Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - September 29, 2005

Gazprom and Millhouse Capital, the managing company of Sibneft that belongs to billionaire Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, signed an accord on 28 September selling Gazprom over 72 percent of Sibneft for $13.1 billion, Russian and international media reported. To make the deal, which is the biggest in Russia's post-Soviet history, Gazprom last week took out a $12 billion loan from a consortium of Western banks, including Citicorp, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse. Announcing the deal at a Gazprom board meeting, Chairman Dmitrii Medvedev, who is also the head of the presidential administration, said, "The acquisition of Sibneft is aimed at resolving Gazprom's strategic task of becoming a global energy company and a world market leader," RTR reported. After the deal is completed, Gazprom will will become not only Russia's gas monopoly, but a major oil producer, adding Sibneft's 34 million tons of annual oil extraction to the 12 million tons it already has. Eric Kraus, chief strategist for Sovlink Securities, said that the acquisition of Sibneft will make Gazprom the first Russian company with potential capitalization of $300 billion, RosBalt reported on 28 September. VY

While the sale of Sibneft means Abramovich will no longer have any major assets in Russia, he has denied rumors that he is preparing to leave the country, RosBalt reported on 28 September. Analysts noted that Abramovich's decision to sell Sibneft followed reports that Konstantin Pulikovskii, presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District, recommended him for a second term as governor and that Abramovich accepted the nomination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005) VY

Addressing a conference of 600 representatives of Russian and Western investment companies in Moscow, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov called on them to invest more in the Russian economy, Channel One and other media reported on 28 September. Fradkov admitted that corruption and bureaucracy prevent greater inflow of investment into Russia, but said his government will improve tax legislation "to make the rules more understandable both for Russians and foreigners." Fradkov added that his government "will not surrender to the temptation" to spend money from the so-called Stabilization Fund as doing so could lead to hyperinflation. Speaking after him, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that in 2005 foreign investment in Russia is expected to increase by 60 percent and will reach $100 billion, and next year it could reach $130 billion. Arkadii Dvorkovich, who heads the presidential Experts Department, said that such factors as inefficient legislation and taxation, monopolism in some sectors of the economy, and inflation hamper the Russian economy's growth, RTR reported. But the biggest obstacle is state officials, who are not preparing for growth and who lack patriotism. VY

Speaking at a meeting on 28 September to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of Russia's nuclear industry, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that in 2007 the armed forces will acquire a new strategic ballistic missile, the S-30 Bulava, RTR reported. Ivanov said that the new supersonic MIRV missile has no equivalent in the world. On 27 September, a Northern Fleet submarine in the White Sea launched a Bulalva, which after a 30-minute flight successfully hit a target at the testing ground in Kamchatka. The same day, President Vladimir Putin said during his nationwide teleconference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005) that the Bulava can change its route and altitude in such a way that it makes the missile invulnerable to the strategic-missile-defense systems of "some of our partner countries," RTR reported. VY

At the same meeting on Russia's nuclear industry anniversary, Ivanov said that the creation of the Bulava is good example of cooperation between the Defense Ministry and the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Interfax-AVN reported. Rosatom was created by directive of Josef Stalin and headed by the chief of the secret political police, Lavrentii Beria. Ivanov also said that the present generation of Rosatom workers is continuing the traditions of their predecessors but in conditions of the market economy "the nuclear shield of the state itself needs protection." VY

Channel One broadcast in prime time on 27 September a new documentary about military intelligence (GRU) Major General Dmitrii Polyakov, who worked for U.S. intelligence for 25 years until he was arrested by the KGB in 1986. The documentary says that during this period, Polyakov, alias "Tophat" and "Bourbon," disclosed the identities of dozens of "deep cover" Soviet agents in the United States as well as Americans recruited by the KGB. He also passed over the names of 1,500 KGB and GRU officers. The film notes that Polyakov worked against the Soviet Union for moral reasons, not personal enrichment. The film begins with Polyakov's arrest and his trial in 1988, at which Polyakov expressed no regrets about his activity. He was executed soon afterward. The same year, U.S. President Ronald Reagan asked Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during his visit to Moscow to exchange Polyakov for Soviet spies arrested in the United States. "The man you are talking about was executed two months ago," Gorbachev reportedly responded. VY

The remains of White Guard leader General Anton Denikin and philosopher and anti-Bolshevik ideologue Ivan Ilin are to be transferred to Russia and reburied at the Donskoi monastery near Moscow on 3 October, Channel One and RTR reported on 28 September. Russian Culture Foundation Chairman Nikita Mikhalkov said that one should not see this event in a political context, Channel One reported. "Both men were Russian patriots and it was their will to be buried on their native soil," he said. In related news, presidential envoy to the Central Federal district and former KGB officer Georgii Poltavchenko said that Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin's body should be taken from his tomb on Red Square and buried, RTR reported "Our country has been shaken by strife, but only few were held accountable for that in their lifetime," he said. "I don't think it's fair that those who initiated that strife remain in the center of our state near the Kremlin." Some analysts have noted that in searching for a new ideology, the Kremlin has supported more and more turning to the symbols of the White Guard. For example, the pro-Kremlin movement Nashi has chosen as their banner a red flag with a white St. Andrew's cross, where red is meant to symbolize Russia's past and white its future. VY

Interior Ministry special forces and Federal Security Service officers have arrested several police officers in Moscow suspected of organizing contract killings and kidnappings, RTR and other media reported on 28 September. About 30 offices and apartments were searched and a large amount of weapons and counterfeit stamps of federal agencies confiscated. The names of those arrested have not been not revealed, but the Prosecutor-General's Office, which is leading the investigation, said that case can be compared with the "werewolves in epaulets" case, when a group of top law-enforcement officers headed by Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev were arrested in 2003 for corruption and abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Foreign Policy and Security Watch," 8 June 2003). VY

Border guards at a Moscow airport turned back Pinkhas Goldschmidt, rabbi of Moscow's Great Choral Synagogue, on 28 September because of new entry-visa rules for foreign clergy, forcing him to return to Israel, Russian news agencies reported. Goldschmidt, who is a Swiss citizen, has been working since 1989 in Moscow, where his wife and five of his seven children live, according to "Gazeta." Adolf Shaevich, Russia's chief rabbi, told RFE/RL on 28 September that he was at a loss to explain why Goldschmidt was denied entry to the country. "[It was a] great surprise, because Rabbi Goldschmidt has been working with us for almost 16 years and there has never been any problem. I don't even know how to explain this. We hope it is just a misunderstanding," Shaevich said. Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Slutsker also expressed deep concern over the incident. JAC

According to REN-TV on 27 September, residents of certain areas had difficulty asking questions during President Putin's teleconference the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005). In the town of Engels in Saratov Oblast questioners could only gain access to the phone-in by going through a checkpoint. A soldier who wanted to ask about the army's preparedness was rejected. In Izhevsk in Udmurtia, police dispersed people who tried to enter the local administration building where calls could be made. An assistant professor at Tomsk State University, Oleg Khazanov, told the station that when he told an organizer for the call-in show that he was "cautiously negative" in his attitude toward Putin, she said that they couldn't include him in the event. The station noted that it was interesting that no callers asked about the Beslan school tragedy, the criminal case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, or the abolition of gubernatorial elections. Putin himself said during the event that the questions were not preselected. JAC

Ekho Moskvy reported on 27 September that the head of the local branch of Memorial for the city of Vorkuta in Komi Republic together with her husband were beaten up on their way to try to speak to the president. Yevgeniya Khaidorova was carrying a sign saying, "We're opposed to Law 122," the controversial law that monetized social-benefit payments. Khaidorova's husband, who is a pensioner, had his front teeth knocked out. Eyewitnesses said plainclothes security officials also took away several other human rights activists from the city's main square, where a large monitor was relaying the meeting with the president. Igor Sazhin, chairman of the republican branch of Memorial, told reporters that Vorkuta Mayor Igor Shpektor personally gave out passes for all persons allowed to be in the square when the telebridge was taking place, Regnum reported. "Not one person from the opposition was allowed in front of the monitor, not even deputies from the city council," he said. JAC

During his call-in show on 27 September, President Putin said he would not submit the papers reappointing incumbent Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov to the krai legislature, if Chernogorov did not resolve the problem of a lack of running water in the village of Degtyarevskii, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 September. A village pensioner, Lyudmila Karachentseva, had written to Putin to complain about the lack of plumbing. Chernogorov asked Putin on 26 September for an expression of confidence in his administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005). The day of the call-in show, the governor's press service issued a release saying that Chernogorov signed an order allocating 80 million rubles ($2.7 million) for the village's water system that day, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agency, plumbers and builders were already on their way. Chernogorov's current term will expire on 28 December. He has already served as the head of the krai for the past 10 years. JAC

St. Petersburg's prosecutor's office announced on 28 September that four young men have been arrested on suspicion of murder in the death of Congolese student Roland Eposaka earlier this month, RTR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005). Aleksei Mayakov, head of the department for the investigation of particularly important cases, told reporters that the accused do not appear to be part of any extremist group; however, "law-enforcement officials are checking information about their possible participation in a series of attacks on foreigners," the station reported. According to "Gazeta" on 27 September, which covered Mayakov's 26 September press conference, the leader of the group of young men that attacked Eposaka had been arrested earlier for beating up a German citizen of Asian extraction. When he was arrested for that incident, the young man was wearing a T-shirt that read "Daesh russkii les bez churok i suchkov!," a punning plea for a Russia without Central Asians. JAC

Deputies in Yaroslavl Oblast's legislature voted on 27 September to ask the Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of the law giving President Putin the power to select candidates for the post of regional heads, Ekho Moskvy and reported on 28 September. Twenty-six deputies out of 50 voted for the measure. According to, most of the members of the Unified Russia faction in the legislature were not in attendance for the vote. Deputy speaker of the legislature Valerii Shamin, who is a member of Unified Russia, told the website that he doesn't exclude the possibility that at the legislature's next session on 4 October the matter of the inquiry to the court will be examined and rejected. JAC

The parliament of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic approved on 28 September the candidacy of Arsen Kanokov as the republic's new president, and reported. President Putin proposed Kanokov the previous day to succeed Valerii Kokov, who announced on 16 September his desire to retire due to his deteriorating health. Kanokov, a Moscow-based businessman who represented the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic in the Russian State Duma, was considered the most likely successor to Kokov. Kanokov took the oath of office on 28 September in the presence of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, who expressed the hope that Kanokov's economic expertise will help extricate the republic from what he termed the current "difficult" economic situation. Also on 28 September, the republican parliament unanimously approved Kanokov's choice of Gennadii Gubin to serve as prime minister. Gubin served under Kokov first as vice president and then since early 2004 as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 September 2005). LF

At a special session on 28 September, deputies approved unanimously in the third and final reading by 90 votes the proposed draft amendments to the country's constitution and their submission to a nationwide referendum, Noyan Tapan reported. The opposition Artarutiun and National Unity Party factions, which have rejected the proposed amendments as cosmetic, boycotted the vote, which Artarutiun parliamentarian Viktor Dallakian alleged was taken in violation of the paragraph of the parliament statutes providing for draft legislation to be distributed to deputies one hour before they are due to vote on it, according to the A1+ website as cited by Groong. The referendum is tentatively scheduled for 20 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2005). Deputies also approved on 28 September in the second and third readings a draft bill amending the law on referendums to bring it into compliance with the election law, according to Armenpress on 28 September as cited by Groong. LF

The government approved on 28 September a draft budget that envisages for the first time public expenditures in excess of $1 billion, an increase of almost 20 percent over the comparable figure for 2005, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The draft, which will be submitted to parliament next week, envisages revenues of 380.3 billion drams ($853 million) and expenditures of 450.2 billion drams. The 70 billion-dram deficit is to be financed overwhelmingly from domestic sources, rather than low-interest loans from the World Bank. The single-largest item of public spending remains the defense sector, which is slated to receive 74.3 billion drams ($166 million), a 21 percent increase over 2005. Social spending too will be increased, according to Deputy Finance Minister Pavel Safarian, who promised increases in public-sector wages and poverty benefits. Gross domestic product growth in 2006 is predicted at 7.5 percent, down from the double-digit growth registered over the past five years. LF

Moscow-based oligarch and Union of Armenians of Russia President Ara Abrahamian told journalists in Yerevan on 28 September that he helped to secure the release of six Armenian pilots jailed in Equatorial Guinea for their alleged participation in a failed coup to oust that country's president by investing $2 million in building a water-supply system there, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Abrahamian added that he and Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema have become "friends." The six pilots received draconian prison sentences in November 2004, but following intensive lobbying by the Armenian Foreign Ministry and Abrahamian's intercession, Obiang signed a decree pardoning them in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February and 7 June 2005). LF

Four oppositionists who have registered as candidates for the 6 November parliamentary election in Baku's 33rd Khatai constituency have written to President Ilham Aliyev to complain that the local mayor, Ibragim Mekhtiev, is openly canvassing for their rival, Guseynbala Miralyamov, who represents the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), and reported on 29 September. The oppositionists pointed out that such interference is a direct violation of Aliyev's 11 May decree ordering local government officials to ensure that the upcoming ballot is free, fair, and democratic. Also on 29 September, Vurgun Eyub, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party, which is a member of the Azadlyq election bloc, told that the bloc's candidates intend to begin a hunger strike to protest unspecified violations of campaign procedure. Speaking at a press conference on 28 September, Logman Abdullaev of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party noted that in two constituencies where his party is fielding candidates either voters have not received the registration document entitling them to cast their ballots, or residents of one and the same building are registered at different polling stations, reported. Also on 28 September, former opposition presidential candidate Etibar Mamedov, now a member of the Yeni Siyaset (New Policy) bloc, told Azerbaijan Press Agency that the authorities have mobilized "every conceivable resource" in support of the YAP candidate against whom he is running, reported. Mamedov also noted that several government officials who have registered to participate in the ballot have not yet resigned from their posts as required by the election law. LF

The Baku municipal authorities have informed the opposition Azadlyq election bloc in writing that they may not stage a march and rally in the city on 1 October using any the routes they have proposed, Turan and reported. The letter explained that the law on freedom of assembly explicitly precludes the holding of marches or rallies in the immediate vicinity of government buildings, or on Azadlyq (Liberty) Square, and that the squares where the opposition has proposed holding post-march rallies are all too small to accommodate 30,000 people, the number Azadlyq claims it can mobilize. The city authorities offered five alternative march routes. In a 27 September interview with, Panakh Husein, the Azadlyq election campaign manager, said the bloc will continue to hold preelection rallies even if it does not receive official permission from the city authorities to do so. Police and oppositionists clashed in Baku on 25 September when Azadlyq held a campaign rally for which the city authorities had withheld permission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). LF

The trial in a Budapest court of Azerbaijani Lieutenant Ramil Safarov, who hacked to death with an ax an Armenian fellow participant at a NATO-sponsored language course in February 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2004), reconvened on 27 September but was again adjourned, Noyan Tapan reported. An Azerbaijani officer who also participated in the course failed for the third time to appear as a witness; according to Azerbaijani Ambassador to Hungary Hasan Hasanov, the officer suffers from a speech disorder that precludes him testifying. The court ordered a third psychiatric evaluation of the accused, as one of the two previous examinations found him to be compos mentis while the second concluded that he is suffering from post-trauma syndrome. LF

The talks in Moscow on 28 September between senior Russian and Georgian officials on the future of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone were among the most "constructive and open" such bilateral discussions ever held, Caucasus Press on 29 September quoted National Security Council Chairman Gela Bezhuashvili as saying. Bezhuashvili and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava raised with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin the possibility that Tbilisi will demand the peacekeepers' withdrawal on the grounds that they actively support and assist the authorities of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia. Khaindrava, however, told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 after the talks that he doubts it will be possible to preserve the current peacekeeping format. At present Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and the Republic of North Ossetia all have peacekeepers in the conflict zone and are represented on the Joint Control Commission that monitors the situation there. On 29 September, Loshchinin denied having said the previous day that Moscow has evidence proving that it was Georgian troops who subjected the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, to mortar fire on 20 September, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22 and 23 September 2005). Loshchinin said journalists "misunderstood" him. Meanwhile, South Ossetia's Minister for Special Assignments Boris Chochiev told Belgian Ambassador to Tbilisi Danielle de Marmol and an OSCE official that the South Ossetian authorities "have information" that Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili gave the order for the mortar attack and Paata Bedianishvili, commander of the Georgian peacekeeping force, carried out that order, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Georgian government and the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile commemorated on 27 September the fall of the Abkhaz capital in 1993, which effectively ended the 14-month war and triggered the flight from Abkhaz territory of the region's ethnic Georgian population. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said at a ceremony in Tbilisi to honor the Georgians killed in the fighting that the war was a defeat for both Georgians and Abkhaz, Caucasus Press reported. Parliamentary speaker Burdjanadze vowed that Georgia will "soon" restore its control over the breakaway republic by peaceful means. Irakli Alasania, who heads the government in exile and whose father was killed in the 1992-93 war, vowed that "it is the duty of our generation" to restore Georgia's territorial integrity. In Sukhum, the anniversary was also observed, albeit not with a military parade as in previous years. Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh and Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab met the same day with Musa Shanibov, who in the early 1990s headed the Confederation of Mountain People of the Caucasus that mobilized thousands of volunteers to fight on the Abkhaz side, reported. LF

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release on 27 September to call attention to the private printing company Vremya-Print's decision to stop printing a number of independent Kazakh newspapers. In an open letter published on Navigator ( on 27 September, the editors of five newspapers -- "Svoboda slova," "Epokha," "Apta-kz," "Pravda Kazakhstana," and "Zhuma-Taims" -- linked Vremya-Print's unilateral termination of its contracts with the newspapers with the upcoming 4 December presidential election. The editors in chief of the publications announced on 28 September that they have begun a hunger strike, Navigator reported. Bakhytzhan Mukushev, the editor in chief of "Epokha," said that talks are under way with two other printing houses, but stressed that the editors will continue their protest until their newspapers resume publication. At a press conference on 28 September, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the presidential nominee of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, described Vremya-Print's decision as the result of "powerful pressure from the authorities." He added, "These are all links in a chain -- a desire by the authorities to 'shut us up' by any means possible." DK

In a 27 September vote, Kyrgyzstan's parliament confirmed 10 of 16 ministers and committee heads proposed by President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Lawmakers voted down the candidacies of Roza Otunbaeva for foreign minister, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov for minister of transportation and communications, Toktokan Borombaeva for culture minister, and Alevtina Pronenko for labor and social security minister. Prime Minister Feliks Kulov reacted with surprise, saying, "It's not clear to me why Roza Otunbaeva's candidacy was rejected even though she was a leader of the revolution [on 24 March]," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. For her part, Otunbaeva told that the vote did not surprise her. Noting that she was "not going to last long in the power relations that emerged," Otunbaeva blamed supporters of former President Askar Akaev and opportunists in parliament and the government. She promised to remain active and fight to "clean up politics." DK

Former Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov addressed a demonstration in Aksy on 28 September, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The protesters, who numbered from 2,000 to 5,000, asked for Beknazarov's reinstatement as prosecutor-general and demanded President Bakiev's resignation if he does not reinstate Beknazarov. But Beknazarov called for calm, saying: "President Bakiev was elected by the people, and the constitution gives him the right to dismiss me. Whatever the reasons were, let that be on his conscience. Time and history will judge him." Beknazarov's supporters originally planned to hold a demonstration in Bishkek on 28 September, but called it off citing the possibility of "provocations." DK

On 27 September, Dushanbe hosted meetings of the prime ministers from the member states of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and Eurasian Economic Community (EES; Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov said that the CACO meeting ended with the signing of six documents intended to move Central Asia closer to a common market, RIA-Novosti reported. Oqilov described the main accomplishment of the EES meeting the signing of a document on customs unification, "Finansovye izvestiya" reported. The newspaper noted that EES member states have managed to unify 62 percent of their customs tariffs. The prime ministers of the EES member states also agreed to form a council on EES fiscal and economic policy, with economy and finance ministers from EES countries as its members. DK

In the course of a televised cabinet meeting on 27 September, President Saparmurat Niyazov dismissed Akhal Province Governor Murad Atagarriev for "nepotism, bribery, polygamy, and drug addiction," Turkmen Television reported. Niyazov replaced Atagarriev, who now faces criminal charges, with Amandurdy Muratguliev, whom he relieved of his duties as economy and finance minister. In the course of the meeting, Niyazov chided officials for inadequate efforts to secure the cotton harvest. "The situation with cotton is not good all over Turkmenistan," he said. "Where are those officials from the agriculture association and from the Agriculture Ministry who have been boasting all the way?" The remarks echoed criticisms Niyazov voiced at a 23 September meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). DK

President Niyazov signed a decree on 27 September appointing Kargyagdy Tashliev head of state oil company Turkmenneft, a post with ministerial rank, official news agency TDH reported. Tashliev has been acting head since August, when Niyazov fired Saparmamed Valiev for "serious deficiencies in his work and abuse of office" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2005). DK

Russia's Gazprom and Uzbek gas-transport company Uztransgaz have signed an agreement on gas shipments for 2006-10, Gazprom announced on 27 September in a press release on its website. The agreement was signed during a visit to Tashkent by Gazprom head Aleksei Miller, who met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Under the agreement, Gazprom will ship approximately 45 billion cubic meters of gas purchased from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan each year, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 September. According to the newspaper, the fact that the agreement does not provide for the expansion of the Central Asia-Center pipeline, suggests that Gazprom doubts Turkmenistan's ability to meet the gas-production increases written into a 25-year contract between Russia and Turkmenistan. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 September that the Gazprom-Uztransgaz agreement means that Russia will soon control all of Turkmenistan's gas for export, forcing Ukraine to negotiate gas-purchase agreements with Gazprom beginning in 2007. DK

Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried met with Uzbek President Karimov in Tashkent on 27 September, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. After the meeting, Fried confirmed that the United States will comply with an Uzbek request that it vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005), the BBC reported. "The Uzbek government made it clear that we need to leave the base, and we intend to leave it without further discussion," Fried said. While noting that the United States and Uzbekistan share common security concerns, Fried stressed that the two countries "have had a very difficult period in relations, complicated by grave concerns regarding the human rights situation and events in Andijon." A defendant at the trial of 15 alleged organizers of violence in Andijon on 13 May recently testified that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent provided rebels with funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005); Fried told reporters the claim was "ludicrous." At a 28 September State Department briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Fried reiterated the demand that Uzbekistan allow an international investigation of the violence in Andijon, a demand the Uzbek government has rejected. "Mr. Fried also underscored that we continue to call for an international investigation as what happened around Andijon and we continue to have those conversations with the OSCE and NATO in urging Uzbekistan to allow that international inquiry to move forward," he added. DK

On 28 September Belsayuzdruk, Belarus's state monopoly running a nationwide network of kiosks and newsstands, terminated a contract for the distribution of the country's only opposition daily, "Narodnaya volya," which is struggling to remain afloat after a court froze its bank account and seized newsprint demanding payment of libel damages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The same day, the Minsk-based printing plant Chyrvonaya zorka annulled its contract for printing the daily. The authorities' moves against "Narodnya volya" were announced immediately after the daily transferred 70 million rubles out of the 100 million rubles ($46,500) it was obliged to pay in libel damages to lawmaker Syarhey Haydukevich, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. The newspaper managed to collect the money after appealing for help to its readers. "Narodnaya volya" Editor in Chief Iosif Syaredzich told journalists that he is not sure whether the newspaper will be able to survive next month, as it has no alternative distribution network. "Narodnaya volya" has until now appeared five times per week, selling some 30,000 copies of each issue. JM

Eleven prominent Belarusian opposition politicians have signed a declaration of their readiness to cooperate for the victory of pro-democratic forces in the forthcoming presidential election, Belapan reported on 28 September. The declaration was signed by Anatol Lyabedzka, Alyaksandr Vaytovich, Syarhey Kalyakin, Uladzimir Kolas, Vasil Lyavonau, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, Mikalay Statkevich, Valery Fralou, Stanislau Shushkevich, and Alyaksandr Yarashuk. "The signing of the declaration on the eve of the [1-2 October] National Congress of Pro-democratic Forces is a good sign and a clear message to all advocates of change," Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party, told Belapan. "I would call it a moral agreement on mutual responsibility and readiness to work in one team." However, the document does not bear the signature of Social Democratic Party (Hramada) leader Alyaksandr Kazulin, whom many Belarusian commentators see as a likely contender in the 2006 presidential election. JM

Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktar Haysyonak addressed a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on 27 September, requesting that the agency help Belarus persuade Lithuania to drop its plan to build a nuclear waste storage facility close to its border with Belarus, Belapan reported. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko has made some 20 appointments to the new cabinet of Yuriy Yekhanurov, Ukrainian media reported on 28 September. New faces in the current cabinet, compared with the previous one led by Yuliya Tymoshenko, are: First Deputy Prime Minister Stanislav Stashevskyy, Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloha, Construction Minister Pavlo Kachur, Labor Minister Ivan Sakhan, and Transport Minister Viktor Bondar. JM

President Yushchenko reappointed to work with Yekhanurov a dozen previous cabinet members, Ukrainian media reported on 28 September. They are: Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertnyy; Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk; Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov; Coal Industry Minister Viktor Topolov; Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivskyy; Family, Youth, and Sport Minister Yuriy Pavlenko; Environmental Protection Minister Pavlo Ihnatenko; Education Minister Stanislav Nikolayenko; Industrial Policy Minister Volodymyr Shandra; Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko; Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko; and Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk. The posts of culture minister, justice minister, and health minister remain vacant. JM

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine's 31-year-old new economy minister, said in a press interview on 28 September that the government needs to stabilize the economy and stop the continuing fall in economic output, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "The situation is deplorable, you may take any data from the State Statistics Committee," Yatsenyuk told the "Kommersant-Ukrayina" newspaper. "It would be unreasonable to speak about an economic upswing. There won't be any economic miracle, and there is no need for it. We will do our utmost to return the economy to the normal temperature of 36.6C, so that the situation stabilizes and the fall stops." JM

In a statement issued after his reappointment on 28 September, Finance Minister Pynzenyk said he is remaining in the cabinet to complete the work begun during the presidency of Viktor Yushcheno, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "I am remaining because I have assumed this responsibility and cannot leave unfinished what I must accomplish," Pynzenyk said. "This is responsibility for the future of Ukraine which, due to the election of Viktor Yushchenko, has received a unique opportunity for the first time. We must not waste it." Pynzenyk also appealed to his colleagues from the Reforms and Order Party he heads not to support a split among the forces that came to power with the president. Former Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko, a member of the Reforms and Order Party, suggested earlier that Pynzenyk should quit the party if he remains in the cabinet. JM

Former Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic was arrested late on 28 September in Belgrade on charges that he ordered the release from prison on 7 June 2003 of Nenad Jovanovic, an alleged Krusevac gangster arrested in the roundup following the killing of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March of that year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In his last public appearance before his arrest, Batic told RFE/RL that he has prepared "new evidence" of alleged criminal wrongdoing on the part of Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic, who is a long-standing political rival. On 29 September, officials of Batic's conservative monarchist Christian Democratic Party of Serbia told a special press conference that the governing parties want to silence Batic because he intends to bring criminal charges against unnamed people in the cabinet over alleged financial wrongdoing. Police told the private Beta news agency that Batic will be detained for 48 hours. His lawyer said that Batic released Jovanovic because the legal time limit for his detention had expired. Batic attracted national attention in late 2004 and early 2005 when he filed a lawsuit against unnamed "persons from the Army of Serbia and Montenegro...[for] trying to falsify the truth" in the deaths of the two conscripts under suspicious circumstances on 5 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). PM

Cristina Gallach, who is spokeswoman for EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, told Reuters in Brussels on 28 September that "all the work is done" for the EU to start talks with Serbia and Montenegro on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April and 23 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 July 2005). EU foreign ministers are expected to give the final green light on 3 October, and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn is due in Belgrade on 10 October to get the talks rolling. The news agency reported from the Serbian capital that the EU has broken "with its habit of awaiting a progress report from...[the Hague's] war crimes chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte before taking such a step." The agency added that offering SAA talks is part of the EU's "leverage" in getting Belgrade's cooperation in solving the Kosova question. Most political leaders of Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority say that Belgrade lost any voice in Kosova's affairs due to its violent policies there in 1998-99. PM

Reacting to the news about SAA talks for Serbia and Montenegro, a spokesman for chief prosecutor Del Ponte told Reuters in Brussels on 28 September that the tribunal is "disappointed because [leading war crimes fugitive and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko] Mladic was not delivered [by Belgrade] as expected." The spokesman added, however, that he is "confident that we can further rely on EU support for the Serbs to intensify their search for Mladic." Del Ponte, however, told London's "Daily Telegraph" of 29 September that she believes that not only Mladic is on the loose in Serbia but also his former civilian boss, Radovan Karadzic. She told the paper that Karadzic's trail has recently "gone cold" in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that he is probably in Serbia or Montenegro. The daily noted that her charges have "serious political implications for the authorities in Belgrade." Del Ponte is due to arrive on 29 September in the Serbian capital, where the authorities previously promised her that they would arrest Mladic by 5 October. PM

Members of Vojvodina's governing coalition appealed on 27 September for Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to resign following his decision to transfer the headquarters of the state-run Oil Industry of Serbia from Novi Sad to Belgrade, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005). The Vojvodina politicians said that the transfer will mean a loss of about $1.25 billion to Vojvodina's economy. PM

In the Kacanik region of southern Kosova on 28 September, unknown persons shot and slightly wounded Colonel Dejan Jankovic, who is the 30-year-old top-ranking Serb of Kosova's 7,000-strong multiethnic police force, which includes several hundred Serbs, Reuters reported. Jankovic is chief of police in Gjilan. Kosova's government said in a statement that "such attacks send a bad message, which the government and people of Kosova find unacceptable." Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), called the shooting a "cowardly attack." Police are investigating. PM

The respected Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" on 28 September quoted unnamed sources close to Serbian Democratic Party President Dragan Cavic as saying that Republika Srpska Interior Minister Darko Matijasevic has eavesdropped on Cavic. Details of the charges are unclear. Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Pero Bukejlovic denied that any member of the government bugged or bugs other officials, saying that those who make such charges should produce evidence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Krstan Simic, who is vice president of the League of Independent Social Democrats, called for a full explanation by all those involved. Tarik Sadovic, who is a legislator from the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, said that if the charges prove true, it would mean that the Republika Srpska has reverted to practices of communist times. Matijasevic did not appear at the legislative session on 28 September. PM

A meeting of representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol along with mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Odesa on 26-27 September resulted in extending an invitation to the European Union and the United States to take part in the Transdniester settlement process as observers, Moldovan and Ukrainian news agencies reported on 27 September. "Our proposal to expand the negotiation format was accepted by all participants in the consultative meeting, and this was the meeting's chief result," Infotag quoted Moldovan Minister of Reintegration Vasile Sova as saying. EU and U.S. observers are expected to attend the next round of negotiations on Transdniester scheduled for 27-28 October in Chisinau. JM

If the purpose of a trial is to establish guilt or innocence, the judicial proceedings currently under way in Uzbekistan's Supreme Court achieved their aim on the very first day. On 20 September, court went into session and 15 men accused of active involvement in the violence that rocked Andijon on 12-13 May pronounced themselves guilty as charged -- of murder, terrorism, hostage taking, an attempt to overthrow the country's constitutional system, and myriad other crimes. But as the fact of the trial's continuation indicates, and as its substance has made abundantly clear, it is not about guilt, innocence, or even the actions of 15 men.

Since the defendants have already admitted their guilt, the trial has consisted primarily of their testimony. That testimony has reiterated and reinforced a version of events in Andijon presented by the Prosecutor-General's Office to a parliamentary commission on 5-6 September and by First Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev at a briefing for journalists on 15 September. Boiled down to its basic elements, the proffered explanation of what happened in Andijon on 12-13 May is that a vast conspiracy involving -- in no particular order -- the BBC, RFE/RL, Chechen military instructors, NGOs, training camps in Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, and extremists linked to Al-Qaeda aimed to spark a Georgian/Ukrainian/Kyrgyz-style revolution in Andijon in order to transform Uzbekistan into an Islamic state that would serve as the launching pad for a drive to establish a worldwide caliphate.

Prosecutors laid out the basics in an indictment on 20 September, the first day of the trial. They said that the accused were members of an alleged extremist group called Akramiya with links to the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group that developed close links with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan before the U.S.-led military operation in 2001) and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Prosecutors also alleged that BBC correspondent Matluba Azamatova, Institute for War and Peace Reporting correspondent Galima Bukharbaeva, and RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii had advance knowledge of the violence about to break out in Andijon.

Testimony from the defendants provided direct and indirect confirmation of these claims. Moydin Sobirov testified on 21 September that unidentified foreign media outlets conspired with the rebels, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. According to Sobirov, "Foreign defenders and the media supported our goals. Following the advice of foreign media, protests were organized near the Andijon court [in the lead-up to the violence on 12-13 May] in order to destabilize Uzbekistan." On 27 September, Ilhomjon Hojiev told the court that Tohir Yoldoshev, the fugitive leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and a known consort of Osama bin Laden, sent $200,000 to fund the operation. Hojiev received the money in Russia from an individual he identified as Qobilhoji Qosimkhojaev, who requested that the rebels call him once they started their operations so that he could pass the information on to Yoldoshev.

Yoldoshev's IMU, officially listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, was supposedly not the accused militants' sole source of financial support. Tavakkal Hojiev testified on 26 September that he heard from Qobil Parpiev, who has been identified by Uzbek authorities as one of the masterminds behind the violence, that the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent provided funds for the uprising. AP quoted Hojiev as saying, "I was told that our people received money from the American Embassy."

On 22 September, Abdulhafiz Ghoziev testified that a Chechen militant provided military training to Akramiya members in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, before the May violence, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Three of the defendants are Kyrgyz citizens. One of them, Lochinbek Imonqulov, told the court on 23 September that on 13 May he saw "most of my brothers from Osh with pistols and automatic weapons in their hands. Seventy of us had arrived from Kyrgyzstan that day." Moydin Sobirov also testified on 21 September that "spiritual leader" Akrom Mamadaliev brought "80 armed individuals and 25 unarmed people" from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan to take part in the Andijon violence.

The goal the rebels pursued was as global as the elements of the conspiracy were disparate. As Muhammadshokir Ortiqov testified on 23 September, he and his fellow extremists strove for "the creation of a caliphate, first in Uzbekistan, and then in the whole world."

Such statements suggest that the purpose of this judicial exercise warrants somewhat more scrutiny than its plausibility. As was noted at the outset, guilt and innocence are not at issue, for the defendants have all confessed their guilt. What is at issue becomes clearer if the trial is viewed not in terms of its claims and the confessions that support them, but in terms of the broader messages they imply.

One message is that the violence in Andijon represented an organized threat to state power and that the state reacted responsibly. This is at variance with the stance taken by Western governments and international organizations, which did not deny that violent unrest took place in Andijon but focused on subsequent eyewitness accounts that the government employed grotesquely disproportionate force to quell the unrest, possibly killing hundreds. Reports of a massacre prompted calls for an international inquiry from numerous quarters, including the U.S. government.

The Uzbek government, which maintains that 187 people were killed in the violence and blames militants for civilian deaths, has rejected calls for an international investigation and refused to consider the possibility that security forces overreacted to unrest. The first trial of Andijon defendants has reinforced that message with its focus on the threat to state power from extremists bent on the creation of a caliphate. Moreover, defendants' testimony has specifically rebutted the allegations that formed the core of the Western response to the Andijon violence. Abdubois Ibragimov told the court on 23 September that soldiers did not fire at unarmed civilians, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Abdulhafiz Ghoziev testified on 22 September that militants, not government forces, were responsible for the violence. He said, "I didn't see any soldiers firing. Quite the opposite, our brothers showed that they didn't know how to use weapons and didn't have any experience. We shot [each other] as a result of indiscriminate firing."

This is not the only testimony that appears to come in response to allegations of government wrongdoing. Rights organizations, in particular the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), have documented considerable evidence that coerced testimony formed the cornerstone of previous trials of alleged militants. On 20 September, the same day the trial began, HRW issued a report ("Burying the Truth: Uzbekistan rewrites the story of the Andijon massacre") that it described on its website as containing "numerous firsthand testimonies of a brutal police campaign forcing people to 'confess' that they belong to extremist religious organizations, that the protests in Andijon were violent, and that the protesters were armed." In testimony on 22 September, Azizbek Yusupov seemed to parry those very charges, telling the court that "despite the terrorist acts I committed, as [members of the alleged extremist movement] Akramiya have explained, there was no torture during the investigation." He stressed, "Law enforcement officers treated me with proper attention to human rights."

Another message the trial sends is that Uzbekistan now faces a daunting array of increasingly specific threats. In the trials that followed terror attacks in 2004, the religious extremists Uzbekistan's government has traditionally identified as its gravest menace spoke of shadowy operational links to international terror groups and ideological ties to Hizb ut-Tahrir. In a 29 March 2004 address to the nation, President Islam Karimov saw "dark forces" at work in the violence then unfolding in Tashkent. But the current insinuations of IMU and U.S. Embassy money sloshing through Kyrgyz training camps staffed by Chechen instructors, are far more specific.

The "revelation" of U.S. funding for the Andijon rebels, perhaps the most sensational aspect of the trial thus far, also sent the most nuanced message. While it cast the U.S. role in Uzbekistan in a sinister light, it did so obliquely -- Tavakkal Hojiev did not give a firsthand account, but rather said that he "heard" from Qobil Parpiev, currently in hiding at an unknown location, that the transfer of funds took place. Moreover, by curious coincidence, Hojiev's incendiary testimony emerged the same day that a high-ranking U.S. delegation arrived in Tashkent for talks with Karimov, which initial reports indicated produced no breakthroughs.

In remarks to journalists after a 27 September meeting with Karimov, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Daniel Fried, who led the U.S. delegation, confirmed that the United States will comply with a recent Uzbek request to vacate the U.S. air base in Karshi-Khanabad. He also said that democratic principles are the bedrock of U.S. cooperation with other countries and dismissed the various accusations against the United States that the trial has featured, reported. According to the BBC, Fried described the specific allegation that the U.S. funded unrest in Andijon as "ludicrous," adding, "The assertion that the U.S. supports an attack by Islamic extremists after fighting four years against exactly such people is not credible."

In the end, however, the primary message of the trial is directed at the citizens of Uzbekistan. The trial tells them that the rebels in Andijon were willing and able to resort to violence and had far-flung, well-heeled supporters. Yet it also tells them that for all this the rebels' evil plans came to naught, because they now await justice caged in a courtroom, and that their will did not hold, because they have all confessed their guilt. The message this sends is that the state stands strong with Karimov at the helm. But just as time will eventually test the accuracy of the trial's claims, so too will it cast doubt on the credibility of its messages.

At least nine people were killed and close to 30 others injured in a suicide bomb attack in the Pol-e Charkhi area of Kabul on 28 September, Pajhwak News Agency reported, quoting Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi. An unidentified source in the Defense Ministry added that the suicide bomber crashed his motorcycle into a bus carrying Afghan National Army (ANA) recruits. An anonymous Western source said that all of the victims were Afghans and none worked with the U.S.-led coalition forces or the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), AFP reported on 28 September. It is not clear whether all of the victims were ANA recruits. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said on 28 September that "Mullah Sardar Mohammad, a Taliban mujahed, carried out" the suicide bombing, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. AT

Ashraf Ramazan was killed along with one of his bodyguards on 27 September in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh Province, the Xinhua news agency reported. Ramazan was returning from a ballot-counting center when gunmen in car targeted his vehicle. Ramazan, a businessman, was a member of the Shi'a Wahdat party. In the partial counting of the ballots from Balkh, Ramazan was in fifth place. Balkh is allocated 11 seats in the lower house of the Afghan parliament. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi told AIP on 28 September that "the Taliban attacked Ashraf Ramazan" without elaborating further. AT

Two police officers and a civilian were killed and four other persons were injured on 28 September when a landmine when off in Konar Province, Pajhwak News Agency reported. Deputy chief of Konar police department Lieutenant Mohammad Hasan Farahi told Pajhwak that the mine went off as the police and civilians were combing an area where terrorists had planted new mines in an effort to scuttle the 18 September elections in Afghanistan. AT

Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, gave its approval on 28 September for the participation of German forces in an expanded ISAF, ddp reported. The special session of the Bundestag approved new and expanded roles for Germans troops in Afghanistan with a vote of 535 in favor and only 14 against; there were four abstentions. The new mandate allows German forces to be deployed in southern and western Afghanistan, leaving only the eastern parts of the country exclusively as an area of operation for the U.S.-led coalition forces. German troops are already deployed in Kabul and northern Afghanistan. In addition, the Bundestag approved an increase in the number of German troops serving with ISAF, from 2,250 to 3,000. AT

In a separate report on 28 September, ddp indicated that German forces in Afghanistan would continue to avoid involvement in counternarcotics operations. According to ddp, German Defense Minister Peter Struck told ZDF television on 28 September that while narcotics cultivation is a "major problem" in Afghanistan, it nevertheless is "a matter for the Afghans" to deal with. German forces will provide "logistical assistance" in the counternarcotics efforts, but will not confront drug traders. Other than the ongoing terrorist activities by the neo-Taliban and their allies, the greatest security threat to Afghanistan's stability is the country's opium poppy cultivation. Unless NATO decides to include active counternarcotics operations in the mandate of ISAF as it expands its area of operation, the prospects for a victory against the drug trade may be bleak. AT

The Iranian legislature approved on 28 September a motion for the government to suspend its implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), IRNA reported. A reported 155 legislators signed the motion, and 162 voted in favor of it. Forty-two voted against it and 15 abstained. Members of parliament began collecting signatures for this motion on 25 September in reaction to the previous day's resolution from the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said the same day that approval of this motion does not mean that Iran will withdraw from the NPT, IRNA reported. Nor does it mean, he told reporters, that Iran will not accept the Additional Protocol. Haddad-Adel explained: "If the [motion] is approved, it will urge the government to stop the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol until our right to access nuclear technology for a fuel cycle is officially recognized." BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 27 September, "We are definitely withdrawing from the Additional Protocol," ISNA reported. But he then appeared to scale back the note of finality by explaining that Tehran's next step depends on Europe's reaction to developments. He explained further, "The issue of withdrawing from the Additional Protocol is definite because it was purely meant to build trust and should the Majlis vote in favor of the withdrawal, it will give us an added incentive." Assefi said Tehran is preparing protest notes for the countries that voted in favor of the 24 September resolution. BS

A 28 September demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Iran turned violent, international news agencies reported. The event was organized as a protest against the United Kingdom voting in favor of an IAEA governing board resolution on 24 September that criticized Iran for its lack of cooperation and candor. Radio Farda reported that approximately 300 people participated in the demonstration, and some tried to enter the embassy grounds. The demonstrators threw rocks, tomatoes, and smoke bombs over the embassy wall. A small number of people were injured. Demonstrators also burned U.S. and U.K flags. Five student organizations were represented, state radio reported, including the Office for Strengthening Unity and the Student Basij. BS

The Basij Resistance Force began the Ya Ali Bin Talib phase of the eight-day Zolfaqar military exercises in the southwestern Khuzestan Province on 27 September, the provincial network of Iranian state television reported from Ahvaz. The exercises will take place in eight cities. Ahvaz Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri said, "The objective of the current phase of the military exercise is to confront [urban] unrest." A Guards Corps commander added that there will be "operations to confront internal unrest and agitation as well as relief and rescue operations." A television correspondent explained that approximately 70 Ashura and Al-Zahra battalions and 500 Basij combat groups are participating in the exercise, as well as Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel. Ashura units have riot-control responsibilities, and Al-Zahra units are made up of women. Meanwhile, the three-day Expectants of Mahdi phase of the Zolfaqar exercises began in Delijan, south of Qom, on 22 September, Mehr News Agency reported. This exercise also focused on confronting urban unrest. Ashura units staged the Devotees of Velayat phase near Tafresh, west of Qom, from 21-23 September. BS

At least seven people were killed and 37 were injured in the northern city of Tal Afar on 28 September in the first confirmed attack by a female suicide bomber in the Iraqi insurgency, international news agencies reported the same day. The bomber pushed her way into a crowd at an army-recruiting center and blew up an explosive device hidden beneath her clothing, the BBC reported. "A suicide bomber blew herself up in front of the recruitment center. The center was supposed to be open today for volunteers," Iraqi General Nejam Abdullah told the BBC. An Internet statement purporting to be from Al-Qaeda in Iraq said: "A blessed sister...carried out a heroic attack defending her faith...May God accept our sister among the martyrs," the BBC reported. BW

An explosion at the home of a bodyguard to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Al-Najaf killed at least six people on 28 September, international news agencies reported the same day. Sahib al-Amiri, a spokesman for al-Sadr, accused unspecified "foreign elements" of carrying out the blast, Reuters reported. In other violence, at least six people were killed and 11 wounded on 29 September in separate shooting incidents in Baghdad, international news agencies reported the same day. Two people were killed and seven wounded when gunmen opened fire on a minibus in the capital's eastern New Baghdad District. Two more were killed and one was wounded when militants fired on a bakery in Baghdad's southern Doura District. Two police officers were killed and three wounded by gunfire in western Baghdad's Al-Jihad neighborhood, CNN reported. BW

George W. Bush said on 28 September that there will likely be an upsurge in violence before Iraq votes in a constitutional referendum next month, international news agencies reported the same day. "We can expect they'll do everything in their power to try to stop the march of freedom," Bush said in remarks reported by AP. "And our troops are ready for it." Bush spoke following a meeting with General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, and General John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command. He said he dispatched the two generals to Capitol Hill to brief members of congress on the war on terrorism and operations in Iraq. Likewise, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned on 28 September of "more dark moments" in Iraq, AFP reported the same day. "None of us should underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead in Iraq. Nation building from a violent past has never been easy," Straw said. BW

U.S. Army General Casey, who commands the 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, said on 28 September that Iraq is entering into a period of "greater uncertainty" and it is "too soon to tell" when American troop levels can be reduced, Reuters reported the same day. Casey said in March and again in July that a substantial reduction of U.S. forces was possible by the spring and summer of 2006. "I think right now we're in a period of a little greater uncertainty than when I was asked that question back in July and March," Casey said. "This constitutional referendum and whether it is supported by the Sunnis to a large degree, I think, is something that we just have to watch to see how that comes out. So until we're done with this political process here, with the referendum and the elections in December, I think it's too soon to tell." BW

Kurdish leaders are examining a list of changes to Iraq's draft constitution submitted by United States Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on 28 September on behalf of the country's Sunni minority, dpa reported the same day. Sunnis are seeking a constitutional guarantee that Iraq will not be divided into separate states "under the cloak of federalism," dpa citied unidentified Kurdish politicians as saying. Khalilzad discussed the issue on 28 September with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who also chairs the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and Massud Barsani, president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq and head of the Kurdish Democratic Party. BW

Lynndie England was sentenced to three years in prison and given a dishonorable discharge on 27 September for her role in the Abu Ghurayb Prison abuse scandal, international news agencies reported the same day. The previous day she was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to maltreat prisoners, four counts of maltreatment, and one count of committing an indecent act (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 2005). After the sentence was announced, the 22-year-old army private hung her head, cried briefly, and hugged her mother, "The New York Times" reported. She was then led out of the courthouse in handcuffs and leg shackles. Earlier England took the stand, apologized for abusing prisoners, but said her behavior was influenced by Private Charles Graner, her boyfriend at the time. "I was used by Private Graner," she said. BW

The U.S. Army has conducted a preliminary investigation into allegations that American soldiers posted photographs of dead Iraqis on a website in exchange for access to pornography, international news agencies reported on 28 September. The U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division concluded that there is still insufficient evidence to pursue felony charges, AP reported on 28 September. The allegations came to light after the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for an investigation. "This disgusting trade in human misery is an insult to al those who have served in our nation's military," Arsalan Iftikhar, the group's legal director, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the BBC reported. The website was originally set up to post nude pictures of soldiers' wives and girlfriends. Troops are alleged to have provided graphic pictures of dead Iraqis to get access to it. BW