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Newsline - August 29, 2007

Acting on a request from prosecutors, Moscow's Tverskoi Raion Court issued an arrest warrant on August 28 for billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, Russian and international media reported. He recently charged that the state is trying to force him out of his medium-sized oil company, RussNeft, by charging him with tax evasion to the amount of $800 million. He is believed to have left Russia in recent days lest he be arrested and jailed, as happened to oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003-05, when the state effectively took control of his Yukos oil company, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on August 29. Gutseriyev resigned as head of RussNeft in late July, citing state pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). It is not clear what effect the latest moves against Gutseriyev will have on plans by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to the Kremlin, to take control of RussNeft for his holding company, Basic Element. The value of RussNeft is estimated at about $6 billion. It is not known whether Deripaska planned to buy RussNeft as a long-term investment or in order to sell it off to a state-run firm. Some Russian media suggested on August 29 that the state acted against Gutseriyev so that it could block Deripaska and begin taking control of RussNeft for itself. The daily "Trud" wrote on August 29 that one possibility is that "the federal authorities are striving to concentrate all major oil and gas assets in state hands before the presidential election [in March 2008]. If this is true, we can expect that the RussNeft case won't be the last." PM

LUKoil reached an agreement in Moscow on August 28 with officials of Germany's Schwedt oil refinery to supply 600,000 tons of crude to Germany in September, the daily "Kommersant" reported on August 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 27, 2007). The paper quoted an unnamed "source close to the negotiations" as saying that the monthly "amount is unlikely to change later on." The deal follows a still not fully explained one-third cut in LUKoil's deliveries of crude oil to Germany, which began in June. Dpa reported from Moscow on August 28 that LUKoil wants its customers in Germany and other EU states to pay an unspecified higher sum for deliveries than previously was the case. The agency quoted unnamed sources at the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft as saying that other Russian oil companies also reduced their supplies to Germany in June and July. In May, LUKoil delivered 467,000 tons of crude to Germany. Prior to June, Transneft normally carried a total of 1.7 million tons of crude from all Russian suppliers to Germany each month. The German news agency suggested that LUKoil is trying to pressure Western firms into selling refineries to it. In 2007, the Russian company expressed an interest in buying the WRG refinery in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. PM

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on a visit to the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitzbergen on August 28 that all states with an interest in the Arctic must remember to observe international agreements, adding that the North Pole is "not a legal vacuum," German news agencies reported. He added that disputes regarding that region can be solved peacefully if international law is observed. Steinmeier argued that the Arctic is an area of natural wealth and beauty as well as a source of raw materials. Alluding specifically to Russia's recent well-publicized recent mission to the North Pole, Steinmeier said that "spectacular deeds don't mean much" in comparison with international law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 16, and 23, 2007). Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said that the Russian mission's placing of a titanium Russian flag on the polar seabed does not affect international law. The governments of the United States, Canada, and Denmark have made similar statements. German commentators noted that it is rare for Steinmeier, who belongs to former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD), to criticize Russia in public. PM

A spokesman for Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said in Moscow on August 29 that the minister is determined to severely punish those responsible for the killing of conscript Sergei Sinkonen, who died in a hospital on August 27 as a result of injuries he received at the hands of two drunken officers at Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24 and 28, 2007). The spokesman did not mention by name the two officers, company commander Captain Viktor Bal and platoon commander Warrant Officer Vadim Kalinin. Bal is undergoing psychiatric examination, and Kalinin is in detention. Prosecutors have opened a case against them for abuse of office. reported on August 29 that a "massive sacking of officers" is expected at Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Serdyukov personally took charge of the investigation in an apparent effort to demonstrate that the authorities intend to put an end to hazing, which is widespread in the Russian military and has led to several well-publicized scandals. PM

The regional duma of Samara Oblast voted on August 29 to confirm Vladimir Artyakov as governor following his recent appointment by President Vladimir Putin, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 17, and 27, 2007). Artyakov is currently head of the AvtoVAZ Group, which is part of the state arms-trading firm Rosoboroneksport. The daily "Kommersant" commented on August 29 that "this is the first time that Rosoboroneksport has taken control of a region." Former Governor Konstantin Titov, who held that post since 1991, recently resigned, reportedly under pressure from the Kremlin. PM

Speaking on August 28 during a visit to Jordan, Ramzan Kadyrov said an amnesty is currently being drafted for all Chechens who left the republic under the influence of negative propaganda, reported. He argued that those people have the right to live in Chechnya and participate in the reconstruction process. commented the same day that Kadyrov exceeded his authority by making such a sweeping offer. On June 15, quoted Kadyrov as ruling out any further amnesties for Chechen militants. LF

Mukhu Aliyev named Ummupazil Omarova first deputy prime minister on August 28 in place of Gitinomagomed Gadzhimagomedov, who submitted his resignation the previous day, and reported. Omarova is 45 and a trained lawyer; in April 2006 Aliyev named her human-rights plenipotentiary. Also on August 28, Aliyev appointed Rizvan Gazimagomedov deputy prime minister. Gazimagomedov, who is 46, trained and worked for decades as a construction engineer; in 1998 he was elected chairman of the Makhachkala municipal council. Aliyev also dismissed on August 28 Security Council Secretary Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiyev, naming Datsi Gadzhiyev, a presidential administration department head, to replace him. The same day, Aliyev chaired a meeting of senior officials to evaluate, and draft measures to improve, the political and crime situation in Untsukul Raion, which he had branded the previous day a hotbed of political extremism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). Finally, Aliyev named Murat Shikhsaidov minister of agriculture, replacing Rapi Abakarov. Shikhsaidov is 55 and a trained specialist in viticulture. In 1997, he was appointed first deputy minister of agriculture, and in 2001 he was named Kayakent Raion head. LF

The leaders of five opposition parties met in Yerevan on August 28 to discuss the hypothetical possibility of closing ranks behind a single challenger to the incumbent leadership's candidate in the presidential election due in early 2008, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. They did not, however, discuss the merits of specific candidates. Three of the five -- Stepan Demirchian (People's Party of Armenia), Artashes Geghamian (National Accord party), and Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hairikian (National Self-Determination Union) -- have run unsuccessfully in past presidential elections; a fourth, Artur Baghdasarian (Orinats Yerkir), joined the opposition only in summer 2006 after a falling-out with President Robert Kocharian over foreign policy (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 5 and 25, 2006). National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, whom several opposition parties jointly backed in the 1996 presidential ballot, did not attend the talks, having already announced his intention to participate in the 2008 election; neither did former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun leader Aram Sargsian, who has signaled that he would support former President Levon Ter-Petrossian should the latter decide to run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13 and 20, 2007). Also absent was Zharangutiun (Heritage) party leader Raffi Hovannisian. LF

Zharangutiun leader Hovannisian, who is also a former Armenian foreign minister, submitted to parliament on August 28 a bill calling for Armenia to recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as an independent state, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The NKR unilaterally declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, but no other state has formally recognized it: Armenia has consistently said that it will do so as soon as another state sets the precedent. Stepan Safarian, one of Zharangutiun's six parliament deputies, said the bill is intended to break what he termed the current deadlock in talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict. But parliament speaker Tigran Torosian signaled that his Republican Party of Armenia will oppose the bill on the grounds that it would make reaching a settlement even more difficult. He argued that it is "not right" for persons who are not informed about the current state of the Karabakh talks to introduce such bills, and implied that Hovannisian sought only to boost his own popularity by doing so. Aram Safarian, who is secretary of the parliament faction of the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party, predicted that "if the Republic of Armenia unilaterally recognizes the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state, the work of the OSCE Minsk Group [which mediates the search for a peaceful settlement of the conflict] will become meaningless." LF

A multistory building under construction in Baku collapsed on August 28, killing at least seven people and injuring several more, Azerbaijani media reported. As of August 29, rescue workers were still engaged in trying to free survivors from the debris. Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalybov said on August 28 that the city authorities did not issue permission for the construction, and Baku city prosecutor Aziz Seidov was quoted on August 29 by Reuters as saying that shoddy construction work was the most likely reason why the building collapsed. The online daily on August 29 noted that due to the breakdown of the Soviet-era vocational training system, Azerbaijan is experiencing an acute shortage of skilled construction workers. Similar disasters, albeit on a smaller scale, have been reported at regular intervals in Baku in recent years. President Ilham Aliyev visited the site of the collapse on August 29 accompanied by Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, Emergency Situations Minister Kyamaleddin Heydarov and Prosecutor-General Zakir Qaralov, reported. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev on August 28 ordered the dismissal of his son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, from a senior position at a major state-asset management firm, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The 40-year-old Kulibaev, who is married to the president's middle daughter, Dinara, has served as the deputy chairman of Samruk, a state agency that oversees government shares in the energy and other key sectors, since its formation in January 2006. He previously held top posts with the KazMunaiGaz and KazTransOil state energy companies. No explanation was given for the dismissal, which follows the recent appointment of the head of Samruk, Sauat Mynbaev, as the new energy and mineral resources minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). Another of the president's sons-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, was recently divorced from Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007) after the president dismissed him from his post as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria in May. Aliev faces criminal charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to corruption and money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, 13, and 19, 2007). A Kazakh request for his extradition was recently rejected by an Austrian court on the grounds that Aliev could not expect to receive a fair trial in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2007). RG

Defense Minister Ismail Isakov said on August 28 that there are "no plans" to abolish military conscription and create a professional army, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Isakov added that although the Kyrgyz military has recruited a small number of contract-based military professionals to serve in special mountain-warfare units, there is currently "no need for such a transformation" and "no room" in the budget for a professional army. Isakov also reported that, as part of a broader reform effort, a new position of military "legal adviser" has been created to deal specifically with "human-rights" issues within the armed forces. Conscripts in the armed forces routinely serve a compulsory one-year conscription. RG

An unnamed official of the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry confirmed on August 28 that electricity for the Russian military base outside of Bishkek was cut off by the Severelektro state electricity-distribution company for three days due to "outstanding bills" amounting to 501,000 soms (about $10,000), AKIpress reported. The official added that senior officers at the airbase had been notified of the arrears more than once. He said that electricity was cut off only to base residences and not to the airfield's operational facilities. Electricity for a Kyrgyz Defense Ministry depot, which is also located at the Kant air base, was also cut off for the same reason. This is the first time that electricity has been cut off for military units because of unpaid bills, and seems related to a disagreement over the past practice of utilities for the Russian base being paid by the Kyrgyz authorities. Under a larger agreement, Kyrgyzstan pays for all telecommunications, water, and utility expenses for the Russian base. Russia recently announced plans to expand its presence at the Kant base, adding that the number of Russian personnel will be enlarged. Kyrgyzstan also recently confirmed that it expects to receive military equipment worth $2.5 million from Russia this year, compared to $2 million in 2006. The donations are intended as compensation for the use of the Kant base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). As of June, 250 Russian Air Force officers and 150 personnel were stationed at the base, which is home to five Su-25 attack aircraft and two Mi-8 helicopters. RG

At a cabinet meeting in Dushanbe on August 28, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon warned that the population must "prepare" for major energy shortages through the coming winter, ITAR-TASS reported. Rahmon further ordered senior officials to prepare "seriously and in advance" for major disruptions in energy supplies, explaining that "this year's lack of water that affected the capacities of the exiting hydropower plants forced us to transfer to regulated and limited electric-power supply." Over the past few years, Tajikistan has endured a severe energy crisis stemming from a chronic production shortfall in its own electrical generation and has turned to purchasing electricity from neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The crisis was especially serious last winter, when Tajik authorities were forced to impose cuts, limiting supplies to between four and six hours a day. Tajik energy officials recently reported that a deal had been reached for the importation of nearly 1 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity from Turkmenistan to compensate for the anticipated shortfall this winter in supplies from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where reservoirs are so low that the output of hydroelectric-power stations has been seriously affected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 25, 2007). As part of the new agreement, Turkmen specialists are to repair a section of the power-transmission line through Uzbekistan that delivers electricity from Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30, 2007). RG

Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Surikov on August 28 denied that he said Russia might consider deploying nuclear facilities in Belarus in response to the U.S. plans to expand its missile-defense shield to Eastern Europe, Belapan reported. "Russia has no plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. I didn't say what was reported that I said," Surikov told journalists in Minsk. When asked by Interfax on August 27 whether Russia would deploy new military facilities in Belarus in response to the U.S. missile-shield plans, Surikov reportedly said plans "depend on the level of our political integration [with Belarus]" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). "The only [nuclear weapons] that might be deployed in Belarus without violating international agreements are tactical nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, there are no formal documents forbidding [that]," Andrey Fyodarau, a Belarusian expert in international relations, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on August 28. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarus, along with Ukraine and Kazakhstan, agreed to destroy all strategic nuclear warheads that were located on its territory or turn them over to Russia. Belarus became a nuclear-weapons-free state in November 1996. JM

The Central Election Commission (TsVK) on August 28 concluded the registration of candidate lists for the September 30 parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The TsVK registered candidate rolls of 21 political forces, refusing to register those of three other parties. The right to participate in the elections was granted to the Party of Regions, the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, the Communist Party (renewed), the Progressive Socialist Party, the Party of the All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda, the Bloc of Lytvyn, the Socialist Party, the All-Ukrainian Party of People's Confidence, the Agrarian Ukraine Peasant Bloc, the Party of Free Democrats, the Electoral Bloc of Lyudmyla Suprun-Ukrainian Regional Activists, the Ukrainian Hromada bloc, the Party of National-Economic Development, the Ukrainian People's Bloc, the Party of Greens, the KUCHMA bloc, the Bloc of the Party of Pensioners, the Christian Bloc, and the Pora Party. The Pora Party initially was in the Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, but a splinter group in the party managed to register a separate list of candidates under the party's name. The Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc has vowed to challenge the registration of the Pora Party's list of candidates in court. JM

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has become the first European foreign minister to say that dividing Kosova would be acceptable. In an interview with Dutch public radio on August 28, Verhagen said,"if both parties agree on it, and it is a workable solution, then division is acceptable for me." A similar formulation was used on August 12 by the EU's mediator at talks on Kosova, Wolfgang Ischinger. He subsequently stressed that the EU is not advocating partition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13 and 15, 2007). Verhagen visited Serbia on August 28 to "give an extra get Serbia and Kosovo to come up with workable solutions" for Kosova, he said. Verhagen underlined that he wants any solution to be "agreed to by the UN Security Council." The EU and the United States in July halted efforts to reach an agreement at the UN Security Council after Russia indicated it would veto any resolution paving the way for Kosova to gain independence. Since then, European leaders have stressed the need for a quick solution and have been reticent about the possibility of returning the issue to the Security Council. Both Belgrade and Prishtina oppose partition. In a statement issued after he met Verhagen, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica urged the "the international react immediately to [the] real danger" that Kosova might unilaterally declare independence this year. International mediators are due to start formal negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina on August 30. AG

Forensic experts have identified the remains of the 10,000th person missing since the 1992-95 conflict, the International Commission on Missing People (ICMP) announced on August 27. The victim was one of around 8,000 Bosnian men and boys killed by ethnic Serbs at Srebrenica in July 1995. The commission said its two laboratories in Bosnia have so far matched the remains of 12,000 victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. "The ICMP hopes to record another 9,000 matches [by] 2010," the commission's director, Kathryne Bomberger, said. A decade after the Yugoslav wars ended, 13,000 people remain unaccounted for in Bosnia, and a total of 17,500 across the former Yugoslavia are still missing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). AG

Greece has rejected a Macedonian offer of help as it fights to contain fires that have already killed scores of people. Local media reported on August 28 that Greek border guards turned back 60 Macedonian firefighters on August 27 after officials in Athens said their help is not needed. Athens also turned down offers of assistance from other countries on August 27. Relations between Greece and Macedonia remain strained by Greece's refusal to recognize Macedonia by its constitutional name, and the offer of help was viewed in Macedonia in part as a gesture of goodwill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, May 18 and 23, June 25, and July 17, 2007). "I don't want to believe that this action is politically motivated," Pande Lazarevski, director of the Macedonian Crisis Management Center, told local media after Greece's rejection of help. AG

Wildfires are threatening to destroy ancient pine forests in a nature reserve in northern Montenegro, local media reported on August 27 and 28. "This is the biggest fire in this area since 1947," the news service Balkan Insight on August 27 reported the head of the local forestry commission as saying. The Tara Canyon -- which, at 82 kilometers, is the second-longest canyon in the world -- has been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO. AG

Croatia and Slovenia agreed on August 26 to seek a settlement of a long-standing border dispute through the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Both sides previously maintained they were open to arbitration, but failed to agree on which court to turn to (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, 2007). The ICJ is the UN's top court. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa and his Croatian counterpart, Ivo Sanader, said they will ask the ICJ to determine the two countries' land and sea borders, but it is the maritime border that has proven most contentious and that is a particularly important for Slovenia, which has only 50 kilometers of coastline. Ljubljana wants access to international waters without having to pass through Italian or Croatian waters. Sanader and Jansa said they would decouple the border dispute from other issues of contention. "We are not resolving these issues in a package," Jansa said. "Resolution of the border issue is not conditional on any concessions by any of the sides in other open issues." Those open issues, which would include plans for an existing jointly owned nuclear power plant, will be resolved in bilateral talks. "We think we should have some results by the end of this year," Jansa said. The Croatian and Slovenian governments reached a border agreement in 2001, but subsequently failed to win parliamentary support. Jansa and Sanader held meetings on August 27 with political parties in their countries in a bid to win their backing. Jansa told reporters "there is a high level of consent to continue on the current path and seek assistance from a third party," while Sanader said he has received full support from the leaders of the opposition, the news agency Hina reported. AG


Taliban militants on August 27 agreed to release the remaining 19 South Korean hostages held captive for six weeks following an affirmation from Seoul that it will withdraw its troops by the end of the year and will prohibit Christian aid workers from operating in Afghanistan, AP reported. The rebels appear to have backed down from their earlier demands for a prisoner swap, although spokesmen for the extremist group told the "Korea Times" that no ransom was paid. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid Mujahid told the agency by telephone that the Taliban is not fighting for money, adding that the demands for a prisoner exchange and the withdrawal of Korean troops are based on principle. Although the Taliban killed two South Korean hostages in July, experts warn that the group may emerge from this crisis with improved political credibility for taking part in negotiations during one of the bloodiest periods of violence since the regime was ousted in 2001. Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said that although the Taliban did not attain their original demands, "they achieved a lot in terms of political credibility." That the Korean government directly negotiated with the rebel group "more or less in their in itself an achievement," he added. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey reaffirmed on August 28 that U.S. policy is not to make concessions to terrorists. JC

Afghan Communications Minister Amirzai Sangin on August 27 said there is "no end in sight" to the expansion of the telecommunications sector following the launch of the nation's fourth cell-phone service provider, Emirates Telecommunication Corp. (Etisalat), AP reported. Approximately 150,000 people subscribe for cell-phone service monthly, evidence of a booming information-technology sector, which Sangin predicted will become an "engine of growth for Afghanistan." Despite Afghanistan's predominantly rural society, villagers without land lines have embraced the mobile-communications era. Calls cost around $0.10 per minute and coverage is typically available in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Etisalat CEO Salem Al Kendi expressed his desire to transform Afghanistan into a "telecommunications hub" and a "gateway" into other countries in the region. JC

Three NATO soldiers helping to build a bridge in eastern Afghanistan were killed by a suicide bomber on August 28, while more than 100 insurgents were killed in a separate battle in southern Afghanistan, AFP reported. The suicide bomber approached the troops as they worked on the bridge, killing three soldiers and wounding six others, an alliance statement said. Officials did not disclose the exact location or the nationalities of the soldiers. In southern Kandahar Province, coalition and Afghan troops engaged insurgents in fierce fighting that continued into the night and left more than 100 militants and one Afghan security force member dead, the U.S.-led coalition said. The fight broke out after a rebel group ambushed a military patrol from several positions using small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. Security forces called in air support, which targeted the continuously reinforced rebel positions atop a hill, sniper posts, and supply trucks used by the rebels in the attack. Three international and three Afghan soldiers were wounded in the battle. JC

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez on August 27 pledged to help Afghanistan's private sector surmount its problems and enable it to play an "efficient role" in promoting the country's developing economy, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. While visiting Kabul, Gutierrez met with representatives of the private sector at the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) on August 27 to discuss ways in which the United States could provide the necessary support to help them overcome their identified problems and priorities. Gutierrez highlighted the effectiveness of private-sector development in promoting economic growth, describing it as the "engine of Afghanistan's development." AICC Director Azrakhsh Hafizi thanked the United States for its outpouring of support for Afghanistan's reconstruction effort since 2001, but stressed that the burgeoning private sector still needs urgent help due to the lack of security, the poor public infrastructure, and inadequate cooperation from government officials. JC

The U.S.-led coalition forces on August 27 alleged that Taliban militants fired mortars at civilians near the village of Regai in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province following the discovery by Afghan forces of a large heroin laboratory, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Afghan troops overcame a group of insurgents defending a large heroin laboratory, said coalition spokeswoman U.S. Army Captain Vanessa Bowman. Within an hour, Afghan and coalition forces began a combat patrol, during which Taliban militants fired 82-millimeter mortars at civilians nearby. A number of insurgents were killed in the subsequent hours of fighting with the Afghan and coalition forces, she said. Bowman criticized the rebels for following a continuous pattern of falsely reporting civilian casualties, while at the same time "stoop[ing] so low as to fire mortars at innocent Afghans to protect their drug trade." She added that "with the discovery of their drug-making facilities, it is becoming increasingly clear why they want us to stop our operations." JC

An unnamed Western diplomat told IRNA in Vienna on August 28 that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei will issue on August 29 or 30 a confidential report on Iran's recent cooperation with the agency to IAEA board members. The report is to be studied by members ahead of a board session on September 10, IRNA reported. The IAEA on August 27 posted on its website a communication from the Iranian mission to the IAEA that sets out the agreements recently reached by the agency and Iran on the "modalities" of inspections of Iranian atomic installations. Some of the agreements cited allow for inspectors to visit the heavy-water research reactor in Arak (a visit was made on July 30); Iran's acceptance of five additional IAEA inspectors; and Iran's willingness to issue multiple-entry visas for 14 IAEA inspectors and personnel. Agreement was also reportedly reached on some questions pertaining to Iranian plutonium experiments. Iran stated in its communique that it has resolved these questions to the agency's satisfaction and is expecting IAEA confirmation. The text sets out a timeframe within which Iran and the agency are to clarify outstanding questions on Iran's program, pursuant to an agreement the two sides reached in Tehran on July 11-12. Western states suspect Iran's nuclear program is not strictly peaceful, as Tehran has claimed consistently. VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told the press in Tehran on August 28 that the case of Iran's nuclear program is closed, describing Iran's cooperation with the IAEA as "unique," agencies reported. "Now it is clear Iran has always closely cooperated with the [IAEA] and this cooperation is unique, and you could not find a single member of the agency that has cooperated this much," Ahmadinehad said. "As far as we are concerned...the nuclear issue is over." He said the time for pressure on Iran "is over and [Western states] have understood they were on the wrong path." Ahmadinejad said that in spite of IAEA conclusions that Iran has not deviated from its civilian program, "these opponents threatened us with military attacks." He said Iran is "a nuclear Iran, meaning that it has the full fuel-production cycle at its disposal and is moving in a peaceful direction," IRNA reported. He told "one or two states that think they are superpowers" that "your illegal moves had no results. You insulted the Iranian nation and accused us, when you knew your measures were illusory," IRNA and Fars reported. VS

Ten members of parliament called on President Ahmadinejad on August 27 to stop the expulsion or removal of "learned and model" academics and lecturers from Tehran and Shahid Beheshti universities, two of the country's top universities, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian agency reports. Some observers suspect that the academics were removed because of their political opinions, though the Tehran University chief Ayatollah Abbas Ali Amid-Zanjani has denied this. The daily "Etemad" reported on August 21 that right-wing groups in universities have in recent months been calling for a second cultural revolution in universities, urging moves to ensure universities are duly Islamic and ideologically correct. The first "cultural revolution" occurred after the 1979 revolution that toppled the Westernizing and secular monarchy. Members of the Tehran University law faculty recently met with Amid-Zanjani and asked him to reverse some of the dismissals, which were apparently ordered by university disciplinary boards, Radio Farda reported on August 27, citing the Mehr news agency. Law student Ali Kazemi told Mehr that Amid-Zanjani promised to try and reinstate some of the dismissed academics. Radio Farda separately quoted Amid-Zanjani as telling ISNA that two academics from Tehran University asked to retire and two others were dismissed for "absences" of some two years. VS

The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian charge d'affaires in Tehran, Aleksei Dedov, on August 27 to express its dissatisfaction over the recent security searches of Iranian legislators traveling through a Moscow airport, IRNA reported on August 28. An unnamed official at the ministry's Commonwealth of Independent States department said such incidents are not beneficial to Iran-Russia relations, IRNA reported. Dedov expressed regret about the incident, which reportedly occurred on August 24, and said he will convey Iran's expression of dissatisfaction to Russian authorities. The incident involved the thorough search of unnamed Iranian legislators traveling to Belarus via Moscow. VS

Several Iranian parliamentarians, including members of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, were searched "like ordinary passengers" as they transited through a Moscow airport on August 24, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 25 and 26, and describing the treatment as an unprecedented insult. The legislators, apparently members of the Iran-Belarus parliamentary friendship group, had their personal effects searched and were told to take their belts and shoes off, National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Kazem Jalali told the Aftab news agency on August 25. On August 26, he blamed the incident on the local Iranian Embassy's "weakness" in coordinating the transit with Russian authorities, "Etemad" reported on August 27. VS

Two parliamentarians told Al-Sharqiyah television in August 28 interviews that they are dismayed by Iranian President Ahmadinejad's comments that Iran is ready to fill a power vacuum in Iraq. Ahmadinejad told reporters in Tehran on August 28: "I truly declare that the political power of the occupiers is on the decline, and the region will witness the emergence of a big power. We are ready to help restore security in the region through collective cooperation with our regional friends and Saudi Arabia," IRNA reported the same day. Hasan al-Sunayd, a parliamentarian aligned with the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, told Al-Sharqiyah that Iraq should not be used as a playground to settle scores between the United States and Iran. "Iraqi forces should achieve the required standard to fill the security vacuum.... We do not want Iranian or Saudi forces or any Arab, Islamic, or international forces to replace the U.S. forces. Iraqi forces will fill the security vacuum," he said. Parliamentarian Usamah al-Nujayfi, a representative of the Iraqis List, told Al-Sharqiyah that he is convinced Iran began interfering in Iraq four years ago "and has infiltrated power circles and has a lot of leverage over the political and social situation in Iraq." He said Ahmadinejad's remarks are tantamount to an admission that Iran is interfering in Iraq. KR

Intra-Shi'ite violence that had been simmering for days between Iraqi police and members of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army escalated to large-scale battles in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala as pilgrims tried to commemorate the birth of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi on August 28, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a curfew in Karbala Governorate and flew to the southern city with national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i to inspect the damage. Al-Maliki said in a statement released by his office on August 29 that rapid-reaction forces, special forces, army, and police have been sent in to secure the city. Al-Maliki blamed "armed criminal gangs" that belong to "what remains of the defunct Saddamist regime" for the "terrorist attacks." Reuters reported on August 29 that the previous day's fighting left at least 52 dead and 206 injured. KR

Fighting between Al-Mahdi Army militiamen and members of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), a rival Shi'ite party whose members hold the majority of police positions, spread to the Babil and Baghdad governorates on August 28, international media reported on August 29. Police told Reuters that Al-Mahdi militiamen torched SIIC buildings overnight in the holy city of Kufa, as well as offices in the Al-Iskandariyah and Al-Hamzah districts of Babil and in Baghdad's Al-Kadhimiyah neighborhood. An SIIC office in Al-Najaf, south of Karbala, was struck by rocket-propelled grenades. Reuters reported five dead in related clashes in Baghdad. Six SIIC members were killed in the attack on the party's office in Al-Hamzah. Meanwhile, al-Sadr has called for calm and ordered his militiamen to cease fighting, according to his aide, Ahmad al-Shaybani, Al-Iraqiyah television reported on August 29. Al-Sadr said in a statement that his militiamen should cooperate with the government and security agencies investigating the violence. KR

A diplomatic mission from Saudi Arabia arrived in Baghdad on August 28 to look into the possibility of reopening the Saudi Embassy, SPA reported the same day. The Saudi government committed in early August to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, though it is unlikely to follow through given the tension that exists between Saudi Arabia and Iraq's Shi'ite-led administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2007). Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an August 28 statement that the Presidency Council "highly appreciates" the steps taken by Saudi Arabia, which reflect "the effective role of the enhancing fraternal relations among Arab states," SPA reported. KR