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Newsline - September 13, 2004

Speaking at an expanded cabinet meeting including the heads of the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation and the heads of practically all federal institutions, President Vladimir Putin announced on 13 September radical changes in the organization of the political system in Russia, Russian news agencies reported. First, he proposed that the leaders of federation subjects, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, no longer be elected by direct ballot, but by the regional legislators endorsing candidates recommended by the president. Second, Putin suggested abolishing the single-mandate-district election system for the Duma, which constitutes half of the mandates in the lower chamber, and electing all deputies by the proportional, party-list system. The Central Election Commission has long been advocating this reform. Third, Putin proposed that before bills are submitted to the parliament, they must pass through a special new body to be called the public chamber. Putin also announced the creation of a special Federal Commission on the North Caucasus, headed by former presidential-administration head Dmitrii Kozak. Putin also appointed Kozak as his new envoy to the Southern Federal District, while the previous envoy, Vladimir Yakovlev, is to become minister of a reinstituted Nationalities Ministry. Putin also announced a decision to ban extremist organizations, which are the "breeding ground for terrorism," and stressed Russia's determination to fight terrorism anywhere in the world. VY

In an interview with NTV on 12 September, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that although Russia has been at war with terrorism for a long time, the string of recent terrorist attacks, including the Beslan hostage taking, shows that this war is taking on "a systemic character," reported. Russia faces "very serious forces," who are well-organized, well-directed, and supported by "very large financial resources," he said. To fight this war, Russia needs more than military force, all of society must be involved. He also confirmed the Kremlin decision to reserve the right to carry out preemptive strikes against international terrorists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). Ivanov said that "we are not going to tell anyone in advance how we are going to deliver a preemptive strike. Neither are we going to warn anyone in advance." He also said that because terrorism is an international threat, no country, however strong it is, can cope with it alone. He added that he has spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently and that the U.S. and Russian positions on this are much closer to each other than either is to that of Europe. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 12 September at a meeting of G-8 parliamentary leaders in Chicago that a UN convention must be drafted as soon as possible to give a clear definition of terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. VY

The head of the Duma's Security Committee, Colonel General Vladimir Vasilev (Unified Russia), told RTR on 12 September that after the recent attacks on civilians in Russia, the notion "terrorist act" has been exhausted and the country should operate under the category of "war." "This is an unconventional war without a front line, a war in which we have an enemy inside the country and we should learn to create security zones around vital objects," he added. In this war, Russia should consider all existing world experience, including the Israeli practice of punishing relatives of terrorists and destroying their houses. In doing so, we should not forget that unlike Israel, Russia is a multiethnic country and proposed measures should not lead to ethnic tension, which could breed more terrorists, he said. Vasilev also said that in its fall session, beginning 22 September, the Duma will consider new legislation on a national alert on the level of terrorism threat similar to that existing in the United States. Another measure will be laws strengthening security on the national air-, ground-, water-transportation, and subway systems. The antiterrorism amendments will introduce legislation on bank and commercial secrecy. Finally, legislation will be adopted on strengthening the southern state border, including construction of two new border stations in the Caucasus region. VY

In the same interview, Vasilev said that the Duma will consider and probably end the existing moratorium on the death penalty. "We will make a hasty move now if we abandon international agreements in the same abrupt manner [as we approved them]," Vasilev said. He also said that he supports the creation of commissions to investigate the events in Beslan both in the Duma and the Federation Council, and that the commissions are needed to disperse the doubts and suspicions of the people. But speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 12 September, former Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov said that he believes that the commissions are being created more for concealing, rather than investigating the facts. He pointed to the similar parliamentary commission to investigate the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine in August 2000, which failed to deliver any real results. He also noted that the Federation Council consists of regional administrators hand-picked and completely dependant on the Kremlin, not to mention the Duma. VY

U.S. President George W. Bush, his wife Laura Bush, and U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to the Russian Embassy in Washington on 12 September to sign a book of condolences for the hundreds of victims of the deadly school siege in Beslan, international media reported. Bush denounced the cruelty of the hostage takers as "beyond comprehension" and promised to work together with Russia to fight terrorism. Calling Russian President Putin "a man who I admire," Bush said, "I'm here to express my heartfelt sympathies for the victims and the families who suffered at the hands of the evil terrorists," Reuters reported. Russian Ambassador to the United States Yurii Ushakov told journalists that Bush asked him to convey to Putin that the "United States stands side by side with Russia as we fight terrorism," RIA-Novosti reported. Bush also said the United States and Russia should more actively confront together the threat of international terrorism. Ushakov added that Russia highly appreciates that Bush expressed his solidarity as the United States marked the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. RTR broadcast Bush's visit to the embassy live. VY

Speaking to TV-Tsentr on 10 September, Sergei Karaganov, the president of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said that in its own interests Russia should curtail anti-Western rhetoric in reaction to Western criticism of Russian failures during the Beslan school siege. Some media and lower-level politicians in the West continue to relate to Russia with suspicion and misunderstanding as they are "hostages of Cold War thinking and we can do nothing with them," he added. "But I must assure you that none of the Western leaders today shares such sentiments toward Russia," he stressed. As for Russia itself, it must understand that terrorism is the weapon of the weak, a product of 1960s decolonization when there emerged too many failed states that are unable to control their territory and population. It is up to Russia to determine whether it will also fall into this category and became an object of terrorism or together with West it will became an active fighter of it. If Russia manages to turn its army into modern combat force and get rid of its dependence on oil exports, it will join the West; if not, it will go into the category of failed states. VY

Several hundred Russians demonstrated on 10 September in front of the U.S. and British embassies in Moscow, demanding extradition of two prominent Chechens granted asylum in the two countries, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The crowd, estimated at 1,500, criticized the United States for sheltering Ilyas Akhmadov, foreign minister in the administration of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom Russian officials hold responsible for terrorism. It criticized Britain for giving refugee status to Maskhadov representative Akhmed Zakaev. The demonstrators chanted and held banners accusing the United States and Britain of maintaining double standards on terrorism and thwarting Russian efforts to bring terrorists to justice. VY

Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on 11 September criticized those who advocate "tightening the screws" on society in the wake of the recent terrorist incidents, RTR reported. "This is talk from people who are unable to deal with the difficult problems with which we live in a relatively more or less free society," Lukin said. Lukin compared the atmosphere in Russia today with what happened in the United States following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. "What happened there? Did they abolish democracy? Did they forbid citizens from the provinces from coming to Washington and New York? Nothing of the sort," Lukin said. "They set up an independent commission with representatives of many elements of civil society. The president accepted its recommendations with gratitude. And now we can see that in the course of three years there have not been major acts of terror [in the United States]." Lukin alleged that he had been illegally prevented by Moscow authorities from appearing on television during the Beslan hostage crisis. RC

Presidential Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova told "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 11 September that the Beslan tragedy is connected to the conflict in Chechnya, but added that "unfortunately there are no political forces in Chechnya that could really stop terrorism." She said that "terrorism cannot be defeated militarily" and that the most important step to take at present is "to begin to carry on a dialogue between the state and society." "All causes and problems in Russia rather than just in Chechnya must be named frankly and honestly," Pamfilova said. "Nothing must be hidden." She said that the danger of further curbs to human rights "always existed in Russia and of course still exists now." Pamfilova also said that "the entire system of legal protection and security must also become more effective, as must the fight against corruption." RC

A group of rivals to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov who were earlier removed from the party met on 11 September to found a new leftist party called the All-Russian Communist Party of the Future (VKPB), Russian media reported. The group earlier tried to oust Zyuganov by holding an alternative Communist Party congress, but that session was deemed invalid by the Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004). The VKPB congress elected Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov as its leader and said that it intends to enter the leftist People's Patriotic Union of Russia coalition. RC

The Okyabrskii Raion Court in Krasnodar on 10 September removed city Mayor Nikolai Priz for exceeding his authority, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004). Priz was found to have assigned city construction contracts unilaterally without conducting tenders, a spokesman for the Krasnodar Krai prosecutor's office told the news agency. Former Krasnodar city council Chairman Aleksandr Kiryushin, former First Deputy Mayor Ivan Levchenko, and former Deputy Mayor Pavel Vertlib are currently in pretrial detention facing similar charges, the agency reported. RC

Workers at one of the housing-sector service centers in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii on 13 September began an open-ended strike and workers at 10 others are expected to join them on 15 September, RIA-Novosti reported. The striking workers claim that they have not been paid for from four to eight months. Communal-services-sector workers in the city went on strike from November 2002 until January 2003 to protest wage arrears and in a bid to halt reforms in the sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). RC

Moscow city prosecutors have filed a criminal case against two city police officers accused of the racially motivated beating on 9 September of test pilot and Hero of Russia Magomed Tolboev, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported on 13 September. On 12 September, Interfax reported that the city police had conducted an investigation into the incident and had recommended that charges not be filed, saying that Tolboev, a native of Daghestan, provoked the incident by acting aggressively and cursing. The police also announced on 12 September that they would take no disciplinary action against the officers. reported on 13 September that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 11 September informed prosecutors that he was following the case personally. If convicted of exceeding their authority, the officers could face from three to 10 years in prison, Ekho Moskvy reported. Interfax reported on 12 September that Tolboev was the first person ever to make a parachute jump from the stratosphere. RC

In line with his 8 September pledge, Aleksandr Dzasokhov dismissed the entire cabinet on 9 September and named former Transport and Highway Construction Minister Alan Boradzov to head a new government, Interfax reported on 10 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004). The North Ossetian parliament confirmed that appointment on 10 September. Also on 9 September, between 3,000-4,000 schoolchildren, students, and members of the intelligentsia were summoned to attend a rally in Vladikavkaz ostensibly to denounce terrorism, but were required to express their support for Dzasokhov, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 September. Addressing that meeting, Dzasokhov rejected as "dangerous" and irresponsible demands expressed at a meeting in Vladikavkaz the previous day for him to resign in the wake of the Beslan hostage crisis. "We shall do everything to ensure that the population learns the whole truth about the hostage taking and that those responsible are punished," Dzasokhov said. On 10 September, the North Ossetian parliament appealed to the Russian leadership to reinstate the death penalty for terrorism, Interfax reported. LF

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Al-Jazeera that he "knows for certain" that the Beslan hostage taking was organized by radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, Interfax reported on 11 September. Basaev claimed responsibility immediately after the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage taking, but has not yet made any statement concerning his role in the Beslan tragedy. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov rejected on 11 September as untrue media reports that the body of the man known as "The Colonel," allegedly one of the hostage takers' four leaders, was not among those recovered from the school following its storming by Russian special forces on 3 September, Interfax reported. Kolesnikov said that the sole surviving hostage taker has identified "The Colonel's" body. On 10 September, Kolesnikov told journalists in Vladikavkaz that 11 hostage takers have been identified, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

President Robert Kocharian on 10 September named Samvel Mkrtchian, head of the Foreign Ministry's European Department, as Armenia's permanent envoy to NATO, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Mkrtchian termed his appointment a reflection of Yerevan's expanding relations with the alliance. Until now, Armenian Ambassador to Belgium Vigen Chitechian served simultaneously as ambassador to NATO. LF

Azerbaijani lawmakers adopted an appeal on 10 September to NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to rescind the invitation to Armenia to send a delegation to participate in military maneuvers to be held in Azerbaijan between 13-27 September under the aegis of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, according to AzerTadj, as cited by Groong. On 11 September, the Azerbaijani daily "Ekspress," as cited by Groong, quoted unnamed Azerbaijani diplomatic sources as saying that as a results of talks in Brussels between NATO officials and Azerbaijani Foreign and Defense ministry representatives, it was agreed that three Armenians -- two officers and a military doctor -- will be permitted to attend the maneuvers as observers, rather than participants. Also on 11 September, police in Baku dispersed a protest organized by the Karabakh Liberation Organization and other political organizations against the anticipated Armenian participation in the upcoming NATO exercises, Turan reported. Speaking on 11 September in Azerbaijan's central Barda Raion, President Ilham Aliyev said, "I do not want the Armenians to come here either," Turan reported. LF

Two Azerbaijanis arrested on 7 September while en route to a news conference in Baku at which they planned to divulge details of corruption by Masally district administrator Ahad Abiev were released on 11 September, Turan reported. Ahad Ahadov and Chingiz Abiev are members of an unofficial committee set up last month to publicize abuse of office by Ahad Abiev and his family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). Ahadov was quoted by Turan as saying that police failed to return their confiscated mobile telephones and other personal possessions. LF

Regular passenger-train service between Moscow and the Abkhaz capital Sukhum resumed on 10 September after an 11-year hiatus, Georgian and Russian agencies reported. Repairs to the track were undertaken over the past few months under an agreement between the Abkhaz government and the state-owned Russian Railways. Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba noted that the resumption of rail traffic will contribute to the unrecognized republic's economic development. Both Khadjimba and Russian special envoy Lev Mironov said that the resumption of rail traffic was part of the agreement concluded in Sochi in March 2003 at talks between then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). Reports of that agreement linked a resumption of rail traffic between Sukhum and Sochi to the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, but failed to specify whether the two processes should take place concurrently. The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 11 September denying that the resumption of rail traffic is in compliance with the Sochi agreement and accusing Russia of abetting Abkhaz separatism, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Meeting on 11 September in Tbilisi with members of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament in exile, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stressed that restoring Georgian hegemony over the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia remains a priority for him, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili stressed that the Georgian Army is being strengthened to deter foreign aggression, rather than in preparation for a military reconquest of Abkhazia. But at the same time, he said that "we must prevent illegal actions" in Abkhazia, including the 3 October presidential ballot. And he also warned that property in Abkhazia that has been illegally privatized will be confiscated. Numerous Russian businessmen have acquired property in Abkhazia in recent years. LF

Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava dismissed on 10 September as "absurd" allegations by Abkhaz State Security Minister Mikhail Tarba that Tbilisi is planning acts of sabotage and terrorism to thwart the 3 October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. Tarba told a meeting convened on 9 September by the Abkhaz opposition movement Aitaira that the lives of presidential candidates are in danger. Tarba told Interfax on 10 September that his men have launched a search for Georgian saboteurs who are believed to have infiltrated the Gulripsh and Ochamchira districts. LF

Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Tbilisi, said on 10 September that the OSCE considers it vital to demilitarize the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. Reeve condemned as unacceptable the ongoing work by both South Ossetia and Georgia to mine territory and fortify defensive positions, according to ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). Reeve also proposed that the "huge number" of persons wearing military uniforms now in the conflict zone be issued with special identity documents or identification marks on their uniforms to facilitate identification, Caucasus Press reported. On 9 September, Aleksei Borodavkin, who is Russia's ambassador to the OSCE, said in Tbilisi that Russia does not object to Georgia's request that the number of OSCE observers in the conflict region be increased, but that South Ossetia should also give permission for the deployment of additional personnel. Bulgarian Ambassador to the OSCE Ivan Naidenov called on 8 September for the planned meeting between South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania to take place as soon as possible, Caucasus Press reported. LF

President Saakashvili fired Giorgi Chanturia, president of the Georgian International Oil Corporation (GIOC), on 9 September without specifying any grounds for Chanturia's dismissal, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Chanturia headed the GIOC since its inception in 1995 and played a key role in the negotiations that culminated in the agreement to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. Chanturia was a close associate of former President Shevardnadze, who suggested last October that he considered Chanturia a possible successor. Rumors of Chanturia's imminent dismissal have been circulating since the spring of this year, when Prime Minister Zhvania dismissed them as unfounded, according to Caucasus Press on 22 March. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev wrapped up an official visit to Austria on 11 September, Khabar TV reported. Nazarbaev met with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and President Heinz Fischer in the course of the visit. Bilateral trade formed the crux of their talks, and on 10 September the two countries concluded an agreement to prevent double taxation, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev said that the current level of trade volume between the two countries, totaling $300 million a year, is "far too little," APA reported. The two countries also agreed to form a Kazakh-Austrian intergovernmental commission to further bilateral ties, Kazinform reported. Addressing broader issues of international trade, Nazarbaev said that Kazakhstan's first priority is economic integration with Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine under the four countries' Single Economic Space agreement, APA reported. Once that union is stable, the Kazakh president said that his country would begin to think about the possibility of integration into the EU. DK

President Nazarbaev told a news conference on 10 September in Vienna that Russia should have the right to direct preemptive strikes at terrorists, but with a key qualification, Austria's "Der Standard" reported. The Kazakh president said, "Russia has the right to do this now that the United States has already announced its intention to act preemptively against terror worldwide." But he went on to add an important condition, saying, "Preemptive strikes should be conducted only by the states on whose territory terrorist bases are located." The remarks refer to recent statements by Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, first deputy chief of Russia's General Staff, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that Russia could resort to preemptive strikes to prevent terrorist attacks that originate outside Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). DK

A poll conducted by Kazakhstan's National Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists in the first week of September shows the pro-presidential Otan and Asar parties ahead in the run-up to 19 September parliamentary elections, Kazakh TV reported on 10 September. Faced with the question "Which party or election bloc would you vote for if elections were held today?" 41.2 percent of 2,516 respondents chose Otan, 16.6 percent Asar, 9.1 percent moderate opposition party Ak Zhol, and 7.4 percent the pro-government election bloc of the Civic and Agrarian parties. DK

Campaign tactics and electronic voting continued to dominate discussion of Kazakhstan's upcoming 19 September parliamentary elections. Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairwoman Zagipa Balieva told members of political parties and blocs on 10 September that the commission has uncovered no evidence of biased coverage by media outlets, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Balieva said, "Legally, no newspaper, no TV channel has violated your rights." Opposition representatives countered that Khabar TV and other media outlets have provided biased coverage that favors pro-presidential parties. Balieva also said that the CEC will set up a group to audit candidates' campaign spending, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Finally, a group of experts recommended that a state commission approve the Saylau electronic voting system for use in parliamentary elections, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The group, which consisted of 16 information-technology specialists and political party representatives, concluded that the system is secure. Opposition groups and international observers have expressed skepticism about the decision to introduce electronic voting. DK

Czech President Vaclav Klaus met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev on 10 September in Bishkek, Kyrgyz TV reported. The two discussed international and bilateral affairs, focusing on international terrorism, European integration, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and trade ties between Kyrgyzstan and the Czech Republic. The Czech president pledged financial assistance to maintain a large uranium waste dump in Maili-Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz Radio reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2003). Klaus also urged closer relations between Europe and Central Asia, noting: "We have somewhat forgotten about this part of the world.... I think it is now high time for us to be here and to be active, because...there are important markets here." DK

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on 12 September in Dushanbe that it is Iran's "national duty" to strengthen ties with Tajikistan, Avesta reported. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov announced the same day that Iran has agreed to provide $250 million for the construction of Tajikistan's Sangtuda hydropower plant. Overall, Rakhmonov said that Iran will cover 51 percent of the plant's more than $500 million cost, with Russia providing $100 million and Tajikistan $120 million. Iran is also providing a $25 million credit and a $10 million grant to complete the 5-kilometer Anzob tunnel in Tajikistan by 2006. IRNA quoted Khatami as saying: "The increasing rate of trade volume between Iran and Tajikistan from $32 million to $90 million reflects a positive trend in mutual relations. However, the two states should make further efforts to make use of their potential." Iran plans to invest $700 million in the development of the Tajik economy over the next five years, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

President Khatami said on 12 September in Dushanbe that Iran will continue its nuclear-energy cooperation with Russia despite pressure from a "third party," ITAR-TASS reported. Khatami was apparently referring to U.S. objections to Russia's role in the construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station. Khatami added, "Following my visit to Moscow, the Iranian side has been assured of the continuation of cooperation, including the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station." DK

The second volume of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's "Rukhnama" (Book of the Spirit) was presented to the public at a ceremony in Ashgabat on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004), reported. Cabinet members, foreign diplomats, and cultural figures attended the ceremony, which took place on the third anniversary of the first volume's publication. A laudatory article from the same website described the new book as "the second book of the Turkmen spiritual and moral constitution." The first volume of the president's ruminations has become a staple of Turkmen official life and an obligatory element in school and university curricula. DK

Human Rights Watch made public on 10 September two letters it sent to Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 18 August airing concerns over a "recent wave of repression," the organization announced on its website ( The letters deal with the Uzbek government's response to violent attacks in late March-early April and the recent trial of 15 defendants on charges stemming from the violence. The first letter "documents new cases of arbitrary detention, harassment, and ill-treatment of Muslim dissidents," the statement says. The second "details violations of fair trial standards," including a failure to permit defendants' relatives to attend the trial and insufficient government attention to the possibility that confessions may have been coerced under torture. The statement notes that "the Uzbek government has yet to reply to the concerns raised in the letters." At present, three other groups of defendants are on trial in Tashkent and Bukhara on charges of involvement in the March-April violence, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

Police and KGB officers on 11 September prevented young social democrats in Homel from holding a seminar devoted to the 17 October presidential referendum in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. KGB officers warned Albin Dalin, a social democratic youth leader from Sweden participating in the seminar, that he will be deported from Belarus if he fails to leave the country on 13 September. JM

Valery Levaneuski, the leader of local market vendors in Hrodna who was sentenced last week to two years in prison for insulting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004), has gone on hunger strike, after the administration of the city's pretrial detention center transferred him to an overcrowded cell, Belapan reported on 10 September, quoting Levaneuski's son. JM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with his Iranian counterpart Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in Minsk on 10 September to discuss trade and economic cooperation, Belapan reported. The two politicians reportedly discussed plans to attract Iranian investments for a paper mill in Belarus and to assemble trucks and tractors in Iran using kits supplied by the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) and the Minsk Tractor Plant (MTZ). "We have no areas where we could not cooperate," Lukashenka said. "We are absolutely open to cooperation with this friendly country." Last year's trade between Belarus and Iran amounted to $21.4 million. JM

Oleksandr Krut, chief forensics expert of the Ukrainian Justice Ministry, told journalists on 10 September that an outside commission of "international experts" has examined some 36 hours of the so-called Melnychenko tapes it received from the Prosecutor-General's Office, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Krut said the commission came to the conclusion that the tapes it examined had been altered and that voices recorded on them cannot be identified. Krut did not clarify who passed the tapes to the Prosecutor-General's Office. In early 2004, the Ukrainian government allocated 850,000 hryvnyas ($160,000) to determine the authenticity of the tapes allegedly made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, which implicate President Leonid Kuchma and other senior Ukrainian officials in the 2000 killing of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The commission consists of two Ukrainians, two Russians, and one Lithuanian. The Ukrainian government did not heed requests by the international human rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders and other nongovernmental organizations earlier this year to be allowed to take part in the examination of the audiotapes. JM

According to a poll held by the Kyiv International Sociology Institute and the Democratic Initiatives fund in early September, 28.7 percent of respondents intend to vote for opposition Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and 23.5 percent for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported on 7 September. Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz is supported by 6.6 percent of voters and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko by 6.1 percent. The pollsters found that in a hypothetical runoff, Yushchenko would be supported by 36.8 percent of voters and Yanukovych by 31 percent. Of the 6.6 percent of respondents ready to vote for Moroz in the first round, 2.7 percent said they would back Yushchenko in the runoff, while 1.1 percent declared support for Yanukovych. Of the 6.1 percent of respondents ready to vote for Symonenko, 2.2 percent said they would back Yanukovych in the runoff, while 1 percent declared support for Yushchenko. JM

Serbian police arrested two men following politically motivated violence in Novi Pazar on 11 September, in which at least two passersby were wounded by automatic-weapons fire, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Rasim Ljajic, who heads the Sandzak Democratic Party (SDP), and his longtime rival, Sulejman Ugljanin, who heads the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the List for Sandzak-Dr. Sulejman Ugljanin coalition, blamed each other's supporters for causing the trouble. Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said that the police will deal firmly with any attempt at starting ethnically or politically motivated violence. He also called on political leaders to help prevent such violence from starting. Serbian President Boris Tadic called for calm and order in the run-up to the 19 September municipal elections. PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 12 September that time is running out for his country over the issue of cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June, and 2 and 19 July 2004). He stressed that he becomes more aware with each meeting he has with foreign diplomats that Serbia and Montenegro could easily face international isolation once again, as it did during the 1990s. Draskovic warned that failure to cooperate with the tribunal will cost his country any hope of membership in either the EU or NATO's Partnership for Peace program. PM

Opposition politician Nebojsa Covic was elected head of the small Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Belgrade on 12 September when his Democratic Alternative party formally merged with the SDP, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He was nominated by previous SDP leader Slobodan Orlic and the only candidate for the post. Covic has made a name for himself in recent years as a hard-liner on Kosova. PM

Arben Xhaferi, who chairs the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), told RTV Kosova that he wants his followers to support the referendum against the Macedonian government's plans to reduce the number of administrative districts, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 10 September. Xhaferi said the administrative borders envisioned by the new Law on Territorial Organization are worse than the current ones because they create ethnic Macedonian enclaves in western Macedonia, which did not previously exist (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 July, and 3 and 11 September 2004). He hopes that a new dialogue on the future of Macedonia facilitated by the international community can be initiated if the referendum succeeds and the government has to withdraw its redistricting plans. Meanwhile, EU special representative in Macedonia Michael Sahlin told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 12 September that the EU recognizes Macedonian citizens' right to call a referendum, adding, however, that its passage will hold up Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration and administrative decentralization. UB

The state prosecutor's office of Bosnia-Herzegovina said in a statement on 10 September that Ante Jelavic -- a former Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency and a former leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) -- and five other leading Herzegovinian Croats have been charged with "anticonstitutional activities" in connection with their alleged attempt to set up a Croatian para-state in 2001, dpa reported. Jelavic has been in police custody since January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). PM

Prahova County Council Chairman and former Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) county organization leader Florin Anghel on 10 September announced that most of the PUR's members have left the party to join ranks with the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL), Mediafax reported. Anghel said the desertion was prompted by the PUR leadership's recent decision to enter into an election alliance with the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 September 2004). The same day, Bacau Mayor Romeo Stavarache, a PUR member who won his seat last June by defeating a PSD candidate, said the PUR's local-cooperation agreement with the PNL-Democratic Party alliance will stand despite the PUR-PSD agreement. Meanwhile, the PSD itself recently came under internal criticism from current parliamentarians who did not receive enough votes in the intra-party elections to overcome the hurdle for placement on the party's lists for the November polls. The parliamentarians claimed that the 5 September PSD elections were tainted by pressure and malpractice in the voting process and vote counting. ZsM

UN special rapportuer on child protection Juan Miguel Petit said on 10 September in Bucharest at the end of his two-week visit to Romania that while the country has made progress over the last few years in the area of child protection, much work remains to be done, Mediafax reported. Of particular concern, he said, is the abuse and trafficking of children. He positively noted recent measures the government has initiated, particularly new laws on child protection, but said they need to be implemented in practice. Petit also warned against the politicization of the issue, saying all parties should work together to solve the problem. He is to draft a report on his findings and propose to the government and the UN additional measures that can be taken to improve the situation. ZsM

Speaking in the northern Romanian city of Siret, National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan on 12 September announced that the PNL-Democratic Party alliance has finalized its electoral platform, which will focus on raising citizens' incomes and level of security, Mediafax reported. Stolojan said the alliance will promote "zero tolerance" of corruption, and wants to foster, together with the civil society, "a climate that rejects corruption." Stolojan said the alliance will emphasize respect for personal property, which he said is "holy," and "represents the engine of the market economy." The alliance also intends to stimulate the economy by attracting investment, creating new jobs, and lowering taxes. ZsM

Former Romanian President and Popular Action Chairman Emil Constantinescu and Christian Democratic Party (PCD) Chairman Silviu Popa on 12 September signed an agreement on the establishment of a Populist Christian-Democratic Alliance (APCD), according to a press release issued by Popular Action. Popular Action and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) recently announced their intentions of merging under the name PNTCD-AP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004). Constantinescu said the PNTCD-AP and the PCD will form the nucleus of the new alliance, which is to also include nongovernmental organizations and trade unions. ZsM

In a 10 September press release, William Hill, the head of the OSCE's mission in Chisinau, called on Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov to respect his recent promise to register and open schools in Transdniester that teach Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script, Flux reported. Hill said two of the six schools that were closed down in mid-July are still closed, while the remaining four remain unregistered and face additional difficulties. He added that local authorities have refused to discuss the issue, and a joint appeal signed by the representatives from Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe who are mediating the conflict has gone unanswered. ZsM

News from the countries of the western Balkans has largely moved out of the headlines this summer, but several political developments and processes are under way there with a potentially long term effect on the peace and stability of that part of Europe.

There was a joke in Serbia in recent years that Serbia alone in Europe continued to generate news throughout every summer because it was the only country on the continent where the politicians were too poor to take lengthy vacations.

That situation, to the extent that it was ever true, seems to have passed into history. Instead, many of the main news stories from the western Balkans in recent weeks centered on the referendum campaign over the Macedonian government's administrative redistricting plans. The referendum threatens to upset relations between ethnic Macedonians and the 25 percent Albanian minority, and even endanger the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement itself. Meanwhile, the 7 November referendum continues to dominate the Macedonian political scene.

Other recent Balkan news stories centered on possible changes in international policy toward Kosova in the direction of granting more powers to the province's elected officials at the expense of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK). This idea has won increasing support in the United States and the United Kingdom. A recent report by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and several statements by Danish diplomat Soren Jessen-Petersen, who is the new head of UNMIK, indicate that the UN is moving in a similar direction.

A related issue involves possible changes in the international community's "standards before status" policy there. Some Western critics feel has it reached a dead end and that progress is needed on resolving the status question as a prerequisite to peace and stability in Kosova and the region as a whole.

Meanwhile, much attention is focused on the 23 October parliamentary elections in Kosova and the possibility of a Serbian boycott.

Another topic in the news through much of the summer was the perennial disagreement between Slovenia and Croatia over their maritime border. This is one of several issues that have bedeviled the two countries' relations since independence in 1991 and shows no sign of being resolved soon. The policy options are well known to both sides, but the political will to break the logjam seems to be lacking.

The Croatian government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has, in any event, made progress toward EU membership. Sanader has been largely effective in convincing many at home and abroad that his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has broken with the ultra-nationalist legacy dating from the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman in the 1990s.

Croatian EU and NATO memberships are still far from a reality, however, partly because Sanader's government has yet to remove all doubts about its willingness to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. To do so, it must first arrest fugitive indicted war criminal and former General Ante Gotovina or conclusively prove that he is not in Croatia. Sanader has staked much political capital on his ability to achieve EU membership together with or shortly after Romania and Bulgaria, probably in 2007. Whether he will achieve his goal is another matter.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is even further behind in realizing its aspirations to Euro-Atlantic integration than is Croatia. The main issues standing in Bosnia's way are its frequent inability to function as a single state and the continuing failure -- primarily of the Bosnian Serb authorities -- to arrest fugitive indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and former General Ratko Mladic, who were the Bosnian Serbs' principal leaders during the 1992-95 war. As a result, Bosnia is not a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, nor has it signed a EU Stabilization and Association agreement.

Many inside and outside Bosnia feel that the constitutional system set down in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement has proved dysfunctional, but there is no consensus as to what must be done. For now, Bosnia remains divided into the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation, both of which are governed by the same respective nationalist parties that were in power during the 1992-95 war. Local elections are slated for 2 October.

The international community's High Representative Paddy Ashdown continues to hold virtually absolute power in Bosnia, which places him in the paradoxical role of sometimes having to impose European standards by fiat in the face of opposition or inaction by duly elected Bosnian officials. He is pursuing a strategy of emphasizing his hitherto secondary role as representative of the EU in preparation for moving Bosnia toward a Stabilization and Association agreement.

The EU is expected to take over Bosnian peacekeeping duties from NATO at the end of the year, although the Atlantic alliance and the United States will continue to maintain a security presence with the backing of the Bosnian authorities.

Serbia and Montenegro, too, is not a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, nor has it signed a EU Stabilization and Association agreement. Like Bosnia, much of the problem stems from its failure to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, has said repeatedly that the Serbian authorities in particular do not cooperate with it.

Serbia, furthermore, continues to be plagued by its long-standing problems of crime, corruption, and poverty. But the election of reform-oriented Boris Tadic as Serbian president in June has given a fresh boost to that country's international image.

A recent poll indicates that the political landscape is increasingly dominated by Tadic, Serbian Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic, and businessman Bogoljub Karic, leaving the once highly popular Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica a poor fourth with the backing of only about 10 percent of the electorate.

Nikolic's ultranationalist followers have been linked to a series of incidents in 2004 against the Hungarian and Croatian minorities in Vojvodina. Meanwhile, the ethnic Albanian parties in southern Serbia recently agreed to seek regional autonomy, which suggests that the Belgrade leadership has yet to win the confidence of the ethnic minorities.

The future of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro also remains open to question. The governing coalition in Montenegro is committed to holding a referendum on independence in 2006 if a peaceful dissolution of the joint state cannot be negotiated in the meantime. One of the smaller governing coalition partners in Serbia, the G-17 Plus party, also believes that the joint state is dysfunctional and should be dissolved. Polls suggest that the joint state is not popular in Serbia, although it has strong support from pro-Serbian Montenegrins, many of whom live and work in Serbia.

The EU, which is largely responsible for the creation of the joint state in 2002-03, recently decided to consider a "two-track" approach in negotiating a Stabilization and Association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro because each of the two constituent republics has its own separate internal market and customs system. Some observers suspect that this is a first move by Brussels away from its previous insistence on maintaining the joint state.

Within Montenegro itself, the governing coalition continues to be dogged by periodic scandals. The most recent one involved the still unexplained killing of an opposition journalist in Podgorica. In any event, the opposition seems unlikely to be able to mount a serious challenge to the government of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in the near future.

In Albania, the political scene remains heavily polarized between Prime Minister Fatos Nano's Socialists and former President Sali Berisha's Democrats. It is not clear what effect, if any, the recent decision by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta and 10 other legislators to leave the Socialists and set up the Socialist Movement for Integration will have on the overall political landscape. General elections are expected in 2005.

Although the Albanian government has won wide international praise for its "constructive" policies toward its neighbors, it has not made sufficient progress at home in implementing reforms and cleaning up crime and corruption to qualify for NATO membership or a EU Stabilization and Association agreement. Many critics charge that neither the government nor the opposition is really interested in breaking with old habits of patronage and self-interest.

A number of broader regional and international questions also involve the western Balkans. Will the individual states succeed in introducing effective political and economic reforms and continue on a path toward Euro-Atlantic integration, or will all or parts of the region become a "black hole" where crime, corruption, human trafficking, and smuggling flourish?

Will the EU, NATO, and the United States be able to deal jointly with problems effecting general Western interests, or will the EU seek to elbow the remaining Americans out in order to prove that Brussels can deal with European problems by itself, regardless of what the Balkan governments themselves want?

Afghan government forces regained control of the western city of Herat late on 12 September after a day of street clashes that left four dead, AFP reported. Violence erupted early in the day as supporters of ousted Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan attacked local UN buildings. "We have around 50 people wounded and four people killed," said Mohammed Shoib, a doctor in the city's central hospital. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai fired Ismail Khan on 11 September, and Ismail Khan's supporters took to the streets that night and early the following day. Roughly 1,000 protestors massed at the UN compound on 12 September, torching the door of the building of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), according to Herat police chief Ziauddin Mahmoodi. UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said staffers hid in a bunker. Afghan forces imposed a curfew on the city as of the night of 12 September, AFP reported. MR

With the situation in Herat still tense, ousted Governor Ismail Khan on 12 September urged his followers to refrain from violence, AFP reported. "Reshuffling and changes in a government are a normal thing," Ismail Khan said in a statement. "I am deeply affected by the number of brothers killed or injured in the past 24 hours." Karzai's government said Ismail Khan was appointed minister of mines and industries, while his gubernatorial seat was given to Sayyed Ahmad Khair Khowa, Afghanistan's ambassador to Ukraine. "I hope with patience, tolerance, and a single aim you ensure security, peace, and stability of your country and be tolerant," Ismail Khan told his successor. Speaking from Kabul, Karzai said Ismail Khan will continue working with the central government. "Our expectation from our brother Ismail Khan is [that he] serve his nation," said Karzai, who condemned the violence in Herat. "We expect him to come to Kabul and serve his country." MR

Afghan authorities have freed more 300 Pakistani fighters captured during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, AFP reported on 12 September. A spokesman for the High Court of Justice, Ahmad Waheed Mujda, said the 363 Pakistanis were "allegedly captured a few days before the fall of the Taliban regime," adding that "they were Pakistani Taliban." Afghan authorities released the prisoners to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, which will repatriate them, AFP reported. Backed by a U.S.-led invasion force, United Front (aka Northern Alliance) troops captured thousands of Taliban fighters in 2001, when the former regime was toppled. Many of the Taliban fighters were volunteers from Pakistan. Pakistan has pressed for their release, and the interim Afghan government periodically frees hundreds at a time. Mujda said this represented the last group of Pakistanis held in Afghan jails. However, tensions persist between the two neighboring countries. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of not doing enough to fight neo-Taliban insurgents believed to be hiding in Pakistan. MR

A top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and senior members of the terrorist organization have likely been directing insurgent activity in Afghanistan, AP reported 12 September. Major General Eric Olson, the operational commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, told AP that the U.S. military has not picked up any radio transmissions by either bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahri, Al-Qaeda's reputed No. 2. However, the involvement of highly trained foreign fighters in guerrilla attacks along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan suggests that bin Laden is taking part in the insurgency, Olson said. "What we see are their [the two leaders'] techniques and their tactics here in Afghanistan, so I think it is reasonable to assume that the senior leaders are involved in directing those operations," Olson said. He also cited as an example the 26 August car bombing in Kabul that killed roughly 10 people at the office of a firm providing bodyguards for Karzai, saying: "We've even tied it to a group that has ties to Al-Qaeda. It could be a splinter group of some sort." MR

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States asserts in an advertisement in the 12 September edition of "The New York Times" that the Iranian government has persecuted the 300,000 members of the religious minority over the last quarter century, the Baha'i World News Service reported (; for the advertisement see The advertisement compares the Iranian theocracy's actions with those of the Taliban when that movement destroyed the famous Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. The advertisement cites the destruction in June of the historic Tehran home of Mirza Abbas Nuri, father of the founder of the Baha'i faith, Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri or Bahaullah, as the Iranian government's most recent action against the minority. A 13 September press release from the Baha'i community notes that earlier this year the Iranian authorities destroyed the gravesite in Babol of Mullah Mohammad-Ali Barfurushi, a prominent Baha'i known as Quddus. Bani Dugal, a Bahai representative, described these developments as "part of a concerted plan on the part of the Iranian government to gradually extinguish the Baha'i faith as a cultural force and cohesive entity." BS

Approximately 80 evangelical Christians were arrested on 9 September when police raided the Assemblies of God annual conference in Karaj, BosNewsLife reported, citing Compass news agency. Radio Farda reported on 12 September that most of those arrested were released, and that many who spoke to the station requested anonymity for fear of retribution. BS

The International Atomic Enertgy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors began discussions on the Iranian nuclear program on 13 September in Vienna, and unidentified diplomats said on 10 September that the IAEA has asked to inspect the military site at Parchin, located about 30 kilometers southwest of Tehran, AFP reported. Among the activities that reportedly take place there is research on chemical explosives by the Defense Industries Organization. Parchin is not mentioned in an IAEA report currently under consideration in Vienna. Israeli Defense Forces intelligence chief Major General Aharon Farkash-Ze'evi said on 12 September that at the current rate, Iran will be able to independently achieve nuclear-weapons capability by the spring of 2005, "Ha'aretz" reported on 13 September. "This does not mean that it will have a bomb in 2005. It means that it will have all the means at its disposal to build a bomb," he added. BS

The Ashura-5 war games, which are taking place in the western provinces of Hamedan, Kurdistan, and Zanjan, began on 12 September, Radio Farda reported ( Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) deputy operational commander Brigadier General Hussein Salami said the exercises will involve personnel from the IRGC and the Basij Resistance Force, Radio Farda reported. According to a report from Iranian state radio, the exercises are focused on defense against foreign threats, testing defensive tactics and equipment, and improving military morale. Iranian state television added that Iranian forces airlifted T-72 tanks for the first time. IRGC Commander in Chief General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 11 September that the exercises will include surface-to-surface missiles, long-distance warfare (jang az rah-i dur), and air defense operations, Fars News Agency reported. Rahim-Safavi added that IRGC fighter aircraft and regular army air corps (Havaniruz) will participate in the exercises. BS

Majid Ansari of the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) said on 12 September that efforts to persuade former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi to run as a presidential candidate are continuing. IRNA reported. Addressing the annual meeting of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, Ansari added, "The president is representing the republican aspect of the system and the presidential election will represent the religious democracy in Iran." The Islamic Labor Party's Abbas Ahmadi told Fars News Agency on 10 September that Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has met with leaders of his organization and announced that he would run as a candidate under certain conditions. Rafsanjani said his decision would depend on the country's political climate, and he would do it for the sake of the revolution and the system. BS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and a delegation of Iranian officials arrived in Dushanbe on 11 September on the third leg of a trip that had already taken them to Yerevan and Minsk, international news agencies reported. The Iranians and their Tajik hosts met with President Khatami and his Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, and signed seven memorandums of understanding, including one on "bilateral cooperation based on mutual respect and protection of both countries' interests." Other agreements addressed the operation of the hydroelectric power plant at Sangtuda, "herbal quarantine," and the establishment of an Iranian trade center. Yet another agreement allowed for land in Tehran for the construction of a Tajik Embassy. Khatami and Rahmonov flew to the Sangtudeh construction site in southern Tajikistan on 13 September, the Avesta website reported. According to the agreements, Iran will invest $250 million in the project and will own 51 percent of it. BS

U.S. forces launched air strikes against purported meeting places for militants loyal to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi on 13 September, international media reported. "Intelligence sources reported the presence of several key Zarqawi operatives who have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, and multinational forces," Reuters quoted a U.S. military statement as saying. Doctors at Al-Fallujah Hospital told the news agency that 16 Iraqis -- including women and children -- were killed in the attack, and 12 wounded. The United States said that "intelligence reports indicated that only Zarqawi operatives and associates were at the meeting location at the time of the strike." Al-Jazeera reported on 13 September that 18 people were killed and 29 wounded in the attack. Dr. Rafi Hiyad al-Isawi, director of the Al-Fallujah Hospital, told Al-Jazeera that an ambulance driver was among those killed. He accused U.S. forces of constantly attacking ambulances, and blamed the Iraqi government for not doing enough to protect its own people. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said in a 12 September statement that terrorist activities in Iraq have led to the death of 3,000 Iraqis and the wounding of 12,000 others. KR

Some 100 people were killed and dozens wounded in a number of cities across Iraq on 12 September, international media reported. Al-Jazeera cited Iraqi medical sources as saying that 13 people were killed and 60 wounded during three hours of intense fighting on Baghdad's Haifa Street. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported that a car bomb detonated next to an armored vehicle, causing the vehicle to catch fire. Militants then began firing on the vehicle, after which an unidentified Iraqi jumped on the vehicle and hung a sign that read "Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad" -- a reference to the militant group led by al-Zarqawi. International media also reported on 12 September that U.S. helicopters hours later opened fire on people gathered around what appeared to be the same burning armored vehicle on Haifa Street, killing five people, including a producer for Al-Arabiyah television. A Reuters cameraman was wounded in the attack. A U.S. military statement said that the helicopter came under fire from militants near the vehicle, but Reuters footage showed no Iraqis were armed or had opened fire, the news agency reported. KR

Iraqi Army Brigadier General Nasha Jawad Hasan was killed by unidentified gunmen at his home in Ba'qubah on 11 September, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Gunmen opened fire on Hasan as he was leaving his house. His driver was also killed in the attack and his bodyguard and son were wounded, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. The satellite news channel also reported that unidentified gunmen kidnapped the family of Iraqi National Guard Colonel Khalis Ali Husayn on 11 September before blowing up his house in Ba'qubah. KR

A group identifying itself as the Joint Forces to Terminate Agents and Spies kidnapped four policemen in Al-Najaf on 10 September, Al-Jazeera reported. The group said in a statement that the officers were kidnapped because they were an annoyance to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and because they were pursuing "mujahedin" fighters in the city. Al-Sadr spokesman Ahmad al-Shaybani told Al-Jazeera in a 10 September interview that al-Sadr's group did not support the kidnappings. "The policemen must be released," al-Shaybani said, adding, "This is our natural and rational request whether the hostages are Iraqis or non-Iraqis, as in the case of the Italians and the French." Two Italian aid workers kidnapped on 7 September remain in captivity. International media reported on 13 September that Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini arrived in Kuwait to meet with political and religious leaders in an effort to secure the release of the two women. KR