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Newsline - November 2, 2005

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 1 November that minority Yukos shareholders had no grounds to file a lawsuit against the Russian government in a U.S. court, RIA-Novosti reported the next day. Twelve Yukos shareholders filed a $6 billion lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington court on 25 October against the Russian government, four state-owned energy companies, and several top Russian government officials. The lawsuit accuses the Russian government of conspiracy to nationalize Yukos without compensating owners. Khristenko, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller, and Sibneft head Sergei Bogdanchikov are all named in the lawsuit. Speaking on the television channel Rossiya, Khristenko said the shareholders should have filed suit against Yukos management, not the Russian government. He also said that since Yukos is a Russian company, there are no grounds for the shareholders to sue in a U.S. court. BW

Russia's United Coalition of Democratic Forces said in a statement released on 1 November that it is determined to win power and turn Russia into a modern European state, Interfax reported the same day. The coalition includes Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces, Green Russia, and the Unified People's Party of Soldiers' Mothers. "An authoritarian regime has asserted itself in Russia. The fundamental democratic institutions are being purposefully destroyed.... The authoritarian model of government has no future in the 21st century and is throwing Russia hopelessly backward and pushing it toward the final loss of competitiveness and toward a breakup," the statement read. "It is our civil and political duty to use constitutional methods, come to power in Russia, and guarantee the unconditional observance of the constitution and law, human rights and freedom, and honest competition, and turn our country into a modern, socially oriented European state." BW

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 1 November offered to run for president as the single candidate representing democratic forces, Interfax reported the same day. "I am sure that a single candidate should be nominated to represent the democratic forces in the presidential elections in 2008," Kasyanov said at a meeting with political and business leaders in Samara. "I can be, and I am prepared to be, this candidate." Kasyanov accused the Kremlin of dismantling Russia's fledgling democratic institutions during Putin's rule. "All principal characteristics inherent in a democratic state have been dismantled," he said. "The judicial system is under permanent pressure from the executive authorities, virtually all federal [television] channels depend on the state, and direct gubernatorial elections have been abolished." BW

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on Syria to abide by a UN Security Council resolution calling for full cooperation in an investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Russian news agencies reported on 1 November. "I hope the time that Syria has before the Mehlis commission completes its investigation, which it should do by December 15..., will be used by the Syrians to fulfill the terms that this resolution sets," Lavrov told Rossiya television on 1 November. The Security Council voted unanimously on 31 October for a resolution ordering Syria to cooperate fully with a UN probe headed by chief investigator Detlev Mehlis into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, or face possible "further action" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2005). BW

Russia intends to participate in former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov's appeal of the Swiss decision to extradite him to the United States, Interfax reported on 1 November. "Taking into account that the decision of the Swiss authorities directly affects the Russian Federation's rights and legitimate interests, it intends to take part in the proceedings as well," the Foreign Ministry said in a 1 November statement. However, a spokesman for the Swiss higher court said on 2 November that Russia will not be allowed to participate in Adamov's extradition proceedings because it is prohibited by Swiss law, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Adamov has been detained on U.S. charges of fraud and money laundering since 2 May. The Swiss Federal Justice Department ruled on 3 October to extradite Adamov to the United States, but Adamov's lawyers have appealed the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, 19, and 20 May, 8 July, 12 and 30 August, 3, 4, and 5 October 2005). BW

During a visit to the Netherlands, President Vladimir Putin urged Dutch businessmen to invest in Russia's hi-tech sector rather than in fuel and energy, Russian news agencies reported on 1 November. "We have perfect opportunities to implement joint high-tech projects," ITAR-TASS reported him as saying. "Both the Netherlands and Russia are interested in such. We are interested in venture funds and close industrial cooperation in high-tech industries." Putin noted that the vast majority of Dutch investment in Russia has thus far been in the fuel and energy sector. On 2 November, the second day of Putin's visit, he was scheduled to meet with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and parliamentary leaders, and to visit the UN International Court of Justice. BW

The Strasbourg-based European Court for Human Rights has upheld its previous ruling that Russian courts denied Tamara Rokhlina her right to a speedy trial in the case against regarding the 1998 killing of her husband, State Duma Deputy Lev Rokhlin, Russian news agencies reported on 1 November. Russia's envoy to the court, Pavel Laptev, appealed its April 2005 ruling that the Russian government must pay Rokhlina 8,000 euros ($9,610) in damages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2005). A second trial in the case against Rokhlina is currently under way in Moscow Oblast, according to Interfax. JAC

The apartment of investigative journalist and State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinshtein (Unified Russia) was recently broken into, and the legislator is alleging that it was not an ordinary burglary, reported on 1 November. According to Khinshtein's press secretary, Yekatrina Yefremova, documents relating to the criminal case against former Prime Minister Kasyanov were among the items stolen. Khinshtein has been at the center of accusations against Kasyanov regarding his allegedly improper purchase of a lavish summer home outside Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 19 July 2005). The apartment is equipped with an alarm system, and members of a private security service reportedly arrived at the apartment within four minutes of the break-in, but the burglars escaped. Also reported missing from Khinshtein's apartment was a gun with adorned with the inscription "For [your] impeccable struggle against counter-revolution," some gold watches, a medal from the Interior Ministry, and his wife's jewelry. JAC

Stavropol Krai's duma voted on 31 October to confirm incumbent Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov for a new term in office, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 November. According to the daily, the Unified Russia faction in the legislature initially opposed giving Chernogorov another term, but on the day of the vote Mikhail Kuzmin, a member of the faction, declared that the "time for discussion has passed -- we must support the suggestion of the president." Putin's support for Chernogorov was briefly in doubt. After pensioner Lyudmila Karachentseva wrote to the president to complain about the lack of plumbing in her home village of Degtyarevskii, Putin pledged during a call-in show in September that he would not submit papers for Chernogorov's reappointment if he did not alleviate the problem and restore running water to the village (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2005). Within hours of the show, the governor's press service issued a release saying that Chernogorov signed an order that day allocating 80 million rubles ($2.8 million) for the village's water system. JAC

President Putin signed into law on 1 November amendments to the law on the procedure for adding new subjects to the Russian Federation, Interfax and reported, citing the presidential press service. The bill, which was approved by the Federation Council on 26 October and the State Duma on 21 October, outlines the procedures for merging two existing regions into a new federation subject. Under the amended constitutional article, the legislatures and executives of individual regions seeking referendums on becoming federal subjects will have to send a letter to the Russian president stating the question that will be posed to residents in the vote. JAC

"Vremya novostei" argued on 1 November that bird flu has already become an element in political struggles in the regions: During the lead-up to the 25 December Chelyabinsk Oblast legislative elections, leaflets have appeared accusing local Motherland party branch head Vadim Vorobei of spreading the virus. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service on 1 November, new cases of bird flu have been confirmed in three villages in Yetkulskii Raion. Four other raions in the oblast previously reported bird-flu cases. Local political analysts are not sure that the leaflets will really damage Motherland, according to "Vremya novostei," but they emphasize a more important tend -- that politicians are starting to use the outbreak to their own political purposes. JAC

"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 1 November that several dozen swans are "literally freezing to death" from hunger and exposure to cold temperatures in iced-over ponds in the Russian capital. Animal-control officials are reportedly afraid to rescue them because of the "high probability" that they could be carriers of bird flu. Previously, swans and geese which failed to travel south for the winter were able to reside at the city's zoo. The newspaper reports that at least one pair of swans who reside at the city's famous Patriarch's Pond should survive, since a private company is renting them out to a nearby restaurant and they will soon be returned to their lessor. JAC

Muslim leaders in the North Caucasus issued a joint statement on 1 November criticizing what they termed the denigration of traditional Islam in much of the Russian media coverage of the 13 October militant attacks in Nalchik, reported, citing The leaders specifically rejected the hypothesis that the attackers sought to protest corruption among the official Muslim clergy. The clerics appealed to Russian media to support the "struggle against terrorism" and not to propagate the views of "Islamic radicals." LF

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Vice President Bernard Schreiner rejected on 1 November allegations by the Armenian opposition that expressions of support by Western politicians for the planned 27 November referendum on a package of draft constitutional amendments constitute interference in Armenia's domestic political affairs, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said such statements of support should be seen not as pro-government propaganda but as advice. Addressing a conference to mark the 15th anniversary of Armenia's first non-Communist-dominated parliament, Schreiner expressed the hope that voter turnout will be high enough to secure the passage of the amendments. Former parliament speaker Khosrow Harutiunian told the same conference that passage of the amendments would enhance the role of the legislature and thus contribute to the development of a genuine multiparty system in Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian of the majority Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) similarly argued that none of the former Soviet republics has developed a true multiparty system, Noyan Tapan reported. Torosian claimed that opposition parties do not feel any responsibility toward society and consequently resort to "irresponsible rhetoric and populism." LF

Two parliamentarians representing the ruling three-party coalition told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 1 November that the proposed abolition of a ban on dual citizenship should not automatically bestow on all ethnic Armenians the right to participate in elections in the Republic of Armenia. Removing the ban on dual citizenship is one of the proposed constitutional changes to be included in the 27 November referendum. Samvel Nikoyan (HHK) said that allowing the 1-2 million ethnic Armenians in Russia to vote in Armenian elections is impermissible for national-security reasons, in that they could swing the outcome of the ballot one way or the other. Levon Mkrtchian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, or HHD) advocated a minimum residency requirement. He said the HHD is already drafting a citizenship law that will be unveiled early next year should the proposed constitutional amendments be approved. LF

Meeting on 1 November with Eduard Lintner, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said his country has created "all conditions for holding parliamentary elections in a transparent and democratic environment," Turan, Interfax, and reported. Also on 1 November, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told journalists that the criticisms of the election campaign expressed last week by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission were premature, reported. He pointed out that since those studies were completed, the Azerbaijani parliament has lifted restrictions on the monitoring by NGOs of the 6 November parliamentary elections and has introduced the practice of marking voters' fingers with indelible ink to preclude multiple voting. Hasanov rejected as unfounded Western criticisms over restrictions on the freedom of assembly, claiming that the authorities have made available "thousands" of locations for parliamentary candidates to meet with voters. LF

On 1 November, the Interior and National Security ministries and the Prosecutor-General's Office issued a further joint statement -- their third in 14 days -- on the investigation into the alleged plot by former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev and several highly placed officials to overthrow the country's leadership, Turan and reported. According to that statement, former Health Minister Ali Insanov has confessed to unspecified anticonstitutional acts and to providing financing for Guliev's election campaign. Insanov is spending his time in detention reading the Koran, reported on 2 November, quoting Anti-Torture Committee Chairman Elchin Beybutov, who met with Insanov and other prominent detainees on I November. Beybutov said the former officials held in the National Security Ministry pretrial detention center say they are well treated and not subjected to pressure. Former Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev, with whom Beybutov also spoke, refuses to answer interrogators' questions, reported on 2 November, quoting Aliev's lawyer Ramiz Mamedov. Aliev faces charges of embezzlement, abuse of his official position, and conspiring to seize power by force. LF

Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said on 31 October in Moscow, where he met with Russian Foreign Ministry officials, that he considers a meeting between himself and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli inappropriate, Caucasus Press reported. Kokoity proposed that Noghaideli should meet instead with his South Ossetian counterpart Yurii Morozov. Noghaideli, however, ruled out a meeting with Morozov, saying he is convinced a meeting with Kokoity would be "useful" and lessen the danger of "provocations" in the conflict zone, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 November. Also on 1 November, Russian Ambassador to Tbilisi Vladimir Chkhikvishvili said Moscow favors a meeting between Kokoity and Noghaideli and "will work on that issue with the South Ossetian side," ITAR-TASS reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava accused both Russia and South Ossetia of violating the agreement reached during talks in Moscow last week that the long-planned meeting between Noghaideli and Kokoity should take place "soon," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005). LF

Salome Zourabichvili formally opened the office of her as yet unnamed political movement in Tbilisi on 1 November, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Zourabichvili said her movement, which will hold its founding congress in one month's time, hopes for the support of all those Georgians committed to building a civil society. It is not yet clear whether the movement will formally register as a political party, or whether it will participate in upcoming local elections or support candidates from other parties who share its views. Opposition Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili expressed his readiness to work together with Zourabichvili, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. LF

The OSCE announced in a 31 October press release on the organization's website ( that Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE's special representative on freedom of the media, has written to the Kazakh government asking it to remove recently imposed regulations on the registration of Internet domain names. Noting that the new rules "would put the allocation of domain names on the World Wide Web in Kazakhstan entirely under government control," Haraszti offered three recommendations: 1) that a body independent of the government should administer the Internet in Kazakhstan; 2) that registration of a ".kz" domain should be a "purely technical process"; and 3) that servers for a ".kz" domain should not have to be located in Kazakhstan. DK

Kyrgyz police used force to quell unrest in a number of prisons on 1 November, killing at least four inmates, after an attempt to move an imprisoned criminal kingpin set off a general uprising, Kabar and reported. The violence began when police attempted to remove Aziz Batukaev, who is suspected of involvement in the killing of legislator Tynychbek Akmatbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), from Penal Colony 31 outside Bishkek. Inmates resisted, and police eventually stormed the prison, killing two to four prisoners, reported. Police also confiscated weapons, including two automatic rifles with optical scopes. Inmates at Penal Colony 8 in Chuy Province also attempted to escape, and at least two were killed when police restored order. Varying numbers of wounded were reported. An inmate at Prison 1, where violence was also reported, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that 18 were killed at Penal Colony 31, three in Penal Colony 8, and one in Penal Colony 1. Kapar Mukeev, the newly appointed head of the prison system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2005), later said that order was restored but noted that hunger strikes are in progress at three prisons, reported. Deputy Justice Minister Sergei Zubov blamed Batukaev for fomenting the violence. Meanwhile, Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu promised an investigation of the use of armored personnel carriers and automatic weapons to quell unrest at Penal Colony 31. DK

General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command (CentCom), met with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek on 1 November to discuss bilateral cooperation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "Our country adheres closely to its international obligations, both bilateral and multilateral, which is demonstrated by U.S.-Kyrgyz cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and the use of the Ganci air base by coalition forces," Bakiev told a news conference. Bakiev also told reporters that the two men planned to discuss "a new draft agreement" on the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan. Reports did not provide further information on the base-agreement talks. DK

Uzbek forces have removed land mines along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border and are working to de-mine the Uzbek-Tajik border, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 31 October, quoting Kyrgyz officials. IRIN said that Kyrgyz border troops have inspected the border and declared it mine-free. Meanwhile, Jonmahmad Rajabov, the head of a Tajik de-mining center, said that Tajikistan "welcomes" Uzbek efforts to rid the border of land mines. Uzbekistan mined its borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 1999-2000 to ward off incursions by religious extremists. DK

Guichnazar Tachnazarov has been removed from his post as Turkmenistan's deputy prime minister and minister of the oil and gas industry and charged with embezzlement, reported on 1 November. Tachnazarov, who was appointed deputy premier in May and minister of oil and gas in September, is accused of embezzling more than $266 million. Deputy Prime Minister Atamyrat Berdiev, former minister of construction, was appointed to replace Tachnazarov. Tachnazarov's predecessor, Yolly Gurbanmuradov, was removed under similar circumstances in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May and 25 July 2005). DK

In a 1 November statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Uzbek government to ensure that Sanjar Umarov, the jailed leader of the opposition Sunshine Coalition, receives "immediate medical treatment." The statement quoted Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, as saying, "We are deeply concerned for his safety and well-being." The appeal follows reports that Umarov, who was arrested on embezzlement charges on 22 October, has been in physical and mental distress while in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2005). Cartner called Umarov's arrest "politically motivated" and said that "the authorities should release him pending an independent review of the charges against him." DK

The Belarusian opposition's efforts to hold a referendum on the election law have faded after notaries refused to certify signatures in support of the referendum, Belapan reported on 1 November. A group spearheaded by former lawmaker Valery Fralou intended to put to a referendum questions on changes in the Electoral Code, freezing utility rates, and abolition of the contract employment system. According to the Belarusian Constitution, a referendum on a civic initiative requires 450,000 signatures of support in order to be held, and the signature collectors should first register themselves with notaries. Fralou's group managed to register 800 signatures before the Justice Ministry forbade notaries to certify referendum-related signatures due to the proposed referendum's political content. "In our country, any issue is deemed political, including a referendum on housing matters," Fralou told Belapan. The group has filed protests with the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Supreme Court. AM

The Belarusian military has expressed its surprise at Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus's statement that Belarus might attack Lithuania, Belapan reported on 1 November, citing Colonel Ihar Azaronak, chief of the Western Operational and Tactical Command of Belarus's Air Defense Forces. Adamkus told the German daily "Die Welt" on 26 October that he does not exclude the possibility of Belarusian armed forces attacking Lithuania. Azaronak said there has been no transfer of troops near the Belarusian-Lithuanian border nor changes in the schedules of units on routine and combat-alert duty. Adamkus' statement might have been due to an army exercise held in October in the northwestern sector, but the exercise had been scheduled and all neighboring countries had been notified, Azaronak added. AM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 1 November during a two-day visit to Washington, D.C., that he expects Ukraine to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the end of 2005, Interfax reported. Yekhanurov described talks with U.S. officials regarding the signing of an agreement on opening commodity and service markets -- necessary for Ukraine's accession to the WTO -- as "considerably advanced." According to Yekhanurov, signing the WTO protocol with the United States will be a good sign to other countries, particularly Australia. The same day in Kyiv, the Verkhovna Rada passed two bills required for WTO entry pertaining to imports and protection of domestic producers. AM

Prime Minister Yekhanurov said in Washington on 1 November that the government and Ukrainian business leaders have agreed on the promotion of Ukrainian-made goods on world markets, Interfax reported. According to Yekhanurov, a Ukrainian "council of oligarchs" agreed during a recent meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko to hire foreign consulting firms in order to work out a business-development program for Ukraine to improve its international competitiveness. "We would really like them to become a national bourgeoisie and think about the development of our country," Yekhanurov said of the oligarchs. AM

Prime Minister Yekhanurov said in Washington on 1 November that he expects the 2006 presidential election in Belarus to be democratic, ITAR-TASS reported. "We want Belarus to be a peaceful neighbor," he said. Yekhanurov, who met with the Belarusian president on 18 October, described Alyaksandr Lukashenka as "a talented propagandist," unexpectedly adding, "Now I understand why women in the 1930s shouted, 'I want a baby from the Fuehrer!'" Yekhanurov also said he recently met with Belarusian opposition politician Stanislau Shushkevich and after this meeting he concluded that Ukraine can conduct a pragmatic dialogue with Belarus, including on the issue of democratization. AM

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on 1 November the appointment of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to lead the upcoming talks on the final status of Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 25, and 31 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). In Kosova, government and opposition ethnic Albanian politicians praised Ahtisaari as someone who knows the Balkans in general and Kosova in particular, especially from 1999, when he helped persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from there. Goran Bogdanovic of the Serbian Lists for Kosovo and Metohija said that he expects that the former Finnish leader will treat all parties to the talks equally and resist international pressure to impose a solution. The Security Council is expected to approve the appointment soon. Reuters reported that Austrian diplomat Albert Rohan will be Ahtisaari's deputy. Many Western diplomats have said privately in recent weeks that the most likely outcome of the talks, which could conclude by mid-2006, will be independence with strong international supervision of minority rights and with a continuing NATO security presence. PM

Officials of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced on 1 November that two former Croatian generals indicted for atrocities against Serbian civilians in the Medak pocket region in 1993 will stand trial in Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Mirko Norac is already serving a 12-year prison sentence in the Croatian town of Glina for crimes against Serbs in Gospic in 1991. Rahim Ademi is in Croatia pending trial. The tribunal has begun to allow some indictees to be tried in their own country as a way of reducing its case load and encouraging judicial reform in the former Yugoslav states. PM

Greek President Karolos Papoulias returned home on 1 November after about 200 protesters blocked his route from the Greek Consulate in Gjirokaster to the coastal town of Saranda, where he was slated to meet with his Albanian counterpart, Alfred Moisiu, Reuters and dpa reported. The Greek Foreign Ministry blamed the Albanian authorities for "not taking measures to deter known extremists" bent on destabilizing relations between Tirana and Athens. Moisiu's office called the demonstration "peaceful, far from the meeting place [in Saranda], and under police control." His office dubbed the Greek decision "hasty and inexplicable." The protesters belong to a Muslim Albanian ethnic group known as the Chams, who fled or were expelled from Greece at the end of World War II, during which they allegedly collaborated with Axis occupation forces. The Chams want compensation for their property in Greece and the return of their Greek citizenship, which Athens rejects. The Albanian communist regime of Enver Hoxha granted the Chams Albanian citizenship in 1953. PM

Albanian General Pellumb Qazimi told Reuters in Tirana on 1 November that his country's remaining handful of decrepit Soviet-designed MiG jet fighters has been retired from service and will be sold for scrap or to other buyers. He said that if anyone wants to buy the fighters "they are welcome," adding that some interested parties want to "turn them into bars." The planes, which took the lives of 35 Albanian personnel but fought no enemy, will not be sold for military purposes except to museums. Qazimi said Albania is now seeking to build up a fleet of modern multirole helicopters able to "interact" with NATO aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2004). PM

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's forays into foreign policy since his inauguration in August continue to elicit negative reactions from the international community and from many Iranian observers. The situation has led to speculation that some of the executive branch's powers and prerogatives are being turned over to other state agencies. The most recent incident took place in late October, when Ahmadinejad called for Israel's destruction, and his harsh speech at the UN General Assembly in September might have contributed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board's unusually critical resolution.

But other Iranian officials' statements make it clear that while people might misunderstand Ahmadinejad's intent, he nevertheless has the approval of the regime's leadership. Moreover, there are blanket disavowals that control of the nuclear account has been taken away from the executive branch, and institutional and personnel changes indicate that the new president and his associates are tightening their control. The IAEA's governing board meets in November to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad's behavior could affect the outcome of that gathering.

Ahmadinejad on 26 September paraphrased a speech by father of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when he described Israel as a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." Officials from a number of countries immediately criticized Ahmadinejad's comments, and the UN Security Council officially condemned his remarks two days later.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry and other officials tried to repair the damage by clarifying the president's statement. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said during a 27 October talk show on state television: "We are not surprised by the Zionist regime's reaction and that of its main supporter America. However, we are astonished by some of the European countries' hasty reactions.... The Islamic Republic of Iran has, in the past 27 years, continuously expressed its opposition to the legitimacy of the Zionist regime. We do not recognize this regime."

Mottaki said Iranian embassies have been instructed to explain Tehran's position and Ahmadinejad's comments. "We have asked all our embassies to clarify any ambiguities that any country might have regarding this issue by explaining our position. But [we] also advised them to ask the question why the same countries support the crimes of the Zionist regime. Why do they ignore the rights of an oppressed nation which has endured brutality, persecution, and injustice for over 60 years? The whole world witnesses the humiliation and killing of these people. Why are they being ignored?"

The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 29 October: "The Islamic Republic of Iran adheres to the UN charter and has never used or threatened to use force against any country," IRNA reported. It continued, "The statement issued by the head of the Security Council on the international Qods [Jerusalem] Day was proposed by the Zionist regime and aimed at overlooking the crimes of this regime and misrepresenting the events, and is therefore not acceptable."

Iranian officials and media commentators began calling for greater subtlety and realism in the foreign policy realm in September, and some suggested that a foreign policy guidance team is necessary. Speculation that Ahmadinejad had lost some of his powers emerged the following month, when it was announced that the Expediency Council has been given supervisory powers over the three branches of government.

Contributing to this speculation was the selection of former Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani as the head of the Expediency Council's Strategic Research Center, followed by former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami joining the same center on 8 October.

Yet the chairman of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, denied being put in charge of the nuclear account. "This is not true and nothing has been said about this," he said in the 27 October "Aftab-i Yazd." Hashemi-Rafsanjani said handling of the nuclear account must not change. "There is no need for my presence there," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. "This is a collective matter and does not involve negotiations alone. The collective is behind the case."

This could be the typical obfuscation in which Iranian officials engage when discussing governmental operations. Yet there are signs that the executive branch is strengthening its control over the Supreme National Security Council, which has the lead on the nuclear issue.

In mid-October, Hussein Entezami succeeded Ali Aqamohammadi as the Supreme National Security Council's spokesman, and Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli was appointed as the council's secretary and deputy head. Entezami is the founder and managing director of "Jam-i Jam" newspaper, which is linked with the state broadcasting agency (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB), and Rahmani-Fazli was the deputy head of that organization. The current Supreme National Security Council secretary, Ali Larijani, headed IRIB until he ran in the June 2005 presidential election.

Other council officials have been replaced as well. Seyyed Ali Monfared, who has served in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the Foreign Ministry, replaced Hussein Musavian as a foreign policy adviser to Larijani, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 13 September. Moreover, the Supreme National Security Council has undergone structural changes since Ahmadinejad's August inauguration, and this too could enhance the executive branch's control over the nuclear portfolio.

Developments in the Foreign Ministry also point to a strengthening of Ahmadinejad's hand. "Aftab-i Yazd" on 30 October cited anonymous "sources close to Iran's diplomatic circles" as saying that President Ahmadinejad has called for the resignations and return home of four ambassadors closely involved with nuclear negotiations. The daily reported that ambassador to London Mohammad Hussein Adeli, ambassador to Paris Sadeq Kharrazi, ambassador to Berlin Shamseddin Kharqani, and the representative to the UN in Switzerland, Mohammad Reza Alborzi, have submitted their resignations. The daily cited another anonymous source, however, as saying that the ambassadors' tours had ended quite a while ago, and many other ambassadors are ending their tours as well. In early October, IRNA reported that Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's representative at the UN in New York, had submitted his resignation.

It is not just foreigners who are critical of Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel; Iranians have also expressed concern about their impact. Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad has made it clear that he is not backing away from his views. Speaking at Qods Day rallies in Tehran on 28 October, at which effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were set alight by people chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," Ahmadinejad said, "My word is that of the Iranian nation," IRNA reported. During a 30 October meeting of Basij Resistance Force members in Tehran, Ahmadinejad spoke out against countries that intend to normalize their relations with Israel and reiterated his paraphrasing of Ayatollah Khomeini's statement about Israel, IRNA reported.

In a 30 October a speech to government officials in Tehran, Ahmadinejad described Israel as "a usurping, illegitimate, and occupying government in the Palestinian land, which should be replaced by a popular and democratic government," state television reported on 31 October. In that speech, he said elections are the solution to the Palestinian problem. "The final and definite solution to the Palestinian problem is to allow the Palestinians who live in the occupied lands and elsewhere, as well as others who have become refugees because of the aggression of the Zionists, to hold a free election and decide about their desired government," Ahmadinejad said.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad's comments reflect the sentiments of at least some members of the country's leadership. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said on 28 October, "The president talked on behalf of the Iranian nation and in fact, his words were the same as the nation's," Fars News Agency reported. Yet Rahim-Safavi was cautious, and he ruled out military action: "It means that all Islamic nations should unite and campaign economically, politically and culturally against Israel for the deliverance of the Palestinian nation."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also commented on the reaction to Ahmadinejad's speech. He told officials in Tehran on 30 October, according to state television, "All the hue and cry you are seeing against Iran is due to its power." He said this is not the first time this has happened and predicted it will not be the last. He added that Western leaders should feel "ashamed before mankind for being under the influence of Zionists so much."

The Afghan cabinet has decided to appoint 34 temporary members for the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) of the National Assembly, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad on 31 October. The temporary members of the Council of Elders will be selected from the members of the provincial councils elected in the 18 September elections. Article 84 of the constitution prescribes that one-third of the Council of Elders be taken each from the provincial and district councils, with the remaining one-third appointed by the president "from among experts and experienced personalities" -- including two representatives from the disabled and impaired and two kuchi (nomad) representatives. Half of the presidential appointees must be women, according to the constitution. However, while the elections for the provincial councils were held along with that of the lower house, the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga), the district-council elections were postponed indefinitely. As such, one-third of the Council of Elders remain unelected. The details of the cabinet's plan are not clear. AT

The Afghan government intends to try the 14 members of the deposed Taliban regime who were handed over to Kabul after being arrested in Pakistan, Tolu Television reported on 1 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). Afghan presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi said that the 14, who include former neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, who was captured in Pakistan earlier in October, are currently under investigation. They will be tried in Afghanistan when the investigation is completed, he added. Since the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001, Afghanistan has not tried any member of that regime and has in the past sought to offer most former Taliban members a chance to pledge their loyalty to the current government. AT

Presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi told a news conference in Kabul on 1 November that Afghanistan is independent in its foreign policy toward other countries, IRNA reported. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's "remarks express the policy of his country on Palestine and Afghanistan has no view in this respect," he added. Ahmadinejad recently called for the destruction of Israel, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai has indicated his desire to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and for his country to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel once a Palestinian state is formed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2005). AT

Two members of the neo-Taliban were killed and 12 others arrested by Afghan police in Helmand Province on 31 October, Xinhua reported on 1 November. The incident occurred in Nahr-e Saraj District when the militants attacked a police patrol. Helmand Deputy Governor Hajji Muhaiuddin told Xinhua that a neo-Taliban commander named Mullah Qadir was one of the two who were killed. Three policemen were injured in the incident. AT

The public affairs office of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security announced on 1 November that the individuals responsible for the 15 October bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz have been arrested, Fars News Agency reported. These arrests prevented future bombings that are intended to create ethnic differences, according to the ministry. On 30 October, the ministry announced that a total of 30 people were arrested in connection with bombings in Ahvaz in June and October, IRNA reported. Everybody reportedly pleaded guilty, and some said they brought the explosives from Al-Basrah, Iraq. The ringleaders reportedly were identified and their names submitted to the Foreign Ministry, which will submit extradition requests. Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei said on 29 October that some of the people who were arrested are connected with the United Kingdom, ISNA reported. Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi said on 29 October that British forces are active in southern Iraq and are therefore responsible for events that occur in Iran, ISNA reported. BS

The Iranian legislature's National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee on 1 November continued deliberations on a bill calling for suspension of voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ISNA reported. Committee member Kazem Jalali said in reference to the bill: "If Iran's nuclear case is reported or referred to the UN Security Council, the [Iranian] government is obligated to resume all the nonbinding [nuclear] activities it suspended voluntarily, and implement its scientific and research programs in order to secure the Iranian nation's nuclear rights outlined in the Nonproliferation Treaty." BS

In advance of the annual commemoration of militants' 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the subsequent holding of 53 American citizens hostage for 444 days, which is known as 13 Aban after its date in the Iranian calendar, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps released a statement addressing current foreign-policy issues. Addressing international outrage over President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's 26 October call for the destruction of Israel, the statement said: "In the face of the bestial behavior of the regime occupying Qods, and for its infinite oppression of Palestinians, the wrath of the hard-done-by Palestinian nation and intifada [uprising] will undoubtedly wipe Israel off the map and soon we will witness a world without the illegal regime of Israel." The statement asserted that Iran remains resolute and will stand up to the United States. A 31 October statement from the Council for Coordination of Islamic Publicity announced that nationwide ceremonies will take place on 2 November, state television reported. 13 Aban also marks the day Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled to Turkey in 1964 and university students were killed by the shah's troops in 1978. BS

A member of the Iranian legislature's Culture Committee, Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir-Tajedini from Tabriz, told the weekly meeting of the Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group that action must be taken to prevent improper dress on the part of females ("bad hijabi"), "Sharq" reported on 1 November. He was speaking at a meeting on "social corruption and the mannequins that incite it." Reuters reported on 31 October that police in the northeastern city of Bojnurd have begun a campaign against mannequins; 65 mannequins had been confiscated so far, according to the report, and an anonymous official described this as an effort to address "public chastity." BS

A number of Iraqi women, including former Ambassador to the United States Rend Rahim, activist Safiya al-Suhayl, and Women's Affairs Minister Azhar al-Shaykhali, announced their intention to participate in the December parliamentary elections at a 1 November press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Their electoral list is called the Iraq Pledge Coalition (Tahaluf Ahd Al-Iraq). Addressing reporters at the briefing, Rahim said the coalition will work "as a pledge that we make before loyal politicians, opinion leaders, social organizations, and the entire Iraqi people at a significant historical moment, carrying a promise of a constitutional, democratic, federal, and balanced Iraq that guarantees all of its sons and daughters citizenship, rights, freedom, and a better future." The women said that if elected, they will work to amend Article 39 of the constitution, which refers to personal status law (see KR

Al-Arabiyah television reported on 2 November that former Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zurufi is under investigation for his alleged involvement in the murder of former police chief Major General Ghalib al-Jaza'iri's two sons in February. Citing unnamed sources at the Al-Najaf court, the news channel reported that al-Jaza'iri's sons were killed because of an ongoing dispute between al-Jaza'iri and al-Zurufi (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 March 2005). Former Deputy Governor Abd A'al al-Kufi has reportedly confirmed al-Zurufi's involvement in the killings. Al-Jaza'iri discussed the investigation into al-Zurufi, telling Al-Arabiyah, "I did not imagine that disagreements [over security issues in the governorate] would reach the extent of the killing of my sons, and coordinating their abduction and killing with police forces." Al-Arabiyah reported that the court has issued an order banning al-Zurufi from leaving Iraq, as the investigation is ongoing. KR

Al-Arabiyah television reported on 2 November that the Al-Fadilah [Virtue] Party and the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) failed to reach agreement in late-night talks on 1 November over the distribution of seats on the UIA's list for the December parliamentary elections. The satellite news channel reported that Al-Fadilah Secretary-General Amin al-Jabari subsequently called a news conference to announce his party's withdrawal from the UIA, but then postponed the conference. The deadline for political parties to register for the election expired on 28 October. Al-Fadilah was registered on the UIA list, and therefore, it is unlikely that the party can now participate in the election, either independently or on another list. KR

Iyad Allawi told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in a 30 October interview published on 1 November that an important and reliable intelligence agency recently presented him with information regarding plans to assassinate him in southern Iraq. Allawi said an Iraqi political party and an armed militia were behind the plan. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reviewed the intelligence report, which said that the plan was for the leader of an Iraqi political party to announce his defection from a political alliance and his intention to join Allawi's Iraqi National Accord. The unnamed leader would then ask Allawi to meet him in southern Iraq, where militiamen would ambush Allawi. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported that Detlev Mehlis, the chief UN investigator into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, prepared the intelligence report. Allawi has survived three assassination attempts since returning to Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. KR

Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn issued a statement on the Internet on 1 November on the two Moroccan Embassy employees abducted in Iraq on 20 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 October 2005). The two men disappeared while en route to Baghdad from Amman. "After the completion of interrogation with the two hostages working for the Moroccan Embassy, their case was referred to the legal commission to determine their fate," the statement noted. Salafiyah Jihadiyah leader Ahmad el-Fizazi, who remains in Moroccan prison on terrorism charges, has reportedly appealed to al-Zarqawi to release the two hostages, saying the men did not commit any crime and were not working in Iraq with U.S. or Iraqi security forces, "Annahar al-Maqhribiyah" reported on 1 November. KR