RUSSIAN MINISTER CALLS ON ESTONIA TO 'COOPERATE' ON PIPELINE
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said on Estonian television on September 20 that his government has rejected a request by the Russo-German Nord Stream pipeline company to conduct a seabed survey in Estonia's maritime economic zone, international media reported. He stressed that "a coastal nation has full sovereignty over its territorial sea, together with the right of decision regarding refusal of a permit for surveys." Paet noted that Estonia, Finland, and Sweden all object to the pipeline on ecological grounds. He called on Nord Stream to construct a land-based pipeline instead. He and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip suggested in separate remarks that the cabinet is unanimous in its view, despite earlier media reports suggesting that there are divisions over the project. Paet said that "we didn't disagree on this issue in Estonia. We will never allow the construction of this pipeline in our economic zone." Russia's Acting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Russian state-run television on September 20 that he is "not sure that the Estonian government made a final decision" on the request, Interfax reported. Lavrov added that he hopes that those people "governed by common sense, not ideology" will eventually prevail in the Estonian government. He called on the Estonian authorities "to cooperate on this project, instead of trying to block it for political motives" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). On September 18, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves warned unnamed political leaders against sacrificing their country's foreign policy interests for short-term political gain, president.ee reported. On September 21, Nord Stream officials told Estonian television that their company will continue plans for a seabed pipeline but on the Finnish, rather than on the Estonian, side of the Gulf of Finland, Interfax reported. The officials said that the Estonian government's decision was unexpected. PM
RUSSIA REGRETS VIOLATING FINNISH AIRSPACE
On September 20, the Norwegian Air Force scrambled two F16 fighter jets twice in response to the latest in a series of intrusions by Russian strategic bombers into Norwegian airspace, this time over northern Norway, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 12, 14, and 17, 2007). In Helsinki, Russian Ambassador to Finland Aleksandr Rumyantsev admitted that a Russian Il-76 transport aircraft recently unintentionally violated Finnish airspace. He said that the violation was the result of "inadequate exchange of information between the flight crew and ground stations." Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva welcomed the statement and a Russian proposal that "specialist discussions be held." PM
RUSSIA BUYS BACK INTO IRAQ
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in Moscow on September 21 that his government has invited Russian oil and gas companies to launch operations in Iraq even before the passage of new legislation on energy resources, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). He added that his government is ready to provide substantial "incentives" to Russian companies, although the basis for that will be competitiveness. Zebari said that he hopes that a bilateral deal to write off 80 percent of Iraq's debt to Russia will be signed before the end of 2007. The daily "Kommersant" reported on September 20 that the debt cancellation actually amounts to 90 percent of the $10 billion total. The paper argued that the $9 billion is, in effect, the price Russia must pay for privileged access to help rebuild the Iraqi economy, especially the oil and gas sectors. "Kommersant" suggested that Russian businesses have long sought to return to Iraq, where they had substantial interests before 2003, but found Baghdad uncooperative. The paper wrote that the Iraqi authorities recently changed their minds and now welcome Russian participation on key infrastructure projects in return for a debt write-off. Foreign Minister Lavrov noted recently that Russian firms are ready to help modernize several Soviet-built hydroelectric plants in different parts of Iraq. PM
RUSSIA SAYS TESTS BACK CLAIM TO ARCTIC RIDGE
On September 20, the Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement that soil samples taken in August by Russian submarines on the seabed below the North Pole give scientific proof that the area is Russian, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8 and 29, 2007). The ministry said the area under the Arctic Ocean known as the Lomonosov Ridge "is part of the adjoining continental shelf of the Russian Federation." It said Russia will present the evidence at the UN under the terms of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. A UN commission rejected previous Russian claims to the area. Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the United States also have claims there. Those countries criticized as anachronistic the latest Russian mission, which also planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed. The area is believed to be rich in mineral, oil, and gas deposits. PM
ZUBKOV'S FIRST CABINET MEETING PROVES STORMY
Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on September 20 chaired a meeting of the acting cabinet at which he sharply criticized ministers for failing to help with earthquake recovery on Sakhalin Island and for the chaotic situation at the St. Petersburg seaport. Zubkov told Transportation Minister Igor Levitin that President Putin had ordered the situation at the port to be corrected by July 2006 and criticized Levitin for unilaterally changing the deadline to June 2008. "Who dares to change a presidential order so frivolously?" Zubkov asked. On September 21, RIA Novosti reported that 800 million rubles ($31.8 million) has been received on Sakhalin Island to help with earthquake recovery, less than 24 hours after Zubkov attacked ministers for their inaction. Zubkov's harsh exchanges with ministers were aired repeatedly on national television on September 20. RC
OFFICIAL ARRESTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES
Audit Chamber official Yury Gaidukov and two unidentified people were detained on September 20 on suspicion of taking a 1 million euro ($1.4 million) bribe, Russian media reported. Gaidukov is accused of accepting the bribe from managers of Energomash, a producer of rocket engines, to modify an Audit Chamber report on the enterprise's expenditure of state funds. Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin told "Vedomosti" that his agency cooperated with the Federal Security Service in the investigation. RC
COMMUNISTS NAME THEIR LEADING DUMA CANDIDATES...
The Communist Party's list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections will be headed by party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Nobel Prize laureate and Duma Deputy Zhores Alfyorov, and former Agrarian Party deputy leader and Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov, strana.ru reported on September 21. The party will hold its national preelection congress on September 22 in Moscow. Kharitonov, a former colonel in the KGB, was the Communist Party's candidate for president in 2004, coming in second to President Putin with 9.4 percent of the vote. The party hopes that Kharitonov's inclusion will enable it to mobilize rural voters, the website reported. Zyuganov met with Putin in Sochi on September 19 to discuss the party's preparations for the elections, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on September 20. Zyuganov reportedly complained to Putin about recent attempts to "pour filth" on the party in the mass media and asked Putin to help punish those responsible. "I told him that it is important to maintain order in connection with the elections. We want them to be honest and respectable," Zyuganov said. RC
...AS DOES PEOPLE'S UNION PARTY
The nationalist People's Union party has announced its top three candidates for the December 2 Duma elections, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 21. The candidates are Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, Duma Deputy Viktor Alksnis, and Aleksandr Batanov, head of the Spas Orthodox television channel (see " New TV Channel To Tend To Country's Spiritual Needs," rferl.org, July 27, 2005). The party will be competing for the same voters as the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. RC
MORE DETAILS EMERGE FROM PUTIN'S DISCUSSION WITH VALDAI CLUB
A complete transcript of President Putin's September 14 meeting in Sochi with the Valdai Club, a group of leading Western Russia watchers, has been posted on the presidential website (http://www.kremlin.ru/appears/2007/09/14/2105_type63376type63381type82634_144011.shtml) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Putin defended his system of managed democracy, arguing that "Russia cannot be strong if the president is weak." He rejected the term "sovereign democracy," but added that the discussion of it is useful. "It is good when people think about how we can ensure our national interests and create an effective society that is very sensitive to what is going on in the world and is comfortable for our own citizens," he said. Putin said he intends to support Unified Russia in the December 2 legislative elections, but added that he is working to develop a multiparty system as well. He noted the formation of A Just Russia, which he described as "a real, modern, responsible leftist movement," as opposed to the Communist Party, which he described as "a fragment from the past." Putin repeated his claims that some in the West have used "the democratic lexicon" "to influence our domestic and foreign policies." He called on U.S. President George W. Bush to announce a date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying that such a move would give the Iraqi government more incentive to build its own army and security forces. RC
NASHI PREPARING TO 'ASSIST' POLICE DURING ELECTION SEASON
The pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi on September 19 met with representatives of the police in Moscow to discuss preparations for "the December events," "Novyye izvestia" reported on September 20. Nashi activists told the daily that the purpose of the meeting was to explore how the youth group could help maintain order during election meetings and during the voting on December 2. They said it was a "coordinating" meeting. The police already have a program called "Volunteer Youth Patrols" that is active both in Moscow and in many regions. Yabloko youth leader Ilya Yashin told the daily that these patrols "are undergoing training." Oborona activist Oleg Kozlovsky commented that Nashi was created to control the situation during elections. "It is just a part of government power that is not constrained by the need to strictly follow the law," he said. On September 21, Interfax reported that Nashi activists are blockading the entrance to a resort near Moscow where an opposition gathering is planned for September 22. Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov is expected to address the meeting. RC
REGIONAL LAWMAKERS WANT TO GRAB ONTO UNIFIED RUSSIA'S COATTAILS
The legislature of Mordovia on September 19 voted to disband itself and to move forward scheduled elections from March 2008 to December 2, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The legislature is heavily dominated by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, and analysts and opposition parties say the shift in elections will benefit Unified Russia, which presumably has known the move was coming and has had time to prepare. "In our republic, as in the country as a whole, everything is done in the interests of Unified Russia," local Communist leader Ivan Dolgaev told RFE/RL. The local administration-controlled newspaper "Izvestia Mordovii" has been printing pro-Unified Russia articles for months, Dolgaev said. Local commentator Sergei Gurov told RFE/RL that the republican administration wants to take advantage of the massive publicity campaign Unified Russia is expected to mount for the Duma elections in order to maintain the party's dominance within the republic. RFE/RL reported that the legislature of Krasnodar Krai on September 11 passed a similar resolution moving forward legislative elections there. RC
MUNICIPAL LEGISLATORS IN KARELIA LAUNCH ASSAULT ON GOVERNOR
The city council of Petrozavodsk, capital of the Republic of Karelia, on September 20 passed a no-confidence vote against Governor Sergei Katanandov, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Deputies appealed to President Putin to dismiss Katanandov and appoint a new head of the region. The resolution, which has no real force since only the republican legislature is authorized to submit such appeals to Putin, was made possible because the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party won just four council seats in elections this spring, while two-thirds of the body is comprised of opposition delegates. Council Chairman Vasily Popov, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, told RFE/RL the republican government is riddled with corruption. "Katanandov and the government of the Republic of Karelia have created in Karelia a system for transferring the resources of the republic into private hands," Popov said. He charged that the republic is spending 273 million rubles ($10.8 million) to subsidize the construction of a major shopping center by a close friend of Katanandov's while other projects such as hospital construction have been idled by a lack of funds. Katanandov has headed the republic since 1998. RC
UNIFIED RUSSIA OFF TO AN EARLY START IN THE FAR EAST
Khabarovsk Mayor Aleksandr Sokolov on September 20 told a meeting of Far East regional leaders that "considering the special role of Unified Russia, we recommended that all election-district-commission chairmen join the party," "Kommersant" reported on September 21. Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov, who was at the meeting, responded that it is illegal to "recommend" that anyone join a political party and that he believes election officials should not be members of any party. Churov pointed out that he himself left the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia when he was appointed to the Central Election Commission. Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Kamil Iskhakov also chastised Sokolov: "You apparently misspoke. All parties are equal before the law." Iskhakov, who is a member of Unified Russia, said he will ask law-enforcement officials to look into Sokolov's activities. A local representative of A Just Russia complained to Churov that his party does not have access to broadcast media, and Churov responded that the commission is ensuring equal access to the media and that "a situation like there was in 2003" will not happen again. Primorsky Krai legislator Galina Medvedeva, whose Justice and Popular Power party was disbanded by the Supreme Court, also told Churov that Unified Russia is dominating the media. "Soon they will be telling us that the sun rises only because Unified Russia tells it to," she said. RC
RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS DESTROYED IN SPECIAL OPERATION IN DAGHESTAN
Interior Ministry and FSB troops cordoned off one block in the center of Makhachkala on September 20 prior to launching an attack on a building in which two militants were hiding out, Russian media reported. In the course of the operation, which lasted some 12 hours, two residential buildings were destroyed by fire and two more seriously damaged. The two militants were killed; one spetsnaz serviceman also died in the exchange of fire. The dead militants have been tentatively identified as Shamil Gasanov, commander of the Makhachkala jamaat, and his second-in-command Omar Sheikhullayev, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on September 21. LF
ABDUCTIONS TRIGGER NEW PROTEST IN INGUSHETIA
Some 700 -800 inhabitants of the village of Surkhakhi, south-east of Nazran, congregated on September 19 in Nazran to protest the abduction the previous day on the outskirts of Grozny of two young cousins who were returning to Surkhakhi via Grozny from Astrakhan, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Interior Ministry troops tried to disperse the protesters, who responded by throwing stones, whereupon the police began shooting over the heads of the protesters, using tracer bullets. Republican parliament deputies and Interior Minister Lieutenant Colonel Musa Medov met with the protesters, who finally dispersed two hours later after it became known that the two abducted men had been found in Shali Raion, south-east of Grozny. "Novaya gazeta" on September 20 quoted the father of one of them as saying they were freed as a result of telephone instructions their abductors received from Moscow. He also said the two were beaten and subjected to electric shocks, but not interrogated. The Chechen Interior Ministry has denied responsibility for their abduction, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Chechen Prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov was quoted by regnum.ru on September 20 as saying that an investigation into the incident has been opened under the supervision of Dmitry Kozak, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. Speaking on September 20 at a press conference in Moscow, Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov denied having issued orders to the Interior Ministry to open fire on the demonstrators in Nazran the previous day, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Zyazikov again said he has no intention of resigning, and he pledged to solved the wave of crimes and violent attacks that have taken place in recent months (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 21 September 2007). LF
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY LAUNCHES SECOND LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVE
The Zharangutiun (Heritage) party headed by U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian has circulated a draft bill calling for the abolition of Article 301 of the Criminal Code that designates as a crime punishable by up to three years in prison calls for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on September 20. Zaruhi Postanjian, one of Zharangutiun's six parliament deputies, argued on September 20 that the article imposes restrictions of freedom of speech and is therefore unconstitutional. But deputies from the majority Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) rejected that argument and signaled that the HHK will vote down the bill. Article 301 constituted the basis of the criminal case brought early this year against oppositionist Karabakh war veterans Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkhasian ( see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7 and 17, 2007). Zharagutiun submitted to the National Assembly last month a bill calling for Armenia formally to recognize the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. The HHK similarly rejected that initiative as premature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29 and September 4, 2007). LF
AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTER'S SUPPORTER JAILED
The Sumgayit municipal court on September 20 sentenced Rizvan Talybov, who heads a group to support disgraced former Health Minister Ali Insanov, to four years' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism, day.az reported on September 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). Talybov is head of the Union for the Return of Western Azerbaijan, an irredentist NGO representing Azeris expelled from Armenia. Meanwhile, the Baku Appeals Court is due to rule on September 21 on Insanov's appeal of the 11-year prison term handed down to him five months ago on charges of large-scale embezzlement and abuse of his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). LF
AZERBAIJANI LIFE PRISONERS LAUNCH NEW PROTEST
Some seven or eight prisoners serving life sentences at Azerbaijan's notorious Gobustan prison are currently on hunger strike to demand that their sentences be reduced to 15 years, the maximum term currently envisaged by the Criminal Code, day.az and zerkalo.az reported on September 20. The men are among dozens whose death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment when Azerbaijan abolished capital punishment, and who have launched repeated protests in recent years to demand their sentences be reduced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2005, July 24, 2006, and April 17, June 26, and July 3, 2007). LF
CIS EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER RISE IN MILITARY SPENDING IN AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA
Nikolai Bordyuzha, who is secretary-general of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB), told journalists in Bishkek on September 21 following a meeting of ODKB secretaries that the organization's members are concerned by "militant statements" of intent expressed by unnamed South Caucasus officials to resolve "frozen" conflicts by resorting to military force, day.az reported. Bordyuzha said the increase in defense spending planned by Georgia and Azerbaijan constitutes a "serious threat" to ODKB members (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2007). LF
TWO ABKHAZ SERVICEMEN KILLED IN CLASH WITH GEORGIAN TROOPS
Two Abkhaz, whether border guards or militiamen is unclear, were killed and six captured on September 20 in an exchange of fire with Georgian Interior Ministry special forces, the website civil.ge reported. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili identified the Abkhaz as "saboteurs" who he claimed infiltrated the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge three days earlier. But Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, said it was the Georgians who attacked an Abkhaz border guard training camp in Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion. In Tbilisi, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze said the Abkhaz ambushed a Georgian highway construction brigade, and he reaffirmed Georgia's commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict with Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on September 20. LF
GEORGIA CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF PEACE TALKS
In the wake of the September 20 clash, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili proposed in Tbilisi on September 21 the unconditional resumption of talks with Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. "It's time to resume the Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue as there is a third force in the region that masterminds such armed provocations," Bezhuashvili told journalists. Abkhazia suspended participation in those talks following the deployment of Georgian forces to Kodori in July 2006. LF
CONGRESS APPEALS TO RUSSIA, UN TO RECOGNIZE SOUTH OSSETIA
The Sixth Congress of the Ossetian People, which took place in Tskhinvali on September 18-19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2007), adopted a formal appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the chairmen of the Russian State Duma and the Federation Council, the OSCE, and to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to recognize the breakaway republic of South Ossetia as an independent state, regnum.ru reported on September 20. The appeal noted that both present day South Ossetia and North Ossetia were incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1774; that South Ossetia was designated part of Georgia for the first time in 1922; and that in 1990 Georgia annulled on its territory the Soviet Constitution, the 1922 Union Treaty, and other formal agreements designating South Ossetia part of Georgia. The appeal accused Georgia of implementing over a period of 70 years a process of forced assimilation of the Ossetian minority. In related news, the Georgian Interior Ministry arrested a married couple, Valey Martkoyev and Tosya Martkoyeva, on September 5 on suspicion of spying for the government of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on September 18. LF
KAZAKH SENATOR THREATENS TO SUSPEND U.S. COMPANY'S CASPIAN OPERATIONS
Kazakh Senator Gani Kasymov warned on September 20 that he may seek to suspend the Caspian Sea operations of an international consortium led by the U.S. energy company Chevron unless the company addresses environmental concerns, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Kasymov explained that the Tengizchevroil consortium has failed to properly dispose of a significant amount of sulfur waste accumulated from their offshore drilling. He also submitted a request to Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov asking the premier to "pay attention to the activities" of the Tengizchevroil consortium, which he alleged "inflicts colossal damage on the environment and the population of the western region." His letter continues: "If the problem of 9 million tons of waste sulfur is not resolved, I ask you to suspend the company's activities in Kazakhstan unless it completes the disposal of the sulfur," and closed with a request that the prime minister "take the issue under strict control." The threatened suspension of operations follows a similar move by the Kazakh government last month when it halted work at the Kashagan oil field for three months due to alleged violations of environmental-protection laws, as well as consistent delays and cost overruns by Eni, the Italian-led consortium in charge of operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). RG
SEARCH FOR MISSING KAZAKH SHIP CONTINUES IN THE CASPIAN SEA
An unnamed official of the Kazakh Ministry of Emergency Situations reported on September 20 that search efforts to locate the crew of a ship that sank in the Caspian Sea were continuing for a second day, but noted that hopes of finding survivors are dwindling, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The ship, named the Baku, is registered to the Atyrau river port association and sank on September 19 after foundering in the Caspian. The official also admitted that "since the Ministry of Emergency Situations does not have resources and means for carrying out this type of operation in the Caspian," the search effort is supported by ships belonging to Italy's Agip energy company, which has resources related to its offshore oil operations in the Caspian. RG
KAZAKH DEPUTY SPEAKER REPORTS ON SOCIAL SECTOR SPENDING PLANS
Speaking at a conference on family policy in Astana, Mukhambet Kopey, the deputy speaker of the Kazakh senate, reported on September 20 on plans for a sharp increase in social-sector spending from the 2008 state budget, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Kopey said that state expenditures on social and cultural programs are projected to account for nearly 50 percent of the Kazakh state budget for 2008. He noted that the government plans to double the existing one-time state allowance granted for the birth of a child, raising the benefit to about $285, and also to increase the monthly allowance for child care. He also noted the introduction of new obligatory social insurance benefits for pregnant mothers, and new childbirth and maternity-leave policies for working women. The deputy speaker explained that the state's priorities in the social sector are also part of its commitment to addressing concerns over Kazakhstan's demographic situation, pointing to recent success demonstrated by the rise in births from 220,000 in 2000 to more than 290,000 last year. RG
PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS DISCUSS OUTBREAK OF TB AMONG KAZAKH DOCTORS
Kazakh public health officials convened on September 19 to discuss measures aimed at curbing a sudden outbreak of tuberculosis among doctors, Kazakh TV's Channel 31 reported. Some 30 doctors are reported to have contracted tuberculosis from patients since the beginning of the year. According to Shakhimurat Ismailov, the director of the National Center for Tuberculosis, the outbreak has become a "serious threat" to public health and has been exacerbated by a lack of medical staff at tuberculosis clinics and not enough hospitals. According to official statistics from the Kazakh Ministry of Health, there are over 21,000 reported cases of tuberculosis in the country, although there have also been reports of a serious outbreak among the prison population that is not reflected in the official statistics. RG
KYRGYZ DEPUTY SAYS PARLIAMENT SHOULD NOT BE DISSOLVED UNTIL NEW CABINET FORMED
Prominent Kyrgyz opposition lawmaker Omurbek Tekebaev on September 20 urged the Kyrgyz leadership to refrain from dissolving the parliament until a new cabinet can be formed, AKIpress reported. Addressing a session of the parliament, Tekebaev warned that if the legislature is dissolved by the president, it would lead to a serious "political vacuum." He called on parliamentary speaker Marat Sultanov to hold talks with the president to prevent the dissolution. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev recently announced that he intends to form a new political party, presumably to take advantage of the new party-list-based parliamentary election, which will probably be called for early 2008 after the planned October referendum on a new constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). RG
KYRGYZSTAN INVITES GAZPROM TO INVEST IN REGIONAL GAS PROJECT
Kyrgyz ministers meeting in Bishkek decided on September 20 to formally submit a proposal to Russia's Gazprom inviting the energy giant to invest in the construction of the second line of the Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty natural-gas pipeline, AKIpress and the 24.kg website reported. Following a meeting with senior Gazprom executives on September 19 in Moscow, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev reported that Russian government officials have also agreed to "consider joint gas projects at the next meeting of the Kyrgyz-Russian intergovernmental commission," set for next month. During Karabaev's visit to Moscow, Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB) Secretary-General Bordyuzha said on September 20 that the presence of Western coalition forces at an airbase in Kyrgyzstan "does not contradict the interests" of the ODKB. He noted that "this base operates in the interests of the antiterrorist coalition" and added that the ODKB considers it "temporary," ITAR-TASS reported. Since its establishment in 2001, the mainly U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan have utilized the Manas air base at Bishkek's airport to support operations in Afghanistan. RG
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER BLASTS SUPREME COURT FOR DENYING REGISTRATION
Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the leader of the Movement for Freedom, said on September 20 that the Supreme Court made a politically motivated decision by upholding the denial of registration to the group, Belapan reported. In its September 20 ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the Justice Ministry, which refused to register Milinkevich's movement in July. The Justice Ministry claimed that the founders of the movement failed to pay the required fee into the national budget, paying it into a local budget instead. Milinkevich said the movement will appeal to the UN Human Rights Council in order to highlight flagrant violations of freedom of association in Belarus. Milinkevich also pledged that his organization will continue to file applications for registration to show the absurdity of the authorities' policy, the absence of the rule of law, and disrespect for human rights in Belarus. The Movement for Freedom was founded in Hrodna in May. After it first failed to get registered, the movement held another founding conference in August and again applied for registration earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2007). The Justice Ministry has not yet replied. JM
UKRAINIAN RULING PARTY THREATENS TO BOYCOTT ELECTIONS
The Party of Regions on September 20 issued a statement accusing supporters of President Viktor Yushchenko of "provocations," and threatening to boycott the September 30 parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "The Central Election Committee of the Party of Regions keeps receiving alarming reports on provocations that are being organized against the Regionalists. Our political opponents, being increasingly aware that they cannot avoid a crushing defeat in the upcoming early parliamentary elections, are looking for ways to considerably undermine the results of the Party of Regions," the statement said. The party said the provocations include "open sabotage of the work of constituency election commissions by commission members representing the opposition." "The purpose of those 'maneuvers' is obvious. As a consequence of the saboteurs' failure to sign voting reports in the constituencies, voting in those constituencies will be declared invalid, thus entailing lengthy litigation," the party said. It added that the largest number of reports on "provocations" comes from regions where it has traditionally held strong positions -- Crimea, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolayiv, and Odesa. The same day, First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the elections would not take place if the Party of Regions refused to participate in them. In response, Central Election Commission deputy head Andriy Mahera said that "from the viewpoint of the law, the elections will take place even if just one political party or bloc participates in them." JM
BRUSSELS SAYS VISA DEAL WITH UKRAINE DEPENDS ON KYIV'S DEAL WITH ROMANIA, BULGARIA
European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in an interview with the Kyiv-based "Delo" daily (http://delo.ua) on September 20 that the visa facilitation accord signed between the EU and Ukraine in June will take effect only if Ukraine cancels visas for the EU's two newcomers, Romania and Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). "We feel solidarity in our community, and Romania and Bulgaria are the EU's new members. The new members should enjoy the same attitude as the old ones," the daily quoted Ferrero-Waldner as saying. Roman Shpek, the head of the Ukrainian mission at the EU, said the same day that Brussels has no grounds to insist on the cancellation of Ukrainian visa requirements for Romanians and Bulgarians. Shpek recalled that Kyiv's decision to cancel visas for EU citizens in 2005 was "a unilateral act of good will by Ukraine." On the same day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it is considering the annulment of visas for Romanians and Bulgarians. The ministry added, however, that a possible decision on this issue is not legally linked to the EU-Ukraine visa-facilitation deal signed in June. JM
ICTY CHIEF VISITS BELGRADE...
The head of the UN war crimes tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, arrived in Belgrade on September 20 on a trip that could have a significant bearing on Serbia's relationship with the EU. Del Ponte spent the first day of her two-day visit in talks with senior Serbian officials, during which, according to Serbian media reports, Belgrade agreed to hand over a number of confidential documents to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) by October 1. Details were not disclosed. Among the leaders with whom Del Ponte met was Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. She will also hold talks with President Boris Tadic. After the visit, she is due to write an appraisal of Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY. That could determine whether the EU agrees to sign a Stabilization and Accession Agreement (SAA) with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 17, and 20, 2007). Serbia won its first positive assessment from the ICTY this summer, but the Serbian minister charged with overseeing cooperation with the ICTY, Rasim Ljajic, recently said there are "indications" that Del Ponte's upcoming judgment will be negative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). AG
...AMID CLAIMS KARADZIC 'TRIED TO STRIKE DEAL' WITH THE UNITED STATES
Chief ICTY prosecutor Del Ponte's visit to Belgrade coincides with new allegations that the political leader of Bosnia's Serbs during the 1992-95 war, Radovan Karadzic, tried to secure an agreement with the United States that would have enabled him to remain free in exchange for his leaving the political scene. Karadzic is one of four remaining fugitives wanted by the ICTY for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. The Serbian minister who made the claim, Rasim Ljajic, said it is unclear whether a deal was signed. Serbian war crimes prosecutors are now investigating the claims, and are questioning Serbs who acted as mediators in negotiations between Karadzic and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to the Balkans in the 1990s, Ljajic told Serbian and international media. Holbrooke has dismissed the suspicions, telling AP on September 19 that Ljajic's assertion was "old-style Soviet disinformation" and that the claim is one that "Karadzic began [making] in 1996 to save face." A spokeswoman for the ICTY, Olga Kavran, said that the tribunal has no evidence of such a deal, but added that Del Ponte is expected to discuss Ljajic's claims during her visit to Belgrade, AP reported on September 20. The Serbian news agency B92 reported on September 19 that Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said he will present Del Ponte with new information about the alleged deal. A former ICTY spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, alleged in a book published this month that the United States, Russia, and European powers repeatedly refused to allow Karadzic to be arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11 and 12, 2007). AG
INDEPENDENCE NOT OFF AGENDA, EU'S KOSOVA ENVOY SAYS
Wolfgang Ischinger, the German diplomat acting as the EU's envoy in talks on Kosova, has assured Kosovar Albanian leaders that he was misrepresented by a British paper that quoted him as saying that "strong supervised status" rather than "independence" is on the agenda at talks on Kosova's future, Kosovar media reported on September 18. "It is important for us that independence is on the agenda," Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu said, adding that "independence will be achieved." Sejdiu said Ischinger phoned him personally to allay his concerns. Ischinger's alleged comments also roused fears that the EU is backing away from offering clear support for independence for Kosova. There has been no clarification of Ischinger's statement that, while the plan for Kosova drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari is "not off the table," he "would not insist on the Ahtisaari package" as the basis for a solution. The EU has previously argued that the Ahtisaari package should serve as the starting point for any solution. Abandonment of the plan would raise the possibility that issues ranging from the protection of minorities to the presence of international troops might have to be renegotiated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5, 2007). AG
KOSOVAR SERBS IN DISPUTE WITH BELGRADE OVER FUNDS
The Serbian government and some leading Kosovar Serbs have been locked in a dispute over funds channeled from Belgrade to Kosova's minority Serbian community since Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic said on September 18 that he has evidence of the misuse of money earmarked for a number of projects. Djelic said the projects chiefly related to Mitrovica, an ethnically divided city in northern Kosova. The claim was dismissed on September 19 by the Coordination Center for Kosovo-Metohija (CCK), through which most of Belgrade's financial support is channeled. However, the CCK's head, Vuko Antonijevic, told Serbian media that the CCK is willing to open its books. Djelic did not provide details of the projects under suspicion. The construction -- with Serbian money -- of a number of apartment blocks in Mitrovica has been a source of tension for much of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28 and August 7, 2007). AG
FORMER ALBANIAN PREMIER LAUNCHES ATTACK ON PARTY'S LEADERSHIP
One of the dominant figures in Albanian politics since independence, Fatos Nano, has launched a campaign aimed at the "revival" of his party, the Socialists. At a meeting with supporters on September 19, Nano accused the party's current leader, Edi Rama, of ending democracy within the party, Albanian media reported. Reports from late August suggested Nano was on the verge of forming a new party, based initially on six parliamentarians expelled from the Socialist Party after they voted, at Nano's urging, to support the Democrat Party's candidate for the presidency, Bamir Topi. Their votes proved enough to secure Topi the post. Nano, who headed three Socialist-led governments between 1991 and 2005, himself stood earlier for the presidency, but failed to win the backing of the Socialist Party. Nano's campaign encountered problemd from the outset due to a power struggle with Rama. AG
RFE/RL Newsline incorrectly reported on September 20 that Srgjan Kerim on September 18 became the first Macedonian diplomat to head the UN General Assembly. In fact, Lazar Mojsov, who was the president of the UN General Assembly on behalf of Yugoslavia in 1977-1978, was the first Macedonian to hold the post.
IRANIAN OFFICIALS DEFIANT BUT EQUIVOCAL AT PROSPECT OF TOUGHER SANCTIONS
Iranian officials highlight the significance of the cooperation agreement that Iran reached in late August with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), intended to clarify aspects of Iran's contested nuclear program. But comments show that many in Iran do not expect this agreement to deter the United States and its Western allies from pressuring Iran for its refusal to stop uranium-enrichment activities, in defiance of two UN resolutions.
Said Jalili, Iranian deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, gave the United Arab Emirates daily "Al-Ittihad" Iran's official line on the controversy over its nuclear program: Iran is standing by its rights but is willing to negotiate.
He said resolution of the nuclear dispute could be resolved if the case is returned from the UN Security Council to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He said Iran is willing to talk to clarify questions about its "peaceful nuclear programs" but will not negotiate on "the achievements of the Iranian nation" -- or its progress in nuclear technology.
In response to increasing reports that key Western powers are apparently not impressed by Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, Iranian politicians are responding with a mixture of defiance and equivocation about the likelihood of more economic pressure or formal sanctions.
Their comments have echoed Tehran's longstanding argument: Iran's program is peaceful and the West is moved by political and ideological grudges against Iran's political system. And while there is talk in Iran of a lack of consensus among the great powers, with Germany the new favored power said to be siding with Russia, China, and nonaligned states -- Iran's supposed friends in the nuclear dispute -- there have been no specific commitments on the part of these ostensible friends that they will block the United States.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, told the IAEA in Vienna on September 17 that despite being a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran has -- since the 1979 Islamic Revolution -- faced "discriminatory policies and double standards" from Western states previously prepared to do nuclear business with the shah.
Western states, he said, have refused to honor contracts signed with the shah's government. Aqazadeh said it is evident that certain states have a policy of technological "exclusion" with regard to Iran, unrelated to suspicions over the peaceful nature of its program and in spite of its cooperation with UN inspectors.
He contrasted Iran's self-proclaimed cooperation with the IAEA with what he termed the "irrational" and "deceitful" approach of certain Western states. Aqazadeh said Iran is determined to pursue its technological progress and is willing to pay the price this would entail. No government, he said, could erect a "barrier" to this progress.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad also stressed Iran's rights, speaking to the Jam-i Jam television channel on September 17: "We are looking to defend our rights in our foreign policy, and in the nuclear issue...They have told us we will put sanctions on you. Firstly, they cannot impose sanctions on us. With which right and why do they wish to impose sanctions? They are incapable of doing this," ISNA reported.
The comments of Iranian politicians have conveyed a mixture of apparent flexibility and defiance, while some dailies have urged Iran to activate its diplomacy to counter the United States' efforts.
Naser Musavi, a member of the parliamentary Energy Committee, said in Tehran on September 16 that Iran will resist any decision threatening its national interests, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. He said "America and its allies" want the most extensive sanctions possible imposed on Iran.
Hossein Nejabat, a member of the parliamentary presidium, told ISNA on September 15 that UN sanctions have so far proved ineffective, which he suggested indicates that diplomacy is the only solution to the issue. He urged a continuation of talks with the 5+1 powers, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, Russia, France, Britain, and the United States) and Germany.
Parliament deputy Musa al-Reza Servati told ISNA on September 16 that Iran does not depend on other states for basic goods and "infrastructure" material, and would simply pay more to buy high-tech products it does need in the case of tougher sanctions.
Another deputy, Darius Qanbari, told ISNA that "if the West wishes to continue with its pretexts, Iran can also adopt more extreme means, which would not be a peaceful solution to this dossier."
Parliamentary presidium member Musa Qorbani told ISNA on September 15 that there is no logic to the "hostility" of Western states to Iran's program, and said that reason dictates that Iran's dossier be taken from the Security Council agenda, as the IAEA has effectively confirmed the absence of deviation from peaceful nuclear activities.
On a more moderate tone, Suleiman Jafarzadeh, a member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told ISNA that Iran will not sever its interaction with the IAEA if a third round of UN Security Council sanctions is imposed.
He said Iran's case is becoming increasingly "personal," but that states like Russia, China, and Germany have "fortunately" concluded that another set of sanctions on Iran would not help. Jafarzadeh was one of a number of politicians and dailies to mention Germany as aligned with states that Iran believes oppose U.S. plans for increased sanctions.
Tehran-based academic Davud Hermidas-Bavand told ISNA on September 15 that Iran's current cooperation accord with the IAEA may well dilute the provisions of any future sanctions, and deter Russia and China from voting for them. He said Iran should therefore continue to cooperate with the IAEA.
He admitted, however, that the Security Council would likely pay more attention to the IAEA's observation that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium. The head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, told IRNA on September 16 that there would likely be no third set of sanctions for now, given the divisions among the 5+1 powers and Iran's cooperation with the IAEA.
Iranian media and politicians have registered, not without anger, France's diplomatic realignment with the United States -- in contrast to its positions under President Jacques Chirac.
The daily "Iran" reported on September 16 the "contradictory" positions on Iran's dossier by France's "young and new" President Nicolas Sarkozy, taken "under the influence of organized international publicity." The daily, an effective mouthpiece of the executive branch, said Sarkozy has been showing "a more irrational opposition to Iran's nuclear program, which is supervised by the" IAEA.
But it noted that Sarkozy also recently stated that the Islamic world should not be deprived of nuclear power. The reformist daily "Etemad-i Melli" noted the same day the "turn" in French diplomacy in a report headlined "Coalition of the supporters of sanctions on Iran led by France." It noted Paris's more "martial" tone toward Iran in contrast with that coming from Berlin.
There is an implicit uncertainty here, perhaps illustrated in references to "reason" and the "irrationality" of Western conduct with Iran, which seem to have become a more frequent refrain recently than references to the law or Iran's treaty rights.
Reason is being invoked, it seems, when references to the law have failed to shame Western powers into ending their "willful hostility" towards Iran. Iranian officials might bitterly observe that international "laws" like the NPT are twisted and misinterpreted to suit the interests of "forceful" powers. Certain Iranians might harbor similar thoughts about the application of Iran's domestic laws and the way some officials there bend and interpret laws when dealing with protesting women, trade unionists, liberals, or students. Indeed, the Islamic Republic's attitude to "the law" and lawfulness -- both inside and outside of Iran -- might be said to be at the root of its troubled relations with the West.
PEACE TALKS WITH TALIBAN WOULD BE 'LONG AND COMPLEX,' SAYS TOP AFGHAN GENERAL
Afghanistan's army chief of staff, General Bismillah Khan, on September 20 said the proposed peace talks with the Taliban would be a "long and complex process," and are likely to be disregarded by extremists and foreign fighters in Afghanistan, AP reported. During a meeting in Kabul with U.S. Admiral William Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, Khan acknowledged that the prospect of talks with the Taliban "could be a beginning," but warned that it is "not something that will have a significant effect in the short term." Khan said he expects that some rebels within the extremist militant group could be persuaded into negotiating with President Hamid Karzai's western-backed government, but that foreign jihadists and hard-line factions within the Taliban will probably never be open to dialogue. Karzai proposed the talks on September 9, contending that "peace cannot be achieved without negotiations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 10, 2007). Khan and Fallon also visited the tomb of slain anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massood, under whom Khan once served as a top Northern Alliance commander. Regarded as one of Afghanistan's top anti-Taliban commanders, Khan subsequently fought alongside U.S. forces to topple the Taliban in 2001. JC
NATO CHIEF SAYS NO ALLIES CAN WITHDRAW FROM AFGHANISTAN
NATO commander Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in an interview published on September 19 that no NATO member countries can or will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, AFP reported. "There are 40 countries participating in the NATO mission in Afghanistan...and nobody can leave, nobody will," de Hoop Scheffer told the Dutch daily "NCR Handelsblad." He dismissed the idea that his home country, the Netherlands, which has 1,655 troops in Afghanistan, could "pull out single-handedly." Troop deployments in Afghanistan are the subject of heated parliamentary debates in a number of NATO countries, including Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands, which have threatened to reduce or even terminate their involvement in Afghanistan due to the rising death toll of NATO troops and the lack of reconstruction there. In an interview with RFE/RL on September 13, the second-in-command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Canadian Brigadier General Marquis Hainse, refused to comment on how Canada, Germany, or the Netherlands will decide on extending their support for the mission, but he stated that the alliance values "the contribution of all nations...and we hope that the nations that have contributed knew what they were getting into when they committed to this mission, and we certainly hope that they will stick to their commitments." All three countries' mandates authorizing the presence of their troops in Afghanistan are set to expire within the next six months. JC
TALIBAN ATTACKS POLICE POST IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN, AT LEAST 24 DEAD
Dozens of Taliban militants on September 19 attacked a police post in western Afghanistan, igniting a battle with local police that left approximately 20 militants and four police officers dead, AFP reported. The three-hour battle took place in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis Province. Four police and nine militants were also injured in the clash, Governor Mohammad Ashraf Nasiri said. Nasiri stated that there were hundreds of attackers, but his claim was not independently confirmed. Violence has increased recently in Badghis Province, and particularly in Bala Murghab district, a typically calm area compared to Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces where Taliban militants exert control. Meanwhile, in southern Zabul Province, police arrested six militants and killed another, the Defense Ministry said. JC
SIXTEEN REBELS SURRENDER ARMS IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Sixteen rebels on September 19 surrendered their arms and joined the government through the reconciliation process in eastern Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Muhammad Bashir, a spokesman for the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) in eastern Afghanistan, said the insurgents were fighting coalition and Afghan forces with the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, the rebel faction led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The 16 men, all of whom were residents of Nangarhar and Nuristan Provinces, were sent to Kabul to receive certificates from the NRC central office confirming their surrender, Bashir added. Nearly 1,000 rebels in eastern Afghanistan have surrendered through the reconciliation process. JC
IRANIAN OFFICIAL HOPES FOR AGREEMENT ON POWER PLANT FUEL
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, spoke to the press in Tehran on September 20 after returning from the 51st annual meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ISNA reported. Aqazadeh said he told IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei that the decision for Iran to renew cooperation with the IAEA was difficult, and Iran now expects the IAEA to do its technical work on Iran's installations and ignore political "provocations," presumably by Western powers. Aqazadeh said Iran's present cooperation with the IAEA is a "most exceptional opportunity" and "there is no certainty it will come about again." He said Iranian and Russian negotiators are currently discussing the timing and outstanding financial issues regarding the delivery of fuel to the Bushehr plant, adding that he expects, after recent conversations with Russian officials, that a document will be signed to formalize the resolution of the issues before Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Iran, perhaps in the coming weeks. Putin is scheduled to attend a meeting of Caspian littoral states in Tehran in the second half of October, IRNA reported on September 20. VS
IRAN'S FORMER CHIEF NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR DISCUSSES VISIT TO BERLIN
Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, the head of the Expediency Council's Strategic Research Center and Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator, spoke to ISNA on September 20 about his trip to Berlin and speech to the German parliament on September 19. Rohani said he met with a national security adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during his visit. He added that his scheduled meeting in Brussels with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the main negotiator on Iran's nuclear program, was cancelled, though the two spoke by phone. In his speech to the Bundestag, Rohani criticized U.S. policies in the Middle East as having caused "killings" and terrorism, ISNA reported. He said the United States has achieved the opposite of its goals, laid out since 2001, of pacifying and democratizing the Middle East and defeating terrorism. As a result of U.S. actions, Rohani told German legislators, Al-Qaeda has expanded its activities from Afghanistan to Iraq and other Arab states. As for Iran's nuclear program, he said Western-imposed sanctions will not curb Iran's nuclear activities, because all Iranians consider them illegal. Western powers would achieve more through dialogue with Iran, he said. Separately, Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani spoke with the EU's Solana by phone, and agreed to set a time in early October for another round of talks on Iran's nuclear program, AFP and IRNA reported on September 19. VS
IRANIAN JETS MAKE TEST FLIGHTS
Two Iranian-made Saeqeh fighter jets made test flights on September 20, Reuters reported, citing an Iranian state television report. Iranian officials say the Saeqeh fighter is an updated version of the Azarakhsh, another Iranian fighter jet model which Tehran says it is now producing on a large scale. Reuters observed that photos of the Saeqeh jet suggest it is based on, or a modification of, U.S.-made F-5 jets that Iran bought from the United States in the 1970s. The agency added that Iranian officials have said the Saeqeh has "similar capabilities" to the U.S.-made F-18 jet, but is more powerful. Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said in Tehran on September 20 that the Azarakhsh and Saeqeh jets are the fruit of "very good coordination" between industry and the armed forces, ISNA reported. He said Iran is designing a helicopter that can be used in both combat and transportation. He added that Iran is building 100 "140 planes" that carry 52 passengers, possibly referring to the Iran-140 passenger plane being constructed with Ukrainian help. Mohammad-Najjar added that Iran is consulting with Russian aerospace company Tupolev on the possible construction in Iran of 100- and 200-seat passenger planes, ISNA reported. VS
BUSH CONDEMNS BEIRUT BOMBING, IMPLICATES IRAN
U.S. President George W. Bush has condemned the car-bombing in Beirut on September 19 that killed Lebanese legislator Antoine Ghanem, Reuters reported. In a September 20 statement, Bush reiterated the United States' support for Lebanon in the face of what he called foreign "interference" and intimidation, and stated that "we will continue to stand...with the Lebanese people as they resist attempts by the Syrian and Iranian regimes and their allies to destabilize Lebanon and undermine its sovereignty." Ghanem was a Christian Phalangist and a member of the anti-Syrian parliamentary coalition backing the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. He had been abroad for two months, fearing for his life, and returned discreetly on September 16 to attend a September 25 parliamentary session that may vote for a new Lebanese president, the lorient-lejour.com website reported on September 20. The website identified him as the 10th anti-Syrian politician to be killed in Lebanon since 2004, and noted that the anti-Syrian parliamentary block led by Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt now has 68 of 127 seats in parliament. IRNA reported on September 20 that anti-Syrian politicians have blamed Syria for the bombing, which killed between five and seven other people besides Ghanem, and said they have labeled it a response to an Israeli air raid on Syria on September 6. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini condemned the "terrorist act" that killed Ghanem, and said it was aimed at undermining Lebanese unity and stability "in very sensitive conditions," ISNA reported. He said such "plots" are the work of "known enemies of the people of Lebanon," and suggested that clues in such cases usually point to "the sinister plans" of Israel. VS
IRANIAN LAWYER RECEIVES HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE IN GERMANY
Iranian lawyer Naser Zarafshan has received a human rights award in Germany from his German colleagues, Radio Farda reported on September 20. Zarafshan, who is involved in civil-rights cases in Iran, has been in Germany for a week and met with German President Horst Kohler, Radio Farda reported, without stating where the award was presented. The chairwoman of the German parliament's human rights committee, Herta Daubler-Gmelin, attended the ceremony and called Zarafshan a "human-rights watchman" in Iran. Zarafshan told Radio Farda that such awards strengthen "our position in realizing our ideals" for human rights in Iran. He said he has observed a change in Iranians' outlook, and that "social movements" have concluded they must pay attention to Iranians' wishes. Zarafshan has been prosecuted for aspects of his involvement in the cases of several dissidents' murders by Iranian state security agents in the late 1990s, and told Radio Farda that the prosecution against him was illegal. VS
TWO MORE AIDES TO IRAQ'S SENIOR AYATOLLAH ASSASSINATED
Two aides to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have been assassinated in southern Iraq, according to September 21 media reports. Armed gunmen opened fire on imam Amjad al-Janabi, the head of the Al-Murtada Cultural Center in Al-Basrah, as he traveled through Al-Zubayr in western Al-Basrah Governorate. Another imam who was traveling with Amjad, Adnan al-Janabi, was seriously wounded in the attack, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Meanwhile, gunmen attacked and killed imam Ahmad Abd al-Karim Bashir in Al-Diwaniyah, which is located in the south-central Iraqi governorate of Al-Qadisiyah. Bashir was al-Sistani's representative in the city. The assassinations are part of an apparent campaign targeting aides to the cleric, which has left nearly a dozen clerics dead in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2007). KR
FORMER PRIME MINISTER TO ANNOUNCE NEW PARLIAMENTARY BLOC
Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is set to announce the establishment of a new parliamentary bloc, expected to be the largest bloc in parliament, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on September 21. The bloc will apparently seek to counter the moderates' front established by the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2007). Al-Ja'fari is a leading figure in one wing of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, which belongs to the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, head of the Al-Da'wah Party-Iraq Organization, announced earlier this week that the wing could pull out of the UIA. It appears that the groups set to join the new bloc will include the 32 representatives aligned with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who officially withdrew from the UIA on September 16, as well as members of the Al-Fadilah Party, which pulled out of the alliance in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7 and September 17, 2007). Al-Sharqiyah reported that the bloc will also include several independent figures from the UIA, in addition to al-Ja'fari's wing of the Al-Da'wah Party. It is unclear whether the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front (Al-Tawafuq) will join the new bloc. Iraqi media reported in August that al-Ja'fari's new front will be called the National Reform Grouping (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2007). KR
IRAQ'S SUNNI ARAB VICE PRESIDENT SAYS PARLIAMENT ORGANIZING NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi told Reuters in a September 20 interview that parliamentarians are preparing to hold a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's administration. Al-Hashimi said Sunni Arabs cannot "wait forever" for al-Maliki's administration to pass the reforms needed to push national reconciliation forward. "I don't believe the government has the sufficient desire and goodwill to pursue the noble targets of reconciliation," al-Hashimi said. Al-Maliki announced in a September 20 statement that he has created a committee to examine Sunni Arab demands, after Sunni Arab ministers withdrew from the government on August 1, complaining that their demands for reform were not met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2007). KR
CURFEW ANNOUNCED IN NORTHERN IRAQI CITY
A curfew has been announced in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul due to security operations in the area, Iraqi media reported on September 21. The curfew, which began at 10 p.m. on September 20, will reportedly remain in effect until 6:00 a.m. on September 22. Ninawa Governor Durayd Kashmula said the curfew is necessary to protect citizens during security operations. Coalition and Iraqi forces launched Operation Lightning Hammer II on September 5, targeting the Al-Qaeda network operating in the Salah Al-Din, Ninawa, Diyala, and Kirkuk Governorates. KR