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Newsline - September 19, 2005

President Vladimir Putin said that although Moscow does not wish to see a nuclear-armed Iran, referring Tehran to the United Nations Security Council could be destabilizing, Russian and international news agencies reported on 17 September. "The potential of diplomatic solutions to all these issues is far from exhausted," Putin said at a joint news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush on 17 September, referring to the Iranian nuclear standoff. "We will undertake all steps necessary to settle all these problems and issues, not aggravate them. We do not want our careless actions to lead to the development of events along the North Korean variant," Putin said, referring to attempts to force Pyongyang to give up its own weapons program. On 19 September, North Korea announced that it would give up its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for energy assistance and security concessions. BW

President Putin also called on the United States and its allies to set a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq, international news agencies reported on 18 September. "It would be the right thing to do if we precisely set out this timetable," Putin said in an interview with the U.S. television news channel Fox News, a transcript of which was published on the official website. "That would provide some discipline for everybody and force them to move toward the objective they set. I think we should be talking about one year and a bit, or two years -- something like that. I repeat, it should depend on the situation in Iraq," Putin added. BW

Saying that stability in Russia depends on upholding the constitution, President Putin insisted on 18 September that he will not seek a third term as president, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. "There is no other way to ensure stability in this country, our society, than stable laws, including the fundamental law -- the constitution. So, I will not have the constitution revised, under any circumstances," Putin said in his interview with Fox News. "You want me to solemnly swear and repeat the words I have said 99 times for the 100th time. I think my answers have been clear enough," he said. "I have already told you that I will not," Putin added. BW

More than 1,000 people, most of them young, demonstrated in Moscow on 17 September calling for an end to capitalism and for the ouster of President Putin, Russian and international news agencies reported. Chanting "Revolution" and carrying signs with slogans like "Death to Capitalism"; "Our homeland is the USSR"; and "Russia without Putin, enemy of the people," the protestors gathered at Slavyanskaya Square in central Moscow, reported. The largest contingent, estimated at about 600 people, was from the far-left National Bolshevik Party (NBP). Other protestors included members of the youth organizations of the Communist Party (KPRF) and the nationalist Rodina party. NBP members also called for the release of 40 of their members who were arrested in December. Protesters distributed leaflets urging Russians to demand that their government adopt laws to improve living conditions, including guaranteeing a minimum wage and controlling the prices of basic necessities. BW

Mikhail Trepashkin, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) official who sought to investigate government complicity in a series of 1999 apartment-building bombings, was taken into custody on 18 September after a court overturned his early release, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Trepashkin, a former colonel in the FSB, was sentenced to four years in prison in May 2004 for possessing an unregistered weapon and exposing state secrets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004 and 18 January 2005). He was released on parole in August. Trepashkin's supporters say the charges were a politically motivated response to his attempts to investigate the Russian government's alleged involvement in the series of apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities in 1999, which the Kremlin blamed on Chechen rebels. "My husband has been taken away. I was told he is under arrest," Trepashkin's wife Tatyana told Interfax. BW

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on the international community to draw up a common list of terrorist organizations, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. "The creation of the consolidated list of all terrorists and terrorist organizations notwithstanding, whether they are linked with Al-Qaeda or not, cannot be dragged out any longer," Lavrov said at the 60th session of the UN General Assembly on 19 September. Lavrov also said that Moscow hopes that the UN General Assembly will soon agree on a "comprehensive convention on international terrorism." BW

Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has accused wardens at the remand prison where he is being held of pushing an inmate suffering from a contagious disease into his cell and into the cell of his codefendant and former partner Platon Lebedev, Russian news agencies reported on 19 September. Khodorkovskii said that a day after his appeal hearing on 14 September, prison officials pushed an inmate with an unspecified contagious disease into his and Lebedev's cell, resulting in quarantine, RIA-Novosti reported. As a result, Khodorkovskii was unable to see his lawyers over the weekend. In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda," on 16 September, Khodorkovskii also warned other Russian businessmen that they could share his fate if they fall afoul of the Kremlin. "With the present approach to law, not just a major businessman, but anyone can fall victim," he said. BW

The Moscow City Court postponed a hearing on Khodorkovskii's appeal until 20 September, after he refused to sign contracts with lawyers on his defense team, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 September. "I deny their counsel in the appeals hearing," Khodorkovskii said. The only lawyer with whom Khodorkovskii has signed a contract is Genrikh Padva, who is currently in the hospital. Meanwhile, Moscow's University District Election Commission, where Khodorkovskii is seeking to run for a seat in the State Duma, says it has not yet received official notification from the former Yukos boss of his intention to run, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 September. Khodorkovskii's lawyers said they filed the necessary papers to the Electoral Commission on 7 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2005). BW

The State Duma on 16 September passed on first reading two draft laws that would raise federal payments to parents, Russian media reported. One bill would increase monthly payments for parents of children up to 18 months of age from 500 rubles ($18) to 700 rubles. The second bill would increase one-time payments for having a child from 6,000 rubles to 8,000 rubles. The Duma on 16 September also rejected a draft law on parliamentary investigations, Interfax reported. That bill was introduced in late 2002 and passed on first reading prior to the 2003 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the Duma on 14 September rejected an amendment to the federal constitutional law on the government that would have allowed the Duma to vote no confidence in individual cabinet ministers, RIA-Novosti reported. LB

The Duma passed a resolution on 16 September calling on the federal government to compensate Russian regions and certain strategic sectors for the higher cost of petroleum products, such as gasoline and diesel fuel, TV-Tsentr reported. The station reported that the resolution demands that an additional 4 billion rubles be allocated from the federal budget to alleviate fuel costs. The resolution also recommends that the government adopt measures to control fuel prices. LB

Union of Oil and Gas Industrialists President Yurii Shafranik told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 September that higher profits for oil companies selling on the domestic market would halt the recent price increases for petroleum products. Shafranik said his union will announce measures that could stabilize prices in early October. He asserted that "balance" would be established if oil producers received $100 in profits for every ton of oil produced. Industry profits are currently about $80 per ton. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref announced on 14 September that the government is working on measures to keep down gasoline prices, ITAR-TASS reported, citing comments Gref made on RTR. Government officials have been considering various tax changes, as well as raising oil-export duties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2005). Gref argued that the government has already minimized fuel-cost increases, asserting that without those efforts, the current price of gasoline in Russia would be 30 rubles ($1.1) per liter, not 18 rubles. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Gref as saying that government officials will discuss policy proposals with oil-company representatives during the first 10 days of October. LB

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref on 18 September told Far East regional leaders that local governments will be to blame if housing costs increase, RIA-Novosti reported. Speaking in Vladivostok, Gref said the federal budget will provide subsidies and loan guarantees for local governments, which will reduce borrowing costs related to land purchases and the construction of housing and related infrastructure. He claimed that those policies will allow local governments to build more housing while keeping down prices for apartments. Gref also said that the federal budget will invest 17.7 billion rubles ($625 million) in the Far East Federal District in 2006, a sixfold increase from the corresponding amount in 2003. Meanwhile, Gref told Moscow journalists on 16 September that his ministry has launched a competition to select sites for free economic zones across Russia, RIA-Novosti reported. Proposals will be accepted until 1 November. For now, proposed free economic zones must be related to industrial manufacturing or the development of technical equipment. However, Gref said his ministry is drafting amendments to the law on free economic zones that would allow such zones to be associated with the recreation and tourism industry as well. LB

President Putin on 16 September nominated State Duma Deputy Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) for governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, and an extraordinary session of the Kaliningrad Oblast legislature confirmed Boos later the same day by a vote of 27-2, Russian media reported. Boos has not yet been inaugurated, because Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov's term does not expire until 19 November. Addressing the oblast legislature, presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov described Boos as a strong politician and professional, REN-TV reported. After his confirmation vote, Boos told the legislators that he will lead a regional government, staffed primarily with locals, to replace the current administration. He also promised to move his entire family, including his parents and sister, to Kaliningrad, RIA-Novosti reported. Like former Moscow Deputy Mayor Valerii Shantsev, who became governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast in August, Boos is a close ally of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Some Russian political commentators have speculated that these appointments are part of a Kremlin strategy to ensure that the next mayor of Moscow will come from outside Luzhkov's entourage. LB

Yegor Yakovlev died on 18 September at the age of 75, following a lengthy illness, Russian news agencies reported. He worked for various publications from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, but made his lasting mark on Soviet journalism as editor in chief of the weekly "Moskovskie novosti" beginning in 1986. That newspaper continually pushed the boundaries of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of "glasnost." Yakovlev became a public figure, winning a seat in the USSR Congress of People's Deputies in 1989. In 1991 and 1992 he headed the All-Union Broadcasting Company, the first-channel broadcaster that was renamed Ostankino during his tenure there. He was fired by President Boris Yeltsin in November 1992 over a series of reports on the conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which angered Ossetian leaders and were deemed to be "violations in the coverage of ethnic conflicts," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 September. Yakovlev then founded the weekly "Obshchaya gazeta" in the spring of 1993. He edited that newspaper, which supported human-rights activists and politicians in Russia's "democratic" camp, until May 2002. Yakovlev then sold the weekly to St. Petersburg businessman Vyacheslav Leibman, who fired the staff and suspended publication. LB

The 15 September "RFE/RL Newsline" item "Website Alleges Link Between Kremlin And Attacks On NBP, Leftist Organizations" should have reported that presidential administration official Nikita Ivanov, 31, allegedly went to a police station to arrange for men suspected of taking part in a 29 August attack on members of political opposition groups in central Moscow to be freed quickly and without charges -- and not that he participated in the attack.

Valerii Kokov submitted his resignation "for health reasons" as president of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (RKB) on 16 September, presidential envoy to the Southern Russia Federal District Dmitrii Kozak told Russian media the same day. Kokov, 66, has headed the republic since 1991. His presidential term was due to expire only in January 2007 (he was reelected in March 2004 with a 96 percent majority), but Russian media have been speculating since early this year that he might step down prematurely due to his failing health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2005). The RKB parliament will begin selecting a candidate on 19 September to succeed Kokov; parliament speaker Ilyas Bechelov was quoted on 17 September by as saying the nominee will almost certainly be the RKB deputy to the Russian State Duma, businessman Arsen Kanokov (Unified Russia), who is a Kabardian. LF

Akhmad Avdorkhanov, named in May 2005 commander of the Eastern Front, was killed on 12 September in a fierce battle with Russian forces, reported on 17 September. Avdorkhanov, who was 34, fought in both Chechen wars, serving as a bodyguard first to President Djokhar Dudaev and then to Chechen resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov, who succeeded Dudaev as president. On 17 September, pro-Moscow Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov claimed that Avdorkhanov was poisoned by radical fellow field commander Shamil Basaev following a dispute over the division of $1.5 million received from unnamed foreign patrons, reported. refuted that allegation on 19 September. LF

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian welcomed on 16 September the overwhelming endorsement the previous day by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations of two resolutions urging U.S. President George W. Bush to "accurately genocide" the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, and the Turkish government to "acknowledge the culpability of its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire" in those killings, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Gasparian said he hopes the House of Representatives will debate and endorse those resolutions. But both pro-government and opposition Armenian politicians were skeptical, fearing that Washington will not risk jeopardizing relations with Turkey by doing so. LF

Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on 16 September raising the minimum monthly wage by 20 percent to 150,000 manats ($33 at that day's exchange rate), reported on 17 September. LF

The exchange rate of the manat vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar fell by 20 percent late on 17 September to 3,500 manats/$1, reported on 19 September. Opposition economic expert Gubada Ibadoglu said the real value of the manat is only 1,500 manats/$1. But Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade told the newspaper "Sharg" that the government will support an exchange rate of 4,500 manats to the dollar, reported. The manat also lost value against the euro, Turan reported on 19 September. Meanwhile, on 17 September quoted an unidentified member of the Azerbaijani government as predicting that the manat will become fully convertible by 2010. LF

Azerbaijani authorities expelled late on 16 September Serhiy Yevtushenko, an activist of the opposition Ukrainian youth movement Pora who was detained at Baku airport on 15 September, Turan reported. Initial reports tentatively but erroneously identified Yevtushenko as a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005). Yevtushenko and Estonian Andrei Popov were invited to Baku by the opposition election alliance Azadlyg to attend a conference. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 15 September rejecting as irresponsible and without foundation the criticism by its Russian counterpart on 13 September of Georgia's acquisition of ammunition from the Czech Republic free of charge, Caucasus Press reported. The Russian statement expressed the fear that the materiel could "fall into the hands of terrorists." Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli responded on 13 September to the Russian statement, affirming that Tbilisi will continue its efforts to upgrade its armed forces to comply with NATO standards, Caucasus Press reported, while Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said on 14 September it is no business of Moscow's where Georgia acquires arms from. LF

Nino Burdjanadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 16 September she sees no need to hold preterm parliamentary elections as there is "no indication" of a political crisis, Caucasus Press reported. On 15 September, the parliamentary Right Wing opposition appealed to President Mikheil Saakashvili to dissolve parliament on the grounds that deputies have forfeited public trust (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005). The opposition Conservative party expressed support on 15 September for the Right Wing initiative, while opposition Labor party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili branded the parliament as "a corpse" and demanded an enquiry into parliamentarians' assets and sources of income, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Four Georgian opposition parties -- the Labor party, the New Right Wing, the Conservatives, and Tavisupleba (Liberty) -- held unofficial primaries on 17 September in four constituencies to select a joint candidate to participate in by-elections scheduled for 1 October, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 August 2005). According to preliminary estimates, the New Right Wing won in Tbilisi's Isani district and in Shuakhevi and Tkibuli, where turnout exceeded 20 percent of registered voters. Conservative candidate Djumber Tavartkiladze defeated his New Rightist rival in Batumi. The voting took place in the open air as the authorities refused to make premises available; no serious violations of electoral procedure were reported. LF

Meeting on 18 September in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and his North Ossetian counterpart Taymuraz Mamsurov signed a formal agreement pledging to intensify economic and political cooperation between their respective republics, and Georgian media reported. The preamble to the agreement stressed their shared desire to bring about the unification of the two republics within the Russian Federation, and described Russia as the "main factor" promoting regional stability. It further called for implementation of the agreement signed between Russia and Georgia in December 2000 on the reconstruction of the conflict zone and the repatriation of refugees and displaced persons (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report, " 25 January 2001). LF

At a congress on 17 September, the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan nominated Erasyl Abylkasymov, a deputy to the lower chamber of parliament, to run in the country's 4 December presidential election, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Noting a "shortage of funds for election campaigning," Abylkasymov said that he has faith in the "enthusiasm" of communists. In other election-related news, the Central Election Commission has confirmed that Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, meets constitutionally stipulated requirements to run for the presidency, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 16 September. DK

Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan and Kazakh Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev signed an agreement in Astana on 16 September under which China will provide Kazakhstan's military with 16 million yuans ($2 million) in no-strings aid, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry noted in a statement that existing Chinese aid of 37 million yuans ($4.6 million) for personnel training is a sign of the friendly cooperation between the two country's militaries, Kazinform reported. Cao arrived in Kazakhstan on 15 September and will leave on 18 September. DK

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 16 September airlifted 11 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to London, Reuters reported. Following a recommendation from Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, the Prosecutor-General's Office gave the go-ahead to transfer the refugees from detention in Osh to UN jurisdiction on the night of 15 September, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. From London, the refugees will be transferred to Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands, Reuters reported. The departure of the 11 refugees, who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May, leaves four Uzbek citizens in detention in Osh. "We remain concerned about the other four," UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told Reuters. "We have received assurances from the Kyrgyz government that they will receive proper legal proceedings in Kyrgyzstan." DK

In an interview with Russia's "Vremya novostei" on 16 September, Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov termed "absurd" Uzbek allegations that terrorists allegedly responsible for violence in Andijon on 12-13 May trained in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 6 and 16 September 2005). "What they're saying in Tashkent is absurd," Beknazarov said. "Under the Minsk Convention, we've been working with the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office for four months since 14 May. We carry out tasks for them and they carry out tasks for us.... But we never received any information from the Uzbek side about alleged bases in Kyrgyzstan where terrorists trained. I was surprised to learn that at parliamentary hearings in Tashkent they said that we received such information from our Uzbek colleagues." DK

Sadyrbek Dubanaev, deputy commander of Kyrgyzstan's border troops, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 17 September that bilateral negotiations have resolved an incident that took place on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on 5 September. Three Kyrgyz border troops have been returned to Kyrgyzstan, and three Uzbek troops returned to Uzbekistan. The six were detained by the respective sides after a fight in Koshdobo, a disputed section of the border. Zokirjon Hasanov, deputy head of Uzbekistan's border service, negotiated for the Uzbek side. Gulmira Borubaeva, a spokesperson for Kyrgyzstan's border troops, told that the negotiations establish a good precedent for resolving similar incidents. "Now all conflicts that arise on the border will be resolved to the extent possible at meetings of border representatives without creating bureaucratic holdups," she said. DK

Davlatali Davlatov, first deputy chairman of Tajikistan's ruling People's Democratic Party, has denied reports that Tajikistan may host an expanded U.S. military presence after he appeared to suggest such a possibility in a 16 September interview with Reuters, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the same day. Commenting on the recent decision by Uzbekistan to evict the United States from its Karshi-Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005), Davlatov told Reuters: "We were members of the antiterrorist coalition right from the start. Our position has not changed. We always say yes. We cooperate closely with the United States, irrespective of the political situation and, unlike other neighbors, we have never chopped and changed." In subsequent comments to Asia Plus-Blitz, Davlatov cautioned that his remarks should not have been taken to imply that Tajikistan is willing to host a U.S. base. "Tajikistan has been and will remain a supporter of the coalition," he said. "However, there was no mention of deploying an American air base during today's interview." He added, "I made no statement about Tajikistan's readiness to host an American air base since the issue is beyond my remit and it is not within the competence of political parties to make such statements." Tajikistan currently hosts a permanent Russian military base. DK

The UNHCR has condemned the Tajik government's forced return on 14 September of five Afghan refugees from Tajikistan to Afghanistan. "UNHCR's attempts to clarify the grounds and reason for this decision were to no avail," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in a 16 September press release. He added that this was not the first refoulement -- forced return -- of refugees to Afghanistan from Tajikistan. The UNHCR noted that Tajikistan "has been hosting some 2,500 Afghan refugees, around 1,300 of whom have been accepted for resettlement by Canada." DK

Some 100 people staged an unsanctioned rally on a square in downtown Minsk on 16 September to mark the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of opposition politician Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasouski, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Riot police made several attempts to break up the demonstration, but the people forced out of the square repeatedly returned to it. In June 2001, media outlets in Belarus received a videotaped interview with former investigators who accused the authorities of sponsoring a death squad to eliminate political opponents. The squad allegedly killed their victims with a pistol used for executing people on death row. Aleh Alkayeu, former chief of a death row prison who was granted political asylum in Germany in 2001, testified that he had issued the pistol to Dzmitry Paulichenka, commander of an elite police unit, shortly before the disappearances of Hanchar and Krasouski. JM

The Minsk city administration has permitted Belarus's opposition groups to hold a congress in Minsk on 1-2 October, at which around 800 delegates are expected to name a single challenger to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in next year's presidential election, Belapan reported on 17 September. The congress is to be held in the Palace of Culture of the Minsk Automobile Factory, whose two-day lease will reportedly cost the organizers some $3,700. JM

Exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovskii told Reuters on 16 September that he had spoken repeatedly to Viktor Yushchenko by telephone, met his top aides, and agreed to help him become Ukraine's president. "I was really surprised that the people who are around Yushchenko, who are close to him, lie so much," Berezovskii said. "They are really lying, saying they didn't know me, they didn't visit me, they didn't do anything with me and so on." Last week former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk charged that Berezovskii financed Yushchenko's campaign. According to Kravchuk, Yushchenko's emissaries -- David Zhvaniya, Roman Bezsmertnyy, and Oleksandr Tretyakov -- visited Berezovskii in London to discuss issues connected with campaign funding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). "Neither Viktor Yushchenko nor Oleh Rybachuk knows or has ever known Berezovskii," Yushchenko's chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk, said on Ukraine's Channel 5 last week. Berezovskii told Reuters that documents which emerged last week were genuine evidence of payments he had made, but he declined to comment on who had received payments or what the money was for. JM

Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists on 19 September that the Verkhovna Rada is expected to vote on 20 September on Yuriy Yekhanurov, who was nominated prime minister by President Yushchenko earlier this month, Ukrainian media reported. Lytvyn said the parliament will hold a roll-call vote on Yekhanurov's approval. Lytvyn also proposed that the same day the Verkhovna Rada hear a report of the parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze five years ago. "It is appalling that despite repeated official statements, a resolution of the [Gongadze] case remains as far away as ever," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on 16 September, the fifth anniversary of Gongadze's disappearance. JM

Philadelphia Mayor John Street on 17 September decorated Ukrainian President Yushchenko in Philadelphia with the city's Liberty Medal, the Ukrainian president's press office reported. "I am dedicating this award to the Ukrainian nation, all citizens of the free and democratic country," Yushchenko said in his acceptance speech. JM

Montenegrin Prime Minster Milo Djukanovic said in Niksic on 18 September that the Serbian authorities are using an alleged scandal over the purchase of unnecessary and overpriced military equipment to take control of the institutions of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 September 2005). He added that Montenegro will withdraw its personnel from those institutions if the Serbs do not cease and desist in making charges of criminal wrongdoing. His remarks come in the wake of recent demands by Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic and some other Serbian officials that those joint state officials responsible for the deal Dinkic has described as the "robbery of the century" face justice. The joint state officials include President Svetozar Marovic and Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic. PM

Defense Minister Davinic has offered his resignation, but it is not clear whether President Marovic, who has been visiting Montenegro, will follow suit, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2005). Marovic suggested on 16 September that he is growing tired of the acrimony surrounding the equipment deal, Reuters reported. "I have not felt comfortable in this post for a long time, and it has been getting more difficult by the day." Marovic added: "if you need a victim for the sake of good relations between Serbia and Montenegro, I agree [to be that victim]." Aleksandar Ticic, who is Marovic's private secretary, told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 19 September that his boss will not claim immunity from prosecution if charges are filed against him. Ticic added, however, that he is not in a position to say whether Marovic will remain in office. PM

The Macedonian Supreme Court turned down an appeal on 16 September from Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan against his 18-month prison sentence for inciting ethnic and religious hatred, which he is currently serving, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 August 2005). The Macedonian authorities consider Jovan to be acting on behalf of Serbian nationalist groups in Belgrade against the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Some Montenegrin authorities have similarly accused the Serbian Orthodox Church in that republic to be the stalking horse of Serbian nationalist forces. PM

Kosova's minister for local self-government, Lutfi Haziri, and his Serbian counterpart, Zoran Loncar, discussed administrative decentralization and related issues in Vienna on 16 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2005). Haziri told RFE/RL that the atmosphere of the talks was "generally positive." Loncar said that the most important achievement of the talks was that the Kosovars sat down together with officials from Belgrade. PM

An apparent letter bomb went off in the mailroom of the British Embassy in Zagreb on 19 September, injuring one Croatian employee, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. President Stipe Mesic condemned what he called a "terrorist attack" and promised a full investigation. London has been a strong voice in insisting that the EU not launch admission talks with Croatia until fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina is arrested and extradited (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2005). PM

The Moldovan government on 17 September endorsed a draft budget and several other financial bills for 2006, BASA reported. The 2006 budget bill projects revenues at 9.68 billion lei ($770 million), spending at 9.78 billion lei, a 6.5 percent increase in the country's gross domestic product, and inflation of 10 percent. The government also wants the parliament to approve bills establishing a 20 percent value-added tax in plant cultivation, fruit and vegetable growing, and animal breeding; lowering corporate income tax from 18 percent to 15 percent; and retaining the flat personal income tax at 20 percent. JM

The National Migration Bureau has reported that 150,000 Moldovans, or 4 percent of the country's population, are living and working abroad legally, Infotag reported on 16 September. According to various estimates, the total number of Moldovan migrant workers ranges between 600,000 and 1 million. According to official data, the largest numbers of legal Moldovan guest workers are in Russia (64,000), Italy (36,000), Portugal (24,000), Germany (13,000), and the Czech Republic (9,000). JM

Recent steps by Iran's new government under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad demonstrate the rightward drift in the country's affairs that became apparent in the months preceding June's presidential election. These steps include the appointment of provincial governors-general with a security background, as well as a crackdown on social malefactors. The impact of the provincial appointments will be felt for years to come, whereas pressure in Tehran is likely to ease off.

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said in the 14 September "Iran" that the selection of provincial governors-general will begin during the coming week and will only take place after consultations with legislators and local Friday-prayer leaders. He said most of the officials will be replaced. "Iran" reported that definite changes include the governors from Fars, Isfahan, Khorasan Razavi, Markazi (Central), Mazandaran, Sistan va Baluchistan, and Tehran provinces. An anonymous Interior Ministry official said he does not know whether of the possibility that individuals with links to intelligence and security agencies will be selected.

Parliamentarians' reactions to this news varied. On the one hand, an unnamed representative from Urumiyeh said in "Kayhan" of 14 September that Purmohammadi has shown his sensitivity to individuals' qualifications rather than politics in making his choices.

On the other hand, Tabriz parliamentary representative Mohammad Hussein Farhangi accused Purmohammadi of appointing former officials of intelligence and security agencies as provincial governors-general, "Iran," "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Mardom Salari" reported on 14 September. "At the present juncture, some intelligence and security personalities are among the favorites to become future governors-general," Farhangi said. He advised against this, saying: "The interior minister must heed the demands of the parliamentary deputies about not employing people with intelligence and security links and background as government officials [in the provinces], otherwise he will certainly encounter problems in the future."

The issue prompted two legislators to submit their resignations. Iranshahr parliamentary representative Golmohammad Bameri said on 14 September that he had resigned, ILNA reported. Bameri said he was protesting Purmohammadi's failure to coordinate his appointment of new governors-general with the legislature. Zahedan parliamentary representative Peyman Foruzesh resigned the same day to protest Purmohammadi's appointment of a new governor for Sistan va Baluchistan Province. Foruzesh complained that the interior minister had not fulfilled his promise to coordinate his choices with legislators and local Friday-prayer leaders.

The Interior Ministry's appointment of new governors-general will have an enduring impact. The new officials could stay in place for at least eight years -- the length of two presidential terms. The Interior Ministry runs the elections, so the new officials could have a profound influence on voting for members of the Assembly of Experts (2006 and 2014), legislature (2008 and 2012), executive branch (2009 and 2013), and municipal councils (2007 and 2011). Even though President Ahmadinejad has promised to decentralize governmental affairs, these appointments suggest an effort by the central government to exert greater influence in the periphery.

While events affecting the provinces are still developing, security measures in the capital are already under way. Justice Minister and judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad told reporters on 6 September that a crackdown on people who disrupt security in Tehran has begun, "Jomhuri-yi Islami," "Aftab-i Yazd," and Radio Farda reported. "This plan, which has been put together by the office of the Tehran prosecutor-general, will be implemented for a period of 20 days with the cooperation and coordination of the relevant organs, such as the Law Enforcement Force, the Intelligence Ministry, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and the Basij force.

Karimirad described the individuals who would suffer as a result of this campaign: "The elements who flex their muscles and show off their power by the use of knives and daggers; the thugs and the mob engaging in extortion and bullying; threatening actions and behaviors; attempts to create fear and tension in the society; disruption of public order and safety; acts of sabotage; those involved in selling, buying, possessing, or carrying unlawful weapons; abduction; and gang interfighting and violence." The harassment of women, sexual assaults and other sorts of lewd behavior, the establishment of brothels and gambling houses, drinking alcohol publicly or public drunkenness, and the sales or purchase of drugs are to be targeted as well.

Tehran police chief Morteza Talai described the type of criminals one encounters in the capital, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 7 September. One group carries scimitars and goes to different parts of the city to commit random acts of aggression. A second group, known as "lumpens," gets drunk in public and engages in rowdy behavior. A third group, he said, has the talent and potential for membership in the second group.

The judicial police will be tasked with maintaining public security in Tehran once they are equipped, financed, and ready to work, Radio Farda reported on 10 September. Tehran judiciary official Mahmud Mirkuhi said the force enjoys greater powers than the ordinary police. Judicial police patrols include a judge who can convict and sentence a person on the spot, and oversee his or her punishment, Radio Farda reported.

One of the security measures described by police chief Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam is action against "joy caravans" -- cars filled with celebrating relatives driving behind a newly wed couple, Radio Farda reported on 11 September. He termed the celebrants "louts" and a traffic nuisance. Radio Farda cited Moghaddam as telling the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" that such celebrations block Tehran traffic and lead to acts of "moral corruption" like dancing and alcohol consumption.

Tehran's provincial judicial chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh told the press on 12 September that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the judiciary to give a "firm response" to "louts" and criminals, Fars reported the same day. Khamenei has ordered "God's laws" to be implemented against criminals, after reading a report on crime that he found "shocking," Fars reported. In an undated letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, Khamenei ordered authorities to combat crime "as vigorously as possible," and to give "mischievous" people "the harshest punishments set by God."

Alizadeh said he showed Khamenei's letter to a judge who recently asked him what to do with a man charged with forcibly taking money from people and cutting off someone's hand. That "criminal," Alizadeh said, must be considered a man "spreading corruption on Earth," a charge applicable to various activities and possibly punishable by death in Iran.

Just as legislators have mixed responses to possible security-related assignments in the provinces, their enthusiasm about this social crackdown is mixed.

Musa Al-Reza Servati, a member of parliament's Social Affairs Committee, has urged Iranians to show a certain "balance" when celebrating, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 September. "Unfortunately in Iran people go beyond accepted norms for the slightest celebration," he said, adding that the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry should define what type of celebrations is acceptable.

But Social Affairs Committee head Abdolreza Mesri said, "it is much more necessary" for police to deal with armed criminals that block city streets than with "joy caravans," according to "Aftab-i Yazd." People can wait a little for a street celebration, and "share in the joy of people around them, but waiting in traffic for hours because a man with a knife has blocked the street is impossible," "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted him as saying.

The security-related developments in Tehran will not have as enduring impact as those in the provinces. The crackdown in the capital is scheduled to last just 20 days. Furthermore, the government routinely implements such measures, especially at the beginning of the school year. Therefore, there could be an easing of pressure over time.

(Vahid Sepehri contributed to this article.)

Millions of Afghans voted in the first post-Taliban legislative elections on 18 September, which ended without a major outbreak of violence, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) said in a statement on "Today's historic polls, which gave generations of Afghans their first-ever chance to elect a national parliament and provincial councils, drew crowds of calm and enthusiastic voters," said JEMB Chairman Bessmelah Bessmel. Although total turnout numbers are not yet available, steady crowds were reported in Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, and long lines formed outside polling places in Konduz. In some districts, the number of women voters outnumbered that of men, the JEMB said, while 84 percent of the 6,200 polling stations available were operative. The JEMB has said that official results of the poll will be released by 22 October, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. CP

At a news conference after the election's conclusion on 18 September, Hamid Karzai welcomed the successful holding of elections and pronounced the event a blow to terrorists, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "We have moved a step closer to peace and security," Karzai said. He said that despite scattered violence that killed 12 people, the elections were a significant accomplishment for the Afghan people. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann also played down the violence. Those who were killed in the attacks included a French soldier, two civilians, a police official, and four soldiers in five Afghan provinces. A UN warehouse in Kabul also came under rocket attack early in the day, and one local UN staff person was wounded, Reuters reported. CP

Approximately 6,000 refugee families located in the Hesar Shahi Desert in the eastern Nangarhar Province did not vote in the 18 September elections because no polling station had been set up for them, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the same day. Some refugees said they waited for hours at the highway but could not find vehicles to take them to the closest polling stations. Speaking with Pajhwak Afghan News, an official with the JEMB said that the absence of a polling station in the area was an oversight on the agency's part. The news agency also reported that a large number of women in Zabul, Nangarhar, Khost, and other provinces could not vote because there were no polling stations for them and because men prevented women from voting at male voting stations. It is not known whether the disenfranchised women will be given a chance to vote. CP

Afghans in Baghlan, Kapisa, and Herat Provinces accused some staff members at polling stations and police officials of forcing them to vote for certain candidates, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 18 September. Several people from Mahmud Raqi, the capital of Kapisa, said they were forced to vote for Wolesi Jirga candidate Iqbal Safi and that authorities ignored their complaints. Mohammad Sabir, who was in charge of polling in the area, said that some coercion had taken place early in the day but it had been stopped. Police arrested a man in Pul-e Khumri, capital of Baghlan, for forcing people to vote for Mohammad Tughian Sakayi, and officials said that action will be taken against him. CP

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad made his long-awaited nuclear proposal in a 17 September speech at the UN General Assembly ( He preceded the discussion of the nuclear issue by denouncing the U.S.: "The Islamic Revolution toppled a regime, which had been put in place through a coup, and supported by those who claim to be advocates of democracy and human rights [who] thwarted the aspirations of the nation for development and progress for 25 years through the intimidation and torture of the populace and submission and subservience to outsiders." Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. of supporting Al-Qaeda and hinted at a conspiracy in which the United States was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, arming "the Zionist occupation regime with WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction]," and trying to block other countries' access to nuclear technology. Ahmadinejad described Iran as "the manifestation of true democracy in the region." BS

After continuing with such comments, Ahmadinejad got to the point. "The peaceful use of nuclear energy without possession of a nuclear fuel cycle is an empty proposition," he said, reported. "In accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited." He went on to express concern about the creation of a nuclear "apartheid." He called for a nuclear-weapons free Mideast. As a confidence-building measure, Ahmadinejad said, Iran is willing to partner with public and private groups in its uranium-enrichment program. He added that Iran will continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, he ruled out acquiring fuel for Iran's nuclear program from other countries. Ahmadinejad said if Iran is pressed too hard, it will "reconsider" its approach to the nuclear issue. BS

Ahmadinejad's proposal did not impress French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, AFP reported on 17 September. He said, "What I heard today obliges me to say that the option of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] report to the United Nations is still on the agenda." Douste-Blazy noted that Ahmadinejad is ignoring the concerns of the international community. The governing board of the IAEA is to meet on 19 September. Douste-Blazy said Paris does not oppose Iran's having a civilian nuclear program, but "our position is still firm: Iran must not develop the sensitive parts of the [nuclear] process. This would enable it to produce fissile materials." British Foreign Secretay Jack Straw described the Iranian measure as "unhelpful and disappointing," "The Guardian" reported on 19 September. Washington is organizing a meeting of senior U.S. officials and their counterparts from France, Germany, and Great Britain to consider their next step. BS

An early September letter from the Association in Defense of Prisoners' Rights to the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, calls for a review of the cases of 34 prisoners, "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Etemad" reported on 18 September. Most of the named individuals are being held for political offenses -- this includes student activists Ahmad Batebi and Manuchehr Mohammadi, as well as Abbas Amir-Entezam. Iran's longest serving political prisoner, Amir-Entezam was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 1980. "Sharq" reported on 18 September that Hashemi-Shahrudi has ordered an investigation into these cases. BS

Sohrab Suleimani, the Tehran Province prison chief, said on 17 September that dissident journalist Akbar Ganji's health is improving, ILNA reported. Ganji recently ended a 70-day hunger strike. Suleimani denied that Ganji is in solitary confinement and said he is in Evin Prison's medical quarantine section, as are several other prisoners. Meanwhile, "Iran News" on 15 September cited the wife of imprisoned lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani as saying that her husband is in a shared cell but is not allowed to make telephone calls or have access to newspapers. Soltani is the attorney for the accused in a case involving nuclear espionage, and he also faces espionage charges. BS

Iraq's National Assembly approved the final version of the country's draft constitution on 18 September, setting the stage for a referendum on the basic law next month, international news agencies reported the same day. One article was amended to state that Iraq "is a founding and effective member of the Arab league." The change was a concession to Sunnis who wanted the country to be described as "Arab" -- a move opposed by Iraq's Kurds. Another amendment created two deputy premier posts and one said the government must assure an equitable distribution of water resources among Iraq's regions. "There is no way there will be any more changes now," said Hussain al-Shahristani, deputy speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Reuters reported. The United Nations will print five million copies of the constitution in Arabic and Kurdish and Iraqis will vote on it in a public referendum on 15 October. BW

Faris Husayn, a Kurdish member of Iraq's National Assembly, was shot dead together with three of his bodyguards on 17 September, international news agencies reported the same day. Hussein was killed as he was traveling from northern Iraq to Baghdad, Reuters reported. Another deputy, Haidar Qassem, was wounded in the attack, National Assembly spokesman Peshro Sa'id said. Also on 17 September, a car bomb killed 30 people and wounded 38 others in a crowded market in a predominantly Shi'ite suburb of Baghdad. The attacks followed a week of insurgent violence against Shi'ites in which hundreds were killed. Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi declared war on Iraqi Shi'a in a 14 September statement, raising fears of more sectarian violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). Iraqi police also found 20 bodies in a river north of Baghdad on 18 September, Reuters reported the same day, citing unidentified police sources. Six insurgents were killed and four were detained on 18 September when U.S. troops raided the town of Tal Afar, Reuters reported the same day. BW

An Iraqi working as a reporter for "The New York Times" was found dead in Al-Basrah on 19 September, international news agencies reported the same day. Fakher Haidar, who had been taken away by masked men late on 18 September, was found with his hands bound and a single bullet wound in the head, Reuters reported citing a doctor at Al-Basrah's hospital. Four masked men claiming to be from Iraq's intelligence services arrived at Haidar's family home late on 18 September saying they needed to speak to Haidar, according to the victim's brother. Haidar is the second journalist to be kidnapped and killed in Al-Basrah in two months. Steven Vincent, an American freelance reporter who also had written for "The New York Times," was kidnapped and killed in August. BW

Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims descended on the holy city of Karbala on 19 September to celebrate a religious festival, international news agencies reported the same day. At least two and a half million Shi'ites are already in the city for the festival marking the birthday of Imam Mahdi, a descendent of Islam's prophet Muhammad. "This year the number is much higher than in previous years. We think it may be an act of defiance," Karbala police chief Karim al-Hasnawi said in remarks reported by Reuters. The festival comes amid escalating fears of sectarian violence in the wake of a series of insurgent attacks against Shi'a. Hasnawi said 6,000 security forces from the police and army were guarding Karbala's four main entrances and plainclothes troops were positioned close to the site of the celebrations. The city has been closed to cars since 16 September due to fears of suicide bombers. BW

A new study based on Saudi Arabian intelligence reports shows that hundreds of Saudi fighters who joined the insurgency in Iraq showed no signs of militancy before the American invasion, Reuters reported on 18 September. The study also claimed that less than 10 percent of the insurgents fighting in Iraq come from outside the country. The study was conducted by Middle East analyst Anthony Cordesman and Saudi security adviser Nawaf Obaid for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to the report, Saudi Arabia interrogated dozens of Saudi militants who either returned from Iraq or were captured on the border. "The vast majority of Saudi militants who entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathizers before the war, and were radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion," the study said. The report added that 85 percent of those interrogated were not on any watchlist of known militants. BW

British Defense Minister John Reid said on 18 September that London is prepared to increase the number of troops in Iraq if necessary, international news agencies reported the same day. Britain currently has about 8,500 soldiers deployed in Iraq, more than any other coalition country except the United States. In a televised interview on Jonathan Dimbleby's ITV show and reported by Reuters, Reid said an increase is not necessary "at the moment," but added that if needed, the government would increase Britain's troop commitment. "There's no quitting and running, we're there until the job is done," Reid added. Reid's comments came after a report in Britain's "Sunday Telegraph" newspaper claimed that escalating violence in Iraq has forced the government to abandon plans for a troop reduction next year. BW