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Newsline - October 17, 2005

In an e-mail to the website that was reposted on 17 October on, Shamil Basaev said that he contributed to the planning of the 13 October multiple attacks on police, army, and Federal Security Service (FSB) facilities in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, in which he said 217 militants participated. Basaev confirmed earlier reports that the fighters who staged those attacks belong to the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the Caucasus Front, and he named the commander (amir) of that sector, who he said also commanded the Nalchik raid, as Seyfullah. Seyfullah was one of 10 amirs appointed in May by Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, the successor to slain Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). Basaev said two other commanders (of the Ossetian and Krasnodar sectors) also participated in the Nalchik attack and were slightly wounded. Basaev said his own deputy, whom he identified as Ilyas Gorchknanov, amir of the Ingush Djamaat, was killed in the Nalchik fighting. LF

In the same statement posted on, Basaev said the total losses sustained by the Nalchik attackers were 42, which is less than half the figure of 91 that KBR Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov cited on 15 October. Basaev said the militants attacked 15 separate targets at 9:14 local time, and retreated exactly two hours later, having killed or wounded approximately 300 Russian and local police and military personnel. Basaev acknowledged that the attackers' losses were "serious," and he attributed the high casualty figure to a leak of information several days earlier. He said that acting on that intelligence, the Russians deployed an additional 1,000 spetsnaz to Nalchik. LF

The press center of Kabardino-Balkaria's Yarmuk djamaat issued a statement, carried by on 17 October, confirming its members' participation in the Nalchik raids. Russian media quoted local security personnel as having claimed to have wiped out Yarmuk in two raids in Nalchik in January and late April of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January and 2 May 2005). The statement confirmed that Yarmuk is part of the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the Caucasus Front. Yarmuk further adduced and refuted three factors frequently cited in the Russian media as contributing to the rise of radical Islam in the North Caucasus. Those factors are economic stagnation and high unemployment, Russia's misguided and counterproductive policy towards the North Caucasus, and a struggle for power among local clans. The Yarmuk statement affirmed that its members are Muslims and are fighting "the Russian occupiers and their godless local minions in order to impose the law of Allah, protecting our religion, honor, and native land." LF

Speaking at the Kremlin with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov, and Federal Security Service First Deputy Director Nikolai Klimashin, President Vladimir Putin said on 15 October that people who try to attack Russian targets in the future will be decisively crushed, Channel One and other Russian media reported. It is bad that the security services failed to prevent the attack on Nalchik, but good that special forces acted efficiently, Putin said. According to official data from 17 October, 91 attackers were killed in Nalchik and over 40 captured. Thirty-three federal troops and 12 civilians were also killed. "Our actions must be commensurate with the threats that bandits pose in our country. We will [in the future] act as toughly and consistently as we did on this occasion," Channel One reported Putin as saying. VY

Interior Minister Nurgaliev, whose ministry coordinated the security operation in Nalchik, said in an interview with Channel One on 16 October that most of the attackers were local residents between the ages of 20 and 25. He said that the goal of the militants was to capture the local security services' weapons and the airport in advance of a large-scale operation scheduled for 4 November. The November date would coincide with the end of the Ramadan fast. However, on 10 October, law-enforcement agencies in Nalchik discovered a large arms cache, including 550 kilograms of explosives, and obtained information about the impending attack. This, according to Nurgaliev, pushed the militants into starting their attack earlier. Nurgaliev said that the local militant group Yarmuk appeared to be much stronger in Kabardino-Balkaria than security organs had thought (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January and 2 May 2005). Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in India on 15 October that there was no "attack" on Nalchik, NTV reported. "Nobody invaded Nalchik. It was local underground bandits," he said. VY

Mikhail Aleksandrov, the head of the Commonwealth of Independent States Institute's Caucasus department, said that Nalchik is not an isolated event, but one element in a continuing underground war in the Caucasus, reported on 13 October. "The war continues in the North Caucasus, in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, North Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria," he said. He also said that he believes that Chechen attackers were involved in the Nalchik raid and that he does not agree that unemployment and poor living conditions fuel the fires of militancy in the North Caucasus. "In Tver Oblast, there is unemployment and a grave economic situation, but there are no Wahhabis there," he said. Meanwhile, former KGB Colonel Sergei Goncharov, the chairman of a veterans' association for the Alfa antiterrorism force, said the political and economic conditions are ripe for an explosion of violence in the Caucasus, TV-Tsentr reported on 15 October. "Politically, there is no leader in the North Caucasus who controls the situation in his republic. Economically, all republics are living on federal handouts and the ruling clans are competing for the right to steal federal funds," he said. VY

Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow on 15 October on an unplanned visit and met with President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian and international media reported. They reportedly discussed the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear program, and the Middle East peace process. Rice briefed Putin on her recent Central Asia tour, and Putin told journalists near Moscow that "Russia has many common interests with the United States and with Central Asian states in fighting terrorism and settling the situation in Afghanistan," RTR reported. In her talks with Lavrov, Rice tried to convince the Russian side to change its position on Iran's nuclear program and support the U.S. and EU demand to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. However, Lavrov said at a joint press conference with Rice that "We see no grounds for passing this issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency to other organizations," RIA-Novosti reported. Rice also raised the issue of Russia's attitude to Syria. The United States is concerned about Syria's possible involvement in the February assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and believes the country is partly responsible for the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, TV-Tsentr reported on 15 October. Finally, Lavrov told journalists he did not discuss with Rice the fate of former Russian Atomic Energy Minster Yevgenii Adamov as it is "not a political, but a legal issue," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 15 October. VY

At the same press conference, Lavrov insisted that Iran has a legitimate right to develop peaceful nuclear programs, "but in a way that will not create the risk of proliferation," RIA-Novosti reported. However, Rice noted that, "This is not an issue of rights, this is an issue of whether or not the [nuclear] fuel cycle can be trusted in Iran." In an interview with RTR on 16 October, Lavrov denied rumors that during talks with Rice a deal was discussed according to which Russia would not object to U.S. military bases in Central Asia and, in return, Washington would lift its objections to Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation. "We are not going to trade our right to participate in Iran's peaceful nuclear program, which nobody has questioned, including the United States," Lavrov said. Lavrov also reiterated that "outside extremists," rather than the Uzbek authorities, were responsible for the bloodshed in Andijon in May. VY

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was attending a Moscow meeting organized by the J. P. Morgan consulting company, met with President Putin on 12 October, Russian media reported. In an interview with TV-Tsentr on 15 October, Kissinger said that he does not see anything unusual in Rice's unplanned Moscow visit after her visit to Central Asia last week. Kissinger said that Russia should not be afraid that these countries are listening to the United States because it is advocating democracy and this is an attractive prospect. Kissinger also said that, with regard to Iran's nuclear program and how it relates to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the interests of Russia and the United States are identical. The difference, he said, is in the implementation of these policies. Kissinger said that after his return to the United States, he will report to the White House about his meetings and his tone will be positive. VY

Speaking at a testing ground in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan on 16 October, Defense Minister Ivanov said he does not exclude the possibility of holding trilateral Russian-Indian-Chinese military exercises, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov is in India watching joint Russian-Indian military exercises. "In principle, [trilateral exercises] are possible," Ivanov said. "We've held [bilateral] military exercises [with China and India] and there is nothing unusual in this." However, Ivanov rejected the idea that Russia may form a military bloc with China and India. "In the 21st century, blocs and unions are becoming a thing of the past," Ivanov said. He also added that "Indo-Russian defense cooperation has been steadily growing for almost 50 years now. India's share in Russia's arms exports amounts to a minimum of 40 percent." VY

President Putin has nominated Roman Abramovich to serve a second term as governor of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 October, citing the Kremlin's press service. Abramovich was first elected Chukotka's governor on 24 December 2000. RIA-Novosti quoted Konstantin Pulikovskii, Putin's representative to the Far Eastern Federal District, as saying that Abramovich is a responsible top manager and Chukotka is one of the most rapidly developing Far Eastern regions. Abramovich now must be confirmed by the Chukotka legislature. Abramovich said in 2003 that he would not run for a second term because "the Chukotka project turned out to be too expensive" and "does not bring any satisfaction." But "Kommersant" reported on 17 October that the early announcement of his nomination, more than two months before the end of his term, indicates that Pulikovskii and the Kremlin have convinced him to remain in office. BW

Approximately 200 Russian and foreign students held a March Against Hatred on 15 October in Voronezh, Interfax reported the same day. The march took place days after police arrested two 17-year-old males in connection with the murder of a Peruvian student (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 October 2005). The Youth Human Rights Movement's Voronezh branch organized the rally, saying they wanted to show foreign students and the public that there are many in the city who oppose neofascism, xenophobia, and racism. According to the organizers, Voronezh city authorities initially denied permission to hold the march, but local law-enforcement agencies later agreed to stop traffic along the city's main street to allow the demonstration to proceed. BW

A group of young men attacked a Muslim prayer house in Sergiyev Posad in the Moscow Oblast on 14 October, Interfax reported the next day, citing the Council of Muftis of Russia. "Violating the security of Muslim believers, a group of skinheads armed with reinforcement bars and spades broke into a prayer house and assaulted its visitors, shouting 'Russia for Russians' and 'There is no place for Muslims in Russia,'" the Council of Muftis of Russia said in a statement circulated in Moscow on 15 October. According to the group's statement, the attackers seriously injured Arsan Sadriyev, a local Muslim leader. Local law-enforcement officials quoted by Interfax, however, said the attack was a simple case of disorderly conduct and not related to extremism. Sadriyev "was battered by two unidentified young men, who were heavily intoxicated," an unidentified law-enforcement official told Interfax. "This has no relation to extremism or skinheads," the official added. BW

Pascal Lamy, the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said on 16 October that he does not expect Russia and Ukraine to complete their accession talks by the end of this year, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. According to Lamy, Saudi Arabia is the only WTO aspirant likely to complete accession talks by the time the economy ministers of member countries gather in Hong Kong for their week-long session in mid-December. Russian government officials have said they hoped to complete accession talks before year's end. BW

Alexander Slesarev, the former owner of Sodbusinessbank and Creditrust, was shot dead outside Moscow together with his wife and daughter, Russian and international news agencies reported on 16 October. Unidentified gunmen fired on Slesarev's Mercedes and an accompanying off-road vehicle from a passing car on a road south of Moscow, Reuters reported. A clergyman and a nun, who were in the off-road vehicle, were also killed. Sodbusinessbank was at the center of a banking crisis last year when the Russian Central Bank revoked its license on suspicion that it was laundering criminal funds. "The murder may be linked with the revocation of the banking license and the unfulfilled banking liabilities," a law-enforcement source said, according to Interfax. ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified law-enforcement official as saying that Slesarev had links with criminal groups. BW

Ashot Keshishian, who was reelected on 9 October mayor of the small town of Nor Hajn near Yerevan, has resigned from that post, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 October. Keshishian was taken into custody on 24 September after shooting dead in a dispute one of his two rival candidates in the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September and 11 October 2005). LF

The Election Observation Mission in Baku of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has released its second report on the preparations for the 6 November parliamentary elections ( The report covers the period from 24 September-7 October, and notes that the campaign is becoming "increasingly polarized." The report expresses concern over "disproportionate restrictions" on the freedom of assembly which, it claims, violate the law; intervention by local government officials in support of candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), in direct violation of an 11 May presidential decree banning such intervention; attempts to pressure or bribe voters; lack of objectivity on the part of local election commissions in addressing complaints by opposition or independent candidates; the inaccuracy and incompleteness of some voter lists; and the haphazard distribution of voter identification cards. LF

The interim OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission report further noted that "free airtime on television is being distributed in accordance with legal requirements," including the staging of debates between candidates. It added, however, that the remaining coverage of political events by both Azerbaijani State Television and the newly launched Public Television devotes disproportionate coverage to the incumbent president, government, and YAP. That programming is almost always positive or neutral in tone, compared with generally negative coverage of the main Azadlyq opposition election bloc. LF

Former Gyanja police chief and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Natig Efendiev was arrested during the night of 16-17 October, as was former Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov, reported on 17 October. Police reportedly confiscated a pistol from Yusifov together with large amounts of U.S. dollars and euros that they claim he received from DPA Chairman Rasul Guliev to finance the latter's campaign for the 6 November parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, Guliev was due to arrive in Baku on 17 October, ending a nine-year exile, despite warnings from the Prosecutor-General's Office that he faces immediate arrest on charges of large-scale embezzlement. Guliev told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on 17 October he is "absolutely determined" to return to Azerbaijan. He said his objective in doing so is to "establish a tradition of democratic elections." Police blocked access roads to Baku airport on 17 October and turned back members of the Election Observation Mission, reported. LF

Former Naval Captain Djanmirza Mirzoev returned to Baku on 15 October from the Netherlands in order to cast his ballot in the 6 November elections, reported. Mirzoev, who campaigned to publicize corruption within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, was sentenced in November 2001 to eight years' imprisonment on charges, which he denied, of arranging the 1993 murder of a prominent admiral (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 26 August 1999 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October and 6 November 2001). He was pardoned in May 2004 by President Ilham Aliyev and is currently preparing to appeal his case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili announced on 15 October at a ceremony to honor highway construction engineers that he plans to seek a second presidential term in order to bring to completion the work he has begun, Caucasus Press reported. His term expires in January 2009. Saakashvili said he will build a new motorway linking western Georgia with the Abkhaz capital and enter Abkhazia by that road. He also tasked highway engineers with completing the Tbilisi-Kaspi highway in 2006 and the Tbilisi-Gori highway in 2007, and with repairing the road over the Rikoti Pass in 2008. LF

Meeting in Tbilisi on 16 October, the Public Movement for the Salvation of Science and Education, which is an NGO representing academics and researchers, issued an appeal to President Saakashvili to dismiss Education and Science Minister Kakha Lomaya, and Caucasus Press reported on 16 and 17 October respectively. Lomaya came under attack one year ago in connection with his proposals for reforming the entire education system (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 21 November 2004). The NGO activists argued that that ongoing reform is undermining the basis for conducting scientific research in Georgia. They also protested Lomaya's endorsement of investigations by financial police into the financing of research institutes. LF

An Almaty regional court on 13 October ordered KazNIC, a domain-registering company, to stop hosting the Navigator website at, reported on 16 October. Navigator Editor In Chief Yuriy Mizinov told in a telephone interview that he has received an official letter from KazNIC, informing him about the changes. As of 30 September, new regulations on websites and domains in Kazakhstan took effect. According to these regulations, non-Kazakh domains can be denied registration. The previous Navigator domain was hosted in Russia; the site will continue with a new domain of AN

In a 16 October interview with RTR, Sergei Lavrov said that as international antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan are winding down, there is no need for a U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Lavrov called for a restoration of the "previous state of affairs" in the region. He said that the Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is part of the Collective Security Treaty, to which both those Central Asian states are members. Lavrov insisted that Russian military bases in Central Asia help to combat terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Last week, during her brief visit to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that America does not plan to have a permanent military presence in Central Asia. AN

Kurmanbek Bakiev said on 15 October that in 2006 Kyrgyzstan's GDP growth should be at least 8 percent, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Speaking to a joint session of the government and parliament, Bakiev said that this goal is feasible, and that to achieve it, the agricultural sector should be developed and an orderly system of governance installed. The Kyrgyz president urged officials to resign if they are unsure whether they can accomplish the outlined goals. AN

Experts from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have concluded negotiations in Bishkek on the delimitation of the countries' border, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 16 October. The head of the Kyrgyz delegation, Salamat Alamanov, told RFE/RL that the parties exchanged documents stating their positions on disputed border territories and agreed to work toward a solution. According to the Kyrgyz official, there are currently some 50 disputed areas. The length of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border is around 1,300 kilometers. AN

Forty-five women, all victims of human trafficking, have been released in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), ITAR-TASS reported on 15 October, quoting Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov. All of the freed women were reportedly involved in prostitution. According to Bobokhonov, the release of the women is the result of negotiations between Tajik law-enforcement agencies and their counterparts in the UAE. ITAR-TASS reported that several thousand Tajik women are currently involved in prostitution in foreign countries. AN

Saparmurat Niyazov's new book, "Mahribanlarim" ("My Dear All"), was launched in Ashgabat on 15 October, the official site reported. Turkmen government official, intellectuals, teachers, and students participated in the ceremony, the agency reported. The new book reportedly consists of Niyazov's poetry and prose; the leitmotiv is the eternal connection between generations. According to, Niyazov praises the beauties of his homeland and its history, notions of courage, dignity, and love. "Mahribanlarim" is Niyazov's fifth book published within the past several years. AN

People in Minsk and some other Belarusian cities lit candles in their windows in the evening of 16 October to mark a 'Day of Solidarity' with politically oppressed compatriots and the families of missing opposition activists, Belapan and the Charter-97 website ( reported. The action came in response to appeals to participate from Iryna Krasouskaya, wife of "disappeared" businessman Anatol Krasouski; journalist Iryna Khalip; and opposition youth activist Mikita Sasim. Small rallies to support democracy in Belarus were held the same day in Warsaw and Kyiv. Students at six universities in the U.S. states of California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Washington organized marches on 16 October in support of democracy in Belarus. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said at a meeting with some 20 Ukrainian industrial and financial tycoons on 14 October that the government and big business in Ukraine need to "hold out hands to each other and find understanding on key strategic issues," Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko called on domestic oligarchs to invest in strategic projects in the country, including in developing transport corridors, aviation, rocket manufacturing, high technologies, and machine building. He also appealed to them to leave the shadow economy sector and pay taxes as expected. Yushchenko said he has instructed the government to draft within a month a law that would guarantee property rights to facilities privatized before 2005. JM

Some 3,000 adherents of nationalist and national-patriotic organizations took part in a rally on Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main boulevard, on 15 October to mark the 63rd anniversary of the creation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Ukrainian and international media reported. Participants demanded that the government recognize the UPA as a warring party in World War II and that UPA soldiers be given combatant rights. Fistfights broke out and eggs and kefir cartons were used as projectiles when the rally was approached by some 8,000 followers of the Communist Party and the Progressive Socialist Party, which routinely denounce the UPA as a fascist organization. The UPA, which numbered more than 100,000 in western Ukraine at its peak in 1943, fought for Ukraine's independence against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Army, and Polish anti-Nazi guerillas during World War II. JM

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Pascal Lamy has said Ukraine will not be able to conclude negotiations on WTO membership that would open the way for acceptance into the organization at its summit in Hong Kong in December, Ukrainian media reported on 17 October. Meanwhile, President Yushchenko said in an interview with the BBC on 16 October that he believes Ukrainian accession to the WTO this year is a realistic goal. JM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that Belgrade is prepared to grant Kosova broad autonomy, but warned that outright independence could tip the Balkan region into crisis, AFP reported on 15 October. "We are ready to give Kosova a good deal of autonomy. Any other option would not solve the problem, but rather cause a larger and deeper regional crisis," Kostunica said. Kostunica also said he is confident that the United Nations Security Council will not allow any country to force a unilateral decision on Serbia that affects its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Serbia's RTS television reported. "The question for Kosovo and Metohija should be solved as in any other democratic country through different forms of autonomy," Kostunica said. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has said that independence and autonomy are the only two likely options for Kosova and that Washington does not favor any particular option (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2005). BW

In a meeting with Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic on 14 October, Burns said Belgrade must hand over remaining war-crimes suspects if it wants closer ties with the West, AP reported the same day. Serbia-Montenegro faces a choice between "a prosperous future or remaining a hostage to the fugitives" sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, Burns told Draskovic, according to a statement released by Serbia's Foreign Ministry. Washington wants Belgrade to arrest Ratko Mladic -- wanted for his role in masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre -- by mid-November, in time for the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war. BW

Forensic experts in Bosnia-Herzegovina announced on 16 October that they have unearthed the remains of 482 Muslim victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Reuters reported the same day. According to the forensic experts, the mass grave in the village of Liplje is the third largest that has been discovered in the country. "We found eight complete and 474 incomplete bodies," Murat Hurtic, head of the regional commission for missing persons, told Reuters. Hurtic said he believes that five separate graves his team has excavated in Liplje contain the bodies of about 800 to 1,000 Muslims killed by Bosnian Serb forces at the eastern Petkovci dam after fleeing Srebrenica in July 1995. BW

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said on 14 October that the European Union has asked him to postpone a referendum on the independence of Montenegro, Beta and B-92 reported the same day. The Montenegrin government has been planning to hold the referendum in April 2006, but Brussels would like to see it pushed back to the early fall. Djukanovic said he wants to fully cooperate with the EU, but he cannot disregard national and state interests. "We want complete cooperation with the EU, but we can achieve this in other ways." Djukanovic said. Likewise, Ranko Krivokapic, the speaker of Montenegro's parliament, said the independence referendum -- which has been delayed several times - can no longer be postponed, Hina reported on 16 October. "We helped everyone, but there is no more delaying," Krivokapic said. BW

Transdniester President Igor Smirnov has declared that he wants monitors from the Organization of Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine to inspect "military plants" in the region, BASA reported on 15 October. "I have invited Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE to monitor the military plants that do not exist but are named this way," Smirnov said. "These are enterprises that produce weapons with which we allegedly make business," he claimed. "Observers have already arrived, I have signed an order in this regard. I think that the results of monitoring will demonstrate the mendacious nature of accusations hurled by those who rule Moldova." Smirnov explained that he made the decision following the visit of a Russian delegation led by Russian Security Council deputy head Yurii Zubakov to Tiraspol last week. Chisinau has repeatedly accused Tiraspol of selling weapons of its own manufacture and from Russian military arsenals in the breakaway region. JM

Two explosions in the city of Ahvaz in southwestern Iran on 15 October were responsible for the death of five people, Iranian state radio reported on 16 October. Less than two hours after the explosions occurred, Al-Alam, Iran's official Arabic-language satellite news network, was connecting them with Great Britain. "Ahvaz has previously witnessed such blasts. Investigations have proved that the British troops in Iraq were involved in these," Al-Alam commented.Indeed, explosions and other forms of unrest have been occurring in southwestern Khuzestan Province since April, and the Iranian government has often attributed these incidents to foreign sources.

To date, however, no evidence to support these allegations has been offered. Tehran may be using a foreign scapegoat to deflect attention from simmering ethnic grievances in the region, or it could be retaliating against British accusations that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with explosives. Tehran-London relations have deteriorated, furthermore, since Iran abandoned its temporary suspension of uranium-enrichment activities.

A "Mr. Shariati," identified as the deputy governor-general of Khuzestan for political-security affairs, said shortly after the bombings that they took place on Naderi and Salman Farsi streets around 5:15 p.m. local time, state television reported. Shariati said the bombs were placed in trash bins and were not very powerful, but because they went off in a crowded area, about 90 people were injured.

Suspicions of British intentions run deep in the Arab-inhabited southwest, and this was immediately apparent (see "Iran: Blaming British For Arab Unrest Has Historical Roots").

"Who could it have been but Britain?," an anonymous bystander told state television just hours after the bombings. The bystander said Britain's objective is "creating discord." He added, "In this holy month, they want to create discord between Shi'a and Sunnis."

Iranian officials contributed to these suspicions. General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij Resistance Force, said in the northwestern city of Ardabil on 16 October, "The explosions in Ahvaz are linked to elements outside the borders of the country and only the British have been involved in them," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Hejazi said Britain is trying to make Iran seem insecure.

A member of the Iranian legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaedin Borujerdi, said on 16 October, "In view of the presence of British forces near the country's borders, there is concern about their involvement in the Ahvaz explosions, just as we had information about their involvement in the previous incidents and unrest in Khuzestan." Borujerdi announced that in two days the ministers of foreign affairs, of intelligence and security, and of the interior, as well as the chief of the national police, will attend a meeting to discuss events in Ahvaz, Mehr news agency reported. The British Embassy in Tehran denied any involvement in the 15 October bombings and offered condolences, ILNA reported on 16 October. "There have been allegations of involvement of the British in Khuzestan [bombings] in the past which the British government denies," the embassy statement said. "Any involvement of the British government in these terrorist attacks is entirely baseless." The British Embassy expressed its willingness to cooperate with Tehran in bringing the culprits to justice.

Foreign sources received some of the blame for the explosions in Ahvaz in June. Explosions at three oil wells in Ahvaz on 1 September also were attributed to foreigners. Dasht-e Azadegan parliamentary representative Seyyed Nezam Mollahoveyzeh said afterward that the bombers are "provided for and guided by London," "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 September. Hamid Zanganeh, who represents Ahvaz, said on 6 September, "Undoubtedly, mercenaries of foreign powers were involved in the blasts," ILNA reported.

Yet, in early October judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad attributed them to Iranian dissidents. "The main defendants in the case of the Ahvaz blasts were refugee members of SAVAK [the Iranian monarchy's intelligence and security organization] and the families of the members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization who had been executed," "Mardom-Salari" on 6 October quoted him as saying.

Nevertheless, the accusations against the British continued in the following days. Khuzestan police commander Issa Darai said on 10 October that a four-man gang of weapons smugglers confessed that the U.K. and U.S. militaries, as well as Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, were promoting the smuggling of arms to Iran, Al-Alam and Mehr news agency reported. Darai described the seizure of handguns and Kalashnikov rifles.

An Iraqi security official identified only as "Abu Ali" said on 11 October that the British Royal Marines have a plan calling for the secession of Khuzestan Province, Fars news agency reported. The U.K. Foreign Office was reportedly involved with the training of mercenaries who later returned to Iraq to work as police in Al-Amarah. Abu Ali said the British Embassy in Tehran knows of the plan, which coincides with eavesdropping and espionage along Iraq's border with Khuzestan Province, as well as satellite imagery of the province's oil resources. He said London spent some $200 million for this plan, which includes propagating immorality, distributing weapons, cooperating with the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, and identifying rioters as freedom fighters.

Tehran's accusations of British interference overlook the ethnic heterogeneity of the Iranian population. Arabs make up a sizable minority in Iran (3 percent of the total population of some 69 million). Many ethnic Arabs live in the southwest, and one of their major grievances is that although much of the country's oil wealth comes from this area, they do not benefit from it. They also complain of underdevelopment, discrimination in securing jobs, and poor educational opportunities.

Nasser Sudani, a parliamentarian from Ahvaz, hinted at this in his 27 September pre-agenda speech to the legislature. "Saving Khuzestan from the existing crisis and the quagmire of problems requires everybody's support, and if we hesitate about taking required measures we will have to feel regret in the future." "Jomhuri-yi Islami" quoted him as saying the next day. "Justice requires paying special attention to this province and settling the problems facing its people," Sudani added.

Furthermore, Tehran's most recent accusations could be a reaction to British accusations of its involvement in Iraq. In early October, London complained that Iran and Lebanese Hizballah have provided Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated explosive devices that have killed a number of British troops. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 6 October that the explosives "lead us either to Iranian elements or the Hizballah, because they are similar to devices used by Hizballah that is funded and supported by Iran." And more recently, British officials accused Iran of running training camps for bombers in Iraq, "The Times" of London reported on 12 October.

The head of the transitional parliamentary secretariat has said that the National Assembly's first session could be held as early as 1 November, official Radio Afghanistan reported on 15 October. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) previously announced that the first session of the new Afghan parliament will begin at the end of Lendai (22 November to 21 December). A budget of 250 million afghanis (around $5 million) has been earmarked for parliamentarians' salaries and other costs, according to Radio Afghanistan. AT

The JEMB has fired around 50 officials for suspected fraud, Voice of America reported on 16 October. The JEMB's chief of operations, Richard Atwood, said that 650 ballot boxes, containing around 3 percent of the votes, will not be counted due to suspicion that they contain illegal ballots. Atwood ruled out a recount, saying the fraud was not widespread and will not affect the overall integrity of the 18 September parliamentary and provincial-council polls (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 October 2005). AT

The Election Complaints Commission disqualified three candidates on 16 October, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Commission Chairman Grant Kippen said that one of the candidates was disqualified for having links to illegal armed groups, while the other two had failed to resign from their government positions before running for office, as required by law. The disqualified candidates are from Badakhshan, Kandahar, and Oruzgan provinces. According to Kippen, about 1,200 of the approximately 6,000 complaints his commission has received were registered after election day and include reports of attempts to intimidate candidates and irregularities in the vote-counting process. While Kippen upheld the integrity of the vote-counting process, he promised that his office will seriously investigate all complaints received. AT

The JEMB announced in a 16 October press release the first certified results for Farah and Nimroz provinces in western and southwestern Afghanistan, respectively ( The JEMB also announced provisional results for 10 provinces, bringing to 21 the number of provinces for which provisional results have been announced. JEMB Chairman Besmellah Besmel said that as his office continues to release "both provisional and final results," candidates must "recognize that only 669 of them will win a seat while over 5,000 of them will have to accept the disappointment of not being elected." Besmel did not give a timetable for the announcement of certified results for all 34 provinces. Many candidates have staged protests throughout Afghanistan alleging irregularities in the vote-counting process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2005). AT

The U.K. Ministry of Defense said in a 14 October statement that a rocket struck Kandahar airfield the same day. No one was injured in the attack but one Royal Air Force Harrier fighter jet was destroyed and another was damaged, Britain's "The Sunday Telegraph" reported on 16 October. The RAF has six Harrier jets in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Sergeant Marina Elvan, said on 16 October that a second rocket struck Kandahar airfield on 14 October, injuring a U.S. serviceman, Pajhwak News Agency reported. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the neo-Taliban has been targeting coalition bases in Kandahar and its surrounding provinces for the past three years. Damage to coalition personnel or equipment resulting from such attacks has been very rare. AT

Sergei Lavrov said on 16 October that there will be no need for the U.S.-led coalition forces to have military bases in Central Asia once the security situation in Afghanistan improves, Interfax reported. "As soon as the threat of terrorism starts to fade [in Afghanistan] -- presently it remains, but no longer requires active hostilities -- and as it continues to decrease, it will be correct to return the developments to their old course," Lavrov said. Uzbekistan has already terminated an agreement to allow U.S. military bases on its soil, but coalition forces continue to use bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for operations against neo-Taliban and their allies. Moscow has previously described the situation in Afghanistan as becoming worse and more unstable (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 July 2005). AT

Three new spokesmen were introduced by the neo-Taliban on 14 October following the arrest of Mufti Latifullah Hakimi by Pakistani forces earlier this month, Kabul-based Tolu television reported on 14 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 7 October 2005). Abdul Hai Motma'in, who has previously spoken on behalf of the movement, called Tolu on 14 October and said that "the Taliban leadership" has assigned him as the movement's "spokesman on political and important affairs." Qari Mohammad Yosuf has been assigned to serve as the spokesman for the "southwestern regions of the country including Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar, Oruzgan, Farah, Nimroz, Herat, and Ghor provinces," Motma'in said. A man identified only as Hanif has been assigned to speak for the "southeastern regions of the country -- including Paktika, Paktiya, Khost, Maidan [Wardak], Logar, Kabul, Nangarhar, Konar, Laghman, and northeastern regions." The report does not comment on the fact that Kabul has apparently been assigned to both Mohammad Yusof and Hanif. On 8 October, Salimullah Mojahed said he had been appointed as the "main Taliban spokesman" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). AT

Two explosions in the Khuzestan Province city of Ahvaz on 15 October killed at least five people and wounded some 90 others, Radio Farda and Iranian state television reported. A "Mr. Shariati," identified as the deputy governor-general of Khuzestan for political-security affairs, said shortly after the bombings that they took place on two streets around 5:15 p.m. local time. Shariati said the bombs were placed in trash bins and were not very powerful, but there were many casualties because they went off in a crowded area. Iranian officials and state media have attributed the bombings to the United Kingdom. Bombings in Khuzestan Province during the summer were blamed on the U.K., although evidence of this has not been provided. BS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 16 October that there is no legal reason to refer the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, IRNA reported. The legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee approved on 16 October the general principles of a bill that calls on the government to suspend its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if Iran is referred to the UN Security Council, Fars News Agency reported. The committee is scheduled to review the specifics of the bill on 18 October. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on 16 October that Iran will not be committed to its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol if the 24 September International Atomic Energy Agency governing-board resolution on Iran is not amended, state radio reported. Meanwhile, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 15 October that Iran is ready to hold talks with Europe, but it will not accept any preconditions for doing so, state radio reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani dismissed the possibility of suspending activities at the Isfahan Uranium Enrichment Facility. BS

Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Mohammad Hussein Safar-Harandi has appointed Alaedin Zohurian as director of the Domestic Press and News Agencies Department, ISNA reported on 15 October. Zohurian was the deputy managing director of the "Jam-i Jam" daily, which is linked with the state broadcasting agency. Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has appointed Hojatoleslam Zaeri as editor in chief of "Hamshahri," the municipality's daily, Mehr News Agency reported on 14 October, citing an anonymous source. Zaeri was the editor in chief of a publication called "Hamshahri-yi Mahalleh." BS

Abbas Darvish Tavangar, formerly an editor at the ultraconservative "Resalat" daily and a frequent contributor to the Ansar Hizbullah's "Ya Lisarat al-Hussein" weekly and the Islamic Coalition Party's "Shoma" weekly, has been appointed editor in chief of the conservative Fars News Agency, "Etemad" reported on 13 October. Tavangar succeeds Bijan Moghaddam, who was appointed editor in chief of "Iran" newspaper, which is connected with the Islamic Republic News Agency. Moghaddam's appointment was reported on 8 October by Fars News Agency. The deputy minister for press affairs at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, Alireza Mokhtarpur, said on 8 October that the appointment of Moghaddam at "Iran" and Ahmad Khademolmelleh at IRNA is in keeping with "the news needs of a society, which, by choosing the new government, voted for the initial, lofty aims of the Islamic revolution." Moghaddam said the newspaper would follow a line that adheres to the new government's aims. He is a member of the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami), as is President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. BS

Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi has been replaced by Hussein Entezami, ISNA reported on 14 October. Entezami is the founder and managing director of "Jam-i Jam" newspaper, which is linked with the state broadcasting agency. National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani has appointed Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli as secretary and deputy head of the council, IRNA reported on 11 October. Larijani previously served as chief of state broadcasting, and Rahmani-Fazli was the deputy head of that organization. BS

Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar told reporters during a 15 October press briefing after polls closed that turnout across Iraq's 18 governorates was medium (33-66 percent turnout) to high (above 66 percent turnout). The percentage of eligible voters who went to the polls in the volatile Al-Anbar governorate was not released, while there was low voter turnout (less than 33 percent) in the Al-Qadisiyah governorate in south-central Iraq. U.S. media cited local electoral officials as saying that turnout was high in the Sunni-populated Diyala and Ninawah governorates, where it appears the draft constitution was approved. Officials said they expected the referendum to fail in the Sunni-populated Salah Al-Din and Al-Anbar governorates, reported on 17 October. If only Salah Al-Din and Al-Anbar governorates reject the constitution, Sunnis will have failed in their rejection of the draft, as the Transitional Administrative Law stipulates that the draft can only fail if three or more governorates reject it. Adil al-Lami, director general of the electoral commission, cautioned media outlets during a 16 October interview with Al-Arabiyah television, saying the commission has not released any official figures on the referendum, and thus, media reports remain speculative. KR

Officials from the Independent Electoral Commission said there was little violence on referendum day, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 16 October. Hamdiyah al-Husayni told reporters on 15 October that there were a few reported cases of ballot boxes, papers, and envelopes being stolen, but that the incidents did not affect the voting process because the commission had provided extra ballots to voting centers in anticipation of such events. She said that one unidentified news channel gave $5 bills to people to vote "no" in the referendum. Ten polling-station workers were abducted by terrorists at two polling centers in the Al-Jazirah and Al-Khalidiyah neighborhoods of Baghdad. Farid Ayar told the same press briefing that 5,852 polling centers out of a planned 6,200 were open to voters. The number is about 700 higher than the number of polling centers opened for the January election. KR

The Presidency Council has reportedly announced that national elections will be held on 15 December, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 16 October. Under the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraqis must hold parliamentary elections by 31 December. KR

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told reporters in Cairo on 16 October that he will proceed with his upcoming trip to Iraq despite threats and intimidation from insurgent groups, MENA reported the same day. "It is a big political responsibility that we must shoulder," Musa said. "Intimidation will not do any good." He called the visit a mission that concerns not only him and the Arab League, but "concerns the future of the Arab world." "It is the first time an Arab political representative talks about such an initiative in the name of all Arabs, and I will do my best to render it a success," Musa said. MENA reported that Musa was expected to leave for Iraq on 17 October. KR