TELEVISION JOURNALIST KILLED IN MOSCOW
Ilya Zimin, an investigative reporter with the news channel NTV, was found dead amid signs of violence in his apartment by a colleague on 26 February, RFE/RL's Russian Service and Russian media reported. The colleague added that Zimin was last seen alive the previous night after leaving a night club. The Moscow Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating the killing, told RIA Novosti that the killing was not related to Zimin's work as a journalist, but did not elaborate. The news agency also noted that he was beaten and robbed in April 2005 by a group of men "of Caucasian appearance." PM
GAZPROM BOARD OF DIRECTORS IS BUSY
Gazprom's board of directors agreed on 26 February to approve the purchase of 50 percent of the RosUkrEnergo joint venture's stock from Gazprom's own subsidiary, Gazprombank, RIA Novosti reported. The board also gave the green light to buying the controlling stake in the North European Gas Pipeline project from its affiliate in Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2005). A third item approved by the board is for the Gazprom subsidiary Mezhregiongaz to buy into six regional gas companies, namely Ivanovoregiongaz, Kirovregiongaz, Udmurtregiongaz, Vladimirregiongaz, Mosregiongaz, and Bashkirgaz. Finally, the board agreed to allocate over $1 billion to supply the far-flung regions with gas in 2006-07. PM
ALROSA BUYS UP MINORITY SHARES FROM EMPLOYEES
The press office of the state diamond group Alrosa announced in a statement in Yakutsk on 26 February that it will repurchase shares from minority shareholders at $12,000 per share, RIA Novosti reported. The company said it is acting in the interest of the Russian government and that of the region of Sakha (formerly known as Yakutia), which are Alrosa's key shareholders, with 37 and 40 percent of the total, respectively. The statement added that "this effort is the direct result of agreements reached between the governments of Russia and...Sakha...to fulfill [President Vladimir Putin's] instructions on measures to protect state property in the diamond sector of Sakha." Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin previously said that Alrosa will buy up shares from its own personnel, who own 23 percent of the total. PM
STATE DUMA PASSES ANTITERRORISM LAW ON THIRD AND FINAL READING
The State Duma voted on 26 February to pass President Putin's "anti-terrorism law," which critics charge is sufficiently vague to be used against civil society, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2006). PM
PROSECUTORS ACT AGAINST NUCLEAR-WASTE DUMPING
The Prosecutor's Office for the Urals Federal District announced in Yekaterinburg on 26 February that it has brought charges against Mayak Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility General Director Vitaly Sadovnikov, Interfax reported. The prosecutors accuse him of ignoring rules on handling hazardous substances and waste. The charges involve offences allegedly committed during 2001-04, due to which "several dozen million cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste spilled into the Techa River," the announcement said. The prosecutors also suggested that Mayak management misused its financial resources. Mayak is Russia's biggest reprocessor of spent nuclear fuel and handles materials from the Kola, Novovoronezh, and Beloyarsk nuclear power plants, as well as from nuclear submarines. It is located just east of the Urals in Chelyabinsk Oblast and was created in the 1940s as the heart of the Soviet Union's nuclear program. It is widely considered to be the site of some of the worst radioactive contamination in the world. PM
RUSSIAN ATOMIC CHIEF SAYS MUCH WORK STILL NEEDED WITH IRAN
Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, said on 27 February after returning to Moscow from Iran that the central issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program have yet to be clarified, the "Financial Times" reported. He noted that "a lot of work still needs to be done, and we have agreed that the talks will continue in Moscow in the very near future," international media reported. He added that "the talks are not simple, they are complicated, but I would like to repeat that I am confident that a diplomatic solution is possible." The London-based daily quoted unnamed European diplomats as saying that any agreement that Kiriyenko might have reached with his hosts is likely to be technical or minor in nature. The paper added that the question of Iran's demand to enrich uranium on its own territory remains unresolved. PM
TOP ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE RESIGNS...
Artashes Tumanian, the senior aide for Armenian President Robert Kocharian, resigned on 24 February, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. By ending his six-year tenure of serving the president, Tumanian will also be required to step down from his position as a co-chairman of the bilateral Armenian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Tumanian announced on 17 February that he intends to form a new political party in anticipation of the upcoming 2007 parliamentary elections. His new party, Nor Yerkir (New Country), is to advocate a pro-Western platform of seeking deeper Armenian integration with the European Union and plans to convene its inaugural meeting in Yerevan on 18 March, Regnum reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2006). The 55-year old Tumanian began his political career as deputy parliamentary speaker in 1991 and is widely seen as a pragmatic figure with a record of moderation toward all parties within Armenian politics. RG
...AND IS QUICKLY REPLACED
Only one day after the resignation of his chief of staff, Kocharian promoted on 25 February Armen Gevorkian as the new head of the presidential administration, Mediamax reported. Prior to his promotion, the 33-year-old Gevorkian served as presidential aide and first deputy head of the presidential administration since April 1998. RG
ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DENIES POLITICAL AMBITION
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian issued a statement on 24 February dismissing recent speculation over his political ambitions, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Countering rumors that he plans to form his own political party to contest next year's parliamentary elections, the prosecutor-general said that he is "not a partisan politician," stressing that "the law bans the prosecutor-general from engaging in political activities." The speculation over Hovsepian's political ambition stems from the recent activities of his personal Nig-Aparan nongovernmental organization, which held a high-profile mass public "circle dance" around the base of Armenia's highest mountain last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). RG
ARMENIAN OFFICIALS OPPOSE DRAFT LAW ON SECURITY SERVICES
Senior Armenian officials testified at a parliamentary hearing on 24 February, arguing against new draft legislation seeking to regulate the private security-service industry, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Deputy Justice Minister Gevorg Malkhasian and Ararat Mahtesian, the deputy chief of the national Police Service, each testified against the legislation, stressing that the government as a whole remains opposed to any attempt to impose new regulations over private security. The draft legislation, introduced by two members of the ruling coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Orinats Yerkir party, seeks to legalize but regulate the activities of private bodyguards, many of whom serve as armed guards for the country's most notorious wealthy government-connected businessmen. Under current Armenian law, the exclusive authority to provide armed protection to various institutions and private individuals is limited to a special police department. RG
DUTCH COMPANY ACCUSES AZERBAIJAN OF EXPROPRIATING PROPERTY
Officials of the Dutch Fondel Metal firm issued a press release on 25 February criticizing the Azerbaijani government for engaging in "attacks on local and foreign investors," Turan reported. The Dutch company contended that the Azerbaijani authorities have violated the terms of a 25-year contract reached in 2001 for the sale of two aluminum plants and protested the Azerbaijani government's move to break off talks over its October 2005 seizure of the Azeral firm that controls the plants. According to the Fondel statement, "the expropriation of Fondel's economic interests in Azeral was yet another example of Azerbaijan's blatant disrespect for commercial agreements and international law." The Dutch firm has vowed to "take all possible measures" against Azerbaijan and threatened to appeal to the International Court of Arbitration "to defend its own interests." RG
AZERBAIJANI WORKERS END STRIKE AT AMERICAN ENERGY COMPANY
Some 1,000 striking workers at the U.S. oil-services company McDermott in Azerbaijan ended on 24 February their strike after reaching an agreement with management, RFE/RL and AFP reported. The workers initiated the one-day strike in response to a move by two foreign managers to remove posters marking a national day of mourning for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. The strike at the McDermott facility followed an earlier labor dispute in late November 2005, when workers demanded higher wages and more generous benefits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 November 2005). RG
STATE OF EMERGENCY IMPOSED IN GEORGIAN DISTRICT AFTER BIRD-FLU OUTBREAK...
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili imposed on 26 February a state of emergency in the Khelvachauri district of Adjara, Rustavi-2 TV reported. The move follows a second outbreak of bird flu in poultry. The state of emergency, to last through 1 October, includes measures banning the sale of poultry, prohibiting hunting, and limiting transport in the district. RG
...AFTER GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT ORDERS SLAUGHTER OF POULTRY
The Georgian government issued a new directive on 25 February ordering the slaughter of all domestic poultry within a 3-kilometer radius of an outbreak of bird flu in Adjara, according to RFE/RL and Civil Georgia. Although the authorities stressed that there is no evidence of the H5N1 strain of the virus in domestic poultry, the government ordered the slaughter after a second case of bird flu was detected on 25 February in the Khelvachauri district of Adjara. The first potential case of bird flu was confirmed the day before, when H5N1 was detected in a dead swan found on the lake near the village of Adlia in the same district. Samples from that case have already been sent to a London lab. In an effort to quickly confront the threat, President Saakashvili convened a session of the National Security Council on 24 February and issued a statement warning that "the population should be very cautious and observe elementary sanitary norms in order to avoid infection." RG
GEORGIA REACHES NEW MILITARY AGREEMENT WITH BULGARIA
During a two-day state visit to Bulgaria, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and his Bulgarian counterpart Veselin Bliznakov signed on 24 February a new bilateral agreement on military cooperation, Civil Georgia reported. Although the Georgian Defense Ministry failed to release specific details of the agreement, the agreement reportedly centers on expanded bilateral cooperation on military education and training and is part of the broader Georgian strategic push for deeper NATO integration. RG
KAZAKH OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATES OVER LEADER'S KILLING
An unsanctioned demonstration estimated of 1,000-4,000 people took place in Almaty on 26 February to honor the memory of slain opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2006), news agencies reported. Demonstrators initially gathered outside the Academy of Sciences, where they encountered an officially sanctioned "entertainment" event, Russia's "Gazeta" reported. The demonstrators then broke through a police cordon to occupy Republic Square in the city center, Reuters reported. Scuffles, but no serious outbreaks of violence, were reported. Placards condemned the alleged role of the National Security Committee in Sarsenbaev's killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2006), decried "bloody dictatorship," and called on President Nursultan Nazarbaev to "call [his] guard dogs to account," Navigator reported. Speakers, who included Sarsenbaev's widow and leaders of the country's main opposition parties, accused the authorities of allowing "death squads" to operate in Kazakhstan, "Gazeta" reported. Saltanat Atusheva, Sarsenbaev's widow, told demonstrators, "I believe Kazakhstan will wake up and not become a Belarus or a Turkmenistan," Reuters reported. The protesters dispersed peacefully after the demonstration. DK
KAZAKH SENATE SPEAKER DENIES PRESSURE ALLEGATIONS
Nurtai Abykaev, speaker of Kazakhstan's Senate (upper chamber of parliament), issued a statement on 24 February denying opposition allegations that he may be trying to influence the investigation of Sarsenbaev's murder, Kazinform reported. Calling the murder an attempt to "destabilize the situation in the country," Abykaev stressed that he has no "moral, human, and official rights" to influence the investigation. Abykaev confirmed that he worked for "a long time" with Erzhan Utembaev, head of the administration of the Senate, who was recently arrested in connection with the Sarsenbaev murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2006). Abykaev said that Utembaev's arrest was "a great surprise and a shock." He said that the investigation and court will determine whether or not Utembaev was involved in the crime, and he expressed confidence that "the law and justice will triumph." Opposition leaders had called for Abykaev's resignation in the wake of Utembaev's arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2006). DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER CALLS KILLING 'AN ATTEMPT ON THE PRESIDENT'
In a statement on 23 February, Darigha Nazarbaeva, daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and head of the pro-presidential Asar Party, called Sarsenbaev's murder an "attempt on the president" and a "carefully and skillfully planned operation to discredit President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the entire existing system of state authority," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nazarbaeva warned that there are "destructive and influential forces, both in the opposition and in power, that are unhappy with the results of recent elections," referring to Nazarbaev's 91 percent share of the votes in December 2005. Nazarbaeva stated that "these forces want a review of the results of the presidential election and a new division of power." Nazarbaeva said that the involvement of special-forces officers in the Sarsenbaev killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2006) suggested that "very influential forces" were behind the murder. DK
KAZAKHSTAN TO BEGIN OIL EXPORTS TO CHINA IN MAY
Kazakhstan's Energy Ministry has announced that Kazakhstan will start "full-scale oil exports" to China through the Atasu-Alashankou pipeline in May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 24 February. The pipeline, which became operational in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2006), is designed to have an initial annual capacity of 10 million tons. Also on 24 February, Energy Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told Interfax that Kazakhstan hopes to increase oil production 30 percent by 2010 in comparison with 2005 figures. Izmukhambetov said that forecasted annual output of 24 million tons at the Tengiz oil field will aid the production boost. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Kazakhstan produced 1.22 million barrels of oil a day in 2004, with production expected to increase by approximately 10 percent in 2005 (for full report, see http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/kazak.html). DK
KYRGYZ NATIONAL BANK HEAD REMOVED AHEAD OF TRIAL
A court in Bishkek ruled on 24 February to suspend Ulan Sarbanov from his post as chairman of Kyrgyzstan's National Bank, akipress.org reported. Sarbanov, who is currently on trial for the alleged illegal transfer of $420,000 to President Askar Akaev in 1999, will be suspended for the duration of the court proceedings. Sarbanov is one of five current or former officials on trial for the illegal transfer. DK
UZBEK PROSECUTOR ASKS FOR 13 1/2 YEARS FOR OPPOSITION LEADER
Genadii Davletov asked a court on 24 February to sentence Sanjar Umarov, head of the opposition Sunshine Coalition, to 13 1/2 years in prison on embezzlement and tax evasion charges, ferghana.ru and the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. The prosecutor asked for prison terms ranging from 3 1/3 to 8 1/4 years for Umarov's three co-defendants. Umarov maintains his innocence, and his lawyer is expected to present final arguments in his client's defense on 27 February. DK
"RFE/RL Newsline" on 24 February incorrectly identified Rosneft head Sergei Bogdanchikov as the head of the Russian oil company LUKoil.
U.S. ENVOY DOUBTS BELARUSIAN BALLOT WILL BE FAIR...
David Kramer, deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. Department of State, told journalists in Minsk on 24 February that it looks increasingly unlikely that Belarus will have a free and fair presidential election on 19 March, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. "I have also had the opportunity to impress upon the officials here in Minsk that we're watching the election [in Belarus] very carefully, that the United States expects there to be a free and fair election, but that the United States is also very concerned by current trends that seem to be moving in a different direction," Kramer said. Kramer called on all sides to resist violence, and noted that although he was not in Minsk to promote protests, if people choose to protest, they have the right to do so peacefully. Kramer met in Minsk with Central Election Commission Secretary Mikalay Lazavik and held talks at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. JM
...AS MINSK NOTES DISAPPOINTMENT OVER HIS VISIT
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has expressed disappointment over its talks on 24 February with David Kramer, Belapan reported on 25 February. "We did not hear from him any serious proposals regarding the problems in existence in the bilateral relationship and the development of cooperation in areas meeting mutual interests," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou said. Papou criticized Kramer's refusal to meet with lawmakers of the Belarusian National Assembly and an election-observation mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States. "In our opinion, it is meetings of this kind that would help the American visitors form a more balanced and objective view of the Republic of Belarus," Papou added. Papou also alleged that Kramer "expressed his reluctance to see representatives of Belarusian state media outlets at his press conference." JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES WEST OF ENCROACHING ON YOUNG MINDS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 24 February accused Belarus's "Western enemies" of trying to take possession of Belarusian youths' minds, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. Lukashenka was speaking at a meeting with cadets and lecturers at the Suvorov Military School in Minsk. "Our Western enemies understand perfectly well that the most important thing is to take possession of young people's minds in order to manipulate them and involve them in illegal activities," the Belarusian president said. According to Lukashenka, the "enemies" are seeking to distort and blacken life in Belarus and undermine "the moral foundations of the young" in order to persuade teenagers that "gain and pleasures are the most important things" in life. "Today many teenagers are not as we want them to be. They grow up frail and lazy, are afraid of physical activities, responsibility, and discipline. An intention to dodge military service is common among some young men," Lukashenka said. JM
BELARUSIAN TELEVISION ACCUSES NGO OF FIXING EXIT-POLL RESULTS
Belarusian Television reported on 26 February that law-enforcement agencies have discovered preprepared protocols of an exit poll that should be held by the Vilnius-based Gallup Institute branch on 19 March, the "Belorusskie novosti" website (http://www.naviny.by) reported. The protocols were reportedly found at an office of the unregistered nongovernmental organization Partnership, four of whose activists were arrested by the KGB last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2006). The protocols reportedly stated that united opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich was backed by 53.7 percent of voters, President Lukashenka by 41.3 percent, Alyaksandr Kazulin by 3.8 percent, and Syarhey Haydukevich by 1.2 percent. The channel commented that the opposition is preparing for "mass falsifications of the election" and a "violent takeover of power." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CREATES PUBLIC BODY TO PROMOTE FAIR ELECTIONS
President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree establishing a Public Council under the President for Ensuring Honest Elections, the presidential press service's website (http://www.president.gov.ua) announced on 25 February. The council is chaired by National Academy of Sciences head Borys Paton. "As the president of Ukraine, I will make every effort to ensure democratic [parliamentary] elections," Yushchenko said in a national radio address on 25 February. "On 26 March the Ukrainian people will elect not a prime minister or a chancellor, but primarily a new parliamentary majority. I believe that it will be a democratic majority," he added. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER CALLS NATO REFERENDUM IDEA 'PROVOCATION'
Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk has described the recent proposal to hold a referendum on Ukraine's NATO membership as a provocation, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 24 February. "Given the political forces proposing the referendum, it looks like an attempt to stage a full-scale nationwide provocation," Tarasyuk told a news conference in Chernihiv on 24 February. The referendum idea is being promoted, among other forces, by the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party-united led by Viktor Medvedchuk. Tarasyuk recalled that Medvedchuk, in his former capacity of the head of the presidential administration, signed many documents declaring Ukraine's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration. "It looks like he has woken up and realized that it [NATO membership] allegedly does not meet the interests of the Ukrainian people," Tarasyuk added. "I view it as a provocation because people suggesting the referendum did nothing during their decade-long period in power to clearly explain to Ukrainian citizens what NATO and the EU mean." Opinion surveys routinely find that more than 50 percent of Ukrainians oppose potential NATO membership. JM
SUSPECTED ARMS TRAFFICKER EXTRADITED TO UKRAINE
Oleg Orlov, a Russian businessman suspected by Ukrainian prosecutors of illegal trade in weapons, was extradited from the Czech Republic to Ukraine on 25 February, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Orlov, 57, is accused of illicit sales in 1999 of a P14F radar to Eritrea and of Soviet-made Kh-55SM (also known as AS-15) cruise missiles to China. Orlov unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the Czech Republic in 2004 and was subsequently arrested at a Prague airport while trying to leave for the United Arab Emirates. JM
UNMIK HEAD PREDICTS INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA AND MONTENEGRO
Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), said in an interview published on 24 February that Kosova and Montenegro will both most likely win independence from Serbia, dpa reported the same day. "Serbia is under threefold pressure: it will lose Kosovo, and Montenegro could go its own way," Jessen-Petersen told the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard." The third area of pressure, Jessen-Petersen said, stems from international demands that Belgrade arrest war crimes fugitives Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. "If at least the third point can be tackled, it could open an important prospect for Serbia's Euro-Atlantic integration," he said. He added that when Serbs and Kosovar Albanians have "realistic" prospects of joining the European Union then "the borders will fall" and the current attachment to territories will lose relevance. BW
LATE MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT'S BROTHER SAYS CASE NOT CLOSED IN FATAL PLANE CRASH
The brother of late Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said on 26 February that he is not satisfied with official explanations for his brother's death in an airplane crash two years ago, Hina reported the same day. "The case isn't over," Aleksandar Trajkovski said. "I don't know who is responsible but somebody is." He was speaking at a ceremony near Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Macedonian parliament speaker Ljubo Jordanovski, Bosnian Presidency member Ivo Miro Jovic, and other officials laid flowers at the spot where Trajkovski's plane crashed on 26 February 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 February 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004). An investigation conducted by the Bosnian authorities established that air-traffic controllers from the NATO-led peacekeeping force SFOR were not responsible for the crash, Hina reported. Instead, the investigation blamed pilot error. BW
DEMONSTRATIONS MARK START OF BOSNIA GENOCIDE CASE
Survivors of Bosnia-Herzegovina's war plan to hold a vigil outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 27 February to mark the start of a civil lawsuit for genocide against Serbia and Montenegro, Reuters reported. The demonstration's organizers said in a statement that they will display a banner with the names of the estimated 8,000 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. "It was the first genocide on European territory since World War II. In spite of appeals, protests, and campaigns by human rights organizations, Europe did not intervene in Bosnia until it was too late," the statement read. The court is scheduled to begin hearing Bosnia's case against Serbia on 27 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2006). On 24 February, public demonstrations were held in Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities, FoNet and B92 reported. BW
EU OFFICIALS BACK OFF ON DEADLINE FOR SERBIA ON MLADIC...
The European Union will stop short of cutting off talks with Serbia and Montenegro on 27 February, and instead will issue a stern rebuke to Belgrade for not arresting war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, Reuters reported. "We are not going to give an ultimatum. That is not the right way," Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels. Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot also rejected the idea of setting a deadline for Serbia to arrest Mladic. EU officials earlier hinted strongly that talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Belgrade, which began in November, could be suspended if Mladic was not arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 21, and 24 February 2006). BW
...AND URGE CONSENSUS ON MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM
EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on 26 February urged the government and opposition in Montenegro to find consensus on the rules of a planned independence referendum, AFP reported the same day. According to a statement released through his spokeswoman, Solana said an "agreement between the government and the opposition on the modalities for the proposed referendum is essential in order for the process to be legitimate and sustainable." Spokeswoman Cristina Gallach added that Solana welcomed a 25 February decision by the Montenegrin opposition to agree to an EU proposal requiring 55 percent of voters to support the independence referendum in order for it to pass. The pro-independence Montenegro government has rejected the proposal and asked the EU to reconsider (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 24 February 2006). BW
TRANSDNIESTRIAN OFFICIAL CALLS FOR INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM
A senior official in Transdniester said on 27 February that the breakaway region will hold an independence referendum if Kosova is granted independence, ITAR-TASS reported. "We believe that the residents of the [Transdniester] region have as much right to recognition of their statehood as Kosova's residents; we are ready to hold a referendum and other appropriate procedures," Transdniestrian parliament speaker Yevgenii Shevchuk said. Echoing earlier statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Shevchuk said Kosovar independence will establish an international precedent for other breakaway regions, including Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said last week, however, that Kosova sets no such precedent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2006). BW
AFGHAN-PAKISTANI 'INSEPARABLE TWINS' IN NEED OF SEPARATION
During his recent trip to Islamabad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan and Pakistan are "joined together like twins" and are "inseparable." But for all the diplomatic gestures, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are now at their lowest ebb since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Karzai's main stated grievance is that his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf is, at best, unable or, at worst, unwilling to curtail the activities of the neo-Taliban inside Pakistan and to break up the support network created by Pakistani religious and military groups for the militants. Afghan officials and the media have consistently accused Afghanistan's eastern neighbor of backing the violence perpetuated by the neo-Taliban. Recently, too, the Afghan public has taken up the call, in anti-Pakistani protests.
Karzai himself, though, maintained a more diplomatic line. That has since changed, due to a wave of around 30 suicide attacks that have killed nearly 100 people since mid-November. During a weekly radio program in late January, Karzai charged that "a neighbor" of Afghanistan has had a hand in the recent upsurge in violence. "The reason for these attacks is the continuation of subversive endeavors" by foreigners whose aim is "to dominate" Afghanistan, Karzai said. The former Taliban regime was, he continued, part of a "hidden invasion" of Afghanistan "by a neighbor for the second time" since the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979.
While clearly pointing to -- but refraining from directly identifying -- Pakistan, Karzai added that since the collapse of the Taliban regime following the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, those "who controlled Afghanistan during the Taliban regime have not altered their intentions." Karzai went on to say that the unnamed neighbor has continued to interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs and, for "this reason, terrorism and attacks [are] still widespread."
Islamabad may itself have voiced displeasure of its own at the 15 February meeting. Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan suggest that Pakistani officials handed Karzai evidence that Indian security agents have been operating in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province and tribal areas along the Afghan border. The reports suggest the agents had been using India's consulates in Afghanistan as bases.
Those reports are unofficial. However, Karzai was very empathetic when he said on 15 February that Afghanistan's "relations with India in no way, no way, no way will impact" on ties between Kabul and Islamabad.
Islamabad has on a number of occasions since 2003 alleged that India is using Afghanistan as a base from which to interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs. In 2003, Pakistan's then interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, accused India of setting up camps in Afghanistan to train Afghans and Pakistanis as terrorists.
The confusion that followed Afghan officials' announcement that they had given Pakistan a list of 150 former Taliban members living in Pakistan seemed, therefore, to be symptomatic of a broader divergence in views between the two countries. On 20 February, Pakistan denied receiving a list. The next day, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao acknowledged that Islamabad had indeed received a list of "about 150 terrorists." But this was, he said, a routine exchange of intelligence.
Differences persist. Most Pakistani officials say the list named Al-Qaeda members. Afghan officials say the list names members of the Taliban. Neither Afghan nor Pakistani officials have revealed any of the names.
There are, though, glimmers of hope that Kabul and Islamabad might at least find it beneficial to work together to promote trade and transit opportunities.
On 15 February, Afghan and Pakistani officials met in Turkmenistan to discuss a proposed pipeline that would carry Turkmen gas to both countries, and perhaps onward to India. There is also talk of running a railroad through Afghanistan that would connect the countries of Central Asia with Pakistan and, through Pakistan's ports, to overseas markets. Similarly, there are ongoing discussions about bus links between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, while resistant, Pakistan has not flatly rejected a proposal to allow an overland transit route between Afghanistan and India through Pakistan.
However, one proposal made by Karzai during his trip to Pakistan -- to adopt an open-border policy as a prelude to other confidence-building measures -- will have roused anxiety in Islamabad, as it is Afghanistan's longstanding policy not to recognize the Durand Line, the disputed boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan has never officially recognized the Durand Line, and Pakistan has therefore always regarded Afghanistan as a potential threat and sought to retain leverage in Afghanistan. It has done so partly by nurturing political opponents who could, in time of need, serve Pakistani interests.
The support that Pakistan is alleged to be providing the neo-Taliban is therefore part of a long-term strategy that predates the current war on terrorism and overreaches Musharraf's stated goodwill toward the Karzai government. And that also suggests that if the inseparable twins are to become separate but equal states, they will need to agree where exactly their borders lie.
DEADLY RIOT AT HIGH-SECURITY AFGHAN PRISON
Up to seven people are reported to have been killed and more than 30 others injured in a riot that broke out in Pol-e Charkhi Prison on the outskirts of Kabul on 26 February, international news agencies reported. According to Afghan Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasem Hashemzai, the violence began when Afghan and foreign prisoners refused to wear uniforms being distributed to them and attacked the guards on duty, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 26 February. According to Hashemzai, around 350 Taliban and Al-Qaeda inmates prevented the authorities from evacuating the injured from the prison complex. The prisoners "are making inordinate demands," Hashemzai told reporters, adding that some asked for one of President Hamid Karzai's deputies to come and negotiate with them, while another group wanted to meet with People's Council speaker Mohammad Yunos Qanuni or Council of Elders speaker Sebghatullah Mojaddedi. Around a thousand prisoners are said to have been involved in the riots, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 26 February. A standoff and ensuing raid in Pol-e Charkhi Prison in December 2004 left one Iraqi and three Pakistani prisoners and four Afghan police dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). AT
FORMER AFGHAN COMMUNIST SPY CHIEF SENTENCED TO DEATH
A judge in Kabul sentenced Asadullah Sarwari to death on 25 February, official National Afghanistan Television reported. "We, the appointed judicial commission of the court against internal and foreign crimes, charge Asadullah Sarwari with killing hundreds of our Muslim and [mujahedin] brothers.... According to Article 130 of the constitution, we sentence you...to death," the judge said during sentencing. "The government at the time was like a machine, and I was just a part of the machine," Sarwari told the court and rejected all charges, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 February. Sarwari oversaw the intelligence service of Afghanistan's communist regime in 1978 under former communist ruler Nur Mohammad Taraki. Article 130 of the constitution stipulates that if there are no provisions in the document or "other laws regarding ruling on an issue, the court's decisions shall be...in accord with the Hanafi [one of the four major Sunni branches] jurisprudence." Sarwari's case is unprecedented in Afghanistan and if other officials both from the communist and mujahedin governments are indicted for crimes against humanity, some members of the current National Assembly could face similar charges (sees "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 November 2005 and 16 January 2006). AT
NORTHERN AFGHAN STRONGMAN PRESENTS PLAN TO DEFEAT TERRORISM
General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the most prominent warlord in northern Afghanistan, said that he could eliminate the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan if the military antiterrorism command is transferred to him, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 25 February. Dostum, who currently holds the mostly symbolic title of the chief of the high command of the armed forces, vowed that if put in charge of antiterrorism efforts, he would be successful or would die himself in the attempt. Dostum, who during communist rule in Afghanistan was the head of a special force formed against the mujahedin, said that a special force is needed to counter terrorism in Afghanistan. AT
GIRLS SCHOOL BLOWN UP IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
A secondary school under construction was blown up in Nader Shah Kot District, Khost Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 26 February. Khost police chief General Mohammad Ayyub told the news agency that four guards at the school have been detained for questioning. In Laghman Province, north of Khost, where another girls school was burned down, local elders decided to form a volunteer guard unit to protect the schools. According to a citizens' agreement, local youths are to be assigned as night guards in schools. AT
RUSSIA-IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS FAIL TO YIELD RESULTS
Russian Atomic Energy Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko arrived in Iran on 24 February to discuss Moscow's proposal that Iranian uranium for use in Iran be enriched on Russian soil, and when he left two days later no progress appeared to have been made. In the interim, however, Iranian officials feigned interest in the Russian proposal, with Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Mostafavi saying on 24 February that the proposal is close to being completed, Mehr News Agency reported. After meeting with Iranian Atomic Energy Agency Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi on 25 January, Kiriyenko said, "No progress has been made on our offer to transfer Iran's uranium enrichment to Russia but negotiations are continuing," ILNA reported. Kiriyenko told a 26 February news conference in Bushehr that the two sides agreed to continue their nuclear talks in Moscow in the coming days, Interfax reported. According to a 26 February report on the website of the British daily "The Independent," however, Iran has effectively scuppered the deal by putting a precondition that probably calls for enrichment on Iranian soil. BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATORS DISPUTE NEED FOR CRISIS BUDGET
Soon after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad submitted his budget in mid-January for the coming year (21 March 2006-20 March 2007), some Iranian legislators called for the creation of a "shadow budget" that could be used if international concern over the nuclear issue and referral to the UN Security Council led to the imposition of economic sanctions. The Plan and Budget Organization has started to draw up a "shadow budget," "Etemad" reported on 25 February, but not all legislators cited in the newspaper believe it is necessary. They said the modifications already made to the draft budget are sufficient, and they added that the budget's excessive reliance on oil revenues is a bigger concern. Reformist legislator Iraj Nadimi said talk about a shadow budget reflects the executive branch's serious preparation for an economic crisis. Another parliamentarian, Adel Azar, warned that creating a shadow budget would have a psychological impact and could create the impression of a crisis. BS
IRAN'S NUCLEAR GODFATHER CALLS FOR TALKS WITH U.S.
Akbar Etemad, founder of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the agency's first chief, announced recently that the Russian uranium-enrichment proposal will not resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff, Mehr News Agency reported on 24 February. He recommended direct talks with the United States as a solution. BS
MOSCOW EAGER TO SEE BUSHEHR NUCLEAR-PLANT COMPLETION
Russian Atomic Energy Agency chief Kiriyenko said on 25 February that his country is keen to see the Bushehr nuclear power plant completed as soon as possible, ITAR-TASS reported, and he sees no political factors blocking this objective. Kiriyenko and his Iranian counterpart Aqazadeh visited the Bushehr facility on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported. An anonymous source told the Russian news agency that although Russia is eager to finish the project this year, as planned, there are technical difficulties. He cited wiring as an example, saying 2,000 kilometers of it needs to be laid, but only 200 kilometers can be laid each month and they only started in January. The Russian added that safety will not be ignored in order to hurry completion. Aqazadeh said at a press conference in Bushehr that documents for the construction of two new 1,000-megawatt power plants will be ready in one month, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. These will be built in Bushehr, too, he said. BS
IRAQI SHI'ITE CLERIC RETURNS URGING UNITY, BLAMING U.S.
Muqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'a to unite during a 26 February speech in Al-Basrah following his return to Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 27 February. Saying that Iraq's enemy is trying to stir up sedition, he asked his followers: "Do you want to back the enemy.... Do you want to back the occupier, which is dismembering our homeland and killing our sons?" Calling on the followers of Al-Hawzah Al-Natiqah, al-Sadr denounced the burning of mosques and killing of Muslims. "You are entrusted with safeguarding the religion, safeguarding the creed, safeguarding Iraq, safeguarding the Muslim people and...mosques," he said. Al-Sadr claimed that the United States is behind the 22 February Samarra bombing, and that "U.S. troops withdrew from the site so that it could be blown up." He further claimed that the Saddam Hussein dictatorship was replaced by "another dictatorship: the dictatorship of Britain, America, and Israel." KR
IRAQ'S SUNNIS TO REJOIN TALKS?
Iraq's Sunni Arabs will rejoin talks on the formation of the Iraqi government, nytimes.com reported on 27 February. "We've canceled our withdrawal from the talks," Iraqi Accordance Front member Mahmud al-Mashhadani told the newspaper in a 26 February interview. He said Sunnis recognize the urgency of forming a national-unity government. According to "The News York Times," the front has not publicly announced its decision. Accordance Front member Tariq al-Hashimi told Radio Free Iraq on 27 February that Sunnis will remain active in the political process, but only when their conditions are met by the Shi'ite-led government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2006). KR
FORMER UN HUMAN RIGHTS HEAD CRITICIZES IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY
John Pace, the outgoing UN human rights chief in Iraq, told London's "The Independent on Sunday" that three-quarters of the corpses that arrive at Baghdad's city morgue show gunshot wounds to the head or injuries caused by drill bits or burning cigarettes, the newspaper reported on 26 February. Pace contended that the majority of killings over the past two years have been carried out by Shi'a under the control of the Interior Ministry. He said 900 out of 1,100 bodies to arrive at the morgue in July showed evidence of torture or summary execution, adding that the numbers remained much the same throughout 2005, but dropped in December to 400 out of about 780 bodies showing signs of torture or gunshot wounds. While Pace said that the crimes are being carried out by anyone with a grudge, he said: "The bulk are attributed to agents of the Ministry of the Interior" who act "as a rogue element within the government." The ministry's security forces, which have ties to militiamen from the Shi'ite-led Badr Organization, have been accused of torturing Sunni Arab detainees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2005). KR
FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT ENDS HUNGER STRIKE
Khalil al-Dulaymi, defense attorney for Saddam Hussein, told Al-Jazeera television on 27 February that Hussein has ended an 11-day hunger strike. Al-Dulaymi described Hussein as being in good health, saying he met with Hussein for seven hours on 26 February. Meanwhile, Reuters cited al-Dulaymi as saying on 27 February that Hussein was forced to end his hunger strike for health reasons. Defense attorneys who boycotted the court earlier this month are scheduled to appear before tribunal on 28 February to discuss their possible reinstatement, Reuters reported. The trial is also scheduled to reconvene that day. KR
NO WORD ON KIDNAPPED U.S. JOURNALIST AS DEADLINE PASSES IN IRAQ
There has been no word on the fate of kidnapped U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, according to international media on 27 February. Carroll was abducted in Baghdad on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2006). Her captors set a 26 February deadline for the United States to meet their demand that all female detainees be released in Iraq, threatening to kill Carroll otherwise. The Iraqi Interior Ministry told the "Los Angeles Times" on 26 February that an extensive search was under way for Carroll, but she has yet to be found. KR