RUSSIA, AUSTRALIA SIGN URANIUM DEAL
President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister John Howard signed a controversial agreement in Sydney on September 7 for Australia to supply uranium to Russia for use in civilian nuclear reactors, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 17 and 22, and September 4 and 5, 2007). Alluding to criticism in both countries that Moscow might use at least some of the uranium for military purposes or sell it to Iran or Syria, Howard said that "these assessments...are wrong.... Any uranium that is sold to Russia will be sold subject to very strict safeguards." He added that Putin told him that "Russia already has an enormous amount of [weapons-grade] nuclear material which it is selling principally to the United States for reprocessing. So if you apply logic to the allegation, it lacks substance." Putin noted that Russia is obliged "to sell 500 tons to our American partners on the North American market, 500 tons of weapons-grade uranium from Russia. Why should we spend money enriching to weapons-grade the uranium bought from Australia? As far as the Australian uranium is concerned, we will buy it only for economic considerations, in connection with our plans to develop peaceful nuclear energy." Putin stressed that "during the Soviet era, we built about 30 major reactors in nuclear power stations in Russia. In the coming 15-20 years we are planning to build about the same amount, and of course for these purposes we need this Australian uranium. As regards supplies to other countries, if such a need arises, our own resources will suffice." He added that "those who speak about the possibility of Russia using Australian uranium for military purposes simply don't understand the issue. Or they just throw out this thesis deliberately to hinder cooperation between the two countries." But Graeme Gill, a Russia expert at the University of Sydney, was quoted by Australian media as saying that the deal will enable Russia to "free up Russian sources of uranium, which they can then ship abroad." This is the first-ever visit by a top Soviet or Russian leader to Australia. Putin is in Sydney for the September 8-9 summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. PM
PUTIN, BUSH DISCUSS KEY ISSUES
President Putin met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Sydney on September 7 for talks that included the proposed U.S. missile-defense system, Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and Iranian nuclear plans, whitehouse.gov reported. Appearing before reporters, Putin enumerated the topics the two men discussed and described the talks as "constructive and open," but did not elaborate. He noted that "we also covered our economic relations. We discussed some particular large-scale economic projects, the implementation of which is in the interests of the business communities on both sides, in the U.S. and in Russia." Putin pointed out that "we also discussed the environmental issues, in particular in connection with the forthcoming APEC summit. I should tell you that we have very close positions on these matters." Bush said that he "found the conversation to be cordial and constructive. We are results-oriented people. We want to help solve problems. And we recognize that we can do better solving problems when we work together." Putin added that he hopes to go fishing with Bush "somewhere in Siberia very soon." PM
RUSSIA, INDONESIA SIGN MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR DEALS
As was widely expected, Presidents Putin and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed agreements in Jakarta on September 6 worth well over $1 billion for Indonesia to purchase Russian military equipment, including jet fighters and submarines, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4 and 5, 2007). Putin hailed the deal, saying in Sydney on September 7 that "Indonesia is a full-fledged member of the international community. Thank God, the country is not under any sanctions.... These are legal and open deals, and, we are profoundly certain, will not lead to negative consequences for the world, will do not disturb any balance." He did not mention that the United States and EU ban the selling of "lethal" military equipment to Indonesia under a series of measures implemented in response to the 1999 crisis in East Timor. In Jakarta on September 6, the two presidents also witnessed the signing of agreements valued at a total of $4 billion between the Indonesian mining company Aneka Tambang and Russia's RusAl, and between the state-owned oil company Pertamina and Russia's LUKoil. Putin said that the fight against terrorism figured prominently in the two leaders' conversations. The Russian "RBC Daily" wrote on September 6 that Putin wants his trip to "turn a new page in the relations with Indonesia" and boost the levels of bilateral trade, which he considers unacceptably low. The paper noted that Indonesia is anxious to diversify its trading partners and welcomes Russian business. There has been no top-level visit from Moscow to Jakarta since Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev went to Indonesia in 1960. PM
IS RUSSIA TESTING BRITAIN'S AIR DEFENSES?
Britain's "The Guardian" reported on September 7 that President "Putin's newfound determination to project Russia's military power internationally led [on September 6] to an aerial encounter with the RAF [Royal Air Force] over the North Sea as British fighter jets, backed by an early-warning aircraft, intercepted eight long-range Russian planes in the North Atlantic." The paper added that "in the latest of a [recent] series of aerial incidents reminiscent of the Cold War, four Tornado F3s...were scrambled early [on September 6], followed by an E3 early-warning-radar aircraft and a refueling tanker, to shadow eight Russian Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear)" propeller-driven, long-range bombers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18 and August 22, 2007). Norwegian fighters also shadowed the Bears. The daily noted that unnamed Ministry of Defense officials played down the incident, saying that the Bears did not enter British airspace and were clearly on a training mission. One official described the British response as "routine NATO procedure" and added that "this is not the start of a new Cold War." The paper quoted British military-aviation expert Robert Hewson as saying that the Russians "are out to make a point, that they are still here, and that they can't be forgotten about or ignored. But it isn't something anyone has to worry about." The "International Herald Tribune" on September 7 quoted Norwegian Deputy Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide as saying that the Bears' "message [is] that Russia is back as a superpower." PM
PREMIER ECHOES PUTIN'S CRITICISM OF TRADE MINISTER
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov during a September 6 cabinet meeting repeated President Putin's recent criticism of Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported. "The president criticized us, the government and individual ministers, for a lack of organization and an inability to proceed on a number of projects," Fradkov said. "And this criticism is justified.... The president's criticism is sufficient for us to make some administrative conclusions." Putin made his remarks during a trip to Kamchatka, where he said the government's development plan for the Far East is stalled. "It is the basic work of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry to establish priorities and help the sector ministries and the government to formulate and organize monitoring and control," Fradkov told the session, which Gref did not attend because he is in Australia with Putin. An article in "Gazeta" on September 7 asked why Gref is responsible for the lack of progress on the Kamchatka gas pipeline rather than Gazprom. RC
A JUST RUSSIA SETS ITSELF UP AGAINST COMMUNISTS...
The left-leaning pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party will hold its pre-election congress in Moscow on September 23, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 7. The names of the party's top three candidates are not likely to be determined ahead of the congress, Federation Council Chairman and party leader Sergei Mironov told journalists. Mironov told RFE/RL that A Just Russia's main political opponent is the Communist Party, and he described A Just Russia as "a left-socialist party" rather than a left-centrist one. "Although Unified Russia can change the situation in the country, it doesn't want to," Mironov said. "The Communists want to, but can't. A Just Russia wants to and can." The leader of the Communist Party's Youth Left Front, Ilya Ponomaryov, on September 6 called on "left activists to support A Just Russia in order to prevent an alliance between Unified Russia and the Communist Party," "The Moscow Times" reported on September 7. In August, the Communist Youth Union also voted to endorse A Just Russia (see End Note below). Gazeta.ru reported on September 6 that Ponomaryov will run for the Duma on A Just Russia's Novosibirsk regional list. RC
...AS COMMUNISTS, PATRIOTS OF RUSSIA WORK ON PARTY LISTS
The Communist Party confirmed on September 6 that party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Duma Deputy Zhores Alfyorov will head the party's list for the December 2 Duma elections, "Kommersant" reported on September 7. The third spot remains open, but leading candidates are Duma Deputy and party Central Committee member Ivan Melnikov and Duma Deputy and former cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya. The daily also reported that Patriots of Russia party leader Gennady Semigin will head his party's list in the elections. The list will also likely include Party of Russia's Rebirth leader Gennady Seleznyov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007), and a representative of the Great Russia party, possibly Duma Deputy Dmitry Rogozin. However, the daily noted, Rogozin's inclusion is strongly opposed by unspecified forces within the Kremlin. RC
INVESTMENT HOUSE OUTLINES SCENARIOS FOR PRESIDENTIAL RACE...
A report by the Renaissance Capital investment group lays out two possible models for the 2008 presidential transition, "Vedomosti" reported on September 6. According to the report, if the Kremlin decides the main goal is to maintain the status quo, then the most likely successors to President Putin are Prime Minister Fradkov, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin. If, on the other hand, the Kremlin seeks someone who will create an active economic policy, the leading candidates are Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin or presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak. The report, titled "The Russian Elections: The Investors' Manual," was authored by economist Yekaterina Malofeyeva, and predicts that the two men currently considered front-runners in the race -- First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov -- are not the most likely finalists. Malofeyeva argues that the main tasks of the next president will be to balance the interests of the country's main business and political interests, protect the interests of Kremlin-connected businesspeople, and find an acceptable postpresidential role for Putin. She says the selection of a "status quo" president could signal that Putin plans to return to the Kremlin in 2012. RC
...AS OPINION POLL SHOWS RUSSIANS DON'T SUPPORT ALL OF PUTIN'S AGENDA
Only 26 percent of Russians support further moves to strengthen the power of Russia's central government, a new survey by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has found. Thirty percent called for democratization, free elections, and independent media. Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told "Vedomosti" that that 30 percent could become 50 percent within two or three years if the government does not prove its effectiveness. The same survey found that 51 percent of Russians support President Putin's efforts to boost Russia's self-reliance, while 21 percent favor closer integration with the international community. Fifty-six percent favor a greater role for the state in the economy and 49 percent want greater efforts to protect Russians from immigrants. RC
TOMSK CHORNOBYL VETERANS RENEW HUNGER-STRIKE THREAT
A group of Chornobyl liquidators in the Siberian city of Tomsk are preparing to renew a hunger strike to protest poor housing conditions, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 6. The activists held a hunger strike in the spring, but stopped it after securing promises of support from the authorities. Now, they say, some 70 members of the regional branch of the Chornobyl Russia Union are prepared to renew the action. "The state promised to pay those whose health was damaged according to the results of court decisions that took effect more than three years ago. They said they'd do it by the end of the year," activist Aleksei Redchits told RFE/RL. "But, excuse me, it was the same last year. And the year before." Acting Tomsk Mayor Nikolai Nikolaichuk told RFE/RL the city and oblast are working to construct the housing that was promised to the liquidators. RC
NO CHARGES FILED IN CASE OF APPARENT EXECUTION VIDEO
No charges will be filed against Viktor Milkov, a student from Adygeya who allegedly posted a video showing the execution-style killing by neo-Nazis of a man from Tajikistan and another from Daghestan, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 5 (see "Russian Video Shows Apparent Extremist Killings," rferl.org, August 14, 2007). Vasily Guk, a spokesman for the Adygeya prosecutor's office, told the website that there is insufficient evidence to press charges, although the results of an expert analysis of the video are still pending. Guk confirmed that Milkov had filed a complaint against investigators for his treatment while in custody in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 15, 2007). Guk also said Milkov has been warned against revealing "investigative secrets" to the press. A spokeswoman for the public organization Union of Adygeya Slavs denied earlier media reports that Milkov is affiliated with her group. RC
KOREAN FAMILY SLAIN IN INGUSHETIA
Two Koreans, a father and son, were found shot dead on September 6 in their home in the village of Ordjonikidzevskaya in Sunzha Raion, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 7. The motives for the killings are unclear. In a statement posted on September 3 on the resistance website kavkazcenter.com, the Ingushetian jamaat affirmed that its members do not kill peaceful civilians of any nationality, including Koreans, provided they do not participate in the struggle against Islam (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007). Also on September 6, Interior Ministry and security personnel launched a "counterterrorism" operation in the town of Karabulak, northeast of Nazran, where three members of a Russian family were shot dead during the night of August 30-31, but failed to apprehend any militants, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. LF
ABDUCTED OFFICIAL RELEASED IN DAGHESTAN
Buynaksk Deputy Prosecutor Magomed Batdalov, who was snatched in late July by a militant group, has been released, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 30 and August 20, 2007). The kidnappers reportedly demanded a ransom of $2 million from Batdalov's family; it is not clear whether that ransom was paid. LF
FSB CLAIMS SLAIN MILITANT'S GROUP PLANNED ATTACKS IN KARACHAYEVO-CHERKESSIA
The "religious-extremist group" headed by Rustam Ionov (aka Abubakar), who was killed together with a female comrade-in-arms in a shoot-out on September 5 on the border between Georgia and the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), was planning attacks on government officials and police in the KChR, regnum.ru reported on September 6, quoting the KChR subdivision of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). According to the KChR FSB, more than 20 members of Ionov's group have been apprehended in the past two months and weapons and "extremist" literature and DVDs were confiscated from them. LF
FORMER ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RELEASED FROM DETENTION
Alexander Arzumanian, who was arrested in early May on suspicion of money laundering, was released from pretrial detention late on September 6 on condition that he does not leave Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A search of his apartment two days before his arrest yielded a large sum of money he was said to have received from a Moscow-based Armenian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 11, and 18, 2007). Arzumanian, who heads a small opposition group that campaigns for peaceful regime change, rejected the charge against him as politically motivated. His lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, appealed the August 31 ruling by a Yerevan district court to prolong Arzumanian's pretrial detention by a further two months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007). LF
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCLAIMS PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS...
Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on September 6, Vartan Oskanian distanced himself from speculation that he plans to run in the presidential election due early next year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "Those who want to be candidates are already speaking out. The fact that I don't speak out means that I am not a candidate," he said. In July 2006, Oskanian declined to rule out the possibility that he would run for president, and the results of a recent opinion poll suggested that more Armenians would vote for him as president than for any other political figure, including Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, widely regarded as the most likely successor to incumbent President Robert Kocharian (see "Armenia: Polls Suggest Presidential Race Is Wide Open," rferl.org, September 6, 2007, and "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17, 2006). Oskanian on September 6 termed those findings interesting, but said he has not studied them in detail. LF
...HINTS THAT STEPANAKERT MAY JOIN KARABAKH PEACE TALKS
Oskanian told the same Yerevan press conference on September 6 that Armenia is working toward drawing the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh into the ongoing negotiations under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group on resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. Azerbaijan has to date refused to condone participation by representatives of the region, arguing that the conflict was one between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Oskanian predicted that "I think Azerbaijan will...finally understand that the sooner Nagorno-Karabakh is drawn into the negotiations, the sooner the problem will be solved." Speaking in Tbilisi on September 4, Spanish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos said that "in order to achieve positive results [in the Karabakh peace process], it is imperative to make certain changes in the negotiation process," the Azerbaijani news agency day.az reported. Moratinos did not elaborate, but Azerbaijani commentator Rasim Agayev was quoted by the Azerbaijani daily echo-az.com on September 6 as saying that Moratinos must have been referring to the inclusion of Karabakh representatives in the talks on resolving the conflict. LF
OSCE DISCUSSES GEORGIAN MISSILE INCIDENT
Former Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul delivered a report on September 6 to a closed session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna in his capacity as special envoy of OSCE Chairman in Office Moratinos to probe the August 6 incident in which an unidentified aircraft allegedly violated Georgian airspace and fired a missile that landed near the village of Tsitelubani, west of Tbilisi. Speaking at a press conference after the Permanent Council session, Zuzul termed the firing of the missile "extremely dangerous and worrying," but failed unequivocally to blame Russia as the Georgian leadership hoped the OSCE would do. Zuzul said that a new fact-finding mission one month after the incident would not be productive. (According to Russian investigators who traveled to Tbilisi last month, the Georgian authorities have already destroyed fragments of the missile and filled in the crater where it landed.) Two separate groups of international experts confirmed that an unidentified aircraft violated Georgian airspace and fired a Russian-manufactured missile, noting that the Georgian armed forces do not have planes capable of firing such missiles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 16, and 17, 2007). According to a press release posted on the OSCE webpage (http://www.osce.org), Zuzul proposed instead that the OSCE appoint a "troubleshooter" who would seek to prevent any further such attacks and "intervene rapidly" to prevent a deterioration of relations between OSCE member states should they take place. LF
KAZAKHSTAN INVESTIGATES ROCKET CRASH...
Speaking to reporters in Astana, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on September 6 the opening of a formal investigation into the crash of an unmanned Proton-M rocket after its launch from the Baikonur Space Center earlier in the day, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. No one was injured in the incident, which was said to have been caused by engine failure, and unnamed officials from the Emergency Situations Ministry said that debris from the rocket was spread in a small contained area around 40 kilometers from the city of Zhezqazghan, in the central Karaganda region. According to Talghat Musabaev, the head of the Kazkosmos state national aerospace agency, the rocket, which was attempting to launch a Japanese telecommunications satellite into space, was carrying a fuel payload consisting of more than 200 tons of heptyl, a highly toxic rocket fuel. Natalya Kim, a spokeswoman for the ministry, announced that a government commission headed by Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Khrapunov will be tasked with specifically assessing the environmental damage from the crash. But an unnamed official from the state meteorological service, Kazgidromet, said that within hours of the crash, prevailing winds were blowing toxic vapors at the crash site safely away from nearby communities, ITAR-TASS reported. RG
...AND IMPOSES BAN ON FURTHER LAUNCHES
Following the crash of a Proton-M rocket early on the morning of September 6, Adilbek Basekeev, a Kazakh presidential envoy working at the Baikonur Space Center, announced on September 6 a ban on further launches from the facility, ITAR-TASS reported. Basekeev explained that the crash necessitated the "automatic introduction of a ban" on all rocket launches from Baikonur "until all circumstances of the crash are ascertained." An unnamed official at the Russian space agency Roskosmos, which leases the Baikonur facility, reported that the ban will delay two additional Proton-M rockets that were set to be launched from Baikonur later this year. Two similar Proton rockets crashed at Baikonur in July and October 1999, leading to the imposition of a similar suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 8 and November 3, 1999). A more recent incident, in July 2006, involved the crash of a Russian RS-20 "Dnepr" rocket, which caused environmental damage estimated at over $1 million. The Baikonur Center is widely regarded as one of the world's leading space facilities and is regularly used to launch commercial and military satellites, as well as missions to supply the orbiting International Space Station. RG
KAZAKH PREMIER COMMENTS ON STATUS OF SUSPENDED OPERATIONS AT MAJOR OFFSHORE OIL FIELD
Prime Minister Masimov announced on September 6 that Kazakhstan is seeking a larger role for the state-owned KazMunaiGaz energy company in developing the offshore Kashagan oil field, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Asia-Plus reported. Although Masimov said that the government is "ready for an open dialogue" to settle all disputes over the project as soon as possible, he also warned that "there is a threat that the postponement of the start of commercial production of the Kashagan oil and a more than twofold increase in the cost of the development of the oil field will entail serious social and economic consequences" for the country. Deputy Finance Minister Daulet Yergozhin also said that the Kazakh government will seek some $10 billion in compensation for "problems" at the site, AKIpress reported. Late last month, the government suspended operations at the Kashagan oil field for three months due to alleged violations of environmental-protection laws and consistent delays and cost overruns by the Italian-led consortium in charge of operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). The Italian energy group Eni, a subsidiary of Italy's Agip, has been under increasing pressure from the Kazakh authorities over mounting problems, most recently when operators shifted the target date for the start of production from 2008 to late 2010 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31 and August 22, 2007) and raised cost projections from $57 billion to $136 billion. The Kashagan field holds between 7 billion and 9 billion tons of proven reserves, making it the single-largest oil field discovered in the last three decades and the fourth- or fifth-largest in the world. RG
TAJIK OFFICIALS REVIEW FUTURE OF FRENCH MILITARY PRESENCE
An unnamed official in the office of President Emomali Rahmon revealed on September 6 that Tajik officials are reviewing the future of the French military presence in the country and confirmed that French Defense Minister Herve Morin will arrive in Dushanbe on September 7 to meet with senior Tajik leaders to discus the issue, according to the Avesta website. The planned talks between Tajik officials and Morin will focus on the planned redeployment of French military assets from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, including six Mirage combat aircraft. The French are reportedly considering the redeployment of the aircraft and some 150 military personnel to Kandahar in support of operations in Afghanistan by October, Asia-Plus reported. France first established its military presence in Tajikistan in December 2001 and currently maintains a force of some 450 military personnel, six Mirage combat aircraft, and three military transport aircraft at the Dushanbe airport. RG
BELARUS TO HOST INTERNATIONAL GATHERING OF COMMUNISTS IN NOVEMBER
Members of communist parties in 60 countries are to gather in Minsk on November 5 for a three-day meeting, Belapan reported on September 6, quoting Ryhor Atamanau, secretary of the Central Committee of the pro-government Communist Party of Belarus. Atamanau said the meeting will be held to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Following the celebration in Minsk, participants will head for Moscow to attend festive events there. JM
EU SCOLDS BELARUS OVER OPPOSITION ARRESTS
European Commission spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann said in Brussels on September 6 that the EU is "dismayed" over recent arrests of opposition youth activists in Belarus, RFE/RL reported. "The repetition of politically motivated arrests which we have observed over the recent months is not an encouraging sign for Belarus's willingness to reengage fully with the European Union," Hohmann added. The previous day, two young opposition activists were jailed for seven days each, while five others were fined for protesting the trial of their associate, Ivan Shyla (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). Hohmann rejected the offer of deeper economic cooperation in the field of energy transit made by Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Varanetski on September 3 at a European Neighborhood Policy conference in Brussels. "A rapprochement with the EU requires that Belarus takes convincing steps towards democratization and respect for human rights, including the right of people to express their opinion, and the right of NGOs to exist," she noted. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT 'SURPRISED' AT RULING PARTY'S REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
President Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on September 6 that the Party of Regions' recent initiative to hold a referendum on Ukraine's neutrality and the status of the Russian language is "political adventurism," Interfax-Ukraine reported. "The position of the Party of Regions surprises me. I regret that the prime minister pursues such a policy," Yushchenko said. He argued that a referendum on constitutional changes should cap a legislative process of introducing such changes, rather than inaugurate them. "A draft bill [of constitutional amendments] should be endorsed by 226 votes and subsequently submitted to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court should give its assessment [of the bill] and subsequently the Verkhovna Rada should approve it by a two-thirds majority. After this, the law should be subject to a referendum. And only after this it may take effect. To start the process with a referendum means to grossly violate the order of the introduction of amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine," Yushchenko explained. Meanwhile, the Party of Regions headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is planning to begin the collection of signatures under its plebiscite initiative on Kyiv's Independence Square on September 7. The party reportedly proposes the following referendum questions: Do you agree to Russian and Ukrainian becoming the state languages of Ukraine? Do you agree to electing the heads of raion and oblast administrations by citizens of Ukraine? Do you agree to Ukraine becoming a state that does not participate in military blocs? JM
UKRAINIAN SPEAKER SAYS ELECTIONS ARE MANIPULATED FROM ABROAD
Verkhovna Rada head Oleksandr Moroz alleged in Vinnytsya on September 6 that the ongoing preterm election campaign in Ukraine is being influenced from abroad, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I am convinced that [the campaign] is being carried out not only by our politicians alone, but it is also being orchestrated from abroad," Moroz said at a local pedagogical college, without identifying those foreign forces. JM
SERBIA SENDS MIXED MESSAGES ABOUT USE OF FORCE IN KOSOVA...
Serbian officials have sent conflicting messages about the possibility of a military response should Kosova declare independence. Dusan Prorokovic, Serbia's state secretary for Kosova, said on September 5 that the redeployment of Serbian troops to Kosova is one of 16 reactive measures that the government is considering. After NATO's intervention in 1999, Serbia agreed not to send troops to Kosova, but, in an interview published by "The New York Times" on September 5, Prorokovic said that, if Kosova declared itself independent, that agreement would no longer apply and the Serbian Army could "cross the boundary and go everywhere in Kosovo without any legal problems." However, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic ruled out force in an interview published by the "Financial Times" on September 6. "We will not contribute to the destabilization of the province by physical, military, or security means," he said, adding that "all legal, diplomatic, and practical resources, short of security and defense resources, will be used." Prorokovic's and Jeremic's comments elaborate on earlier, unspecific threats to retaliate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007). Jeremic is a member of the Democrat Party (DS), which has traditionally adopted a less confrontational tone in the dispute over the future of Kosova. Prorokovic belongs to the leadership of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), many of whose senior figures have accused the United States of trying to turn Kosova into a "NATO puppet state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 20, 21, and 24, 2007). The DSS already raised the possibility of sending a limited contingent of troops to Kosova to protect Serbian national sites, citing a clause permitting such a deployment in UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which ended the Kosova conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2007). Other possible measures mentioned by Prorokovic included the sealing of borders and a trade embargo. AG
...AND ABOUT NATO MEMBERSHIP...
The current debate about Serbia's relationship with NATO appears to have had its first practical effects, with the broadcaster B92 and the daily "Politika" reporting that Serbia has toned down its commitment to NATO. Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic on September 5 presented a document to NATO outlining what Serbia hopes to achieve through its membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which it joined in late 2006. However, the final document did not, contrary to expectations, state that membership in the Partnership for Peace would be Serbia's "first step toward deeper Euro-Atlantic integration," a phrase usually construed as meaning eventual NATO membership. Instead, it spoke of Serbia's desire to extend its "partnership with the alliance." "The horizon of this partnership is not stipulated," Jeremic said after meeting NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, the news service Balkan Insight reported on September 6. The Partnership of Peace has been the first step toward membership for a range of countries. In another sign of a policy shift, Jeremic did not, as planned, sign an agreement about the exchange of sensitive intelligence between Serbia and NATO. Reports in the Serbian media say the two changes in position were made at the insistence of the DSS, which on September 2 called for a parliamentary debate about Serbia's relationship with NATO. A DSS spokesman, Branislav Ristivojevic, said that the party wants "to be able to undertake some sort of preventative action against the United States and NATO states that venture into recognizing Kosovo independence," the Serbian broadcaster reported on September 3. According to Tanjug on September 5, Ristivojevic also confirmed that the party supports Serbia's membership of the Partnership for Peace program but opposes Serbia's accession to NATO. President Boris Tadic, who heads the government's largest party, the Democrats (DS), issued a statement on September 3 warning that "it is extremely harmful to, at this point, put forward defeatist proposals to make decisions that prejudice a negative outcome." Jeremic, another Democrat, said ahead of his meeting with De Hoop Scheffer that maintaining good relations with NATO is important precisely as a means of ensuring that Kosova remains part of Serbia and for Serbia to join the EU, Serbian media reported on September 3. AG
...WHILE EU EMPHASIZES COOPERATION ON WAR CRIMES
During his September 5 visit to Brussels, Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic also met with the EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn. According to Serbian and international media, Rehn underscored that the principal condition that Serbia must meet before it can take its first step to EU membership -- the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) -- is full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The UN-mandated court is still searching for four indictees, chief among them the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Since coming into power in May, the Serbian government has played a role in the capture of two indictees, Zdravko Tolimir and Vlastimir Djordjevic, and -- for the first time -- has earned itself praise for its cooperation with the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1 and 4, 5, 6, 7, and 18, 2007). Jeremic reiterated Serbia's commitment to capturing the men and said he hopes to initial the SAA in October. AG
MONTENEGRO ANGERED BY SERBIA...
Montenegro's ambassador to Serbia, Anka Vojvodic, lodged an official protest with the Serbian Foreign Ministry on September 6 after an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica, Aleksandar Simic, referred to Montenegro as a "quasi-state," the Montenegrin news agency Mina reported. Montenegro's government already, on September 5, condemned comments that Simic made on September 4, in which he said that problems in relations between the two countries are rooted in the arbitrariness of "a quasi-state formed in the surge of separatism which thinks it can put right its quasi-statehood by practicing rigidness." Simic accused Montenegro of inventing a nation, inventing a language, and forming a new church. The Serbian Orthodox Church is the only Orthodox church in Montenegro recognized by the communion of Eastern Orthodox churches, but the Montenegrin Orthodox Church argues that it is Montenegro's sole legitimate Orthodox church and a symbol of Montenegrins' national identity. The two are currently embroiled in a bitter dispute over property that the Montenegrin Orthodox Church believes the Serbian Orthodox Church illegally seized from it in the early 20th century (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 9, March 12 and 15, and April 13, 2007). B92 reported on September 6 that Simic continues to stand by his comments. "Regarding my statement about the quasi-state, it actually describes the state of affairs in a state that has not yet qualified for civilization, because a state that does not respect basic human rights described in UN and Council of Europe documents, human rights which come before a state's sovereignty, cannot be a state with a level of civilization and culture like those of other member states," the broadcaster quoted him as saying. Over a year since Montenegro chose independence, Serbia has yet to appoint an ambassador to Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). AG
...AND SERBIA BY MONTENEGRIN BAR ON BISHOP
The immediate trigger for Aleksandar Simic's comments was a decision by the Montenegrin authorities in July to bar a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Filaret of Milesevo, from entering Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31 and August 13, 2007). Simic said that, having formed a "quasi-state," Montenegro now wants to change the borders of the Serbian Orthodox Church's eparchies. Filaret was banned because his name appeared on a list of people suspected by the EU and the ICTY of helping the four remaining war-crimes indictees escape justice. In another sign of Serbia's anger, its minister for infrastructure, Velimir Ilic, in protest canceled a visit to Podgorica scheduled for September 5. "If a Serbian bishop cannot enter Montenegro, there is no sense in a minister going there," Ilic said in a statement released to the Serbian media. Ilic subsequently met Bishop Filaret on the Serbian-Montenegrin border, where Filaret has been camping and refusing food since August 28. In the days since, Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic has called for Montenegro to halt its "unsustainable and damaging" ban, while Montenegrin Serbian parties have accused the Montenegrin leadership of "persecution" and seeking a political showdown with Serbia, and they have threatened -- along with Serbia's Radical Party -- to put up barricades along Montenegro's border. One of the Kosovar Serbs' harder-line political groupings, the Serbian National Council of Kosovo-Metohija, on September 6 joined the dispute, according to the radio station Kontakt Plus, condemning the Montenegrin authorities and saying it fully supports Filaret's demands. The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije, has condemned Montenegro's move, saying, according to B92 on August 30, that "no one in Montenegro, not even the Turkish occupiers, has ever prohibited Orthodox bishops from traveling through their countries and performing their duties." The Montenegrin government and president have said Montenegro is bound by international obligations to prevent Filaret's entry. The Montenegrin authorities on August 30 also said they have rejected an application for citizenship submitted by Filaret. Filaret has been a controversial public figure since the Balkan wars, when he posed with a machine gun in front of a Serbian tank during the 1991-95 war in Croatia. AG
BOSNIA RATIFIES CEFTA
Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament ended months of equivocation on September 5 by ratifying the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). CEFTA was envisaged as a precursor to membership of the EU, and, as its founders have all since joined the EU, the CEFTA group has lost its Central European character and now comprises six Balkan states plus Kosova and Moldova. EU membership is a Bosnian foreign-policy priority, but the Bosnian parliament twice postponed ratification, principally because of Bosnian farmers' concerns that they could suffer in the face of heightened competition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2007). Those concerns have been exacerbated by a drought this summer. During the debate, the head of the Council of Ministers, Nikola Spiric, promised that "the Council of Ministers and the entity governments will do everything to help those who might need help because of the implementation of CEFTA," local media reported. Bosnia signed up to the CEFTA in December 2006. AG
SERBIA, REPUBLIKA SRPSKA LAUNCH COOPERATION
Serbian President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica spent September 6 in Bosnia-Herzegovina meeting leaders of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity. The two men were attending the inaugural meeting of the Serbia-Republika Srpska Cooperation Council. Belgrade and Banja Luka agreed in September 2006 to establish the body, and the agreement was eventually ratified by the Serbian government this July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2006, and June 13 and July 18, 2007). The council's discussions centered on procedural issues, the integration of electricity systems, water management, other economic ties, and cooperation during natural disasters. Some more contentious issues -- such as Kosova and dual citizenship -- did not feature on the agenda. The council will meet every three months. AG
ANNIVESARY OF MOTHER TERESA'S DEATH MARKED IN ALBANIA, KOSOVA, MACEDONIA
The 10th anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, the ethnic-Albanian nun who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the poor of Calcutta, was commemorated on September 5 in official ceremonies across Albanian-populated areas of the Balkans. In Tirana, whose airport is named after the nun, a mass and a concert were held at the Catholic cathedral. Several exhibitions opened focusing on her life. Albania will hold 10 days of events in Mother Teresa's memory. In Skopje, her birthplace, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski attended a commemorative event at the Macedonian Academy of Science. In Prishtina, the anniversary was marked with the start of work on a cathedral to be named after Mother Teresa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2007). "The cathedral will be a monument that will represent Kosova's values, its identity, and our sentiment for other religions," dpa quoted Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu as saying. AG
KREMLIN SEEKS TO ENGINEER ELECTION OF 'A JUST RUSSIA' TO NEXT DUMA
Although the process of electing the next Duma is being rigorously managed by the presidential administration, with three months still to go before the vote, some unsettled issues remain even as campaigning gets under way. Among the questions most actively being debated is how many parties will be represented in the new Duma.
Since the last Duma elections in 2003, the Kremlin has labored to reduce the number of parties in Russia. The country's Federal Registration Service has published a list naming just 15 parties that are eligible to participate in this year's vote, down from 35 in 2003.
However, all indications are that a much smaller number of parties -- as few as two -- currently have a chance of collecting the 7 percent of the vote required to qualify for Duma representation.
According to a Levada Center poll in August, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party can currently expect 59 percent of the vote, while the Communist Party is running second with 18 percent support.
The left-leaning, pro-Kremlin A Just Russia is at 9 percent, and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is exactly at 7 percent. All other parties, including the liberal Yabloko and Union of Rightist Forces parties, seem to have no chance of entering the next Duma.
The conventional wisdom in Russia and abroad is that the Kremlin seeks to build a two-party system based on the right-centrist Unified Russia and the left-centrist A Just Russia. However, the project to promote A Just Russia seems to have stalled and, as the polls show, the party is dangerously close to the barrier.
Kremlin-connected analyst Sergei Markov told kreml.org on September 4 that the main reason for A Just Russia's lackluster performance is that President Vladimir Putin has personally associated himself more closely with Unified Russia.
The failure of A Just Russia to enter the next Duma would be a major setback for the Kremlin -- an unallowable one. It would fuel accusations both within Russia and abroad that the Kremlin is seeking to create a single-party state. It would also make the presidential administration uncomfortably dependent on solid cooperation from a single party. Moreover, it would give the mildly oppositionist Communist Party too large a tribune as the only other bloc in the lower house.
The Kremlin's task, then, is to mobilize additional support for A Just Russia. The party has made considerable efforts in recent months to bolster its rating.
In August, a congress of the Communist Youth Union, previously affiliated with the Communist Party, voted to back A Just Russia. However, following a major collapse in support in the 2003 Duma elections, the Communist electorate has stabilized at around 20 percent and it seems unlikely A Just Russia will pick up support there.
A more lucrative target is Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR, and it appears that some forces in the presidential administration have their knives drawn for the small nationalist, pseudo-opposition party.As A Just Russia has built up its base, rising from 5 percent in January to 9 percent in August, the LDPR has fallen from 11 percent to 7, according to Levada Center figures.
Historically, the LDPR has represented the poorest and most marginalized portion of the Russian electorate, although it appeals through nationalist rhetoric and flamboyant theatrics rather than socialist policies. In practice, the party's deputies vote consistently in favor of Kremlin initiatives.
Analysts have speculated at least since 1993, when the LDPR emerged as a major player, that the party was a project of the Russian security forces, who found the facade of potentially destabilizing nationalism a useful tool for maintaining their roles in Russia's political system.
Recently, that role has shifted somewhat, and the LDPR played a key role in siphoning Communist votes in 2003. "The party is necessary to the Kremlin on the political scene because it captures marginal opposition votes that could go to the Communists and converts these popular opposition votes into loyal votes in the Duma," Markov told kreml.org.
From the perspective of the Kremlin's emerging two-party model, this is clearly the role A Just Russia should be playing, meaning that some Kremlin strategists could be thinking the Zhirinovsky era is over. With the LDPR currently polling at 7 percent, it appears relatively small manipulations of the voting results could keep it out of the Duma.
The party has been under unrelenting assault in recent weeks. Most visibly, former LDPR Deputy Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov defected to A Just Russia in August, mouthing the Kremlin-scripted line that all political forces had to unite in order to resist the juggernaut of Unified Russia. The LDPR's 2004 presidential candidate, Oleg Malyshkin, left the party in April and is now an "unaffiliated deputy."
More importantly, though, the Kremlin seems to be going after the party's funding. Billionaire Suleiman Kerimov left the LDPR in April and applied to join Unified Russia. Former Russneft head Mikhail Gutseriyev, a major LDPR funder for many years, recently fled the country and is facing tax-evasion and other charges. It seems unlikely that a party under such assault so early in the campaign, one whose rating was already declining and approaching the 7 percent barrier, can emerge from the elections with Duma seats.
The Kremlin's task of creating a managed two-party system is complicated by the fact that it was forced to do so using a proportional-representation system. Normally, direct representation in a winner-take-all system such as in the United States is most conducive to the emergence of a stable two-party political environment. Russia, however, is a vast country, and experience with single-mandate deputies showed that they were overwhelmingly the representatives of the governors of the regions they were elected from. The Kremlin eliminated direct representation as part of its project to clip the wings of the governors.
Instead, the Kremlin modified the proportional-representation system by establishing the high 7 percent hurdle and establishing other onerous rules that pushed small parties out of the picture altogether. Now, strategists within the presidential administration are faced with the task of ensuring that the lumbering A Just Russia makes it past that hurdle. And it would seem that can be most easily accomplished by stepping on the back of Zhirinovsky's LDPR.
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL CALLS FOR NATO FLEXIBILITY IN DEPLOYING TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
A senior U.S. State Department official on September 6 called for NATO countries to be flexible with troop deployments in Afghanistan, as Germany appeared ready to reject requests for support in the country's hard-hit southern provinces, AFP reported. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher told journalists in Berlin that NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commanders need to have the flexibility to use all of the various foreign forces deployed in Afghanistan in different parts of the country, particularly in instances involving training. An increasing number of NATO's missions in Afghanistan, including those involving Germany's 3,000 troops, deal with training Afghan forces as they begin to assume full responsibility for domestic security. "When an Afghan unit needs to move to the south, it is important to get trainers to be able to move to the south as well...so we'd encourage as much flexibility as possible," Boucher said. Germany joined the NATO peacekeeping and reconstruction mission in 2001, following the ousting of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces, but has yet to send any of its forces to Afghanistan's volatile south, where U.S. and British forces are battling Taliban insurgents. JC
TALIBAN FREE DISTRICT CHIEF AFTER SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATIONS WITH TRIBAL ELDERS
Taliban militants on September 5 freed the Kharwar district administrative chief in Logar Province after holding him captive for two weeks, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Colonel Qudratullah Arabzai, head of the provincial crime branch, told Pajhwak that Mirza Mohammad and his driver were released at approximately 10 p.m. in Kharwar, following the "fruitful" negotiations between tribal elders and local Taliban rebels. Kharwar tribal elder Haji Tani confirmed the men's release, saying Mirza and his driver have been reunited with their families. According to Arabzai, the government was not involved in the transaction, although the rebels attempted to negotiate a prisoner exchange in return for the government administrator. The two men were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen while traveling home on August 21. Kidnapping has become a tactic of choice for the Taliban, who recently vowed to continue kidnapping foreign nationals following the negotiated release of 19 South Korean hostages on August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). While the abduction of Afghans, including government officials, is less common, insurgents managed to kidnap the mayor of Gereshk, a town in the restive Helmand Province, less than a month ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007). JC
10 RECONSTRUCTION PROJECTS COMPLETED IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
The National Solidarity Program (NSP) on September 5 announced the completion of 10 reconstruction projects in Afghanistan's eastern Laghman Province, providing critical infrastructure expected to benefit 1,960 families in the area, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Humayun Akseer, head of the NSP program in Laghman, told Pajhwak that the projects, estimated to cost more than 8 million afghanis ($162 million), were presented to local residents on September 4-5. The completed reconstruction efforts took two to three months to complete and included 44 deep wells equipped with hand pumps, two power-supply projects, and the provision of tap water in the Alingar district and the Kotkhel and Auma Naw areas of the provincial capital, Mehtarlam. Aid workers also removed the river deposit from a 15-kilometer canal and erected a protective wall in Alingar. Only days earlier, NSP completed several other reconstruction projects in Logar Province estimated to benefit another 1,500 families (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). JC
HUNDREDS OF SCHOOLS REMAIN CLOSED DUE TO INSECURITY IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Hundreds of schools are expected to remain closed in southern Afghanistan due to insecurity, as the new school year is set to begin on September 10, the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on September 6. Deputy Education Minister Siddiq Patman said that in 2006 over 350 schools were shut down in Afghanistan's southern provinces due to insurgency-related violence and other security concerns. While the ministry has succeeded in reopening approximately 40 schools previously closed, over 300 are to remain closed due to persistent violence, Patman said. The education system in southern Helmand Province, where Taliban militants control several districts, has disintegrated over the past four years as the extremists continue to launch their insurgency campaign against the government from the area. "In 2003, there were 224 functioning schools in Helmand...now only 90 schools are likely to open on Monday [September 10]," said Taj Mohammad Popal, head of the provincial education department. In neighboring Oruzgan Province, some 65 of 171 schools have been out of service for over two years, Mohammad Noor Khan, deputy director of education, told IRIN. Girls schools face particular hardships due to repeated Taliban attacks on account of the extremists' belief that girls should not be educated. While Afghanistan has made significant progress in rebuilding the education sector since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, more than half of all Afghan children do not attend school, according to an October 2006 report by the U.K.-based charity Oxfam. JC
TWO NATO SOLDIERS, AT LEAST 85 TALIBAN KILLED IN CLASHES ACROSS AFGHANISTAN
Two NATO soldiers were killed in a pair of bomb explosions on September 6, while scores of Taliban militants died in heavy fighting across Afghanistan, AFP reported. Several other soldiers were injured in the bomb blasts in Afghanistan's volatile south, although the ISAF did not release the exact location and the nationalities of the soldiers. An eight-hour battle in southern Kandahar Province that broke out after scores of militants attacked a coalition patrol left more than 20 insurgents dead, said a separate U.S.-led coalition. Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said intense fighting in Helmand province on September 5 between Taliban militants and local and foreign forces left dozens of insurgents dead. The ministry could not give an exact figure, although Pajhwak reported that the U.S. military said that 24 militants were killed. According to a coalition statement, foreign forces called in an air strike after militants launched an ambush using small arms fire on a combined Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP) and coalition patrol approximately 16 kilometers northwest of the Sangin district in Helmand Province. The ANAP-led force immediately responded, calling in reinforcements and firing back from a trench line within a nearby village. One civilian was injured as he attempted to flee the area, coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said. "The enemies of peace and stability continue their despicable tactics of targeting noncombatants in hopes of causing casualties," he added. JC
IRAN'S LEADER CHIDES, WARNS 'MISCHIEVOUS' MEDIA
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chided the media in Tehran on September 6 for the way they have reported on the September 4 election of Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as head of the Assembly of Experts, the body of clerics that oversees the supreme leader's office, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian media. Khamenei accused foreign media of trying to fan political rivalries in Iran with the help of unnamed domestic media. Many news agencies construe the pragmatist Hashemi-Rafsanjani's election as strengthening his position against radical right-wingers who have criticized him in recent months. "The scandal and provocations of the media over Tuesday's session of the Assembly of Experts is another sign of the enemies' continuing hostile acts," Khamenei said. "They tried to present this assembly like other bodies, [as] the prisoner of factionalism and gripped by a struggle for power," and sought thus to discredit the body in the public's eye, he said. Khamenei referred to certain "badly behaved media" in Iran that echo the "enemies." His comments on the domestic press could prompt government officials to increase pressure on the media, as has happened in the past. "Certain domestic media have in the past couple of months gone along with the enemies' false reporting. I warn them not to approach the boundaries of the Assembly of Experts, and to play these games with other...matters," Radio Farda quoted him as saying. VS
IRANIAN OFFICIAL SPEAKS OF ACCORD ON NUCLEAR PLANT
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told the press in Qom on September 6 that "we have reached good agreements" with Russia on the completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant on the Persian Gulf coast. The plant has been subject to repeated delays and apparent disputes over payments, though Iran says it has paid all monies due. Larijani said discussions with the Russians have produced "good agreements on starting the plant's operation and on the planned timetable...Russia is to start the plant's operation on time, and provide its fuel." Iran and Russia agreed on September 26, 2006, to have the plant ready and working by November 2007, with Russia sending 90 tons of fuel for the plant six months before that -- which has not happened, Fars and Radio Farda reported. Russian officials have recently said the plant may not be in operation before late 2008, Fars added. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said earlier this week that the Russians have promised to complete the plant, Radio Farda reported on September 6. Russian officials seemed to contradict Larijani, however. In Moscow, a spokeswoman for Atomstroieksport, the contractor firm building Bushehr, Irina Yesipova, said relevant talks have not yet concluded, "so I am not confirming this information," Reuters reported. VS
...AND STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF NUCLEAR POWER FOR IRAN
Larijani earlier told a seminar in Qom that atomic power is "one of the...strategic technologies, and Iran will not retreat from it," IRNA reported. He said at a seminar in one of Qom's seminaries that fossil fuels will dwindle in the next 30 years, and "after that we need to provide fuel through nuclear power." If Iran "insists on having atomic power today, it is not out of stubbornness," but for its future, he said. He added that proposals made in the West to set up a nuclear fuel bank are designed to deprive developing states of technology and progress in the field. He said sanctions on Iran would have no effect because Iran has "attained nuclear power." This power, he added, "is not America's main issue. Their concern is the growth of the ideas" Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, "presented to the world," IRNA reported. Larijani warned Western powers that "obstructing the course of the nuclear case" would change the conditions of "progress of negotiations" between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency and EU diplomats, Fars reported. Larijani said the United States has "failed its grades" on every count in Iraq, and is unable to assure its security and unwilling to let the Iraqi government take that state's affairs into its own hands, IRNA reported. He said that in its desperation, the United States is now aiding "bandits" and groups like the PJAK, an Iranian-Kurdish militant group operating in Iran-Iraq frontier areas, against Iran. Larijani claimed that "the enemies are trying by provoking internal fights to strike at the system, and we have resist these plots." He described Iran as "the safest country in the region" and stressed that "the best form of democracy exists in this country," Fars reported on September 6. VS
IRANIAN POLICEMEN SHOT DEAD IN CLASHES...
Six Iranian policemen and a driver were killed in a shoot-out with "armed persons" late on September 4 on the Ravansar-to-Kamiaran road in the western province of Kermanshah, Radio Farda reported on September 5, citing ISNA and the Kermanshah deputy governor for political and security affairs, Hojatollah Damyad. "A number of counterrevolutionary elements using special outfits attacked" a road-inspection post, killing six policemen and a private citizen, Damyad told ISNA. He said they fled into the night, taking their injured and an unspecified number of dead with them. Damyad did not identify the assailants. Iran's western provinces have been the scene of intermittent clashes in recent months between Iranian forces and Kurdish guerrillas or separatists or unidentified gunmen, Radio Farda reported. VS
...AS POLICE COMMANDER STATES RESOLVE TO FIGHT DRUGS
The head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, said in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, on September 6 that Iran has seen a 40 percent increase in drug discoveries "this year," and that the state is leading a "relentless" fight against drugs, Fars reported. He said police have found some 230 tons of various drugs, apparently since the Persian year began on March 21, adding that the state is treating 100,000 addicts and intends to treat 300,000 this year. He claimed that "more than 93 percent of drugs in the world are discovered" in Iran, a success that he said shows "the firm resolve of Iran's police in fighting drug trafficking and traffickers." He said it is "vital" for Iranian families to "form a defensive front" to prevent drugs penetrating "society and inside families," Fars reported. VS
IRANIAN REFORMISTS MEET WITH SENIOR CLERICS
Members of the reformist Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization met in Qom on September 5 with senior clerics, including Grand Ayatollahs Yusef Sanei, Hussein Ali Montazeri, and Abdulkarim Musavi-Ardebili, discussing current affairs and reformist plans for the parliamentary elections set for March 2008, ISNA reported. The three clerics can be described as having closer ties with reformists than with right-wing politicians, and have adopted critical political postures in the past. Montazeri effectively became persona non grata with Iran's establishment following criticisms of state policies in the late 1980s; he was until then set to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini as Iran's paramount leader. He has intermittently spent time under house arrest in recent years, and Iranian media generally do not report on his activities. He reminded members of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin that parties must be critical of the state in line with religious laws demanding the promotion of virtue and denunciation of vice and misconduct, and "people do not have a right to remain silent in the face of" perceived misconduct or abuse. He said party politics are a necessary component of an Islamic society and parties must firmly defend their positions, and shun "hypocrisy in their political interactions." VS
U.S. AIR STRIKE ALLEGEDLY KILLS 14 CIVILIANS IN BAGHDAD
Iraqi police and eyewitnesses said U.S. warplanes bombed a Baghdad neighborhood on September 6, killing at least 14 people and destroying 11 houses, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Police sources said the attacks took place in the Al-Washash neighborhood, an area adjacent to the Al-Mansur district in central Baghdad. Al-Washash is considered a stronghold of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army. An unnamed official at al-Sadr's office in Al-Washash described the attack as a "catastrophe" and said 24 bodies have been recovered so far. Conversely, the U.S. military issued a statement saying that its forces called for an air strike after coming under fire from gunmen positioned on rooftops. The statement said U.S. forces at the time were conducting an operation against suspected Shi'ite militia elements. "The targeted Shi'ite extremists are part of a terrorist cell...responsible for attacking local police and conducting illegal checkpoints to intimidate, extort, and murder local citizens," the statement said. The military declined to clarify whether those killed by the air strike were civilians or militants. SS
IRAQ SAYS IT WILL NOT DISBAND POLICE, DESPITE U.S. REPORT
Interior Ministry spokesman General Abd al-Karim Khalaf announced on September 6 that the ministry will not disband the Iraqi police, despite a recommendation to do so by a U.S. report, international media reported the same day. The report, issued by a panel of retired U.S. generals and led by former NATO commander General James Jones, warned that the Iraqi police have been infiltrated by sectarian militias and should either be disbanded or reorganized. The Iraqi police's "ability to be effective is crippled by significant challenges, including public distrust, sectarianism [both real and perceived], and a lack of clarity about its identity -- specifically whether it is a military or a police force," the report said. "Sectarianism in its units undermines its ability to provide security; the [police] force is not viable in its current form," it added. In response, Khalaf described the report as "one-sided" and declared that sectarianism in the police force is not widespread. "We admit there were some problems before due to sectarian loyalties, but this involved just a few people. It was not widespread...it does not reach the level of disbanding the police," Khalaf said. "We have taken many steps to end these violations." SS
U.S. FORCES CAPTURE IRANIAN AGENT IN SOUTHERN IRAQ
The U.S. military announced on September 5 that coalition forces have arrested a person in Karbala suspected of being affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) Quds Force. The man is suspected of transporting Iraqis into Iran for terrorist training as well as being a "logistics facilitator" who provided aid to terrorists operating in central Baghdad. "As Iran continues its proxy war against the people of Iraq, coalition forces will continue to build on recent operations to disrupt the flow of illicit, lethal materials from Iran into Iraq," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said. "The capture of individuals affiliated with the IRGC-Quds Force is an integral part of dismantling terror networks that seek to kill innocent Iraqis and security forces," he added. The United States has repeatedly accused the Quds Force of funding, training, and equipping Shi'ite militants in Iraq. On August 13, coalition forces arrested a key financier of the "special groups" forces, which are apparently Shi'ite militiamen linked to the Quds Force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2007). SS
'CHEMICAL ALI' TO BE EXECUTED ON SEPTEMBER 8
Majid Badi Arif Izzat, a defense lawyer for Ali Hasan al-Majid, a former Ba'ath Party official and a cousin of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said during an interview with KUNA on September 6 that his client and two other defendants in the Anfal trial will be executed on September 8. Izzat said his client informed him by telephone of the execution date. Judge Munir Haddad told KUNA that the appeals court's decision on September 4 to uphold the death sentence was sent to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who set the date for the execution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2007). According to Iraqi law, the president must sign off on the death sentence before it can be carried out. On June 24, the Iraqi High Tribunal convicted al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali," former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, and Hussein Rashid Muhammad, the former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi armed forces, of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for their roles in the 1988 Anfal military campaign that killed more than 180,000 Kurds. SS
FORMER IRAQI PREMIER SAYS HE AND U.S. HELD MEETINGS WITH BA'ATHISTS
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has acknowledged that he held secret meetings with Ba'ath Party leaders at the behest of the United States, Al-Arabiyah satellite television reported on September 6. He said the meetings were held in Iraq as well as an unidentified Arab state, with the intention of creating an opportunity for the Ba'athists to return to Iraq. "These meetings were held and their goal was to create common understanding between these Ba'athists and the U.S. government, which was represented at the meetings on a high level," Allawi said. "Generally speaking, the talks were about the need for the Ba'ath Party members to join the political process and not to be against it, in return for canceling the de-Ba'athification law, as well as other issues." SS
CHOLERA CASES DISCOVERED IN IRAQI KURDISH CAPITAL
Kurdish regional Health Minister Ziryan Uthman announced on September 6 that the first cases of cholera have been detected in the Kurdistan region's capital, Irbil, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. Uthman said four cases have so far been discovered and all of the patients are doing well after undergoing treatment. The World Health Organization announced on August 29 that there have been approximately 5,000 cases of cholera in Iraq since August 10, with 10 deaths reported. Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease that is spread by drinking contaminated water and can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration. In extreme cases, it can be fatal. SS