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Newsline

Newsline - September 18, 2007

RUSSIA WARNS AGAINST WAR WITH IRAN
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov was quoted by the daily "Vremya novostei" on September 18 as saying that any U.S. bombing of Iran would be a "political error" and have "catastrophic" consequences. He added that such an attack would "worsen the situation in the Middle East" and provoke a "very negative reaction from the Muslim world." He was apparently alluding to remarks by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said on September 16 that "we must prepare for the worst," specifying that the worst would be war. "We prepare...by saying we won't accept the building of [an Iranian nuclear] bomb," Kouchner said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). On September 17, Mikhail Margelov, who is chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, said that "a war with Iran will have consequences that are impossible to foresee, will create an Afghanistan-Iran-Iraq imbroglio, and will inevitably affect Palestine, Israel, and Syria, thereby destroying any hope of stability in the entire region," Interfax reported. He stressed that "any military actions must be approved by the [UN] Security Council. As for Russia, it sees no objective reasons to vote for launching hostilities in the immediate proximity of its own borders." On September 18 in Moscow, Kouchner discussed Iran and other issues with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov told journalists that "we are worried by reports that there is serious consideration being given to military action in Iran," Reuters reported. He added that such talk "is a threat to a region where there are already grave problems in Iraq and Afghanistan." The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on September 18 quoted Kouchner as saying that further UN sanctions against Iran would push Tehran toward "greater openness" regarding its atomic program. He also warned that the status quo in Kosova is untenable and "does not meet the interests of either Serbs or Albanians. It only serves to deepen the antagonisms." PM

POLISH PRESIDENT VISITS SITE OF MASSACRE
On September 17, the 68th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by the U.S.S.R., President Lech Kaczynski visited the site of the 1940 Katyn massacre near Smolensk to honor the memory of up to 22,000 Polish officers and other citizens killed by the Soviet security forces, then known as the NKVD, news agencies reported. He called the massacre "an act of genocide," but absolved Russia's present-day rulers of any responsibility. Kaczynski said that "we have a democratic Poland and we have a new Russia. There is no more Soviet Union, no more communist totalitarianism." He noted that "of those who committed crimes at Katyn, hardly any are still alive. Those who govern Russia and Poland today were, [if] they were alive then, very young children and do not bear any responsibility for events that took place there.... We have thus to live [for] the future...and to the past we must look calmly, with balance, but also with regard for the truth." Kaczynski spent less than two hours on Russian soil, his first visit to that country as president. He was met local officials and by Georgy Poltavchenko, who is President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Central Federal District and a major general in the Federal Security Service (FSB). For decades following the discovery of the bodies in Katyn by German forces in 1943, Moscow maintained that the Nazis carried out the killings. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged in 1990 that the Soviets were responsible for the massacre. Russia has never released all the documents pertaining to Katyn and refuses to classify the killings as genocide, a war crime, or one of Soviet leader Josef Stalin's crimes against humanity. In Poland and in other former Soviet-occupied countries, the massacre is seen as an example of Stalin's policy of eliminating educated, military, and governing classes in areas under his control. On September 17, the daily "Vremya novostei" suggested that Kaczynski's visit was motivated by a desire to influence the upcoming legislative elections in favor of forces led by his brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. PM

PUTIN ADVOCATES FORGETTING 'SILLY' ATLANTIC SOLIDARITY
President Putin told an invited group of Western Kremlinologists in Sochi on September 14 that Western countries should forget "silly Atlantic solidarity" and seek to improve relations with Russia by taking it on its own terms, Britain's "The Times" reported on September 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). He added that the United States and some EU member states continue to have "absolutely inappropriate...Cold War attitudes" toward Russia, particularly where trade and energy policy are concerned. Putin stressed that Russia's decision in 2005 to construct the Nord Stream pipeline that bypasses Poland does not infringe on anyone's rights. He said that if Western countries want to talk about Kosova or Iran with Russia, then each of these topics should be discussed specifically and individually, and not together with complaints about democracy in Russia. Putin repeated his position that Russia wants Ukraine to pay market prices for gas and has no intention of subsidizing "the Orange movement" there. "Do you think we are idiots?" he added. PM

EU WARNS GAZPROM
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brighton, England, on September 17 that Gazprom can expect to encounter "tough restrictions" if it seeks to acquire energy assets in the EU, Britain's "Financial Times" reported on September 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30 and September 5, 2007). He stressed that the EU believes in open markets. Barroso noted, however, that "one foreign state-controlled company is the sole gas supplier to five EU member-states. To protect the openness of our market, we need to place tough conditions on ownership of assets by non-EU companies. We can be open, but we mustn't be naive." PM

HUNGARY BOOSTS EU PIPELINE PROJECT
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said in Budapest on September 14 that he pledges "total support" for the EU's proposed Nabucco pipeline, portfolio.hu and Britain's "Financial Times" reported on September 17 and 18, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13 and 23, 2007). Gyurcsany stressed that "our job is to find gas resources independent of Russia." He added that "a fool is a country that is made happy by having a single [supplier]." He noted that Hungary obtains 80 percent of its gas from Russia and is Gazprom's single largest customer in Europe. Economy Minister Janos Koka stressed that Nabucco, and not Russia's rival Blue Stream pipeline, means "real diversification" of energy sources for Hungary. The British daily wrote that the latest Hungarian statements amount to "a new lease on life" for Nabucco. In March, Gyurcsany announced a decision to opt for Blue Stream on the grounds that it "already exists" whereas Nabucco is "a dream." Critics charged that his government is already too close to Russian business interests and that it would be breaking EU solidarity over a common energy policy if it opted for a Russian pipeline rather than one sponsored by the EU. PM

RUSSIA READY TO DELIVER ELECTRICITY TO CHINA, KOREA
Leonid Drachevsky, the deputy CEO of Russia's electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (EES), said in Beijing on September 18 that Russia and China will begin in 2008 to implement the first of three stages of a plan for Russia to export up to 60 billion kilowatts per hour of electricity to China, Interfax reported. In the first stage, 2 billion to 3 billion kilowatts per hour of power will be supplied to "border districts." The second and third stages will require the construction of additional infrastructure. He added that EES also "could export [electricity] to North and South Korea...in the future. Such projects guarantee stability in unstable regions, and instability is bred by a lack of energy, including electricity." PM

VIETNAM RETURNS URANIUM TO RUSSIA
The Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) announced on September 17 that Vietnam recently returned to Russia nearly four kilograms of highly enriched uranium under a Russian-U.S. program to secure nuclear materials from which nuclear weapons could be made, news agencies reported. The fuel was used at a research reactor in Dalat, which was originally constructed by the former South Vietnam. Under the Russian-U.S. program, uranium has been returned to Russia from Libya, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. PM

SUKHOI HOPES FOR 40 PERCENT HIKE IN PRODUCTION
Mikhail Pogosyan, the CEO of the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi, said in Khabarovsk on September 18 that his company plans to raise the value of its output by 40 percent to $2 billion by 2010, Interfax reported. He added that the bulk of the planned increase will come by shifting emphasis from military to civilian aircraft production. Of particular importance is the Superjet 100, a 100-seat passenger jet currently in development, which has received assistance from Boeing, Britain's ft.com reported on September 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). Interfax reported that "the overall market for the Superjet 100 is estimated at about 5,500 airliners, worth $100 billion, by 2023." The news agency also noted that "Sukhoi plans to produce at least 700 Superjet 100s and intends to sell 35 percent of them to North America, 25 percent to Europe, 10 percent to Latin America, and 7 percent to Russia and China." PM

UNIFIED RUSSIA, COMMUNIST REPRESENTATIVES HOLD ELECTION DEBATE
Representatives of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and the Communist Party held a public debate hosted by Interfax on September 17, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov noted that "relations between the state and the individual in contemporary Russia are not ideal," but added that Unified Russia is the only party in which "the concepts 'state' and 'personality' are combined with the word 'and' rather than the word 'or.'" Kosachyov also praised President Putin for defending the constitution, noting that "the Soviet Constitution did not allow such debates as these, for instance, since there was only party." Unified Russia, which controls an overwhelming majority in the State Duma, has stated that it will not participate in face-to-face election debates with any opponents except the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2007). Another similar debate is scheduled for September 19. An editorial in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on September 18 criticized the heavily stage-managed encounter, saying that participants were not allowed to ask one another questions or to respond directly to one another. The daily said the authorities need genuine debates in order to increase voter turnout for the December 2 Duma elections and provide a sufficient mandate for the government's course. RC

LDPR KICKS OFF DUMA CAMPAIGN
The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia held its national pre-election congress in Moscow on September 17, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky struck an ardent anti-Western and anti-American tone in his address to the gathering, saying that Russia is surrounded by enemies and in a state of civil war. The party's No. 2 candidate, businessman, and former security agent Andrei Lugovoi, who is a suspect in the November 2006 murder in London of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, told reporters after the congress that he might consider being the party's candidate in the March 2008 presidential election. Zhirinovsky noted that his party has "always supported those who wear epaulettes." He said that the "chekist" or intelligence officer, is a symbol of the struggle between Russia and a hostile West. RC

POLL SHOWS RUSSIANS SATISFIED WITH STRONG PRESIDENCY
A poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has found that 58 percent of Russians believe the president currently has about the right amount of power, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on September 18. Twenty-two percent said the president needs even more authority, while just 7 percent said the president's powers should be reduced. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who intends to run for president in March 2008, has said he believes the odds that President Putin will remain for a third term are as high as "50 percent." Kasyanov made the statement in a September 14 interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service. Asked how that might be possible considering the constitutional ban on a third term, Kasyanov said: "In our system, which has been built over the last two years under the leadership of President Putin, this system has de facto replaced the democratic structure laid out in the constitution and is a straight vertical from the very top to the very bottom. If the command is given, within a week all the regions will vote, all the legislatures, for changes in the constitution. And the Duma and the Federation Council -- that would take two days." RC

KOVALYOV CALLS FOR MORAL REVOLUTION IN POLITICS
Long-time human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov, who is running for the State Duma on the Yabloko party list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007), told RFE/RL's Russian Service on September 17 that human-rights activists are demanding "a fundamental upheaval in politics" that would put moral issues and concern for the individual at the center of attention. "I am convinced that traditional politics, so-called realpolitik, which is governed by the principle that politics is the art of the possible, this traditional politics has not only exhausted itself, but has become a very dangerous atavism," Kovalyov, who served as Russia's human rights ombudsman under President Boris Yeltsin, said. He added that Yabloko has enough public support to win seats in the Duma if the Kremlin decides it has nothing to fear in allowing a small number of "firm oppositionists" into the chamber. However, he noted, this is far from certain since the Kremlin "is often afraid of the fruits of its own fantasies." RC

GREEN PARTY PLEDGES 'ABSOLUTE' SUPPORT FOR PUTIN
The Green Party held its pre-election congress in Moscow on September 17, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The party's list of candidates for the December 2 State Duma elections will be headed by party leader Anatoly Panfilov, former Duma Deputy Vladimir Semyonov, and television personality Svetlana Konegen. Panfilov assured the congress that the Green Party "absolutely supports the course of President Vladimir Putin" and informed delegates that the party sent birthday congratulations to new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. Panfilov said the party will focus on issues raised by Putin, including the need to protect fisheries and water and forestry resources. At a press conference following the congress, Konegen criticized some environmentalists, especially Greenpeace, for "taking on an inhuman face that can frighten children." At a party congress on September 16, the Peace and Unity Party named its top three candidates: party leader Sazhi Umalatova, Moscow State University economist Yelena Veduta, and actor Nikolai Tyrin. RC

SON OF IRANIAN DIPLOMAT KILLED IN MOSCOW
The teenaged son of an Iranian diplomat was stabbed to death in Moscow on September 16 in what may have been a race-hate crime, Russian media reported on September 18. The victim was identified as Ahmad Riza Kharrani, the son of an Iranian embassy translator and a student at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. The Iranian government has called for "decisive measures" to identify the killer or killers. RC

RUSSIAN INTERNET PASSES LANDMARK
The .ru Internet domain has registered its 1 millionth address, "The Moscow Times" reported on September 18. The domain is the eighth most popular national Internet suffix, the daily reported. It was created in 1994 to replace the old .su domain of the Soviet Union. The .su domain still exists, Andrei Vorobyov, a spokesman for the nonprofit organization that registers addresses in the .ru domain, said. "Many brands that want to register in .ru but find that all the good domain names are taken go to .su instead," Vorobyov said. RC

DETAINED CHECHEN NOT YET CHARGED WITH POLITKOVSKAYA KILLING
Shamil Burayev, the former pro-Moscow Chechen official taken into custody last week on suspicion of involvement in the October 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, has not yet been formally charged, kavkaz-uzel.ru quoted his lawyer, Pyotr Kazakov, as saying on September 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Kazakov added that Burayev is not suspected of having organized the murder. LF

DAGHESTAN MILITANT LEADER REPORTED KILLED
Russian media on September 18 reported the killing of militant leader Rappani Khalilov during a 12-hour special operation the previous day in the village of Novy Sulak in Daghestan's Kizilyurt Raion. Khalilov and a second fighter engaged several hundred Russian and Daghestani Interior Ministry troops in a 12-hour gun battle, after which Russian tanks razed to the ground the house where the two fighters were ensconced. Khalilov, a Lak, was born in 1969, and reportedly developed an interest in Islam in 1998; the following year he joined the militants under radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev who launched two successive incursions into Daghestan with the aim of proclaiming an independent Islamic republic in the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 1999 ). Russian sources identified him as having perpetrated the May 2002 attack on a Russian barracks in the Daghestani town of Kaspiisk in which 45 people were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, 2002). Chechen Republic Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov named Khalilov amir of the Daghestan front one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006); according to kavkaz-uzel.ru, the group of militants he commanded is regarded as one of the strongest and best equipped. At a recent council of war, Khalilov issued orders to his subordinates to recruit additional fighters in light of the huge number of volunteers eager to join the resistance, according to a press release by the Shariat jamaat posted on August 25 on the resistance website kavkazcenter.com. Khalilov is the fourth senior field commander to be killed this year after North-Eastern front commander Tahir Batayev, Suleiman Imurzayev (aka Khayrulla) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23 and April 10, 2007), and Amir Muslim, Batayev's successor as commander of the North-Eastern front, who died in July of wounds sustained in a shoot-out three months earlier, chechenpress.info reported on July 23. LF

INGUSH FSB OFFICER SHOT DEAD
Unidentified gunmen shot dead Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Alikhan Kalimatov late on September 17 as he left a roadside cafe near the village of Gazi-Yurt in Nazran Raion, ingushetiya.ru and kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Kalimatov worked for the federal FSB and was seconded to Ingushetia last month to participate in the investigation into recent numerous abductions of Ingush in neighboring North Ossetia. It is not clear whether his death was linked to that investigation or to the bad blood between Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov and Kalimatov's brother Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov, who resigned six months ago as Ingushetian prosecutor, reportedly to protest "antinational policies" and endemic corruption within the Ingushetian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2007). LF

OSCE MEDIATORS VISIT ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN
The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict met in Stepanakert on September 16 with Baho Sahakian, the newly inaugurated president of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR), Noyan Tapan reported the following day. After that meeting, French co-Chairman Ambassador Bernard Fassier told journalists the mediators intend to raise the possibility of NKR representatives joining in the mediation process, Pan armenian.net and the Azerbaijani daily echo-az.com reported on September 17 and 18 respectively. Visiting Tbilisi two weeks ago, 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." He did not elaborate, but Azerbaijani commentators construed his remarks as an argument in favor of drawing NKR representatives into the negotiating process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2007). In Baku, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister spokesman Xazar Ibragim told journalists on September 17 that Azerbaijan will agree to talks with NKR representatives only if Armenia formally recognizes Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and withdraws from the negotiating process, day.az reported. Also on September 17, the three co-chairmen met in Yerevan with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. No details of those talks were divulged, but U.S. Minsk Group co-Chairman Matthew Bryza told journalists that the prospects for a settlement have improved since the most recent meeting, in St. Petersburg in June, between Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. The co-chairs are due in Baku on September 18 for talks with Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, whom day.az quoted on September 17 as saying that Baku considers "very interesting" unspecified proposals by the Minsk Group co-chairs. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION PETITION ON RAISING MINIMUM PENSION
The Georgian parliament bureau on September 17 rejected a petition submitted by the Kartuli Dasi (Georgian Group) party, signed by some 31,000 people, demanding that the minimum pension of 40 laris ($24) be raised to 118 laris, which is the minimum monthly wage, Caucasus Press reported. In December 2005, Georgia's parliamentarians voted themselves a handsome pay increase, from 750 laris to 2,000 laris per month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 17, 2006). LF

SOUTH OSSETIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF PREPARING TO SABOTAGE DEMONSTRATION OF 'UNITY'
Irina Gagloyeva, spokeswoman for the government of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, claimed on September 17 that Georgians are congregating in villages close to the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, in preparation for a so-called "peace march" to thwart the planned sixth congress of the Ossetian people, which is to take place in Tskhinvali on September 18-19, "Nezavizimaya gazeta" reported on September 18. The previous five congresses, held at four-year intervals, all took place in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Speaking in Vladikavkaz on September 13, Taimuraz Kasayev, who is North Ossetia's minister for nationality affairs, sad the congress "will demonstrate to the entire world community the actual unity and indivisibility of the Ossetian people," regnum.ru reported. Arriving in Tskhinvali on September 17, Kasayev branded as "separatists" those Ossetians, presumably meaning Dmitry Sanakoyev, whom Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili named in May to head an alternative pro-Georgian provisional administration in South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2007), who advocate "splitting Ossetia" and subsuming the current unrecognized republic of South Ossetia into Georgia, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. LF

PRESIDENT DENIES ABKHAZIA PLANS TO CEDE TERRITORY TO RUSSIA
Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, dismissed on September 17 as "utterly stupid" a report earlier that day by the Georgian television station Rustavi-2 that Abkhazia has signed a treaty on ceding part of its territory to the Russian Federation, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Also on September 17, acting Sukhum(i) administration head Alias Labakhua similarly denied that the city administration has signed over a stretch of the Black Sea coast to the Moscow city administration. LF

KYRGYZ EX-PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER RELEASED FROM HOUSE ARREST, LEAVES THE COUNTRY
Bermet Akaeva, the daughter of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, was released from house arrest on September 17 after all criminal charges against her were dropped, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and the 24.kg website reported. She was placed under house arrest after being charged with obstruction of justice, contempt of court, and creating "mass public disorder" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2007). Those charges stem from allegations that she attempted to pressure a regional court to overturn an April decision that barred her from standing as a candidate in a special parliamentary by-election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and 30, 2007). Tursunbek Aku, the head of the Kyrgyz Human Rights Commission, accompanied Akaeva on September 17 to Almaty in Kazakhstan immediately after her release. In a related case, Kyrgyz authorities also dismissed criminal charges against former acting Interior Minister Omurbek Subanaliev, just days before his appointment as a senior aide to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Subanaliev, a close associate of former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, was appointed as the new head of the State Department of Defense and Security Affairs, Kyrgyz television reported. He had been charged with helping to organize an unauthorized opposition rally in Bishkek in April 2007. RG

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER PREDICTS NEW PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
The leader of the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, former Prime Minister Kulov, announced on September 17 that a national referendum will be held by the end of the year and new parliamentary elections will be held early next year, AKIpress reported. Kulov's announcement follows the recent Constitutional Court ruling that overturned two sets of constitutional amendments adopted in November 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Kulov said that "scenarios are being drawn up in the depths of the presidential administration to counter possible political complications anticipated in the autumn of this year," and noted that "an early parliamentary election is supposed to be a major diversion." He further warned that "to prevent chaos, it is necessary to immediately adopt a law which will say that all the laws adopted in the period when these two [versions of the constitution] were in force will remain effective if they do not contradict the 2003 constitution." The court's ruling also implies that parliament will again be required to approve all cabinet-level officials, except Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev, who was appointed by the president with parliamentary consent in accordance with the procedures stipulated by the 2003 constitution. RG

UKRAINE SIGNS CONTRACTS TO BUILD CHORNOBYL COVER, SPENT-FUEL DEPOSITORY
Ukrainian officials on September 17 signed a $505 million contract with the French-led consortium Novarka to build a new steel cover over the reactor of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant that was destroyed in a 1986 explosion, international and Ukrainian news agencies reported. "I am convinced that today, possibly for the first time, we can frankly tell the national and international community that the answer to the problem of sealing off the Chernobyl nuclear plant was found today," President Viktor Yushchenko said at the signing ceremony in Kyiv. The new cover will enclose the concrete sarcophagus erected hastily over the ruined reactor after the 1986 accident. The project, due to be completed over four to five years, is financed by an international fund managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Another $200 million deal, signed on the same day by Ukraine and U.S.-based Holtec International, provides for building a facility to house spent fuel from the Chornobyl plant's other three reactors. Holtec International President Kris Singh said the facility could ultimately house spent fuel from some of Ukraine's 16 working reactors if authorities approve such a move. JM

UKRAINIAN PARTY CLAIMS TO HAVE ENOUGH SIGNATURES FOR REFERENDUM
The press service of the ruling Party of Regions said on September 17 that the party has already collected the constitutionally required 3 million signatures from people across Ukraine to support holding a nationwide referendum as a civic initiative, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Earlier this month, the Party of Regions announced plans for a referendum on three issues -- Ukraine's neutrality, official status for the Russian language, and local polls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). The party has reportedly proposed posing the following questions in the referendum: "Do you agree to Russian and Ukrainian becoming the state languages of Ukraine?" "Do you agree to the election of the heads of raion and oblast administrations by the citizens of Ukraine?" and "Do you agree to Ukraine becoming a state that does not participate in military blocs?" "We believe that the Russian language should be the second official language," Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in Crimea on September 17. "What is wrong with attaching an official status to the Russian language? ... Half of all Ukrainians speak Russian. Why these people should be disrespected?" JM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT 'MAY' COLLAPSE
The two largest parties in Serbia's governing coalition have sought to allay fears raised by a government minister that the government may collapse. Rasim Ljajic, the minister for labor and social affairs, told the daily "Vecernje novosti" on September 14 that differences over the handling of talks on the future of Kosova and over the date of the presidential election "will trigger a serious crisis that may lead to the disintegration of the cabinet." Ljajic argued that only an agreement between the leader of the Democrats (DS), President Boris Tadic, and the head of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, can prevent the government falling. The deputy leader of the DS, Justice Minister Dusan Petrovic, said the government is not in crisis, while the head of the DS's parliamentary caucus, Nada Kolundzija, said the government is united about Kosova. A spokesman for the DSS, Andrija Mladenovic, told reporters on September 14 that the government is functioning normally and that the ruling parties "will hold concrete talks in the coming days and agree when to call and hold the elections." Mladenovic's message was reiterated on September 17 by Interior Minister Dragan Jocic, a member of the DSS, the news agency FoNet reported. While all of the governing parties insist that Kosova must remain part of Serbia, the DSS has taken a more aggressive position, attacking NATO and floating the possibility of using force in Kosova. In its latest move, on September 15, the party's leadership ruled out joining NATO if any of the alliance's members recognize Kosova as an independent state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). The statements by the DSS have forced the Foreign Ministry to reassure Brussels about Serbia's commitment to the EU and to a peaceful solution to the Kosova dispute. The DSS argues that the presidential election should be postponed until April 2008, when it believes the status of Kosova will have been resolved, while the DS argues that would be unconstitutional and would delay the election for an unacceptably long period. In talks with Prishtina, Belgrade is insisting that a compromise agreement on the future of Kosova must be reached in open-ended talks. Ljajic, who is also in charge of Serbia's cooperation with the UN war-crimes tribunal, further said that the government is "absolutely" united over cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and "is doing everything possible to end our obligations toward the tribunal by the end of the year." Ljajic recently said Serbia is stepping up its effort to find suspected war criminals, lest it incur a negative appraisal of its cooperation by the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Ljajic was elected on the ticket of the DS, but heads the Sandzak Democratic Party. AG

PREMIER'S PARTY DISPELS FEAR OF LINKUP WITH RADICALS...
DSS spokesman Mladenovic also dismissed speculation that the party has been holding talks about the possibility of forming a new government with the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), the party that emerged from elections in January with the greatest support, the news agency FoNet reported on September 17. The DSS, which is the third-largest party in parliament with 47 seats compared with the 81 held by the SRS and the 64 by the DS, would also need the backing of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the party of the late Slobodan Milosevic, in order to form a majority government. The Radicals, who take a more strident position than the DSS on Kosova, agree that the presidential election, which should be held this year, should be postponed until the spring, when Kosova's future is expected to have been decided and when local elections are due to be held. Similar fears that the DSS could form a hard-line government were voiced in the days before the current government was formed, with President Tadic accusing the DSS of viewing the SRS as "a stand-in bride, just in case" talks with the DS failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2007). The current dispute is stoking fears that events in Kosova could eventually lead to the imposition of a state of emergency to be called in Serbia, a possibility that the head of the SRS, Tomislav Nikolic, raised in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, 2007). AG

...ATTACKS PRESIDENT
While the DSS maintains the coalition government is not in crisis, a party spokesman, Branislav Ristivojevic, on September 16 issued a strongly worded warning to President Tadic not to become involved in foreign policy. "The president has no authority to make or carry out foreign policy [and he] is well-aware of his constitutional position and capacities," Ristivojevic said in a statement carried by Serbian television and Reuters. Ristivojevic focused on diverging views over whether Serbia joining NATO, saying that Tadic is "as obliged as any other state official to respect official state policy, and the Serbian government has never decided that this state should join NATO." Ristivojevic was speaking shortly after Prime Minister Kostunica and other members of the DSS leadership said Serbia should rule out joining NATO if some of the alliance's members back a declaration of independence by Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Earlier attacks on NATO prompted Tadic to call on all parties to put the interests of the state ahead of party interests. Tadic's DS is more open to NATO. Under the coalition agreement, the DS occupies the posts of foreign minister and the position of deputy prime minister with special responsibility for EU relations, and Tadic himself supervises efforts to capture war-crimes indictees, a key issue for the EU. The DSS has so far refused to give Tadic its backing for a second term, despite reports that such support for Tadic was part of the agreement that enabled the formation of the current government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30 and September 4, 2007). AG

SERBIAN VETERANS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE OVER BACK PAY
Some 1,500 former army reservists went on hunger strike on September 13 in a bid to secure the payment of wages owed for their service in Serbia's 1998-99 campaign to quell separatist forces in Kosova, local media reported. They also set up roadblocks around the southern town of Krusevac. The veterans have blocked roads in the past, but this is the first time they have gone on hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2 and August 10, 2007). They later stepped up their protests on September 17 by blocking the town hall and court in the nearby town of Kursumlija. AG

MONTENEGRO, SERBIA GET NEW DOMAIN NAMES
The international body that allocates Internet domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has approved separate domain names for Montenegrin and Serbian websites, the news service Balkan Insight and the Serbian news agency B92 reported on September 14. The domain names -- .rs for Serbia and .me for Montenegro -- now require the approval of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has overall responsibility for the registration of Internet names. At present, Montenegro and Serbia share the domain name .yu. B92 said Serbia's domain name is expected to be active by the end of September. Websites with the .yu name are expected to be valid for at least a year after the new domain names are introduced. The two countries separated politically in the summer of 2006. AG

NATO TO LOCATE DROPPED CLUSTER BOMBS FOR SERBIA
NATO will this week tell the Serbian government where it dropped thousands of cluster bombs on Serbia during its intervention to halt the war in Kosova in 1999, the British daily "The Independent" reported on September 16. The paper, which cited a pledge by NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), said that NATO was under "mounting pressure from foreign governments and pressure groups" to identify the location of the bombs, many of which may not yet have detonated. NATO dropped over 2,000 cluster bombs during the three-month campaign. In total, the bombs contained about 380,000 bomblets. NATO has acknowledged that "at least 5 percent" of the bombs did not explode, the paper wrote. AG

CAPTURE OF BOSNIAN SERB POLICE COMMANDER 'CERTAIN' SOON
A local police commander in the Republika Srpska has said police in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbian-dominated region are closing in on one of the four remaining men wanted by the ICTY, Stojan Zupljanin. "It is certain he will be arrested soon," Dragi Milosevic told "The Washington Post," the daily reported on September 16. Milosevic, the police official leading the Republika Srpska's hunt for the fugitives, said the police have information that Zupljanin "is here [in the Republika Srpska], and his connections to Serbia have been cut." Zupljanin was a key commander of the Bosnian Serbs' police force during the 1992-95 war. "We are very close to him and closing in," Milosevic said. "Even [Zupljanin's] family is against him," he claimed, and Zupljanin, who is "living like a beast in the countryside or like a peasant in the fields," has been further isolated by a recent decision by the Republika Srpska to seize a fueling station belonging to the Zupljanin family. Milosevic said that applying pressure to family members is proving particularly effective. Bosnia has imposed restrictions on suspected supporters of the four indictees still on the run, but has been urged to do more by international officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). Speaking to "The Washington Post," the second-most-senior international official in Bosnia, Raffi Gregorian, said that, though the Republika Srpska could do more to apprehend the fugitives, "the real problem is Serbia." If the Serbian authorities wanted to find the Bosnian Serbs' two wartime leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, "all it would take was a phone call or two," Gregorian claimed. The ICTY believes that Mladic is in Serbia, and the EU has made his capture a precondition for closer ties with Serbia. By contrast, the ICTY says it has no indications where Karadzic is and the EU has not linked its relationship with Serbia to Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). A law professor quoted in the article, Kosta Cavoski, said that "as far as I know" Mladic and Karadzic "are not in the Balkans, [but] perhaps in one of the former Soviet republics." Cavoski was questioned by Republika Srpska police on September 14 in connection with the search for Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). AG

'SILOVIKI' TAKE THE REINS IN POST-OLIGARCHY RUSSIA
The speculation surrounding Russia's upcoming Duma elections in December and the March 2008 presidential election swung into high gear this month, but the key question is not whether the country will take a new direction but rather how the status quo, the existing arrangement of political forces, will be maintained.

Virtually all key positions in Russian political life -- in government and the economy -- are controlled by the so-called "siloviki," a blanket term to describe the network of former and current state-security officers with personal ties to the Soviet-era KGB and its successor agencies. The unexpected replacement of former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov by former Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov is the latest consolidation of this group's grip on power in Russia. Although Zubkov is not an intelligence officer by background, he has become one de facto during his years at the Financial Monitoring Service, and he has intimate knowledge of where the country's legal and illegal assets are to be found.

The core of the siloviki group, led by former KGB officer and Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Vladimir Putin himself, comprises about 6,000 security-service alumni who entered the corridors of power during Putin's first term. Now, as Putin's second term winds down, their clout is virtually unassailable. Their locus of power is in the presidential administration: deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin cut his teeth in the KGB's First Main Directorate, which oversaw foreign intelligence operations and has since been transformed into the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Fellow deputy chief of staff Viktor Ivanov worked for the KGB's main successor organization, the FSB, which is responsible for counterintelligence operations.

First Deputy Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is a retired SVR colonel general, and he currently oversees the military-industrial sector and the high-tech sectors of the economy. He also supervises the Defense Ministry, which is nominally run by a civilian, Anatoly Serdyukov.

As might be expected (although not always the case), an FSB colonel general, Nikolai Patrushev, heads the FSB. In addition, FSB Army General Rashid Nurgaliyev heads the Interior Ministry, which controls both ordinary police and some 180,000 internal troops. Andrei Belyaninov, a colleague of Putin's from his days as a KGB agent in Germany in the 1980s, heads the Federal Customs Service, while FSB Lieutenant General Konstantin Romodanovsky is the director of the Federal Migration Service. In their current roles, Belyaninov and Romodanovsky are able to monitor the movement of goods and people to and from Russia. Former FSB Director Colonel General Valentin Sobolev is acting secretary of the Russian Security Council.

Siloviki figures also dominate Russia's relations with neighboring countries. FSB Army General Nikolai Bordyuzha chairs the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a pro-Russian alliance comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. SVR Lieutenant General Grigory Rapota presides over the Eurasian Economic Community, which unites the same countries except Armenia.

Other key siloviki are Rosoboroneksport head Sergei Chemezov, who also served in Germany with Putin, and Boris Boyarskov, who heads the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry agency that supervises the mass media, telecommunications, and cultural heritage.

Never in Russian or Soviet history has the political and economic influence of the security organs been as pervasive as it is now. And as the March 2008 presidential election approaches, three of the four most commonly named potential successors are siloviki.

Sergei Ivanov is widely viewed as the current front-runner. A close confidante of Putin's, he, like the president, began his career in the Leningrad KGB's Main Directorate. Ivanov made his debut with international business and financial elites at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, where he delivered a forward-looking address laying out Russia's course through the year 2020. Ivanov sounded both liberal and presidential, beginning his speech with a promise that Russia in 15 years will be a democratic state "based on the rule of law and respecting the rights of the individual."

Another often-mentioned possible successor is Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin. According to some reports (including "Kommersant" in February), Naryshkin studied in the same group as Putin at the KGB's foreign intelligence training center. In the 1980s, he served at the Soviet Embassy in Brussels, possibly as a KGB agent. In February, Putin placed Naryshkin in charge of foreign trade and relations with the CIS. He also heads the board of directors of the Channel One state television network. Because of his last name -- the Naryshkins are an old noble family that included the mother of Peter the Great -- he is often associated with the growing monarchist sentiment in Russia.

The third silovik-connected potential presidential successor is Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin. During the Soviet era, Yakunin worked abroad for the Committee on Foreign Trade Relations and the Soviet mission to the United Nations, both of which were fronts for KGB foreign intelligence operations. Interestingly, during this period he was awarded a state order of military merit, which is normally awarded only for combat service.

Yakunin heads the board of trustees of the St. Andrew Foundation, a powerful patriotic organization set up in 1992 to promote the restoration of national values. Under Yakunin, the foundation has launched several high-profile projects, including the repatriation and reburial of two anticommunist heroes -- White Guard General Anton Denikin and philosopher Ivan Ilin. Yakunin also heads the Center of National Military Glory. The media often refer to this body as "the order of Russian Orthodox Chekists" because its boards also include Ivanov, FSB Colonel General Viktor Cherkesov (who heads the Federal Antinarcotics Committee), and FSB Major General Georgy Poltavchenko (who is Putin's envoy to the Central Federal District).

The true size of the siloviki community is difficult to assess accurately because many Soviet citizens cooperated covertly with the KGB, and lustration in Russia has been staunchly resisted. The media occasionally reported, for instance, that former Prime Minister Fradkov, who worked abroad for Soviet foreign-trade organizations in the 1980s, had links to the KGB. At least one of his sons is known to be an FSB officer. Likewise, there have been persistent media reports that Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II cooperated with the KGB while a priest in Estonia. The Orthodox Church denies these reports.

As the siloviki clan has tightened its grip politically, it has also made vast inroads into the Russian economy, spearheading the accelerating expansion of the state sector and the formation of new state corporations. Its members have played key roles in the renationalization of the Russian oil industry; since 2001, about 44 percent of the oil sector has returned to state ownership. Much of the process has been quiet, but it came to international attention with the crackdown and destruction of oil major Yukos beginning in 2004. The primary beneficiary of the dismantling of Yukos was Rosneft -- whose board is headed by deputy presidential chief of staff and silovik clan leader Sechin. Rosneft is now Russia's biggest oil company, with a capitalization of $78 billion and annual production of about 100 million tons.

Renationalization in the oil sector continues, with former Russneft head Mikhail Gutseriyev becoming the latest victim. He has been forced to flee the country to avoid arrest, and the assets of Russneft, Russia's seventh-largest oil company, have been frozen by a court order. A poll of leading political and economic experts by the Moscow Institute of Situation Analysis in April concluded that the political influence of the richest businesspeople is "negligibly small" compared to that of the siloviki.

The next, more ambitious step in the silovik concentration of economic power is believed to be the creation of state-controlled megacorporations that would dominate key sectors of the economy by merging the major companies within them. The goal seems to be a form of authoritarian capitalism such as can be found in some Southeast Asian countries.

In May, the Kremlin created the United Aviation Corporation, which combines leading civilian and military aircraft producers such as MiG, Sukhoi, and Tupolev. United Aviation is headed by Sergei Ivanov. Two months later, the Kremlin followed up with the United Shipbuilding Company that combines all Russia's civilian and naval shipbuilders. United Shipbuilding is headed by Naryshkin.

Similar state-driven consolidation is afoot in the banking sector as well. After a series of merging acquisitions, state-controlled Vneshtorgbank (VTB) has emerged as the first major Russian player on global financial markets. Two of the bank's vice presidents -- former FSB Economics Department head Yury Zaostrovtsev and Dmitry Patrushev, son of the current FSB director -- anchor this financial giant firmly to the silovik group.

Such megacorporations are expected to swallow up Russia's defense, nuclear, and automaking sectors in the near future, and it is a safe bet siloviki will be found to head all of them.

FAILURE IN AFGHANISTAN WOULD BE 'MARK OF SHAME,' U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on September 17 called Afghanistan a "litmus test" for NATO and warned that failure to lay the foundations for democracy would be "a mark of shame on all of us," AFP reported. Gates was addressing a conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. He also called for a realistic perspective on the fight for democracy in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq. U.S. allies are hesitant to provide resources and troops to Afghanistan, Gates said, "even though we agree that democracy is key to enduring stability there." Gates argued that U.S. foreign policy has been defined by a struggle between realism and idealism since the days of George Washington. Citing the U.S. alliance with Soviet leader Josef Stalin during World War II, Gates supported the adoption of "different approaches" in working to overcome a great threat. "It is neither hypocrisy nor cynicism to believe fervently in freedom while adopting different approaches to advancing freedom at different times along the way -- including temporarily making common cause with despots to defeat greater or more urgent threats to our common interests," he said. Gates did not mention specific NATO members during his speech, but he has previously called on European countries to send more troops and equipment to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 16, 2007). JC

BANGLADESH PLEADS FOR RELEASE OF KIDNAPPED AID WORKER IN AFGHANISTAN
The government of Bangladesh on September 17 urged miliants to release an aid worker abducted from his field office in Afghanistan, Asian News International (ANI) reported. Noor Islam was working for the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) when he was kidnapped from his office in Pul-i-Alam, the capital city of Logar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). Foreign Affairs Advisor Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury in a statement "fervently" appealed to the captors to release Islam, adding that Islam's mission is "purely humanitarian and he is there only to help his Afghan brethren." Chowdhury said the Afghan envoy in Bangladesh, Ahmad Karim Nawabi, assured him of the Afghan government's cooperation in securing Islam's release. Afghan police reportedly arrested three people associated with the kidnapping the same day. Meanwhile, a top official from BRAC on September 17 said the non-governmental organization is rethinking its operation in Afghanistan following Islam's abduction and the murder of two BRAC employees just days before. Gunmen on September 14 fatally shot one of the group's executives, only two days after one of the area managers, Abdul Alim, was killed by gunmen. Despite concerns that the recent spate of violence against BRAC employees is politically motivated, the group's executive director, Dr. Mahbub Hossain, said Afghan authorities have assured him the killings and kidnapping were random criminal incidents. Bangladesh does not have any troops in Afghanistan. JC

SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS EIGHT IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A suicide bomber on September 17 killed four policemen and four civilians at a police station in Nad Ali district in Afghanistan's restive Helmand Province, AFP reported. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack, and renewed their vow to increase attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007). Mahboob Khan, the governor of Nad Ali district, said the attacker entered the police station through the main entrance and detonated explosives worn on his body, killing eight and wounding seven others, including district police chief Tor Jan. Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone that the district police commander was the target of the attack carried out by a "devoted mujahedeen." The incident was the first suicide attack reported in Afghanistan since Ramadan began on September 13. JC

AFGHAN SOLIDARITY PROGRAM TO LAUNCH $70 MILLION IN PROJECTS
Officials of Afghanistan's National Solidarity Program (NSP) on September 17 announced the launch of welfare and reconstruction projects in 10 districts in Ghazni Province worth a total of $70 million, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The 10 districts -- including Andar, Waghaz, and Qarabagh -- are the most unstable of Ghazni's 18 districts, but officials have high hopes for improved security once the programs are implemented. Engineer Samiullah Nasiri, one of the program organizers, said nearly 5,000 local residents are expected to receive jobs, reducing the widespread unemployment in the province. Each household in the target districts will receive 10,000 afghanis ($201), in addition to support from newly-established welfare projects in their areas. Dr. Muhammad Ghani Bahadari, the Andar district representative in the council, welcomed the reconstruction projects, but cautioned that implementation might prove difficult in lawless districts like Andar. The NSP launched development projects in Ghazni's other eight provinces in 2004, although no plan was established at the time to improve the remaining 10 districts due to violence and insecurity there. JC

GENERAL SAYS AIR FORCE READY TO DEFEND IRAN
The head of the Iranian army's air force, Ahmad Meiqani, told a Tehran press conference on September 17 that the air force is ready for a "great defensive battle" against Iran's enemies, ISNA reported. "We are ready to counter any threat," Meiqani said, adding that the enemy would regret any attack and "fall to the ground." Meiqani said the air force will soon display domestically produced fighter jets and equipment in a parade, and "celebrate" with flight demonstrations of the Iranian-made fighter jet called Saeqeh, or Thunderbolt, on September 20, ISNA reported. He said Iran has begun the mass production of another domestic jet called Azarakhsh. Meiqani also reaffirmed that Iran's military doctrine is based on defense and counterattack. "Muslim states of the region should know that when we are strengthened, this is to strengthen them, and we state our message of brotherhood and kindness...to other regional states," he said. In addition to the air force of Iran's army, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps also has its own air force.VS

IRANIAN ANALYST SAYS GUARDS CORPS' ACTIVITIES ARE LEGAL
Tehran-based analyst Saadullah Zarei told the Fars news agency on September 17 that the Quds Force -- part of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) -- "like other sectors of the [IRGC] has transparent and legal activity." He said Iranian diplomats should explain the force's activities to such states as China, Russia, and Germany. U.S. officials are considering labeling the Quds Force a terrorist group, and accuse it of aiding insurgent elements or Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Zarei said the United States has retreated from its initial bid to term the IRGC a terrorist group, adding that this was intended merely to sow discord between Iranian political groups, but that the United States now realizes the Iranian system acts as a "cohesive whole." He said Washington wrongly assumed that Iranian state institutions or groupings could be divided into "institutions related to anti-American currents" and those "amenable" to negotiation. Zarei said the 5+1 powers -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the states most actively involved with Iran's nuclear dossier -- are "on the verge of collapse" as a group. He said the grouping is splitting into two opposing camps of Russia, China, and Germany, and France, Great Britain, and the United States. He said firmness against threats, while providing explanations on its activities, should be Iran's response to hostile propaganda by the United States. VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REACTS TO TALK OF WAR FROM FRANCE
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told journalists in Tehran on September 17 that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's recent talk of a possible war over Iran's nuclear program was not in keeping with the nature of EU relations with Iran, and was intended to undermine the International Atomic Energy Agency, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). "The French Foreign Minister seems to have forgotten the EU's overall policy," Hosseini said. He added that the use of provocative language goes against France's historical and cultural traditions, and suggested Kouchner was repeating "misinformation" and ideas emanating from Washington. Hosseini said the French state might damage the interests of its firms by advising them not to do business with Iran, and expressed hope that the recent statements were only formalities and not "derived from France's real and strategic views," IRNA reported. VS

UN OFFICIAL ASKS IRAN TO STOP EXECUTION OF MINORS
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in Geneva on September 17 that she has urged Iranian officials in Tehran to stop the execution of minors, Radio Farda and agencies reported. Arbour said she urged a moratorium on such executions during a visit to Iran earlier this month, and that Iran should refrain from executing minors even if its laws allow it, AP reported. A court in southern Fars Province recently sentenced two teenagers to death for the murder of two children in April 2007, "Iran" reported on September 16. The court ordered another teenager suspected of involvement in the killings to be whipped, the daily reported. VS

IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY REVOKES LICENSE OF U.S. PRIVATE SECURITY FIRM...
Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani on September 17 revoked the license of the U.S.-based private security firm Blackwater, after a shootout involving Blackwater employees in Baghdad left several bystanders dead, international media reported. During an interview with Al-Arabiyah satellite television, al-Bulani described the incident as a "crime." "It is a big crime over which we cannot remain silent out of our legal responsibilities... Everyone should understand that whoever wants good relations with Iraq should respect Iraqis. We apply the law and are committed to laws, and others should respect these laws as well. They should also respect the sovereignty and independence of Iraqis in their homeland," al-Bulani said. Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf, the ministry's head of operations, said that a U.S. diplomatic convoy came under attack near Al-Nusur Square in Baghdad's Al-Yarmukh neighborhood on September 16. Private security contractors guarding the convoy returned fire, which some witnesses described as "shooting wildly." After the ensuing firefight, Khalaf said eight people were killed, including a policeman, and 15 wounded. "We have opened a criminal investigation against the group that committed the crime," Khalaf told AFP. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office issued a statement describing the response by the contractors as a "criminal action" and ordered Blackwater to leave Iraq immediately. However, he called for the contractors involved in the incident to remain in Iraq to stand trial. SS

...AS U.S. PROMISES A FULL INVESTIGATION
Shortly after the Iraqi Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater's license, the U.S. State Department issued a statement pledging to carry out a fair and transparent investigation, in conjunction with Iraqi authorities, into the Al-Nusur Square shootout that left eight bystanders dead, international media reported on September 17. In addition, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki to discuss the incident. "She told the prime minister that we were investigating this incident and wanted to gain a full understanding of what happened. She reiterated that the United States does everything it can to avoid such loss of life, in contrast to the enemies of the Iraqi people who deliberately target civilians," Casey said. SS

TRIBAL ALLIANCE FORMED IN NORTHERN IRAQ TO FIGHT AL-QAEDA
In an interview with "Al-Hayat" on September 17, Fawaz al-Jaraba, the leader of the Al-Shammar tribe in Mosul, announced that tribal leaders in the region have formed an alliance to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Jaraba stressed that the tribal alliance will not coordinate their military activities with U.S. forces, but will only deal with Iraqi security forces and representatives of Prime Minister al-Maliki's government. He declined to offer any details, but the alliance is thought to be similar to the Al-Anbar Salvation Council -- a coalition of tribes in Al-Anbar Governorate that wrested control of the region from Al-Qaeda in Iraq elements. "Al-Hayat" also reported that Mosul Governor Durayd Kashmulah made an urgent call for more weapons to be sent to the region to help restore security and fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He indicated that the terrorist group has taken control of most of Mosul's neighborhoods and districts. SS

AL-SADR BLOC SAYS WITHDRAWAL FROM GOVERNMENT NOT MEANT TO BRING IT DOWN
Salah al-Ubaydi, a spokesman for the political movement of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, announced on September 17 that the bloc's decision to withdraw from the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) was not an effort to topple the government or stifle the political process, "Al-Sabah" reported. "We do not want to pass a no-confidence motion in the government, because our [movement] does not take the position of calling for the overthrow of the government. This will lead to bigger problems, and thus this course of action is not accepted," al-Ubaydi said. He stressed that his movement focuses on helping solve the crises that are affecting the Iraqi people. The al-Sadr bloc withdrew from the UIA on September 15, claiming that it has been sidelined from the political process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 17, 2007). SS

IRAQI SECURITY SOURCE: 142 ASSASSINATIONS IN KARBALA IN 2007
A security source in the holy city of Karbala told the independent Voices of Iraq that there have been 142 assassinations in the city since the beginning of 2007. "These included operations against senior officials in the governorate, police and army officers, and unknown citizens," the source said. He noted that assassinations decreased sharply after clashes erupted on August 28 during a Shi'ite religious festival between Iraqi security forces and members of Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, leaving 52 people dead and more than 200 injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). The source said heightened security in the city has led to the decrease in killings. SS

RESIDENTS OF DIYALA TO RECEIVE $50 MILLION IN COMPENSATION
"Al-Zaman" reported on September 16 that the Iraqi government is due to pay approximately $50 million in compensation to residents of Diyala Governorate for damages inflicted during recent joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations against Iraqi insurgents and Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The deputy governor of Diyala, Imad Jalil, said that 10 million Iraqi dinars (around $7,000) would be the maximum amount offered as compensation for any damages. There have been reports that almost 5,000 people have fled Ba'qubah, the capital of Diyala Governorate, because of heavy fighting. SS

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