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Newsline - November 10, 2005

President Vladimir Putin said on 9 November that the period of military conscription must be reduced to one year by the beginning of 2008, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "We must, without cutting the combat efficiency of the army and navy, ensure the reduction of the conscription service term to 12 months beginning 1 January 2008," RIA-Novosti quoted Putin as saying. Speaking at a conference of top military commanders, Putin said the change must be made without reducing the armed forces' combat readiness. The current length of conscription in the Russian military is two years. Putin added that steps need to be taken to increase the number of volunteers, or "contract soldiers," in the Russian armed forces. "Military units on permanent standby must become the basis of the military forces," quoted Putin as saying. BW

Putin pledged on 9 November to raise the salaries for military personnel and pensions for veterans, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Salaries for those serving in the armed forces are to be increased by 67 percent over the next three years, including a 15 percent pay increase that will be implemented on 1 January 2006, Putin said. Pensions will be increased accordingly, he added. The president also said that by 2015, 70 percent of military spending must be used to modernize the army and navy, with the remaining 30 percent used for maintenance. "Only in this way will we be able to advance in substantial technical modernization of the armed forces, rather than patching up holes," Putin said. "Special attention should be paid to equipping the Russian Army permanent combat-ready units with high-accuracy weapons and effective reconnaissance and electronic-warfare systems, as well as automated command-and-control systems." BW

Yurii Baluevskii, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, expressed doubts on 9 November that the country's military-industrial complex will be able to supply the military with advanced weapons by 2011, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. "My colleagues and I are not completely sure that we will get the weapons we need by 2011," Baluevskii said at the same conference attended by Putin. "One of the reasons for that is the lack of proper coordination between military-technical policy and the capabilities of the Russian military-industrial complex," he said, noting that defense industries are not centrally coordinated by the Defense Ministry. BW

The European Union is considering a Russian-sponsored compromise proposal aimed at ending the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, the "Financial Times" reported on 10 November. The Russian proposal would allow Iran to conduct some low-grade uranium-processing work on its own territory -- at its Isfahan uranium-conversion plant. But all uranium enrichment, a process that can produce weapons-grade material, must be completed in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2005). The "Financial Times" quoted unidentified British officials as saying the EU would not "rule out" Russia's idea. "We need to make sure the arrangements are proliferation-free," an unidentified British official said. BW

Russia has denied a visa to Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, who was planning to attend a roundtable on cross-border cooperation that is taking place in St. Petersburg, and RIA-Novosti reported on 10 November. "This is disappointing," Paet said in a statement released through Estonian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ehtel Halliste. "This has shown that Russia is not interested in relations with Estonia." In reaction, the Estonian minister of regional affairs, who was issued a visa for the 10-11 November conference, said he will now not attend. BW

The unregistered Moscow Atheists Society, headed by Aleksandr Nikonov, has sent a request to the Constitutional Court asking for an inquiry into the constitutionality of the use of the word "God" in the Russian national anthem, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported on 9 November. Nikonov agued that official symbols should be secular in accordance with the separation of church and state. However, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church's public-relations department, Archpriest Makarov told TV-Tsentr on 9 November that the church is categorically against removing the word "God" from the anthem. "Many people also dislike the words 'ancestors' and 'great power,' which are mentioned in the anthem, but it is not a reason to remove them." He added that in the United States there are no fewer atheists than in Russia, but none of them ask for the phrase "In God We Trust" to be removed from banknotes. Meanwhile, the Union of Russian Orthodox Citizens issued a statement on 9 November that accused Nikonov of resisting the "revival of Russia," Interfax reported. "Atheism is the source of drug addiction, depopulation, and the geopolitical defeat of Russia," the statement added. VY

Moscow police chief Lieutenant General Vladimir Pronin, has ordered that a bust of Feliks Dzerzhinskii be restored to its original site in the courtyard of the Moscow Main Directorate of the Interior Ministry, Russia news agencies reported on 9 November. The bust of the founder of the Soviet Union's state-security organs was removed in 1991 due to fears that it would share the same fate of a large statue of Dzerzhinskii that stood on Moscow's Lubyanskaya Square until an angry mob toppled it. Pronin said the monument was being returned to its original home for Police Day on 10 November, and to honor veterans of the security services. The Soviet secret police (VChK), originally formed as the Workers and Peasant Militia in 1918, was among the state security organs founded by Dzerzhinskii. The human-rights watchdog Memorial issued a protest statement, saying: "Dzerzhinskii was the founder of the political repressions and persecution system in the Soviet Russia. He fought not criminals, but political opponents -- and initiated the fabrication of legal cases against dissidents, arrests and executions without trials, and hostage taking," RosBalt reported on 9 November. VY

A Russian Soyuz-FG carrier rocket launched the European "Venus Express" probe toward Venus on 9 November, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan early in the morning and put the European spacecraft into orbit around the Earth. "The 'Venus Express' separated from the booster successfully," said an official with the Russian Space Agency. "The probe reached the trajectory toward Venus and the European Space Agency (ESA) took over control of the spacecraft," the official added. The probe is the European Space Agency's first mission to Venus. The spacecraft will enter Venus' orbit in April 2006 after a 153-day trip. BW

Russia finished 59 in a ranking of 60 countries that are facing possible disintegration, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 November. The Failed State Index was compiled by "Foreign Policy" magazine and the U.S.-based Fund for Peace and was featured in the publication's July/August issue. The dailies used the occasion of the publication to question several Russian analysts regarding their views of Russia's stability. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily," Rostislav Turovskii of the Center for Political Technology concluded that Russia's relatively low rating "reflects the tactical victory of the Kremlin over regional elites.... Regional authorities are completely under the control of federal authorities and cannot and will not undertake any attempts to detach [from Russia]." However, he suggested that the growing distance between central Russia and Muslim republics poses a threat to Russia's stability, and this threat cannot be fixed by strengthening "vertical power." Iosif Diskin of the Population Institute suggested that the federal districts could pose a threat to Russia in "within 15 years." He said that the districts have enormous natural resources and large geopolitical struggles are already taking place around them. He advised that it is therefore of great importance not to let them turn into state structures. JAC

A number of central newspapers ran articles on 9 November criticizing the Motherland party's television campaign ad for the 4 December Moscow City Duma election. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Izvestiya" reported that the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office is seeking experts' input on whether the ad, which ran on TV-Tsentr, incites interethnic hatred. The ad is centered on four men, apparently of Caucasian descent, who are eating watermelon in a park. The men are throwing the rinds on the ground, and one of them comments about the number of foreigners coming to the country as a blonde woman pushes a baby carriage past them. Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin and Yurii Popov, a candidate in the election, witness the incident, and Rogozin tells the men to clean up after themselves. Popov then approaches one of the men, puts his hand on his shoulder, and says: "Do you understand Russian?" The ad ends with the slogan, "We're cleaning Moscow of garbage." JAC

State Duma deputies approved on 9 November in its third and final reading a presidential bill on state service pertaining to Russian Cossacks, Russian news agencies reported. The bill establishes legal and organizational foundations for involving Russian Cossacks in state service and regulates their guarding of state borders and combating terrorism. It also addresses Cossacks' participation in the military and in handling natural disasters, Interfax reported. The bill defines Cossack organizational units, such as villages and host societies. Deputies also supported in its first reading a bill on amending the law on the Public Chamber, reported. Under the bill, the chamber would have the responsibility to monitor freedom of speech in the mass media. JAC

The Federation Council approved on 9 November a bill amending a law intended to help prevent money laundering and its facilitation of the financing of terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill extends the law to cover people who are not Russian citizens and who may be residing in Russia only temporarily. JAC

President Putin has appointed Sergei Dubik to serve as head of the presidential directorate for state service, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 November, citing the presidential press service. From 2001-03, Dubik was an adviser to the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Dmitrii Medvedev, RosBalt reported. And from 2003-04, he was an assistant to Medvedev when the latter became presidential administration head. He most recently worked as deputy head of the secretariat for the head of the presidential administration. JAC

The opposition Azadlyq (Liberty) election bloc convened a demonstration and march in Baku on 9 November to protest the perceived falsification of the 6 November parliamentary election and demand that the results be annulled, Azerbaijani and Western media reported. The Yeni Siyaset (YeS) bloc and the National Unity Movement supported the protest, in which their respective leaders took part. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) First Deputy Chairman Sardar Djalaloglu said the opposition is giving the authorities one last chance to admit to falsifying the election and annul it, "or we shall take to the street and demand that the leadership resign," reported. Djalaloglu appealed to U.S. President George W. Bush, and Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar to the Turkish leadership, to support democracy in Azerbaijan. Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," called for civil disobedience. The meeting organizers rejected a demand by some participants to remain on the streets indefinitely as a sign of protest. Azadlyq's leaders predicted on 8 November that 50,000 people would attend the rally, but the "Independent" and "The Wall Street Journal" estimated turnout at no more than 15,000. LF

Some 200 unsuccessful parliamentary candidates from Azadlyq, YeS, and the National Unity Movement met on 10 November at ADP headquarters to discuss the creation of a pan-national movement to demand the annulment of the 6 November elections, reported. LF

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (MSK) annulled on 9 November the results from 12 of the 34 polling stations in Constituency No. 8 (Binagadi) on the grounds of serious falsifications that affected the overall outcome, and reported on 10 November. A subsequent recount revealed that Musavat party Deputy Chairman Arzu Samedov was the winner. MSK Chairman Mazahir Panahov said on 9 November that Constituency No. 8 was one of five (Nos. 8, 9, 31, 42, and 63) in which he agreed during an 8 November meeting with U.S. Ambassador Rino Harnish that a recount should take place. On 10 November, reported that the MSK and the opposition are conducting separate talks with unnamed Western diplomats on reviewing the election outcome in a further 20 constituencies where the results may have been rigged to prevent an opposition win. quoted ADP First Deputy Chairman Djalaloglu as saying the opposition will agree to participate in the new parliament only if it receives a minimum of 40 of the 125 seats, otherwise opposition deputies will voluntarily cede their mandates. LF

President Ilham Aliyev dismissed on 9 November the regional administrators of the Surakhan and Sabirabad districts, Natik Mekhtiev and Ashraf Mamedov, for failing to implement his decrees of 11 May and 25 October on ensuring that the parliamentary election was free and fair, reported on 10 November. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General's office has opened criminal investigations into the irregularities in Constituencies 9 and 42, where four election officials have been taken into custody, reported. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 9 November, its second in four days, criticizing the alleged failure of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone to protect local Georgians from reprisals by "criminal groupings" allied with the Abkhaz police, Caucasus Press and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2005). The statement specifically expressed concern over the abduction on 8 November from the village of Saberio of an elderly Georgian man. LF

The Georgian parliament took issue on 10 November with Economy Minister Irakli Chogovadze, who announced the previous day the government's decision to lease to a private company for 49 years the estate in Tsinandali that belonged to a prominent 19th century poet and member of the nobility, Caucasus Press reported. The company is to pay an annual rent of $70,000 and spend an additional $5 million on restoring the property. The government had previously promised to postpone a planned tender for the lease. The opposition Conservative party announced on 10 November its intention to bring legal action against Chogovadze for violating the Administrative Code in connection with the lease. LF

A joint session of Kazakhstan's parliament on 9 November approved the country's 2006 budget, Kazinform and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Revenues for 2006 are projected at 1.492 trillion tenges ($11.1 billion), or 18.5 percent of GDP, expenditures at 1.606 trillion tenges, or 19.9 percent of GDP, and the deficit at 113.8 billion tenges, or 1.4 percent of GDP. The budget boosts funding for education by 5.5 billion tenges, health care by 2.6 billion tenges, social welfare by 1.2 billion tenges, and agriculture by 7.9 billion tenges. DK

In a 9 November statement published by Navigator (, Senator Zauresh Battalova said that imprisoned opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov has required medical attention in connection with the stress caused by a delay in parole proceedings. The administration of the prison where Zhaqiyanov is being held recently ruled that he can be released on parole (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2005). In a statement also published by Navigator on 9 November, the Justice Ministry confirmed the 2 November parole decision, but added that the case will be sent "in the next few days" to a court in the city of Ekibastuz "as mandated by Kazakh law." Kazakhstan's opposition considers the seven-year prison term Zhaqiyanov received in 2002 for abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002) politically motivated retribution for Zhaqiyanov's opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbaev. DK

A court in Bishkek on 9 November postponed until 14 November the trial of Ryspek Akmatbaev and eight other defendants on murder charges, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The trial date was moved because Akmatbaev was not feeling well enough to attend. Akmatbaev, who has been linked by numerous reports to organized criminal activity, recently led a series of demonstrations calling for the removal of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, 26, and 27 October 2005) after the murder of parliamentarian Tynychbek Akmatbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), who was Ryspek Akmatbaev's brother. The trial has already been postponed once (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 November 2005). DK

Shigeo Katsu, World Bank vice president for Europe and Central Asia, and Dennis de Tray, director of the bank's Central Asia Country Unit, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 9 November, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. They discussed future cooperation between the World Bank and Tajikistan, as well as the possibility of World Bank assistance in the construction of the Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant. Katsu said that the bank will only be able to make a decision on involvement in the Sangtuda-1 project after studying the details of planned power exports from Sangtuda-1. The report noted that Russia's Unified Electrical Systems has pledged $500 million toward completing the construction of Sangtuda-1. DK

Tajikistan's Justice Ministry has registered a new political party, the Economic Reform Party, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 9 November. Sumangul Taghoeva, who heads the Ministry's registration section, told RFE/RL that her office is examining a registration application from another new party, the Agrarian Party. Economic Reform Party head Olim Boboev told RFE/RL that his party's aims are to reduce poverty, conduct proper privatizations, and attract foreign investment. Boboev said that the party has more than 1,000 members. The registration of the Economic Reform Party brings to seven the number of officially registered political parties in Tajikistan. DK

France removed six Mirage fighters from Tajikistan on 9 November, RIA-Novosti reported citing Frederic Peroni, military attache at the French Embassy in Tajikistan. The departure had been planned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2005). Peroni said that France retains "150 servicemen and two transport aircraft" in Tajikistan. DK

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 9 November for talks on bilateral relations, the official Turkmen news agency TDH reported. The two discussed various spheres of cooperation, including the possibility of an Iranian role in the refurbishment of Turkmenistan's Seidi oil refinery and the construction of a polyethylene production facility at that location. Mottaki also invited Niyazov to visit Iran, IRNA reported. DK

INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST ATTACKED IN UZBEKISTAN correspondent Aleksei Volosevich was beaten in an attack by unknown individuals in Tashkent on 9 November, the news agency reported. Five unknown assailants knocked Volosevich down in the courtyard of his apartment building, struck him several times, and smeared him with paint. Volosevich later discovered that vandals had spray-painted curses on the entrance to his apartment, including the phrase, "A corrupt journalist and Jew who doesn't know anything about Islam lives here." Volosevich said that he thinks that the attack is linked to his critical coverage of the Uzbek government, including reports he filed from Andijon during violence there on 13 May. But Olimjon Turaqulov, a spokesman for Uzbekistan's National Security Service, told Interfax that the allegation is unfounded. He said, "The special services, whose jurisdiction includes the investigation into manifestations of anti-Semitism, could not have allowed such an attack. Therefore, these absurd statements can be viewed as an obvious provocation." DK

Alyaksey Karol, editor in chief of the private weekly "Zhoda," told Belapan on 9 November that Belposhta, Belarus's state postal service, has decided not to include his newspaper in the state subscription catalogue for 2006. Similar notifications were received somewhat earlier by two other private newspapers, "Narodnaya volya" and "Salidarnasts" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005). According to Karol, in explaining its move against "Zhoda," Belposhta used the same argument as in the case of the other two other barred periodicals. "Each economic entity has the right to be guided by economic expediency in its commercial activities," Belposhta reportedly wrote to Karol. "Since all the three newspapers received denial notifications simultaneously and the explanations were in fact identical, I believe this was a planned move toward the liquidation of the non-state press in Belarus before the 2006 presidential election," Karol said. JM

Mikhail Charhinets from the Council of the Republic, Belarus's upper house, told journalists on 9 November that in refusing a visa to him to attend a session of the UN General Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005), the U.S. authorities violated their 1947 agreement with the United Nations, under which they should not put obstacles to the participation of people invited by the UN and its agencies to official UN events, Belapan reported. Charhinets said that some foreign politicians visiting Belarus engage in practices other than what they state on their visa applications. He said he is aware of instances in which foreign politicians arriving in Belarus for the declared purpose of discussing issues concerning interparliamentary cooperation never show up at the National Assembly. "It's time to work adequately," Charhinets stressed. "We take criticism too loyally.... If they don't recognize us but want to come to pick up lies here, it's necessary to use a measure-for-measure principle." JM

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said in an interview published on 10 November that his Party of Regions is ready to participate in forming a coalition government following the 2006 parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Today no political force is able to form either a parliamentary majority or a government," Yanukovych said. "Therefore, we will have a coalition. We treat all parties as equal partners." Simultaneously Yanukovych cast doubt on the possibility of forming a coalition with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, saying the bloc is gravitating toward still greater "populism and irresponsibility." Yanukovych noted that Ukraine's potential federalization and NATO membership should be subject to a referendum, along with granting official status to the Russian language if this last issue is not resolved in parliament. JM

Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said at a cabinet meeting on 9 November that the new estimate of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005 is 3.8 percent, AP reported. He added that currently GDP growth is 2.8 percent year-on-year. Last year, Ukraine recorded 12 percent economic growth. Initially the government of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko predicted GDP growth this year of 8.2 percent, but in September decreased its prognosis to 6-6.5 percent. Several days later, the new government of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov lowered the forecast to 4.5-5 percent. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko has vetoed a bill narrowly passed by the Verkhovna Rada last month that would impose a six-month ban on all poultry imports in an attempt to protect the country from bird flu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), AFP reported on 8 November. Yushchenko reportedly said the measure would harm the country's bid to join the World Trade Organization. JM

London's "The Guardian" reported on 10 November that "the Americans have written a new constitution transforming [Bosnia-Herzegovina] into a centrally-governed parliamentary democracy for the first time and are pushing strongly -- with European backing -- to have the blueprint agreed by Bosnia's rival nationalist leaders within the next fortnight" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July and 14 October 2005). The daily added that "the blueprint...has been developed during seven months of secret negotiations between U.S. experts and officials and Bosnian politicians. The bold new draft is said to enjoy the full backing of the U.S. State Department. The crunch session of negotiations comes this weekend" in Brussels. According to "The Guardian," the new government structure would include a single figurehead president elected by the parliament, with real power being in the hands of a prime minister and a cabinet. The paper quoted an unnamed "senior official" in the Office of the High Representative as saying that "this draft would mean the total transformation of this country. This is very ambitious." The daily suggested that unnamed Bosnian politicians are now willing to accept a more centralized state in order to improve their country's chances of admission to the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2005). The paper added, however, that an unnamed "senior Bosnian Serb government official warned that too much pressure for such a radical a shift could trigger 'a collapse.'" PM

The European Commission decided in Brussels on 9 November to recognize Macedonia as a candidate for membership, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 September 2005). EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that the decision is an example of the "EU's soft power in action." Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski called the decision a "one-way ticket" to EU membership while adding that the speed of progress will depend on the Macedonians themselves. Rehn declined to name any date for the start of accession talks. The commission said only that negotiations could begin "once [Macedonia] has reached a sufficient degree of compliance with the membership criteria." Rehn is scheduled to visit Skopje on 10 November to present formal notice of the ruling. PM

A three-member EU delegation talked with top Montenegrin officials in Podgorica on 9 November, warning them not to set a date on a referendum for independence until several questions regarding the vote are clarified, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 November 2005). The pro-independence governing Social Democratic Party (SDP) welcomed the EU's stance as a call to a dialogue. The SDP warned the Montenegrin opposition that it will find no understanding in Brussels if it boycotts talks regarding the referendum, which is widely expected to take place in 2006, possibly in April. PM

The European Commission warned Albania on 9 November that it still has a long way to go before it can seriously expect progress toward EU membership, dpa reported. The commission's report called on Tirana to do more to enforce its own legislation, promote media freedom, fight corruption, ensure the efficiency and independence of the judiciary, and protect property rights. Brussels also said that Albania's 2005 elections "were undertaken in a fundamentally sound manner." PM

Twenty-five young people wielding crowbars and giving a fascist salute attacked a public academic discussion about "The Fascist Threat Today" on 9 November in Novi Sad, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 11 July 2005). The youths -- who were dressed in black leather jackets and had crew cuts -- physically and verbally attacked participants in the discussion. The attackers said they belong to a group called National Formation (Nacionalni Stroj) and dubbed the academics "communist retards." PM

A major power plant in the breakaway Transdniester region has cut off energy supplies to the other parts of Moldova, RIA-Novosti and Flux reported on 9 November. The Cuciurgan power station stopped delivering electricity to Moldovan power companies because the latter refused to accept a rate increase, Flux reported. The power station provides about 46 percent of Moldova's energy but no mass power outages have occured yet, RIA-Novosti reported. Serghei Saskov, director of the Cuciurgan power plant, said the price hike from 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 4.6 cents is the result of a 50 percent rise in the cost of natural gas since May. BW

Sergei Lavrov said in Bucharest on 8 November that Russian troops must remain in Transdniester after a settlement, Flux reported the same day. "Those who are interested in a peaceful settling of the Transdniester issue, on the basis of the documents in force, must also support further stationing of the military contingent there," Lavrov said. "Without their presence the munitions may fall into the hands of certain third parties, which is an undesirable thing," he added. In an interview with the Russian daily "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 9 November, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin continued to insist that Russian troops should leave. Voronin said he refused to sign a 2003 agreement settling the conflict because Russia inserted a provision at the last minute calling for a Russian military base to remain in Transdniester for 20 years. "I picked up the phone and called Putin: 'If that page stays in, there's no question of signing the document. I'm not prepared to do that!'" Voronin said. BW

As the proverbial insult follows an injury, so the loss of public office by Iran's reformers has preceded public discord, and immediate political irrelevance, with power moving to the political right and center, into the hands of young radicals or veteran officials.

Some reformers have spoken since the defeat in the June presidential polls of forging a grand coalition around shared values, but others counter that there can be no unity for now among such a divided and divergent group.

Iranian media have reported intermittent meetings of reformist groups, on 5 and 7 October, for example. Like the conservatives, reformers have a vehicle -- the Coordinating Council of the Reforms Front -- to maintain contacts among 18 reformist groups. Front representatives have also been meeting with "prominent reformist figures," Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, the rotating head of the front, told ILNA on 7 November.

Former legislator Ali Asghar Hadizadeh said on 16 October that "it is not easy to bring together 18 groups, indeed I think it impossible," adding that reformers would likely end up working in several fronts, ISNA reported that day. One is the smaller human rights and democracy front being formed by Mustafa Moin, a former higher-education minister.

Some reformers say shared ideas or concerns can help forge a front: Hadi Khamenei, a leftist cleric and brother of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told ISNA on 3 October that there were "dozens or hundreds of issues" to unite reformers. Hussein Rafii, a religious liberal, told ILNA on 10 October that reformers should promote "progressive Islam" and together confront bigotry. Concern over the return of retrograde religious ideas could certainly bring reformers together, former Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari told ISNA on 14 October. Conservative journalist Amir Mohebbian told Fars News Agency on 25 October that reformers seem agreed on one point: not to criticize the government for now. That, he said, is because "some" reformist "planners" believe it "was born on a downward slope" and is heading for failure. Reformers believe they should "keep quiet and allow the government to move toward its fall" without allowing it to blame them for failures, he said.

Mostly, reformers admit they are divided. They constitute a diverse group, from political-center pragmatists to "radicals" -- members of the Participation Front, "national-religious" activists or liberals -- who advocate civil rights and freedoms more vigorously. In between, leftist parties espouse gradual democratization within the existing polity. Mohammad Reza Khabbaz of the leftist Solidarity Party told Fars on 10 October that while reformers have "common interests," if "certain radical and extremist...groups insist on their demands, effectively there will be no coalition." Legislator Bijan Shahbazkhani told ISNA on 14 October that radicalism and "criticisms beyond the...the constitution," had led Iranians to perceive all reformers as against "values" and the supreme leader's office. He said this was a cause of the presidential defeat in June. Similar attacks have led liberal Ezzatollah Sahabi to ask why traditionalist parties like the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin exclude liberals from the revolutionary "family," ILNA reported on 11 October. "I do not know why people oppose us," he said; "they should explain [it] to the public." The state barely tolerates liberals like Sahabi, while many reformers keep them at arm's length.

The political left is also divided, with former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi complaining of treachery in the June elections by ostensible allies. An unspecified group paid lip service to reformist unity, he told ISNA on 17 October, but had an "unwritten agreement" with an unnamed "former rival" and candidate, perhaps Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and "were busy with formal and informal [campaign] activities" for him. He said he believes reformers have rarely been united. "Was it because of a consensus that we presented four candidates in the...elections?" he asked on 21 October. "A little attention will show you there was never a consensus, [or] you would not have had one group boycotting the elections and another" not, he told ISNA.

Mohsen Armin of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin told ILNA on 9 October that the reformist front is "extensive and diverse," and "one cannot expect to include all these groups under the same umbrella." A front, he said, needs a charismatic figurehead, currently absent. Karrubi told ISNA on 17 October a front needs a "common idea and program." On 11 October he said "reformers have differing ideas, preferences and...sometimes fundamental differences [that could not] be resolved with meetings, suppers and statements," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 October. On 25 October, he said until "differences are resolved, a consensus is not possible," ISNA reported.

Former parliamentarian Bahaeddin Adab said he believes this is the "realistic" view, and reformers cannot unite around "reformism" because "everyone has a different reading and definition of reformism," Fars reported on 7 November. He said he sees the formation of several groups: Moin's front, Karrubi supporters, a "moderation" front, and another "pursuing structural reforms," and "on the basis of these should not...expect a consensus," he said.

To these divisions, add perceptions of failure: Ibrahim Asgharzadeh told ISNA on 15 October that reformers suffer from "an excessive weakness" and have "somewhat lost their social support base." Mohsen Armin said on 9 October that reformers failed to "institutionalize" civil institutions that would have given reforms independence and momentum.

What should reformers do? Many insist they must examine their failures. Asgharzadeh suggested an "overhaul" of reformist theories on 15 October, but admitted reformers differ on the scope of necessary change. Participation's Muhammad Sa'dai suggested a "think tank" to produce theories, ILNA reported on 11 October. Armin and Karrubi have urged independent party activity, with some collaboration, while Participation's Davud Suleimani urged a written list of "common interests" to work on, ISNA reported on 15 October.

Reformers intermittently say they had a problem conveying their message to Iranians -- hence their defeat, and a recent interest by several parties in party dailies, websites, and satellite broadcasting.

But this, alongside talk of new theories, might indicate a mistaken conviction: that Iranians voted in the opposition because they did not receive the reformist message. It contradicts another stated reformist view that it was public sentiments and grievances that initiated institutional reforms. How could Iranians not understand a message they already espoused: the need for the rule of law and open government?

The problem might have to do with reformers' capacity to deliver the goods they promise, and essentially, about who really wields power in Iran. Power might be said to be the ability to impose one's will and implement stated goals. Reformers held office, but seemingly not power. They could not impose their will, firstly on an obstructive fifth parliament in the late 1990s, then against an intransigent Guardians Council, the body that can reject legislation as unconstitutional, electoral hopefuls as unfit for office, or election results as illegal -- as it has, repeatedly. Power seemed to elude reformers like a shadow, though they sought it out from one institution to another. This might have frustrated Iranians who then ignored reformist promises and pleas in the June polls. As former legislator Yadullah Islami told ILNA on 7 November: "The reforms that exist in the heart of society see reformers as guilty of not confronting godfather-like actions," presumably by conservatives.

This perception of impotence might for now restore a balancing role to the political center and to forces affiliated with the pragmatist Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a role lost for some years to reformers. Hashemi-Rafsanjani might not be the most popular man in Iran, but he wields some power as the head of a key political arbitrating body. That power could increase: firstly with new supervisory duties Ayatollah Khamenei has deferred to him (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 October 2005), and also if he is seen as a bulwark against and alternative to right-wing radicalism.

A belief in Hashemi-Rafsanjani's potential might have led Mehdi Karrubi to meet with his former campaign rival. On 4 November, Karrubi said they had a recent "friendly meeting" in which "we discussed political issues, and...expressed concern over certain matters in the country," ILNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani invited him to rejoin the Expediency Council, which Karrubi left after the elections, "but I do not intend to return." Still, he said, one should remain "in continuous contact with...friends."

Al-Qaeda has appointed two Arabs as field commanders for southeast and southwest areas of Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 9 November, based on video that the news agency acquired from Peshawar, Pakistan. According to the report, Khaled Habib has been put in charge of southeastern provinces while Abd al-Hadi Iraqi has been assigned to the southwestern provinces of Afghanistan. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iraqi was commander of foreign fighters in the country and he later commanded Arab fighters in northern Afghanistan's Takhar Province against the United Front (Northern Alliance). Habib, who is reportedly from Morocco, also commanded Arab fighters during the Taliban's rule. AT

The Afghan Interior Ministry announced in a 9 November press release that preliminary proceedings for three members of a "major drug trafficking organization" began on 9 November at a Public Security Court in Kabul. The three unidentified men were arrested in 2004 by the Afghan Counternarcotics Police and have been charged with "various drug-trafficking crimes." Beyond distribution of heroin inside Afghanistan, the suspects allegedly had agreed to export 200 kilograms of heroin to the United States. Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud Daud, said that this "is a transparent example to anyone involved in the drug business that they will no longer be able to act with impunity in Afghanistan." The case is a rare example of Afghanistan openly putting on trial suspects involved in the illegal narcotics business. AT

Pakistani Foreign Minister Kurshid Kasuri said on 9 November in Karachi that his country will "strongly support" Afghanistan's admission into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Kasuri, who was on his way to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to attend the 26th session of the SAARC Council of Ministers, said that it was his privilege as the chairman of the meeting to propose admitting Afghanistan as a full-fledged member. Indian External Affairs Minister E. Ahmed, who will represent his country at the meeting, also indicated on 8 November that his country will "welcome" Afghanistan as a SAARC member, Dhaka's "The Daily Star" reported on 9 November. SAARC was established in 1985 and includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as members. AT

Pakistani forces on 8 November arrested an estimated 50 Afghan refugees in North Waziristan, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 9 November. The arrests come a day after North Waziristan authorities issued a 24-hour deadline for those Afghan refugees still in the area to leave the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2005). The arrested refugees have been given the choice of either crossing into Afghanistan or resettling in other areas of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan's measures against Afghan refugees in restive North Waziristan -- which borders Afghanistan -- are part of Islamabad's counterterrorism campaign. AT

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Moscow on 9 November that Iran may yet be referred to the UN Security Council for violating nuclear nonproliferation rules, even if the EU would rather not do so, Reuters reported the same day. The EU wants Iran to halt fuel-production activities before restarting talks on its contested program. "I say this on behalf of the EU-3 [Britain, France, and Germany]: we do not wish to see Iran referred to the Security Council," he said. But Iran's representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mehdi Akhundzadeh, said in Helsinki on 9 November that there would be "unpredictable consequences" if Western states take "any action" to "further complicate the situation," following a critical 24 September IAEA resolution (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 October 2005), which he said had "jeopardized the positive atmosphere" between negotiating parties, AFP reported. In Tehran, Supreme National Security Council spokesman Hussein Entezami said Iranians want to "make full use of nuclear energy, and specifically keep the nuclear fuel cycle," though Iran is prepared to talk with an attitude of "constructive agreement and interaction," Mehr reported on 9 November. VS

Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi spoke in Tehran on 9 November about a government proposal to allow a partnership by Iranian and foreign firms in "processing" at the Natanz nuclear plant, which may produce nuclear fuel, agencies reported. "Various companies will be allowed a 35 percent investment, and the Atomic Energy Organization will supervise," Mehr reported him as saying. The main partner with a 65 percent stake is to be a company formed by the Atomic Energy Organization, IRNA reported. The IAEA, he added, will supervise the activities of partner firms once contracts are signed. Iran, he said, could install 60,000 centrifuges at Natanz and "depending on the type of equipment, their products can provide fuel for several plants." Aqazadeh predicted "the West will...have no choice but to accept participation in Iran's enrichment project as the guarantee" that Iran runs a civilian program. The project, he said, shows the program "is so clear" it "can accept" as partners firms and countries "that are very sensitive" to Iran's program, and is also "the best confidence-building method," removing "the possibility of any deviation" toward bomb-making activities. VS

Parliament approved on 9 November three of four ministerial candidates proposed by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, with oil ministry candidate Sadeq Mahsuli withdrawing due to a lack of support, agencies reported the same day. Parliament approved the new education, welfare, and cooperatives ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2005) but Mahsuli withdrew in response to negative comments in recent days by legislators who believe he lacks expertise relevant to the ministry; he is a former soldier. Ahmadinejad told reporters in parliament after the vote that Mahsuli "showed generosity and sensibly withdrew, and I accepted that, and parliament welcomed the decision," ISNA reported. He said he will name another candidate soon. But he defended new faces in government, saying "we need change and must take decisions that bring change, because existing administrative and bureaucratic structures are slowing things down and preventing the use of all...resources for construction," ISNA reported. "We must open administrative circles to new forces and not restrict...appointments to famous people," he said. He admitted the oil ministry has "great tasks" to do and "needs parliament's firm support." VS

Canada and 38 countries including the United Kingdom and the United States have presented a draft resolution to be voted by the UN General Assembly urging Iran to end persistent rights abuses, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and Canadian Press reported on 8 and 9 November. The text, which cites various abuses in Iran, is to be examined in the Human Rights Committee and the General Assembly, which may vote for it this week. Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew told Canadian Press on 8 November that there has been a "marked deterioration" in the past year in the Iranian government's record of safeguarding the rights and liberties of Iranians. Positive developments, he said, "have been sparse." In Tehran, lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda on 9 November that public or revolutionary courts dealing with political crimes continue to prosecute students in spite of a recent request by senior judiciary officials that universities discipline students for any offenses. The judiciary is examining a list given to it by the Higher Education Ministry listing detained students whom it may pardon, Radio Farda stated. VS

Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (Al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers) claimed responsibility for the 9 November bombing of three hotels in the Jordanian capital Amman, according to an Internet statement posted on 10 November ( Calling the Amman bombings "a new conquest," the statement said the organization's Al-Bara' Ibn-Malik Brigade carried out the attack. "It was decided to carry out the attacks against some hotels which were transformed by the tyrant of Jordan into a backyard for the enemies of the faith, from the Jews and the Crusaders, a dirty pasture for the traitors of the nation, the apostates, a safe haven for the intelligence of the infidels who run their plots against the Muslims," the statement claimed. Addressing Jordan's King Abdallah II, it added: "Let the tyrant of Amman know that the protection wall for the Jews, which was built in east Jordan, and the backup military camp to the armies of the Crusaders and [Iraq's Shi'ite-led government], is now a target for the mujahedin and their conquests." KR

At least 57 people were killed and more than 150 wounded in the 9 November bombings of the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS, and Days Inn hotels in Amman, reported on 10 November. The three near-simultaneous bombings appeared to have been carried out by suicide bombers. At the Radisson SAS, a bomb detonated in the hotel's ballroom, where a 300-guest wedding was under way. The bomb at the Grand Hyatt was detonated in the hotel lobby. Officials said they believed the Days Inn attack was a car bomb. Arab media reported that three members of a Palestinian security delegation were feared killed in one of the attacks. Jordanian Prime Minister Marwan Muasher could not confirm the reports late on 9 November. Jordanian deputy Abd al-Jalil al-Ma'yitah told Al-Arabiyah television on 9 November that he believed at least one high-ranking Jordanian political official was at the Radisson Hotel at the time of the attack. Al-Arabiyah also reported on 9 November that three Iraqis were arrested in Amman after they were found to be in possession of maps of "sensitive locations." KR

A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest detonated himself inside a restaurant where police and security forces were, international media reported on 10 November. At least 35 people were killed and 25 more wounded, according to initial reports. A police officer on the scene told Reuters that at least four Iraqi police patrols were dining when the bomber struck. An explosives expert said it appeared the bomber was also carrying a bag full of explosives. At least six people were killed and 25 wounded in a 9 November twin car bombing outside the Shi'ite Al-Sharufi Mosque in Baghdad, international media reported on the same day. Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Hajim al-Hasani's brother was kidnapped in Kirkuk on 8 November, Reuters reported on 10 November. KR

The United Nations Security Council unanimously extended on 9 November the mandate of multinational forces in Iraq until the end of 2006, according to the UN website ( Security Council Resolution 1637 also called for the continuation of depositing Iraq's revenues from the export of petroleum and natural gas products to the Development Fund for Iraq until 31 December 2006. The fund will continue to be monitored by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board ( KR

Acting upon a request by the Iraqi government, the UN transferred $2.4 million in residual funds left over from the oil-for-food program to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to settle outstanding arrears with the agency, the UN News Center reported on 9 November ( The $2.4 million had been earmarked for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which was responsible for monitoring Iraq's compliance in eliminating weapons of mass destruction programs between November 2002 and March 2003. UNMOVIC pulled out of Iraq days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003. KR