for Planning and Strategic Supervision under the presidency's supervision. A member of the council, Mohammad Baqer Bahrami, told Fars news agency on July 10 that the presidential department will continue to draft the country's annual budgets. He said Iranian law gives the president economic planning and budgeting powers, and entitles him to determine how to exercise those prerogatives. He added that annual budgeting is "a year's strategic plan" and a matter pertaining to the government as a whole, and that bodies like the Economic Affairs and Finance Ministry should be entrusted with planning and supervising "smaller" sectors. VS

Radio Farda reported on July 11 that President Ahmadinejad's government has effectively reduced the powers of three key economic agencies in Iran, namely the former Management and Planning Organization, the Central Bank, and the Finance Ministry, which it called a "passive and extinguished" organ. The Central Bank, Farda observed, is the only economic body retaining some authority, in spite of interventionist moves by the presidency, such as an order to cut interest rates against the opinions of the bank and an affiliated body, the Money and Credit Council. Radio Farda added that legislators proposed a bill in recent days that would, if passed into law, require parliamentary approval of any Central Bank chief proposed by the president. The bank chief is now effectively appointed by the president, with the approval of a board at the bank. The broadcaster observed that the proposed legislation might enhance the bank's independence. Some observers have said, however, that the move would not guarantee the bank's independence, since parliament has at times been pressured into voting in favor of government requests, Radio Farda added. VS

Mansur Osanlu, the head of the greater Tehran bus drivers' union, was arrested late on July 10, Radio Farda reported on July 11, quoting Osanlu's wife and colleagues. Osanlu has a history of legal problems with the Iranian authorities because of his activism, which includes leading efforts to improve wages and working conditions for Tehran bus drivers. Osanlu was reportedly attacked and beaten by several people as he stepped off a bus on July 10, and was then taken away by car. Ibrahim Madadi, a deputy head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, told Radio Farda that he and Osanlu's relatives are not aware of Osanlu's whereabouts. Osanlu's lawyer, Yusef Molai, expressed concern over the "illegal" method of arrest, and said it might indicate that the agents were not members of the police or Intelligence Ministry, Radio Farda reported. VS

The Iranian authorities detained 16 students on July 9 in response to student demonstrations commemorating the 1999 student riots in Tehran and demanding the release of eight previously arrested students of Amir Kabir University, "Etemad" reported on July 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2007). Six of those detained on July 9 were members of the central council of the Office to Consolidate Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, or DTV), a nationwide student grouping, and 10 belonged to an affiliated group of university graduates and former DTV members. A judiciary spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi, was quoted as citing security matters on July 10 as the reason for their arrest. The 16 may have been taken to Tehran's Evin prison, "Etemad" reported. The reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front issued a statement on July 9 condemning the arrests, as well as the recent closures of dailies and "pressure" on the ILNA news agency, and said the moves were part of a government effort to "censor" anything threatening to "reveal its incompetence" in running the country. VS

Gunmen on July 11 killed Samarra Mayor Abd al-Hamid Salah in his home, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported. Local police sources said a group of armed men stormed Salah's home in the Al-Siqaq neighborhood in central Samarra, shot him dead, and quickly fled. Salah became mayor in May, after the Salah Al-Din governor removed his predecessor. One of Salah's responsibilities was to coordinate the rebuilding of the Al-Askari mosque, a revered Shi'ite shrine, with international humanitarian organizations. The shrine was severely damaged in attacks in February 2006 and on June 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006 and June 13, 2007). SS

U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said during a July 11 news conference that he expects Al-Qaeda in Iraq to carry out "spectacular attacks" in response to recent U.S.-led military campaigns that have severely disrupted its operations, international media reported. He noted that 26 Al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders were either killed or captured in May and June. "Over the past two months our collective efforts against the Al-Qaeda leadership have begun to disrupt their networks and safe havens," Bergner said. "We fully expect Al-Qaeda in Iraq operatives to lash out and stage spectacular attacks to reassert themselves," he said. Bergner made the comments after a massive suicide truck bombing at a market in the northern town of Tuz Khurmato on July 7 that killed 150 people and wounded more than 240 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9, 2007). While no group has taken responsibility for the attack, U.S. and Iraqi officials suspect Al-Qaeda-linked militants. The attack has been described in many media outlets as one of the worst since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. SS

Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, speaking on July 11 after talks with Saudi officials in Jeddah, praised Saudi Arabia's continuing efforts to support Iraq's stability and sovereignty, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. Earlier, al-Rubay'i held talks with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Bandar Sultan, and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif Bin Abd al-Aziz. Reports indicated that the three men focused on ways for Riyadh and Baghdad to better coordinate and exchange intelligence information to prevent future terrorist attacks. Before the visit, al-Rubay'i stressed that Iraq and Saudi Arabia face the same challenges in fighting terrorism. "Al-Qaeda does not threaten only Iraq's security but also the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the security of the region in general," al-Rubay'i said. "Therefore, there are common interests between us and the kingdom that prompt us to coordinate [on] security issues and intelligence issues so as to fight Al-Qaeda and defeat it, particularly in Iraq and in the region in general." SS

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Abd al-Karim al-Khalaf announced on July 11 that Iraqi forces seized a truck carrying more than 200 belts rigged with explosives on the Syrian border, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. He said the truck was driven by an Iraqi national and was stopped as it tried to pass into Iraq through the Al-Walid border point with Syria. He added that the driver was detained for questioning. Iraqi and U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Syria of allowing armed insurgents to cross the border into Iraq to stage attacks. They also contend that many former Ba'athist leaders, thought to form the backbone of the armed resistance, are currently based in Syria. Meanwhile, also on July 11, the Iraqi military announced that it killed 63 militants and detained 42 others in separate clashes in the previous 24 hours, KUNA reported. The military said most of the clashes and arrests took place during security operations in Salah Al-Din, Diyala, and Kirkuk Governorates. SS

Hannelore Marianne Krause, a 61-year-old German woman held hostage for more than five months in Iraq, was released on July 10, international media reported on July 11. Krause said her son is still being held hostage, and pleaded with the German government meet the demands of her son's captors. "I ask Germany to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. If it fails to do so, then my son will be slaughtered," Krause said in an interview with Al-Arabiyah satellite television on July 11. Krause and her son, Sinan, were abducted on February 6 by an armed group calling itself the Arrows of Righteousness. The group released a video of Krause and her son on April 4 and indicated that the two were abducted partly because she worked for the Austrian Embassy in Baghdad. The group contends that Austria is "hostile to Islam and Muslims" and its forces kill children in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2007). SS

Iraqi security sources say a U.S. helicopter opened fire in Mosul on July 11, killing four civilians and wounding 12 others, including several children, Xinhua reported. Mosul police chief Brigadier General Abd al-Karim al-Juburi confirmed the incident, saying it occurred in the city's central Al-Zangili neighborhood, but gave no further details. The U.S. military released a statement saying that one of its helicopters came under small-arms fire from the ground and was forced to defend itself. "Forces on the ground responding to the area reported that two people were killed in the exchange and seven children were wounded," the statement said. SS