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Newsline - April 28, 2006

A two-day summit of Russian and German political and business leaders closed in Tomsk on April 27 amid much cordiality and after the signing of several important business agreements but without much effort being made to conceal differences, Deutsche Welle reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and 27, 2006). On Iran, German participants highlighted the role of the UN Security Council, while their Russian counterparts stressed that of the International Atomic Energy Agency. On energy supplies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged the Russian view that "Germany and Russia have been successfully cooperating in the energy sector for 40 years," but she also noted her country's interest in diversifying its sources of imports. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that his country has been the victim of double standards in that others praise globalization but bar their markets to Russian companies. He also said that if others want to cut Russian firms out of their markets and hope to diversify their sources of energy imports, then they should not criticize Russia for seeking a wider circle of customers. A commentator for the Bonn-based broadcaster noted that Putin and Merkel are able to deal with differences openly because their relationship is not burdened by the bonhomie that characterized the meetings between Putin and former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. PM

Several business agreements were signed between Russian and German companies in Tomsk on April 27, Russian and German media reported. The most important was that between Gazprom and BASF on the joint annual production of 25 billion cubic meters of natural gas over 30 years. RIA Novosti commented that this is the first time a foreign company has been granted access to a "strategic" gas deposit in Russia. As part of the deal, BASF will offer some of its assets to Gazprom in return for a 25 percent stake in the Yuzhno-Russkoye oil and gas field in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). In addition, the German utility E.ON Ruhrgas hopes to transfer subsidiary stock in Hungary to Gazprom in exchange for its own 25 percent share in the Yuzhno-Russkoye oil and gas field, but has not yet finalized the deal, dpa reported. Gas from that field will reach Germany via the planned North European Gas Pipeline. An agreement between Russian Railways and Deutsche Bahn on fast cargo transit was among those signed in Tomsk. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" commented on April 28 that Russia offers German businesses the "spectacular growth opportunities" that they increasingly lack at home. PM

Construction began on April 28 on Transneft's East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline project, which will transport oil from eastern Siberian fields to Japan and South Korea, with an eventual extension to China, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21 and 22, and April 26 and 27, 2006). The construction began with a ceremony near the city of Tayshet in Irkutsk Oblast. PM

Prominent Russian writer and former Soviet-era dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in a rare media interview on April 27 that Western countries are unfairly trying to encircle Russia and praised President Putin for restoring a strong Russian state, reported. "Though it is clear that present-day Russia poses no threat to it, NATO is methodically and persistently building up its military machine in Eastern Europe and [by] surrounding Russia from the south," Solzhenitsyn added. He stressed that "this involves open material and ideological support for 'colored revolutions' and the paradoxical forcing of North Atlantic interests on Central Asia.... All this leaves no doubt that they are preparing to completely encircle Russia and deprive it of its sovereignty." He hailed Putin, noting that "foreign being conducted sensibly and in an increasingly forward-looking manner." Solzhenitsyn said nonetheless that "owing to the heavy burden left by [Putin's] predecessors...the overall state of people's lives remains difficult and chaotic." PM

Armenian Deputy Finance Minister Atom Janjughazian reported on April 27 an unusually high demand for Armenian state-issued bonds and treasury bills issued, far in excess of supply and despite a sharp decline in their yields in recent years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Janjughazian added that although the government could easily double the amount of cash it borrows domestically, it will continue to rely primarily on the still cheaper external loans. Armenian governments have long used internal borrowing to finance a small part of their budgetary deficits, but the yields on short-term treasury bills have steadily declined from an all-time average high of 60 percent in the late 1990s into single digits in recent years. The level of the Armenian government's internal debt currently stands at 53 billion drams ($118 million), far less than Armenia's $1.1 billion external debt. RG

On his second day of an official visit to the United States, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called on April 27 for greater U.S. investment in all areas of the Azerbaijani economy, Turan reported. In a speech before the U.S.-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Aliyev stressed his country's "favorable conditions" for foreign investment and noted "new opportunities" in several areas of the Azerbaijani economy. Despite a rather high level of foreign investment, much of it has been limited to the country's energy sector, with other areas of the economy lagging far behind. The Azerbaijani president also met in Washington with U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, Lider TV reported on 27 April. Aliyev discussed the possible expansion of bilateral cooperation and intelligence sharing in the global "war on terrorism" and briefed Negroponte on the Azerbaijani position regarding the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. RG

A five-member delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) led by Dutch parliamentarian Leo Platvoet arrived in Baku on April 27, according to ANS-TV. The PACE delegation is in Azerbaijan to conduct a preliminary pre-election assessment of the Azerbaijani government's implementation of several Council of Europe recommendations related to the country's partial repeat of parliamentary elections in 10 constituencies. The PACE officials are scheduled to meet with Central Election Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov, as well as various political party leaders and other governmental officials. RG

Leaders of nine Azerbaijani nongovernmental organizations met in Baku on April 27 to form a new alliance to promote greater budget transparency, ANS-TV reported. The new alliance, the National Budgetary Group, also includes representatives from local and international organizations, as well as government officials and plans to implement a program designed to increase public awareness and involvement in state programs in the country's social sector. With the expected influx of revenue from the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline later this year, the effort seeks to impose greater pressure on the Azerbaijani government to reduce corruption and work with civil society to improve state spending on targeted social needs. RG

In a speech in St. Petersburg, Georgian parliamentary Chairwoman Nino Burdjanadze was heckled and interrupted several times on April 27 by Russian parliamentarians, Civil Georgia and Imedi-TV reported. The Georgian speaker was participating in a celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Duma. The incident was sparked by Burdjanadze's criticism of Russia for pursuing a "double-standard policy" and for its recent ban on imports of Georgian wine. Speaking to reporters, she also complained that Russia refuses to receive the Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli or other members of the Georgian cabinet, ITAR-TASS reported. RG

Kakha Bendukidze, the Georgian state minister in charge of economic reforms, announced on April 27 a new initiative aimed at attracting investment by international banks in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking in Tbilisi, Bendukidze's announcement was timed with the presentation to the Georgian parliament of new draft amendments to the law on banking activity, which would lift limitations on the private purchase of bank assets. RG

An unspecified number of ethnic Armenian police officers were dismissed and replaced with Georgian officers in the southern Georgian region of Djavakheti, the Caucasus Press reported on April 27. The move is tied to a broader effort to reorganize the police in the predominantly Armenian populated region. Some Armenian officers were reportedly targeted for dismissal on the grounds that they underwent training in Armenia, Noyan Tapan and A-Info reported. One of the poorest regions in the country, relations between the majority Armenian population and regional Georgian officials have been increasingly tense, with local Armenians storming the local court building in the Djavakheti town of Akhalkalaki last month after the killing of a local resident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2006). RG

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi, Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili reported on April 26 that the country's prison population has almost doubled in the past 2 1/2 years, according to Prime News. According to Merabishvili's report, Georgia's prison population has risen from 5,900 to 11,200 since December 2003. The interior minister stated that the increase was largely due to a greater effort to combat organized crime and harsher criminal laws. Conditions in Georgian prisons have sparked a number of serious and sometimes deadly riots and disturbances in recent years, however (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31 and March 29, 2006). RG

Culture and Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev has informed Khabar Agency that the state intends to increase its share in that company's television channel, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on April 27. Ertysbaev recently noted that the state should tighten its control over Khabar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2006). Darigha Nazarbaeva, daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, was the founder of Khabar and served previously as its director. She told "Karavan" in a 21 April interview that she remains informally involved in Khabar's television operations. Nazarbaeva and Ertysbaev have sparred recently on the issue of early parliamentary elections, and Ertysbaev's comments about increasing the state's share in Khabar come amid reports in opposition media of a rift between Darigha Nazarbaeva and her father. Kazakhstan Today, a news agency reportedly controlled by Nazarbaeva's husband, Rakhat Aliev, quoted unnamed legal experts as saying that "the minister's actions clearly contradict existing legislation." DK

Disgruntled former employees of the state-run Kazakhstan television channel told a news conference in Almaty on April 27 that they want deputies of parliament to join the channel's board of directors, Khabar reported. One hundred and twenty Kazakhstan employees quit recently to protest a management change (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2006). A parliamentary commission is slated to examine the dispute over staff changes at Kazakhstan. DK

Talgat Abylgazin, director of the epizootic control department in Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry, told Interfax-Kazakhstan on April 27 that the H5N1 strain of avian flu has not been discovered in dead poultry in Karaganda Province. A previous report said the birds died as a result of avian flu but did not specify the strain of the disease involved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). DK

Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov told a news conference in Bishkek on April 27 that Russian investment in Kyrgyzstan could reach several billion dollars in a few years, Kabar reported. "We stand before a significant expansion of Russian investments in Kyrgyzstan," Ivanov said. He added that the most promising sectors for Russian investment are energy, gas, and metallurgy. Also on April 27, Ivanov met with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who recently returned from a two-day visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2006). Bakiev announced upon returning that Russia is prepared to invest up to $3 billion in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). DK

Former parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, a leading organizer in a planned April 29 opposition rally, said on April 27 that Kyrgyzstan's president, government, and law-enforcement agencies are responsible for ensuring security at the upcoming demonstration, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Tekebaev said that President Bakiev's warning against seizing government buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006) "shows that the president does not know our laws." Meanwhile, reported that the rally organizers have organized a self-defense force of 1,500 people to maintain order at the demonstration. The news agency also reported that the authorities have set up a 50-member unit drawn from military and law-enforcement special forces to guard against "provocateurs" on April 29. DK

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office has released a statement asking Tekebaev to apologize for proposed rally slogans he published in the newspaper "Alas," Kabar reported on April 27. Prosecutors found slogans such as "The prosecutor's office supports crime" libelous and threatened to take legal action if Tekebaev fails to apologize. DK

President Bakiev has issued a decree appointing Turatbek Junushaliev minister of industry, trade, and tourism, reported on April 27. Junushaliev's predecessor, Almazbek Atambaev, resigned in frustration over stalled reform efforts and has joined the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2006). DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov has dismissed Culture Minister Maral Bashimova for deficiencies in her work and replaced her with Enebai Ataeva, official news agency TDH reported on April 27. Speaking at a televised cabinet meeting the same day, Niyazov berated Bashimova for moral turpitude. "Such a person, who has two husbands, cannot hold the post of culture minister," Niyazov said. "Of course, this is your personal affair to get divorced from one and reconciled with the other. But in order to have prestige, you should be with one husband." DK

A civil court in Tashkent ruled on April 27 to liquidate the Uzbek office of the American Bar Association's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI), Regnum reported. The court ruled in favor of Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry, which argued that ABA/CEELI had engaged in activities that violated its charter such as providing legal services to unregistered organizations. DK

United opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Syarhey Kalyakin, manager of Milinkevich's presidential election campaign, were sentenced on April 27 to 15 and 14 days in jail, respectively, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. A judge found the politicians guilty of taking part in the previous day's unauthorized rally that took place in front of the Academy of Sciences building in Minsk on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. "It was not an unsanctioned rally. We took part in an absolutely authorized event.... They are scared. They want to scare us but they themselves are trembling," Milinkevich told RFE/RL's Belarus Service after the verdict. Another judge on April 27 sentenced Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka and Labor Party leader Alyaksandr Bukhvostau to 15 days each, finding them guilty of violating regulations governing "mass events" during the April 26 Chornobyl Way rally in Minsk. Vyachorka was arrested immediately after the rally, while Milinkevich, Kalyakin, and Bukhvostau were detained on April 27. JM

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner on April 27 expressed her concern about the arrest and jailing of four opposition leaders in Minsk earlier the same day, Belapan reported. "I call for the immediate release of all those arrested and detained because of their opinions. I once again call upon the Belarusian authorities to respect their commitments in the OSCE and UN frameworks, and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and of the media, and the freedom of assembly and political association," Ferrero-Waldner said. "These actions are outrageous and reprehensible, and, unfortunately, they are only the latest in an ongoing series of acts against the citizens of [Belarus] who are only attempting to exercise their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. We condemn these actions and we call on the authorities to immediately release those detained and drop the charges against them," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on April 27. JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed a decree increasing the pensions for Belarus's 2.5 million pensioners by an average of 7.7 percent as of May 1, Belarusian Television reported on April 27. The average monthly pension in May will reportedly be equal to 260,000 Belarusian rubles ($120). JM

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested in Sofia on April 27 that Ukraine and Georgia can expect encouragement at the alliance's November summit in Riga on its hope to join NATO, Reuters reported. "I think it is also clear that there will be a signal in Riga, but the actual invitations to join cannot be expected already at the Riga summit," he told a news conference. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice evaded a question at the same news conference about when Ukraine could expect a membership plan. "The Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people will have to decide whether or not this is something that they wish to pursue. And they will also have to work very hard, I think, to meet the criteria," she said. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said in Riga on April 27 that he believes it is likely for Ukraine to secure a Membership Action Plan at the Riga summit. He noted that an anti-NATO campaign stirred up by some political forces during the recent parliamentary election campaign in Ukraine was an attempt to score political capital. "The anti-NATO policy that was promoted during the election campaign does not reflect the belief in our society," Interfax-Ukraine quoted him as saying. JM

Milo Djukanovic on April 27 urged Serbia to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic ahead of a EU deadline, AP reported the same day. The EU has said it will cut off negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement if Belgrade does not arrest Mladic by the end of April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, 2006). "That is why it is very important for Serbia to end the deadlock in the process of European integration" by capturing Mladic as demanded by Brussels, Djukanovic said. He added that Mladic's arrest would present "a sure sign that Serbia's state policies were taking a pro-European and democratic turn." Djukanovic has often criticized Serbia for harming Montenegro's efforts to join the EU by failing to arrest Mladic and other war criminals. He said that if Montenegrins vote for independence in a May 21 referendum, Montenegro will "move fast on the road to EU." BW

Representatives of Kosova's Islamic Community (BIK) said on April 27 that the German diplomatic office in the province has denied them visas without explanation, AP reported the same day. According to a BIK statement, the delegation was planning to participate in the opening of a new mosque for Kosovar Albanians in the German city of Leverkusen. The statement added that the denial -- despite the fact that the group had an invitation and had completed all the required paperwork -- "will not contribute to good relations between our two peoples." German officials in Prishtina told AP they do not comment on individual visa cases. BW

Leading international officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina have said they are deeply disappointed at parliament's failure to pass constitutional reforms, dpa reported on April 27. The reforms, designed to transfer power to Bosnia's central government and away from its ethnic-based "entities," failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority in the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20 and April 27, 2006). The reforms are considered critical for Bosnia's efforts to join the EU. "Bosnia-Herzegovina has missed a hard-gained opportunity to initiate the important process of modifying the constitution in time for it to be applied in the October elections," High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling said, adding that the rejection "sends a negative signal to Europe, to the United States, and to the international community in general." Austrian Ambassador Werner Almhofer, speaking for the EU presidency, said that by voting down such an important legislative package, those in parliament...will have to bear the political consequences for delaying reform in this country." He added that it is not up to the EU "to make final judgment on this, but to Bosnia-Herzegovina's citizens themselves." BW

Serbia's BK Television announced on April 27 that it is continuing to broadcast via satellite and is calling for the dismissal of the country's top broadcasting authorities, B92 reported the same day. Authorities ordered BK Television to stop broadcasting on the night of April 25-26. Serbia's Broadcast Agency Council has accused BK Television of bias during the 2004 presidential election for giving embattled tycoon Bogoljub Karic, whose family owns the station, more time than other candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). BK Television officials said employees have sent a letter to the president, prime minister, and parliamentary speaker about the situation. The station also plans to picket the Serbian government building and to hold a petition drive to demand reinstatement of its broadcast rights and the resignation of the Broadcast Agency Council's members. BW

Serbian President Boris Tadic signed a controversial law on churches and religious communities on April 27 despite appeals from human rights organizations that he veto it, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "I have concluded that the law is not exactly in accordance with all European conventions regarding human rights that Serbia-Montenegro's parliament ratified in 2004, but that all of its shortcomings can be remedied with various changes and additions," he said. Rights groups have criticized the law for its allegedly ambiguous registration requirements and state deregistration powers, excessive public disclosure requirements, and what many consider to be discriminatory provisions against minority religious communities. BW

Independent media in the countries of the former Soviet Union, already operating under extreme duress, came under further assault over the course of the last year. The political, legal, and economic environments in most of the non-Baltic former Soviet countries remain distinctly inhospitable to independent journalism.

This reality is reflected in "Freedom Of The Press 2006," the latest edition of Freedom House's annual global survey of media independence. Ten of the 12 Soviet countries are ranked "Not Free" in the new edition of the survey. Of the 10 Not Free countries, five saw a further erosion in their performance over the course of last year.

Of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet states only Georgia and Ukraine, which are categorized as "Partly Free," escape the Not Free designation. No country in the region achieves the designation of "Free." The degree to which each country permits the free flow of information determines the classification of its media as "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free."

The downward trend was particularly evident in countries with regimes that place a premium on controlling the airwaves. Among the Not Free states, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan experienced declines. Uzbekistan and Russia suffered the most dramatic backslide.

Russia slipped due to the Kremlin's ongoing obstruction of journalists from reporting on sensitive topics and its tightening of control over news sources. According to this year's report, the Russian "authorities continued to exert direct influence on media outlets and determine news content, as the state owns or controls the country's three main national television networks -- Channel One, RTR, and NTV." In 2005, Russian journalists continued to be subjected to detention or physical attack, ostensibly from coverage of sensitive topics such as corruption. The Russian government's posture toward the media has also led to increased self-censorship. Critical coverage of the Kremlin on national broadcast media is virtually nonexistent today.

The government in Uzbekistan, which has crushed independent voices throughout society, paid particular attention to the elimination of independent media. The Uzbek press freedom rating for the last year dropped accordingly.

The Andijon massacre, which occurred one year ago, was the trigger for the further crackdown on the media in Uzbekistan. In the immediate aftermath of the events in Andijon, the regime of President Islam Karimov instituted a news blackout, preventing virtually any information about the violence in the eastern Uzbek city from reaching wider audiences.

Western-funded media in Uzbekistan drew particularly intense attention from the government. The Karimov regime refused to renew the agreement that allowed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to operate a bureau in Tashkent. It likewise forced other international news and media support organizations, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Internews, to close their operations in the country.

Manipulation of television news content in Uzbekistan, as in a number of neighboring repressive countries, reached new heights over the last year. The television medium was a favored tool in regime security efforts. The report on Uzbekistan in this year's press-freedom survey cites the September trial of 15 men accused of involvement in the Andijon unrest, where "prosecutors charged that the BBC, IWPR, and RFE/RL had advance knowledge that violence would break out in the city. State-controlled media gave prominent coverage to these unsubstantiated charges."

In Belarus, the autocratic government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka intensified its control over the country's media, at least in part due to elections taking place this spring. Last year, among the measures taken by the Belarusian authorities was passage of broadly defined legislation that makes it a crime punishable by up to two years in jail to "discredit Belarus" in the eyes of international organizations and foreign governments. The same prison terms apply to those convicted of distributing "false information" about Belarus' political, economic, social, or international situation.

Among the regulatory tricks relied upon by media-unfriendly regimes, the Belarus press-freedom report relates a May 2005 decree issued by Lukashenka that banned all privately owned, but not state, media from using the words "national" or "Belarus" in their names, forcing a number of publications to reregister.

In a region where good news on the news media is hard to come by, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were the only countries to register improvement. In Kyrgyzstan, given the larger questions concerning the country's overall political direction, the durability of the positive press-freedom change was far from certain, however. Kyrgyzstan remains in the Not Free category.

Ukraine enjoys a wide range of state and private television and radio stations, as well as print and electronic news outlets. While Ukraine's media ownership is diverse, it still confronts the challenges that accompany oligarchic ownership structures. Nevertheless, since the end of 2004 the media in Ukraine, while today still designated Partly Free, have achieved a degree of pluralism and independence that would have been unthinkable in the pre-Orange Revolution era.

Ukraine, now with the strongest press-freedom rating among the former Soviet states, therefore remains a critical media case study. Just 1 1/2 years ago, the country suffered from many of the same pathologies that continue to confront most of the media in the region today. In the run-up to Ukraine's pivotal 2004 elections, for example, "temnyky" -- editorial theme directives from the president's office -- were standard operating procedure. This practice was purged from the Ukrainian media landscape but remains a blight on many other former Soviet states' media systems.

The significant yet incomplete progress in Ukraine should serve as a reminder that overcoming deeply entrenched Soviet-era habits and practices will be a trying, long-term effort for reform of the media, as well as for other key institutions that form the building blocks of democratic societies.(Christopher Walker is director of studies at Freedom House)

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said in Kabul on April 27 that Afghan forces have captured Mawlawi Najibullah in Konar Province, Xinhua reported. According to Azimi, the captured man is a commander of Hizb-e Islami, the entity led by fugitive former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Najibullah was arrested as part of the ongoing joint Afghan and coalition operation in Konar and neighboring Nuristan Province, dubbed Operation Mountain Lion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and 20, 2006). The operation began on April 7, but Azimi did not say when Najibullah was arrested. Najibullah reportedly was on a six-member advisory board within Hizb-e Islami, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on April 27. Konar Province Governor Asadullah Wafa told Pajhwak that Najibullah served as deputy finance minister under the Taliban regime. AT

Helmand Province deputy police chief Haji Mohammad Ayyub said that neo-Taliban launched an assault on an Afghan National Army (ANA) post in the Sangin district on April 27, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. On neo-Taliban militant was killed in the assault, while the ANA suffered no casualties. The neo-Taliban have stepped up their armed assaults on ANA and other Afghan and foreign forces in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar provinces. AT

Baluchistan Minister for Home and Tribal Affairs Shoaib Nosherwani said in Quetta on April 26 that Afghans are responsible for disruptions of law in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Nosherwani said that he expects "important revelations" from an Afghan terrorist, identified as Mohammad Sayyed, who was arrested for allegedly trying to plant a bomb in a bus station in Quetta on April 23. Referring to an explosion that claimed five lives at a residence in Quetta on April 24, Nosherwani said the house belonged to an Afghan national who was keeping explosive materials that went off accidentally. Nosherwani called on Islamabad to demand that the Afghan government break the networks of Afghan terrorist organizations or individuals targeting Pakistan. He also called on federal authorities in his country to pave the way for the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan. Both Kabul and Islamabad have recently pointed accusatory fingers at each other for not doing enough to stop terrorist activities in their respective countries. Both governments have consistently rejected such criticism (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," February 28, March 24, and April 26, 2006). AT

President Vladimir Putin of Russia told visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tomsk on April 27 that his country is ready to "help" Germany accomplish the "important mission" in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Discussing her country's military contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Merkel said that while "the mission is not easy," Germany "will bear" the responsibility and stay the course. Putin said that Moscow regards allowing the German military to transit through Russia as its "contribution to efforts attempting to normalize Afghanistan." AT

Mohammad Saidi, an official in Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on April 27 that the previous day's talks in Vienna with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials were "good," dpa reported. Saidi predicted that the discussion could affect IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei's upcoming report on Iran. Iran's vice president for atomic energy, Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, headed the Iranian delegation, and anonymous diplomats told AFP on April 27 that the Iranians did not offer any new ideas to resolve the current crisis. One anonymous diplomat said Aqazadeh-Khoi "just rattled around on Iran's previously stated positions. He did not propose anything new." BS

Major General Amos Yadlin, head of the intelligence branch of the Israeli Defense Forces, announced in an April 26 lecture in Israel that North Korean missiles purchased by Iran have a 2,500-kilometer range, "Ha'aretz" reported on April 27. Yadlin added that some of the BM-25 liquid-fuel missiles are already in Iran, and their range exceeds that of the Shihab-4. BS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad returned to the subject of the Holocaust and World War II in an April 27 speech in Zanjan, state television reported. Ahmadinejad noted the deaths of more than 60 million people in the war, and he added that war still affects "many parts of the world." He asked rhetorically, "Why is the Palestinian nation burning in the flames set by the crimes of the occupying Zionists?" Ahmadinejad explained that the events of the war are "an excuse to murder the Palestinian nation," and he said the Jews are portraying themselves as "victims" so they can get "revenge." Germany does not have "an independent policy" or a "defensive force," Ahmadinejad claimed, and "that nation is still held hostage by power-hungry, impudent Zionists." Ahmadinejad added, "They have been oppressing Germany for 60 years." BS

President Ahmadinejad also addressed the issue of job creation in his speech in Zanjan on April 27, state television reported. Ahmadinejad prefaced his comments by saying, "I can see some young people here carrying a hand-written cardboard placard that highlights unemployment and [they] ask for jobs." Ahmadinejad described job creation as "one of the government's priorities," saying that banks are being restructured and money is being distributed to the provinces, and from them to the townships. Ahmadinejad said 180 trillion rials ($206 million) has been allocated to reduce unemployment. BS

Professor Sheikhollah Gholi Elahi, an Iranian who claims he created a substance that expels HIV/AIDS from the body and cures tuberculosis (TB), was arrested in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on April 25, Uganda's "The New Vision" reported on April 27. Four colleagues were arrested, too. The arrests followed a Health Ministry finding that the people who were allegedly cured continued to be infected. Elahi's "elixir", called Khomeini I, II, and III, consisted of honey, olive oil, and varying concentrations of minerals. Ugandan Primary Health Care Minister Alex Kamugisha told the Ugandan legislature on April 20 that the Institute of Elahi International Initiatives for Development and Education must not treat patients or distribute products, the "Daily Monitor" reported on April 21. A dose of Elahi's substance cost approximately $1,700 and was allegedly sufficient to cure HIV/AIDS or TB. The "Daily Monitor" reported on April 14 that Elahi had written to Health Minister Major General Jim Muhwezi to complain that he was being left out of the investigation on his remedy's effectiveness. BS

Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in an April 27 statement following a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki that only government forces should be allowed to carry weapons in Iraq, reported the same day. "His eminence stressed [to al-Maliki] that the main task of this government is to address the security situation and put an end to the criminal operations that target innocent people on a daily basis through torture, displacement, murder, attacks, and the like. Therefore, carrying weapons should be limited to the government forces. These forces should be established on national and sound bases so that their loyalty would only be to the homeland, not to any political party," the statement said. Al-Sistani also called on al-Maliki to "form a government comprising educationally and administratively qualified and honest members who enjoy a good reputation and are known for their great keenness to serve the higher national interests, away from personal, partisan, sectarian, and ethnic interests." According to the statement, the ayatollah also stressed the need to improve public services and fight administrative corruption. KR

Nuri al-Maliki told reporters in Al-Najaf on April 27 that al-Sistani voiced his support for merging militias into Iraq's armed forces, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. "Our approach, which is supported by the authority and all the Iraqi people, calls for keeping weapons only under the control of the government because it is the only party that protects Iraqis and faces up to those who break the law. Not only is the government responsible for disarming people, it is also responsible for providing people with security. In conclusion, there is an order to merge the militias [into the army]. This would not belittle their role in resisting the dictatorship, but it is a reward for them and a solution to a problem [that would persist] if weapons do not remain under the control of the government," al-Maliki said. Addressing the posts of interior and defense ministers, al-Maliki said that both posts will be filled "by persons who are not affiliated with any particular party in order to avoid any problem or claims that the ministry is affiliated with this or that party." KR

Iyad Allawi warned against merging militias into the Iraqi armed forces in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on April 26 in Amman, Jordan. "We want militias to end. We do not want to have them integrated in the military and similar structures of the state. No integration. The integration would mean creating one regiment Shi'ite, another one Sunni, another one loyal to the [Iraqi National] Accord, another one loyal to the Supreme Council [of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq], another one loyal to someone else -- and what will be the result? There will be fights. We want an army built in a style that is recognized," he said. KR

Allawi also told Radio Free Iraq that he does not believe the new government can form a cabinet that is not based on sectarian lines. "Regarding the style of the formation [of the cabinet], I do not think it will be a style of building a real national solidarity. If we come and say, 'This part is for Sunnis, this one for Shi'a, and this one for the Kurds,' it is a style in which we create a real split. And there are people who flirt with that, be it among Iraqis in the country or from abroad, who push in this direction." The result, he added, will be "a weakening of Iraq and destruction of its strong social background and structure." KR

More than 100 insurgents attacked police and army posts in the northern Iraqi town of Ba'qubah on April 27, killing seven Iraqi soldiers, the U.S. military announced on April 28. Local police commander Major General Ghassan Adnan al-Bawi said the attackers flooded the city in six waves, reported on April 28. Reuters quoted al-Bawi as saying that between 400 and 500 insurgents were involved in the attack. In one raid, the militants attacked five police checkpoints and a police station with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms. Seventeen militants were killed, as well as one Iraqi soldier, and two people were wounded. Four militants and six Iraqi soldiers were killed in a separate attack on an Iraqi army headquarters, while two civilians were killed. KR