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Newsline - January 13, 2006

Sergei Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio on 12 January that Iran's recent decision to resume uranium-enrichment research raises suspicions that its nuclear-fuel program could have hidden military aims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2006). He said that Tehran's decision to remove international seals this week from its nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz does not violate international law. He stressed, however, that "the lack of economic logic and the absence of any real need" for Iran's atomic program fuel suspicions that it "could have a hidden military aspect." Lavrov added that Russia does not exclude referring Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program. Elsewhere, he called on Iran to restore the moratorium on uranium-enrichment research, RFE/RL reported. Lavrov stressed that he hopes that "the contacts scheduled for the next few days among the EU-3 mediators [which are Britain, France, and Germany], the [United States], China, and [Russia] will be helpful in finding a position that will be balanced and that will be focused on joint efforts by the international community to find a political and diplomatic settlement to this problem. And I hope that Iran's leadership will heed our voice and will return to earlier agreements." PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 12 January after meeting with his Ukrainian and Kazakh counterparts that he wants to restore the kind of nuclear energy ties between the three states that existed under the USSR but based on market lines, "The Moscow Times" reported. He called the prospects for nuclear cooperation with Ukraine "nothing but promising." Sergei Kirienko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, or RosAtom, said that he wants to "rebuild the Minsredmash complex," meaning former Soviet ministry that dealt with nuclear power. He will present a plan for cooperation between Kazakhstan and RosAtom at the St. Petersburg summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on 25 January and then go to Kyiv for talks on cooperation with Ukraine. Russia inherited about 80 percent of the nuclear industry of the Soviet Union but has only about half of the uranium ore it needs to make fuel to power it. RosAtom wants to buy uranium from Kazakhstan, which seeks Russian money to finance new nuclear power stations. PM

Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio on 12 January that the CIS needs to reform by scrapping programs that have proven unnecessary or do not work. He did not elaborate. Lavrov said that the CIS has played an important role in preserving at least some ties between its members following the collapse of the Soviet Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2005 and 11 January 2006). PM

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's first deputy prime minister and Gazprom's chairman of the board, said in Moscow on 12 January that he hopes that the Ukrainian state energy company Naftohaz Ukrayiny will become a partner in RosUkrEnergo, the shadowy Swiss-based company set up by Gazprom as an intermediary, RIA-Novosti reported. Moscow has made similar suggestions to Kyiv in the past. PM

Sergei Ivanov told media representatives on 13 January in Moscow that the government wants "constructive cooperation" with the media, reported. At a reception marking Press Day, he said that "everyone [in the government] now has an absolute understanding of the fact that the press is a force to be reckoned with. When we cooperate, it can be much more useful than when we in any way misunderstand each other." He provided several examples of the media's coverage of the work of his own ministry. PM

The authorities formally charged 20-year-old Aleksandr Koptsev on 13 January with attempted murder, causing premeditated bodily harm, and inciting racial or religious discord in conjunction with his stabbing of eight people at a Moscow synagogue two days earlier, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2006). Five of the victims remain in the hospital, one of whom is in critical condition. Prosecutors said that Koptsev told the authorities that he is "intolerant toward Jews and that he committed the crime out of envy of them, because they live better." He reportedly added that he was influenced by unspecified books and Internet sites and that he could not control his actions. Prosecutors quoted him as saying that "one of the main factors behind the incident was my desire to die." PM

In the Russian State Duma, Sergei Popov, who heads the committee dealing with religious organizations, called on 13 January for toughening "legislation on individual criminal responsibility for extremist activity," RFE/RL reported. Pavel Krasheninnikov, who heads the committee on legislation, said that "it is necessary to supplement the law on countering extremist activity with [a clause on] the spread of extremist information through the Internet, computer games, and other similar means as an aggravating circumstance." PM

A study by the Prosecutor-General's Office revealed "catastrophic" and "absolutely terrifying" conditions at many state-run orphanages across Russia, some of which spend as little as $0.01 per day per child, London's "The Guardian" and reported on 13 January. Some critics said that the stark situation is mainly the result of President Putin's 2004 decision to transfer responsibility for funding social services to the regions. Other observers said that the study shows that Russia's massive new oil and gas wealth has yet to benefit the poorest segments of society. PM

The Council of Municipal Formations of Daghestan, created in line with President Putin's proposals for reforming local government, convened for the first time in Makhachkala on 12 January and elected that city's long-time mayor, Said Amirov, as its chairman, reported. Addressing delegates, Amirov implicitly criticized the republic's government for failing to expand the autonomy of local councils, especially in financial issues, a failure he said means local councils will continue to depend for financial subsidies on the center. Incumbent State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov's term expires in June 2006, and Amirov is considered the most likely candidate to succeed him in a presidential ballot in which for the first time the entire electorate, and not just elected representatives of the republic's ethnic groups, will participate. Both Magomedov and Amirov are Dargins; the Dargins are the second-largest ethnic group in Daghestan after the Avars and account for 16.5 percent of the total 2,576,500 population. LF

Ministers ruled at a 12 January government session to suspend the work of the human rights ombudsman's office until the parliament reconvenes after its winter recess and elects a successor to Larisa Alaverdian, who was constrained to step down last month under newly enacted amendments to the Armenian Constitution, Noyan Tapan reported. President Robert Kocharian initially appointed a three-person ad hoc commission to administer the office, a move that Alaverdian criticized as unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 11 January 2006). Meanwhile, it looks increasingly unlikely that opposition parliament factions will unanimously renominate Alaverdian to her old position, Noyan Tapan reported on 11 January. Some members of the Artarutiun bloc back Alaverdian, but National Unity (AM) faction member Koryun Arakelian told Noyan Tapan that AM will propose Ruben Torosian, chairman of the small Human Rights and Democracy Party, to that position. LF

Meeting on 12 January, deputies from the Artarutiun faction decided to take a more active role in the work of the parliament, but stopped short of announcing an end to the boycott they began in February 2004, Noyan Tapan reported. In September 2005, Artarutiun members said they would modify the boycott and participate in debates on what they considered crucial legislative issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 13 September 2005). LF

Leading Artarutiun members declined on 12 January to comment on reports that surfaced earlier this week that senior Artarutiun member Viktor Dallakian plans to leave the faction and head a new political party, Prosperous Armenia, founded by millionaire businessman Gagik Tsarukian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Dallakian similarly declined to comment on those reports, telling RFE/RL on 11 January only that "nothing can be ruled out in politics," including the emergence in 2006 of "new serious political forces that will play a serious part in Armenia's political life." LF

Leonid Martirosian, a senior staffer at the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 12 January that the enclave's leadership does not share international mediators' stated optimism that an agreement on resolving the conflict could be reached in the course of this year. NKR President Arkadii Ghukasian similarly said last month that "we are pretty far from a settlement" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2005). Martirosian added that Stepanakert will insist that the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory bordering on Karabakh does not get under way until a binding agreement is reached on the unrecognized republic's future political status. Speaking in Brussels on 11 January, Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, who is the OSCE's chairman in office for 2006, said he believes "a window of opportunity" for resolving the Karabakh conflict has opened, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. De Gucht added that "we have signs from several capitals that there might be a chance" of a formal settlement of the conflict. He said an agreement in principle on doing so might be reached at the proposed February meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. LF

Emin Guseynov, one of a group of student activists who embarked on a hunger strike last month to protest the expulsion of two of their number from institutes of higher education, was hospitalized on 12 January, barely conscious and unable to speak, reported on 13 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 10 January 2006). He is now being fed intravenously. The remaining hunger strikers are continuing their protest. LF

Local and government officials in Azerbaijan have separately denied that the deaths of domestic poultry over the past 10 days in the southern district of Salyany were caused by avian flu, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported on 12 January. LF

Representatives of 26 NGOs and media outlets affirmed their support on 12 January for the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) and its chairwoman, Anna Dolidze, Caucasus Press reported. On 9 January, five of the association's founders told journalists GYLA is becoming too politicized and is controlled by a "narrow clique" that, they alleged, is too close to the opposition Republican Party. The five demanded Dolidze's resignation and the establishment of a new board that would elect a new leadership. Later on 9 January, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, likewise a GYLA founding member, expressed similar criticism, according to "The Messenger." He claimed there is no record of how GYLA spent $12 million it received in foreign grants in recent years. Dolidze responded on 10 January by accusing the Georgian authorities of seeking to take over the association in order to quash its criticisms of problems with rule of law in Georgia, Civil Georgia reported. LF

Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, met in Sukhum(i) on 12 January with leaders of Abkhazia's small Armenian minority at their request, reported. The Armenians expressed their concern at the recent dissemination of anti-Armenian leaflets and at two recent explosions targeting an Armenian school in Sukhum(i). No one was injured in either blast. Bagapsh expressed his appreciation of the Armenian community's loyalty and admitted that the government has not in the past paid adequate attention to its problems. He assured his interlocutors that the "crimes" perpetrated against the Armenian community are being investigated. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Astana on 12 January to discuss bilateral relations, Kazinform reported. Noting that Kazakh-Russian relations present the "most effective model for bilateral cooperation in the CIS," Nazarbaev stressed that more than 1,500 Kazakh-Russian joint ventures exist. But Nazarbaev added that difficulties with the transit of Kazakh oil through Russia need to be addressed, and he warned that high tariffs are impeding Kazakh exports to Russia. Putin praised Kazakhstan as "one of the most consistent supporters of the integration process in the post-Soviet space," Interfax reported. The two men also exchanged documents confirming the ratification of a Kazakh-Russian border treaty, which came into force on 1 January. On the economic-cooperation front, ministers from the two countries signed documents on 12 January to establish a Eurasian Development Bank with $1.5 billion in charter capital, Russia's Channel One reported. The bank will be headquartered in Almaty with a branch in St. Petersburg. DK

Bishkek city prosecutor Uchkun Kerimov told a news conference in Bishkek on 12 January that journalists should refrain from publishing inaccurate and slanderous materials about President Kurmanbek Bakiev, reported. Kerimov enumerated a number of warnings already issued against individuals, including parliamentarian Kabai Karabekov and former Osh Governor Anvar Artykov, for comments made in interviews. Bermet Bukasheva, editor in chief of the newspaper "Litsa," received a warning on 11 January for having allowed the publication of materials allegedly defaming Bakiev. Kyrgyzstan's criminal code provides for punishments up to three years in prison for defamation, the news agency noted. The coalition For Democracy and Civil Society responded to Kerimov's comments the same day, calling them an infringement on freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan, reported. The coalition appealed to President Bakiev to "waste no time in disavowing statements by prosecutors and in guaranteeing the full and unconditional observation of all constitutional rights and freedoms in Kyrgyzstan." DK

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement on its website ( on 12 January highlighting ongoing concerns about torture in Uzbekistan and calling on the Kyrgyz government to refrain from handing over four Uzbek refugees to Uzbek authorities. Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said: "The Uzbek government's promises not to torture these men are not worth the paper they're written on. Diplomatic assurances of this type from Uzbekistan do not provide a reliable safeguard against torture and ill-treatment." Cartner stressed that "torture of detainees is routine in Uzbekistan," adding, "The government of Kyrgyzstan should not pretend that these four would be treated any differently." The appeal follows a 9 January press release by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees calling on the Kyrgyz government to "refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan." The four men, who have received official refugee status from the United Nations, were detained in Kyrgyzstan after fleeing Uzbekistan in the wake of May violence in Andijon. The Uzbek government has sought their extradition, claiming that three of them helped to organize violence in Andijon and the fourth is a convicted drug dealer. DK

Tajik police have arrested Sadullo Yatimov, the director of the orphanage where a deadly fire struck on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006), for negligence, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. "In 10 days' time, charges will be pressed against him under this article [negligence], and probably under another article as well," prosecutor Habibullo Vohidov told the news agency. "If Sadullo Yatimov's negligence is proved, he might face a jail term of up to five years." The fire killed 13 children and injured another. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov said on 12 January that Turkmenistan should hold a presidential election in 2010, Turkmen Television First Channel reported. Niyazov, who has raised the prospect of elections in occasional statements in the past, told citizens in nationally broadcast remarks, "You should elect the best person as the head of state because the same man cannot always be the leader." He said that elders and provincial leaders should "submit their proposals on this issue" with an eye to an election in 2009-10. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 12 January attended the opening of a gas-supply pipeline in the city of Dokshytsy, Vitsebsk Oblast, Belarusian Television reported. "I want you to remember that we do not extract natural gas, we buy it," Lukashenka said. "You see the clashes, the 'gas wars,' as journalists call them, taking place in the post-Soviet area. There will be no cheap gas. It is steadily becoming costlier.... [Therefore] I advise you: Beside a gas stove, you should have a bucket with chopped wood.... Of course we will strive to agree with the Russian Federation, from which we obtain gas, in order to make a gas price increase more restrained than that which we have just seen in Ukraine. Nevertheless, there will no longer be any cheap fuel." JM

President Lukashenka told journalists in Dokshytsy on 12 January that there will be no "Kyrgyz scenario" in the upcoming presidential election in Belarus on 19 March, Belarusian Television reported. "You may be absolutely sure that the government won't let any destabilization of the situation happen," Lukashenka said. "We don't need to rig the vote. On the contrary, we are doing our utmost to avoid any accusations, even accidental ones. We have registered all [presidential contenders], even those who had no right to be registered. We are all but collecting signatures for them, but they are still complaining." Lukashenka stressed that he does not need to cling to power by force since he enjoys sufficient popular trust. JM

The Central Election Commission has issued an official warning to the nomination group of exiled politician Zyanon Paznyak, leader of the Conservative Christian Party, accusing its activists of early campaigning, Belapan reported on 12 January. The warning was issued in connection with leaflets passed out by activists collecting signatures for Paznyak's registration as candidate for the 19 March presidential vote. Syarhey Papkou, Paznyak's campaign manager, told Belapan that the warning is unfair, adding that the leaflets in question called for participation in a Paznyak-proposed campaign against vote fraud, rather than for casting ballots for the politician. Paznyak has suggesting that, to prevent vote rigging, pro-opposition voters should report to polling stations on the election day, put sheets of paper with names of candidates of their choice into ballot boxes, and pocket the original ballots. According to Paznyak's plan, which was signed by some members of election commissions, the original ballots should be counted later by an independent election commission. JM

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the new chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), on 12 January called on Belarusian authorities to invite the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to observe the upcoming presidential election in the country, Belapan reported. Ruslan Yesin, acting spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, told Belapan earlier this week that several international organizations had already expressed interest in monitoring the presidential election. Yesin added that the Foreign Ministry has not yet sent any invitations. Under the Belarusian Electoral Code, apart from the Foreign Ministry, invitations to observe the country's elections may be sent by the Central Election Commission, the president, the Council of Ministers, and both chambers of the National Assembly. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 13 January decided to prolong its current session for one more week, until 20 January, UNIAN reported. The motion was backed by 241 deputies; pro-government factions did not participate in the vote. The previous day pro-government deputies blocked the Verkhovna Rada rostrum in a successful bid to prevent opposition groups from tabling a vote on the dismissal of Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy. It is not clear from media reports why the Ukrainian parliament wanted to sack Holovatyy one more time, two days after its vote to dismiss the entire cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov. Holovatyy said after the 10 January sacking of the government that the move was unconstitutional and contravened parliamentary procedures. And President Viktor Yushchenko instructed Yekhanurov to continue performing his duties until the parliamentary elections in March and called on the Verkhovna Rada to annul the dismissal vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2006). JM

Ukraine's Central Election Commission on 12 January considered complaints from some political forces regarding the registration of their candidates for the 26 March parliamentary elections, UNIAN reported. As of 12 January, the commission had registered 7,650 candidates from 44 political parties and blocs. This year's elections are the first in independent Ukraine to be held under a fully proportional, party-list system. Under the constitutional reform that took effect on 1 January, the new parliament will have a decisive say in forming the government. Its term is extended to five years from the current four. Sociological surveys indicate that six or seven Ukrainian parties and blocs may overcome the 3-percent voting barrier that qualifies for parliamentary representation. JM

Acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said on 12 January that the Swiss-based RosUkrEnergo company has no Ukrainian owners, UNIAN reported. Yekhanurov said the component "Ukr" in the company's name indicates that the company originally planned to have Ukrainian stockholders. Yekhanurov stressed that Russia did not leave Ukraine any other option for a gas supplier in 2006 apart from RosUkrEnergo. On 4 January Gazprom and Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Ukraine's oil and gas transport company, signed a controversial gas deal that made RosUkrEnergo the monopolist of gas supplies to Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 10 January 2006). RosUkrEnergo was described in the media as a company owned by Gazprom and unidentified "Ukrainian investors." Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev, Russian first deputy premier and Gazprom Board of Directors head, said on 12 January that the "optimal option" for Gazprom would be to have Naftohaz Ukrayiny as a partner in RosUkrEnergo. Medvedev confirmed earlier reports that Gazprom owns a 50-percent stake in RosUkrEnergo. JM

Serbian police announced on 12 January that they have arrested Dejan Simic, the vice governor of the country's central bank, dpa reported the same day. "All who break the law must face justice," Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said in comments broadcast on RTS television. "Nobody will be protected from it," he added. Quoting unidentified law-enforcement sources, Beta reported that Simic was arrested on 11 January for accepting a bribe. He has been in office since September 2004. BW

Serbian businessman Bogoljub Karic, who is under investigation for fraud, accused the government on 12 January of persecuting him for political reasons, dpa reported the same day. "As soon as I give them money, they keep quiet," Karic said. He added that the government is seeking to "bury and liquidate" him. "If anything happens to me, Serbia has to know that [Prime Minister] Vojislav Kostunica is responsible," Karic told the daily newspaper "Politika." One of Serbia's richest businessmen, Karic formed the Force of Serbia Movement (PSS) political party, which six deputies in Serbia's parliament have joined. He is currently under investigation for trying to bribe additional lawmakers to join his camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). BW

Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has added charges to the war crimes indictments of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic to include murders committed by the Scorpions paramilitary unit, B92 reported on 12 January. According to the new indictment, special paramilitary units under the command of Stanisic and Simatovic -- which included the Red Berets and the Scorpions -- participated in attacks in Srebrenica and Zepa in the summer of 1995. Part of the evidence against the two will be a video of Scorpions members executing six Muslim civilians in Trnovo, which was shown on 1 June 2005 at the trial of deposed Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2005). BW

Veterinary Administration Director Slobodan Cokrevski said on 13 January that an estimated 117 chickens that died in the Macedonian village of Bansko were not infected with bird flu, the Macedonian Information Agency reported the same day. The chickens died over a three-day period in the village near the Bulgarian border, sparking fears of avian flu, the Sofia News Agency reported on 11 January. All the chickens were from one family's farm. "The Bansko chickens were not infected with the bird-flu virus. Everything is under control, leaving no room for panic," Cokrevski said. "There is no danger of a bird-flu outbreak in Macedonia despite the recent human deaths in Turkey caused by this disease. The import ban of fresh and frozen chicken meat from Turkey has been in force since October last year, when the first case of the disease was registered in the country, and the border crossings are controlled tightly." BW

Macedonia's hopes of joining the European Union will be frustrated unless it takes steps to reform its police and judiciary, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report posted on its website ( on 12 January. The report, "Macedonia: Wobbling Toward Europe," says "Macedonia's EU hopes will be dashed unless the government reforms the police and judicial sectors and responds effectively to potential political crises and would-be spoilers." The report adds that a "crippled judicial system faces a serious backlog of cases and suffers from excessive political influence," and it calls on the international community to maintain pressure on Skopje to deliver on its promises to reform. The report also called for devolution of police authority, more resources for investigating police abuse and corruption, and greater coordination between police and other government agencies. "Macedonia is still a maturing democracy, and vulnerable to spoilers who want to hijack an imperfect reform process," said Nicholas Whyte, the ICG's Europe Program director. "It's now up to the political leadership to decide if Macedonia will limp awkwardly or stride confidently toward European integration." BW

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 12 January that Chisinau plans to diversify its gas suppliers and participate in international pipeline projects to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, ITAR-TASS and RosBusiness Consulting reported the same day. Tarlev said that as a result of Gazprom seeking to double the price of natural gas from $80 per 1,000 cubic meters to $160, Moldova will also seek supplies from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and other countries. Moldova also plans to participate in the Nabucco project, which includes Armenia, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, and the European Union. The project envisages the construction of a gas pipeline along the Black Sea bed to supply gas from Central Asia and the Caspian basin to Europe. BW

Two months after the 6 November parliamentary elections in which official returns showed that Azerbaijan's opposition won a mere 10 of the 125 mandates, the cohesion of the opposition Azadliq election alliance is threatened by disagreements over future strategy. Meanwhile, two major opposition parties are riven by internal dissent. Whether those disagreements will result in total fragmentation, or whether former rivals might join forces in a new opposition alliance, remains unclear.

The disagreements among Azadliq's three members -- the Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) -- revolve around whether the handful of opposition candidates who won their respective races should participate in the workings of a parliament that the opposition considers lacking in legitimacy; whether they should field candidates in the 13 May voting in the 10 constituencies in which the results of the 6 November ballot were annulled; and whether the opposition should propose candidates to serve on the new Central Election Commission (MSK).

On 1 December, Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court formally endorsed the results of the 6 November elections from 115 of the total 125 constituencies, having annulled the results in a further six constituencies, in addition to the four where the MSK had already invalidated the outcome. The Constitutional Court's ruling deprived Ali Kerimli, chairman of the AHCP's progressive wing, of his mandate, leaving the AHCP with one deputy and Musavat with five (not including its chairman, Isa Qambar); the DPA failed to win representation. Kerimli told journalists on 2 December that he intended to propose at his next meeting with fellow Azadliq party leaders and the leader of the National Unity Movement that the four organizations refrain from either participating in the work of the new legislature or from fielding candidates in the repeat elections, reported on 3 December.

The DPA initially endorsed that tactic, and National Unity Chairwoman Lala-Shovket Gadjieva subsequently announced that she would not take up her mandate. But although Musavat party leader Qambar similarly pledged that neither Azadliq as a bloc nor Musavat would participate in the working of the new parliament, he subsequently retreated from that position, telling a 17 December meeting of Musavat's Mejlis (council) that while the Azadliq participation in the new parliament "will not change anything," the bloc would gain nothing from a boycott. (It should be borne in mind that Musavat was excluded from the 1995 parliamentary elections and ended up with just one parliamentary deputy in the 2000 ballot.)

Musavat Deputy Chairman Rauf Arifoglu told journalists on 7 December that he has the legal right to participate in the repeat vote in the constituency for which he sought representation in the 6 November ballot. He added that he hopes opposition candidates will do likewise in the nine other constituencies where the results have been annulled. Arifoglu dismissed warnings from other Musavat party members that he risks expulsion if he fails to abide by the bloc's decision to boycott both the work of the new parliament and the repeat elections.

Some senior Musavat members present at the 17 December meeting advocated participating in the work of the new parliament, while others supported the proposed boycott. The meeting finally endorsed a decision by the party's top leaders not to participate in the work of the parliament for the time being, and to postpone a decision on whether or not to field candidates in the 13 May repeat voting until after a party congress scheduled for February, according to on 20 December.

Moreover, Musavat First Deputy Chairman Vurgun Eyyub and Deputy Chairman Sulheddin Akper both openly questioned the expediency not only of either prolonging the existence of Azadliq, which was conceived purely as an election bloc, or of transforming it into a new "national movement," but also of continuing to cooperate with the AHCP. Akper accused Kerimli of making an "unforgivable mistake" and of "dealing a major blow" to the opposition as a whole by his apparently spontaneous decision to launch a sit-down protest following the two-hour march and demonstration organized by Azadliq on 26 November to protest the election outcome, reported on 19 December. Kerimli's decision -- in which he was backed by Gadjieva -- triggered a vicious police assault on the dispersing demonstrators in which dozens of people were injured. Akper proposed instead that Musavat should establish closer ties with the DPA, the conservative wing of the AHCP, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), and the tiny Vahdat party, according to on 20 December.

At a meeting of its top leadership on 24 December, Kerimli's wing of the AHCP reaffirmed its decision to boycott both the work of the new parliament and the 13 May repeat elections, reported on 27 December. Nizami Guliev, who represented the party in the outgoing parliament, argued that the opposition has a duty to boycott the new parliament as a way to focus the attention of the international community on that body's shortcomings. But on 27 December quoted Guliev as saying that in the issue of whether or not to participate in the repeat vote, including in the Gyadabey constituency where according to the official (later invalidated) returns he lost to a candidate from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), he will be guided by the final decision of the Azadliq bloc as a whole, rather than of that of the AHCP.

Like Musavat, the DPA too has retreated from its initial declaration of support for a boycott of parliamentary proceedings: DPA press spokesman Nureddin Ismailov told on 27 December that since no DPA candidates won election, it would not be ethical for the party to pronounce on the issue.

The newly elected parliament convened for the first time on 2 December and elected a new speaker and deputy speakers. Six representatives of five different opposition parties (including Azadliq's Djamil Gasanli) are participating in its work. Parliament statutes set the minimum number of deputies needed to establish a formal faction at 25; they must, moreover, all be elected from the same political party or bloc. Only such factions have the right of legislative initiative. Umid party chairman Iqbal Agazade, one of the six opposition deputies, was quoted in a 29 December interview with as saying that the "group of six" will endeavor to coordinate its activities.

Whether that will prove possible remains unclear, however: on 10 January reported that the minority parties represented in parliament (Civic Solidarity; Civic Unity; Great Creation; Democratic Reforms; Musavat; Ana Veten; Social Welfare; National Unity; Yeni Siyaset, or New Policy; both wings of the AHCP; Umid; and the breakaway United Party of the Azerbaijan Popular Front) have been unable to reach agreement on nominating six candidates to the new MSK. That body comprises 18 members, six each nominated by the majority party (YAP), by other parliamentary parties, and by nonaligned deputies.

Following a 6 January meeting of the heads of the three Azadlyq constituent parties and National Unity, Kerimli told journalists the following day that while the AHCP progressive wing refuses to participate in the work of the MSK unless its composition is amended to give the ruling party and opposition parties equal representation, he cannot speak for the other parties, reported. But newly elected deputy parliament speaker Ziyafet Asqerov was quoted by on 30 December as ruling out any such major restructuring of the MSK. Earlier, Asqerov warned that deputies who fail to attend more than 30 parliament sessions without a valid excuse will be stripped of their mandate.

Speaking to journalists after the same 6 January meeting of Azadliq's leaders, Kerimli sought to play down the tactical differences between them, denying rumors of a split, reported on 7 January. He said the three discussed the bloc's future program, and that he unveiled a draft proposal on continued cooperation between Azadlyq, National Unity, the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, and the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP). AMIP Chairman Ali Aliyev raised in December the possibility of AMIP quitting the Yeni Siyaset (YeS) election bloc and aligning with Azadliq. But that stated intention by Aliyev, who was elected AMIP chairman in two successive ballots last year, precipitated a major standoff between Aliyev and his predecessor Etibar Mamedov, who now holds the honorary title of AMIP "leader."

Mamedov has always regarded the leaders of Azadliq's three parties with a degree of coolness, if not outright hostility, according to on 16 December. Aliyev's increasingly intemperate and insulting criticisms of Mamedov and his supporters within the party culminated in its split into two rival groupings on 8 January.

Similarly rent by internal dissent is the DPA, whose First Deputy Chairman Serdar Djalaloglu is engaged in a power struggle with Aydin Guliyev, chief editor of the newspaper "Baky khabar," in which both men claim the backing of the party's exiled chairman, Rasul Quliyev.

Quliyev left Azerbaijan nine years ago after a major disagreement with then-President Heidar Aliyev, and headed the DPA from his U.S. exile since that time. He has announced several times his intention to return to Baku despite the fact that a warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges on large-scale embezzlement. In the wake of his most recent, abortive attempt to return, in mid-October, the Azerbaijani authorities arrested up to a dozen senior officials on charges of conspiring with Quliyev to stage a coup d'etat. Some Azerbaijani analysts have suggested that Quliyev's repeated failures to make good on his announced intention to return to Baku have discredited him to the point that the DPA would be unwise to risk proposing him as its candidate in the 2008 presidential election, according to on 21 December.

On 20 December, published an article entitled "Musavat and Azadlyq Divorce," accompanied by a photo of Qambar and Kerimli side by side but visibly estranged. The paper suggested that in the event that Azadliq does collapse, Kerimli stands to "inherit" the more radical "protest" voters, while Qambar and Quliyev might remain aligned in a "rump" Azadliq. (An alliance between Kerimli, one of Azerbaijan's most charismatic politicians, and National Unity's Gadjieva, one of the opposition's most politically sophisticated thinkers, could prove a force to be reckoned with.) At this juncture, however, any such speculation about putative realignments within the opposition camp remains premature.

The speaker of the recently inaugurated Afghan National Assembly's People's Council, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, said on 11 January that the parliament is satisfied with the performance of some of President Hamid Karzai's cabinet ministers but warned that others will be made accountable for their activities, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported. "The parliament can decide about [the appointment of ministers to] the cabinet," Qanuni added. Qanuni said the lower house should be expected to take "decisions in the interest of the people of Afghanistan" while taking into "consideration the current realities in the country." After his election to the presidency in October 2004, Karzai appointed his cabinet in the absence of a national parliament, but his choices are due to face a parliamentary confidence vote in February in what could represent the legislature's first challenge to Karzai's previous monopoly on power. AT

General Mohammad Daud, the deputy interior minister in charge of counternarcotics efforts, said in an interview with Sheberghan-based Aina TV on 11 January that government officials suspected of involvement in the illicit drug trade will face justice. Acknowledging that a "number of government officials are involved in drug cultivation," Daud said that a "new group" has been formed comprising representatives of his ministry and the Defense Ministry, the National Security Directorate, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and the U.S.-led coalition forces in order "to take the necessary steps" to combat illegal drugs. Recent reports have suggested involvement by Afghan government officials, including security personnel, in the trade. AT

Bulgarian forces will perform their first peacekeeping mission as part of ISAF in Afghanistan, a Bulgarian Defense Ministry press release indicated on 12 January, according to BTA news agency. The Bulgarian brigade will operate in Kabul and its adjoining areas, and the first of the troops are expected to depart for Afghanistan in mid-January. AT

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Minab in the southern Hormozgan Province on 12 January that Iran will continue to pursue its nuclear program, which he once again insisted is peaceful, ISNA reported. "The government will -- with power, hard work, patience, and good sense -- pursue the path to the full realization of peaceful nuclear technology," Ahmadinejad said, "and in the very near future, this energy will serve [Iranians]." Iranians, he added, reject "those who want progress for themselves" only. "Those who enjoy the highest levels of nuclear energy, and use that as an economic and political weapon, and have nuclear arsenals, want to prevent Iran...[from] climbing the peaks of progress," he charged. "We have said time and again" that Iranians do not "need nuclear weapons to interact with the world, and [instead] rely" on the "faith of their youngsters" to defend the country, Ahmadinejad said. He promised better security for Iranians inside the country, too, and urged "peace, based on justice," abroad. In the "Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea, we want peace and expanding ties with regional states, and see them as our brothers. We must not allow foreigners to be freely active in the" Persian Gulf, he said. VS

Ahmadinejad made "justice" a leitmotif of his speeches in the south of the country on 12 January. "Justice is the spirit of the [1979] Islamic revolution, and an Islamic society without justice is meaningless," he told an audience in Minab, according to IRNA. He said justice in Iran means equitable access to public resources and a fair division of the state budget; he also urged people to "shout" and demand justice. "Selfish, insatiable, and offending people are terrified of the implementation of justice" and use their "influence" to resist it, he said. In a separate speech the same day in Rudan, Ahmadinejad said that Iran's revolution is part of the "movement of the prophets" guiding humankind toward the "final event." The revolution is a "leap" toward this "final event," he said; he did not say whether his reference was to Judgment Day or to the arrival of the absent Imam Mahdi, a messiah whom Shi'as -- but not Sunni Muslims -- believe will usher in earthly justice. Ahmadinejad also promised that his government will begin extending piped gas to Rudan in the Persian year beginning on 21 March 2006 and provide unspecified support for local business, ISNA reported. VS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran late on 11 January that "Iran's decision to have nuclear technology is, with God's kindness and help, irreversible" but Iran will continue its policy of "resolving doubts" and "countering certain mischievous acts and propaganda" against the aims of its nuclear program, ISNA reported the next day. He said Iran will try to achieve this through "agreement, explanation, clarification, and transparent conduct," but "this does not mean that...we are waiting for permission from somewhere" to pursue "the definite and legal and natural" right to have a nuclear program. Mottaki was speaking on his return from Kazakhstan, where he attended a presidential swearing-in ceremony. He met there with foreign officials including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, ISNA reported. Mottaki reportedly told Putin that Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, will likely lead the next round of Iran-Russia talks on a Russian fuel-enrichment proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006). Mottaki also discussed with the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents the possible sale to those countries of Iranian natural gas. VS

Regular-army chief Major General Ataollah Salehi on 12 January completed a four-day inspection of Iranian troops in "the country's southern regions in the provinces of Khuzistan and Ilam" and said the army's message to Iranians is that "we shall with power and capability respond to any regional and supra-regional disturbance for the country," ISNA reported. He said the regular army's land, sea, and air forces are ready because of "constructive coordination between commanders...high morale, the transfer of experience" from the 1980-88 war with Iraq to "young workers," and the full capability to use the latest military hardware and weaponry, ISNA reported. He said the armed forces' military abilities were evidenced during his visit, when "certain foreign elements penetrated the country's southern frontier waters to implement their sinister aims." Iranian troops countered these operations by night, captured enemy weapons, and "and killed a number of infiltrating elements," Salehi claimed, although it was not immediately clear if this was an exercise or an attack. VS

Iran's Intelligence and Culture ministries have reportedly instructed ISNA and ILNA news agencies not to report the summonses, arrests, or prosecution of student and political activities without first "coordinating" their reporting with them, Radio Farda reported on 12 January, citing the Persian Ruz website. Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders told Radio Farda the same day that the move is part of an intensifying campaign of intimidation and restriction of the media by the state, and especially by the two ministries working together. "There is no legal basis for this intimidation," and these restrictions are not based on Iran's "anti-freedom" laws, he told Radio Farda. But he said the process is "silent...without formality. They are acting in such a way that this would not take a formal appearance; but what we know is that from the start of this new government, this form of summonses, interrogations and threats have continued this way." Officials have been giving pressmen new directives or instructions not to report specific news items, he said. VS

Ziyad Tariq Aziz, the son of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, issued an appeal for his father's release one day after Aziz's attorney told Arab media that the man is deathly ill, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 13 January. Lawyer Badi Arif Izzat told "Al-Hayat" that Aziz has suffered the effects of a stroke and heart disease, the daily reported on 12 January. Arif said he does not expect Aziz to live more than a month. Ziyad Tariq Aziz told Al-Arabiyah that his mother and sister are en route to Baghdad to seek information on his father's medical status. "We do not have the faintest idea of his health condition, except for what his lawyer tells us," said the son. Reuters quoted Arif as saying that Aziz suffers from high blood pressure and cannot walk properly due to the effects of diabetes. The news agency cited a U.S. military spokesman as saying that there has been no significant deterioration in Aziz's health "and there is no reason to believe that his health is going to deteriorate soon." KR

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq, saying stability cannot be reached in Iraq as long as foreign forces remain on the ground there, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 13 January. Speaking from Mecca, where he is performing hajj, al-Sadr said: "I call on the Iraqi government to raise its voice and I am ready to help it by asking the masses to stage popular demonstrations and protests, go on strike, or do anything else needed in order to oust the occupier and make [the government] an independent and stable authority, away from the occupier and the occupier's pressures." Al-Sadr claimed that Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi is America's tool in helping to maintain instability in Iraq. KR

Newly released military documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have revealed the existence of a special-operations unit identified as Task Force 6-26, which operated in Iraq as part of a "Special Access Program" that might have been linked to high-ranking military officers in Iraq, ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said, according to Reuters on 12 January. According to the ACLU, a June 2005 memo written by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command in Iraq on an investigation into the alleged abuse of a detainee identified as the son of Saddam Hussein's bodyguard shows that the investigation failed to turn up information because the task-force members used fake names and claimed to have lost the detainee's medical records and other files crucial to the investigation. "The only names identified by this investigation were determined to be fake names utilized by the capturing soldiers," a military memorandum obtained by the ACLU said. "6-26 also had a major computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 percent of their files; therefore they can't find the cases we need to review," it continued. The memo concluded the investigation should not be reopened, Reuters reported. KR

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 12 January that he considered a 2004 request by former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer to send additional troops to Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense website ( Rumsfeld told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing that he did not meet Bremer's request because military commanders disagreed with Bremer's assessment of the security situation in Iraq. "We did a very thorough analysis of [Bremer's] recommendation, and when we got done, all the chiefs agreed with the commanders in the field that the numbers of troops in the field then, as now, was appropriate to what we were fighting," General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the same briefing. Bremer has alleged in a new book that his request to Rumsfeld for additional troops went unanswered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2006). KR

The insurgent group Muhammad's Army claimed in a 12 January statement posted on the Internet ( that it has developed chemical weapons including napalm and nitrogen bombs. The authenticity of the claim has not been verified. The statement claimed that the group has locally manufactured the weapons, and added: "A rocket-launching base for shooting down fighter planes is presently being developed." The group, which reportedly has links to the former regime of Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005), claimed that it will soon release a videotape depicting "the experiments that were conducted on the weapons" it has developed. KR