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Newsline - June 5, 2006

Unnamed "top EU officials" told dpa in Brussels on June 2 that a new report drawn up by EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana says that the bloc must act on several fronts to ensure stable energy supplies, which includes negotiating a "comprehensive agreement with Russia covering all energy products." The EU reportedly wants to conclude a long-term agreement by the end of the year, when the previous one will expire. The purpose of the new pact will be to ensure that the EU has access to stable and reliable supplies of Russian gas and oil, while Russia will receive EU investments and technology in return. The new study reportedly notes that some unnamed countries seek to use energy supplies as a political weapon or do not play by free-market rules. Gazprom continues to reject EU demands that Russia ratify the "energy charter" that it signed in 1994, which would end Gazprom's monopoly over Russia's pipeline system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, May 26 and 30, and June 1, 2006). PM

President Vladimir Putin told foreign and domestic wire-service journalists at his home at Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow on June 2 that "Russia has never raised the question of the attachment of territories outside its boundaries. We do not have such plans." He stressed that the territorial integrity of states must be respected over any "vague notion of historical justice [or] political expediency...otherwise we will have chaos." Responding to a journalist who suggested that terrorists might find it easy to recruit among Russian Muslims, Putin argued that Muslims in his country "are not some alien part of society. They're not immigrants. They are full citizens, and this is their native land." Referring to relations with Washington, Putin said he is "satisfied with their level and quality." He argued that "the things that unite us are of a strategic character...[and the differences are] tactical." In combating terrorism, "we are more than partners," he stressed. PM

Putin also told reporters in Novo-Ogaryovo on June 2 that Russia does not understand the reasons for further NATO eastward enlargement, domestic and foreign news agencies reported. "When the military structure of NATO comes close to our borders, we react [and ask why this is necessary].... It's no longer a world of two systems." Putin also advised the Atlantic alliance to improve its "credibility" rather than expand its weapons programs. Referring to Ukraine, he argued that those who support the changes under way there should support them with their own money and not expect Russia to subsidize them with cheap energy supplies. He told a German journalist: "Why should German consumers pay $250 per 1,000 cubic meters [of gas] and Ukrainians $50? If you want to present such a gift to Ukraine, pay for it [yourselves]." When reminded that the World Association of Newspapers was slated to open its annual congress in Moscow on June 5, Putin said that the Russian press reflects a wide range of viewpoints and that, in a digital age, he could not control the flow of information even if he wanted to. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a state-television interview on June 4 that Russia will sell weapons to Venezuela despite a de facto U.S. arms embargo against the regime of President Hugo Chavez, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on June 5. Lavrov stressed that Venezuela is not under any international sanctions and that Russia intends to develop its existing arms cooperation with that country. "We are governed by international law," he added. On June 3, a first shipment of 30,000 Kalashnikov AK103 rifles arrived in Venezuela as part of a deal involving the sale of 100,000 Kalashnikovs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 10 and April 4, 2006). Chavez announced that "this is another defeat we've given to U.S. imperialists.... We don't want war, we are not going to attack anyone. We are just preparing to defend our blessed land, our nation, and our revolution." He also predicted that an unspecified number of "Sukhoi-30 jets made in Russia will soon be passing over our heads. Out pilots have already been flying them in Moscow. The Sukhois will be arriving here soon." PM

On June 3 in Baghdad, unidentified people took one Russian diplomat and three embassy staff captive and killed another member of the staff, ITAR-TASS reported. An unnamed embassy official told the news agency by telephone on June 3 that there is no new information on the whereabouts of the presumed hostages despite the embassy's efforts to find out where they are. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told journalists in New York on June 3 that Secretary-General Kofi Annan and all Security Council members have given Russia their "moral and political support." He added that "everyone hopes that the situation will soon be resolved positively and that our colleagues [in Iraq] will be released. If this does not happen, my colleagues [at the UN] made it clear to me that they would be ready to consider steps that may be needed in obtaining [the hostages' release]." PM

The Russian authorities have asked their Chinese counterparts for information regarding a fire at a paint factory at a petrochemical complex in Harbin on June 3, RIA Novosti reported. The Chinese reply is expected on June 6. The area was the scene of a major chemical spill affecting the water supply of several Russian Siberian cities and towns last winter (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, 2005, and April 4, 2006). PM

A session of the Coordinating Council of Muftis of the North Caucasus took place in the Chechen town of Gudermes on June 2 at the initiative of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who stressed their "moral responsibility" for the situation in the North Caucasus, reported. The discussion focused on the need for a coordinated propaganda campaign to convince the local population of the pernicious nature of Wahhabism, and for more effective measures to solve socioeconomic problems. LF

Unidentified perpetrators opened fire on June 4 in Nazran on a car in which three Federal Security Service (FSB) officers were traveling, reported. One of them was killed instantly and a second died later in the hospital. During the night of 2-3 June, two shells exploded near the home in Nazran of Ingushetia's Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoyev. No one was injured in the blasts, which Khamkhoyev reportedly told Ekho Moskvy may have been the work of "criminal elements." LF

Deputies elected on June 2 new chairmen of the parliament committees on social affairs, health care, nature protection, and on defense and security, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Both committees were previously headed by members of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir (OY) party who resigned when OY quit the ruling three-party coalition last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2006). Only one candidate was proposed for, and subsequently elected to, each post. The pro-government United Labor Party proposed Mnatsakan Petrosian to head the social affairs committee, while the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) proposed nonpartisan deputy Aramayis Grigorian, whose brother Arayik is a member of the HHD parliament faction. LF

Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev met in Bucharest on June 4 on the eve of a summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization to resume discussions of ways to resolve the Karabakh conflict. Ambassador Steven Mann, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group that mediated the talks, told RFE/RL the presidents talked for 2 1/2 hours one-on-one and then for a further 45 minutes in the presence of the three Minsk Group co-chairmen. Mann said that "there was a good atmosphere at the talks and...a detailed discussion," and added that the two presidents plan to meet again on June 5. He did not divulge what specific aspects of a settlement they addressed. Speaking on June 2 in Djermuk, Kocharian said his expectations of the Bucharest talks are "modest," the independent daily "Azg" reported on June 3. Kocharian added that "we are discussing one variant which in my view allows for a long-term and lasting settlement." He did not elaborate. LF

The Baku city prosecutor's office has brought criminal charges against two newspapers, "Den" and "New Fact," for abuse of office and inciting interethnic and interfaith animosity, Turan and reported on June 3. The two papers reportedly published a collage featuring deceased Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, which Azerbaijan's prosecutor-general deemed insulting to the Iranian leadership and clergy. Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakh-shukur Pashazade, who is Azerbaijan's most senior Muslim cleric, branded the publishers of the collage "heretics" and said they have brought shame on the Azerbaijani people, reported on June 2. Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov said his council has received frequent complaints that "Den" publishes articles that are libelous, reported. LF

Five hundred Russian peacekeeping troops left the South Ossetian conflict zone via the Roki tunnel early on June 3, days after the arrival of a contingent to replace them, Caucasus Press reported on June 3 quoting Russian commander Major General Murat Kulakhmetov. Also on June 3, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying that any agreement exists with Russia under which the Russian peacekeepers may enter and leave Georgian territory via the Roki tunnel, rather than via the official Verkhni Lars border crossing, or exempting them from the requirement that Russian citizens must have a valid Georgia visa in order to enter the country, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi issued a statement on June 2 noting Georgian "concern" over Russian actions in South Ossetia and calling on the two sides to begin talks. LF

Following a telephone conversation between them on June 3, it was announced that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili will meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on June 13 in St. Petersburg in an attempt to resolve what Saakashvili described as the "tough problems" that have arisen in bilateral relations in recent weeks, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. Speaking at a session of the Georgian National Security Council on June 3, Saakashvili said Georgia wants "a constructive dialogue" with Russia. LF

Approximately 3,000 workers at the Mittal Steel Temirtau mill held a demonstration in Shakhtinsk, Karaganda province, on June 4 demanding higher pay, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The miners want current average wages of 50,000 tenges ($404) a month raised to a minimum of 54,000 tenges. The mill is owned by Mittal Steel, which is run by Indian-born steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. The demonstration took place with the permission of local authorities and went off without incident. DK

Kazakh Ombudsman Bolat Baikadamov has appealed to Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov to resolve the conflict between the Almaty municipal authorities and residents of the neighborhoods Bakai and Shanyrak, where homes in unauthorized settlements face demolition, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on June 1. In his appeal, Baikadamov called on Tusupbekov to investigate reports that municipal authorities have used force to try to evict Bakai residents. Baikadamov also asked why city authorities have recently deemed that land in the two communities was unlawfully seized by residents when the construction of houses in Bakai and Shanyrak began in 1998. A report in Navigator on June 2 detailed a clash between police and Bakai residents on May 31. The residents said that police, acting on behalf of developers, are using force and intimidation to evict them and destroy their homes. DK

A small group of residents of the southern Kyrgyz town of Aksy briefly broke into the compound holding the presidential and government offices in Bishkek on June 2, reported. The protesters -- numbering 10-15, according to the news agency -- were angered by a Supreme Court ruling earlier that day that there will be no additional investigation of the police actions that led to the deaths of six protesters in Aksy in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 18 and 19, 2002), and demanded a meeting with President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was prime minister at the time of the Aksy shootings. Rights activist Aziza Abdrasulova told news agency that she witnessed security forces beating protesters as they were being carried out of the presidential compound. Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, told that the Supreme Court ruling could lead to an escalation of tension within Kyrgyzstan. DK

The "Financial Times" reported on June 2 that Kyrgyzstan has retreated from its initial demand that the United States increase its annual lease payments for an air base in Kyrgyzstan from $2.7 million to $200 million. Quoting a source "familiar with ongoing discussions in Bishkek," the newspaper reported that the Kyrgyz government would accept annual lease payments as low as $15 million if accompanied by aid and investments, with the total coming to "far less" than $200 million. The first round of Kyrgyz-U.S. talks on a new agreement for the base ended last week without a public announcement of a resolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). DK

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), told a meeting of CIS security-agency heads in Dushanbe on June 2 that their agencies need to do more to counter the espionage activities of "third countries" in the CIS region acting "under the guise of government and nongovernmental organizations," the BBC's Persian Service reported. The meeting, which was opened by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, focused on ways to improve coordination and cooperation among CIS security agencies, Khovar reported. DK

A court in Tajikistan's Sughd province has sentenced Ibrohim Yoldoshev, an Uzbek citizen, to a 13-year prison term for espionage on behalf of a foreign country, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on June 2. Yoldoshev, a former Tajik citizen, was arrested in December while illegally crossing the border from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan. Another Uzbek citizen, Abdujalol Qodirov, also faces espionage charges in Sughd for which he could be sentenced to up to 20 years, Avesta reported. DK

A civil court in Samarkand ruled on June 3 to close the Samarkand offices of the U.S.-based NGO Central Asian Free Exchange (CAFE), reported. The court found that CAFE operated unregistered branches in Samarkand and that CAFE's foreign staff violated Uzbek visa regulations. The report noted that courts have already closed CAFE offices in Ferghana, Kokand, and Nukus. In mid-May, Uzbek officials charged CAFE with conducting illegal missionary activities in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2006). DK

Syarhey Sidorski told lawmakers in the Chamber of Representatives on June 2 that the government is satisfied with the progress of talks on Gazprom's gas supplies to Belarus in 2007, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "Yesterday we concluded a yet another round of negotiations with Gazprom. They are proceeding in a good, constructive manner," Sidorski added. Later the same day, Sidorski told journalists that he hopes the gas price for Belarus in 2007 will rise by no more than $11-$15 per 1,000 cubic meters, to the price that Russian consumers are expected to have to pay. Belarusian Energy Minister Alyaksandr Azyarets was in Moscow on June 1 for talks with Gazprom. Gazprom head Aleksei Miller said at the talks that "Russian gas should be supplied to Belarus at market rates in 2007," the Gazprom press office told Belapan. Belarus currently pays $47 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, the same as Russian consumers in the neighboring Smolensk Oblast. JM

Activists of Ukrainian pro-Russian parties -- the Communist Party, the People's Opposition Bloc, and Ukrainian Cossacks -- on June 2 prevented a group of U.S. reservists from reaching a Ukrainian Defense Ministry sanatorium in the village of Partenit in Crimea, Interfax reported. The Americans, who arrived the previous day in Simferopol by plane and after encountering a road blockage on their way to Partenit, had reportedly to be housed at a different sanatorium in Alushta. Anti-NATO protests in Crimea began last week, after the U.S. naval cargo ship "Advantage" brought construction materials and equipment to the port of Feodosiya in order to upgrade a training range near the town of Staryy Krym (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). Anti-NATO protesters are continuing to block the Feodosiya port to prevent the cargo from being transferred to the training range, which is also reportedly being picketed. JM

The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine on June 2 issued a statement for the media in connection with the presence of a group of U.S. servicemen in Crimea, Ukrainian and international media reported. The embassy said that a commercially chartered airplane arrived on June 1 at Simferopol airport, bringing a group of U.S. Marine reservists who are part of a construction and engineering unit invited to Ukraine by the Ukrainian government to assist with upgrading the Ukrainian training facility at Staryy Krym. The Marines joined their colleagues who arrived on May 27 aboard the "USS Advantage." There are currently some 200 U.S. reservists in Crimea, who are to build sanitary facilities and other basic amenities for use by the Ukrainian military during the planned Sea Breeze 2006 exercise. The statement notes that the U.S. reservists are not involved in any military training exercise in Ukraine. JM

Ukraine's Foreign and Defense ministries have said in a joint statement that the continuing blockade of the cargo brought by the U.S. ship "USS Advantage" to Feodosiya is a politically motivated action and testifies to "destructive moves under pseudo-patriotic mottoes," Ukrinform reported on June 2. "The cargo is aimed not at the construction of a mythical 'NATO base' in Crimea, but at the accommodation of participants in the [Sea Breeze 2006] exercises, first of all Ukrainian officers and soldiers. There were no foreign troops on board [as some provocative reports say]," the statement reads. Noting that the "USS Advantage" is a commercial vessel, both ministries stressed that its docking in Feodisiya did not require any parliamentary authorization, as is the case with the deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory. The organizers of anti-NATO protests in Crimea -- the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Party of Regions, the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, and the United Social Democratic Party -- have demanded the resignation of the defense and foreign ministers over the Feodosiya incident. JM

Montenegro formally declared independence on June 3, ending a union with Serbia that dated back to 1918, international news agencies reported the same day. Opposition lawmakers, who opposed independence, boycotted the parliamentary session that officially adopted the results of the May 21 independence referendum. In addition to declaring independence, parliament also approved a series of basic principles, defining Montenegro as a democratic and civilian-ruled state with aspirations to join both NATO and the European Union. Pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic invited his Serbian counterpart Vojislav Kostunica to attend the parliamentary session, but Kostunica, who vocally opposed the breakup of Serbia and Montenegro, declined. Montenegrin government officials said they expect EU recognition this month and a seat in the United Nations when the General Assembly convenes in September, dpa reported. BW

Serbian President Boris Tadic sent a message to the Montenegrin people on June 3, wishing them well as an independent country and pledging good relations with Podgorica, AP reported the same day. Tadic wished Montenegrins "peace, stability, and overall prosperity" on their way to European integration. "On that road, as always in our history, Serbia will be the closest friend," he added. "I am in favor of preserving family, historic, cultural, economic, and political ties, because they present an unbreakable bond between our two countries." Tadic's actions contrast sharply with those of Prime Minister Kostunica, a moderate nationalist, who has refused to congratulate Montenegro's leaders. BW

Serbia quickly began consolidating key state and military posts on June 4, following Montenegro's declaration of independence, AP reported the same day. Serbia and Montenegro shared only defense and foreign affairs in their loose alliance, but Montenegro's independence declaration initiated a complicated process of dividing and reshaping the armed forces, diplomatic corps, and common assets. Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic, who became Serbia's defense minister, replaced Lieutenant General Ljubisa Jokic, the Montenegrin who headed the union's joint armed forces, with a Serb. Stankovic added that beginning on June 5, Serbian soldiers and officers will be withdrawn from Montenegro. Montenegrins serving in Serbia will also return to their native republic and become part of its nascent force. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said that his republic will "in a matter of days" name a military chief of its own, and begin developing its own forces. The issue of dividing dozens of embassies and residences abroad is yet to be resolved. Serbia, which inherits the union state's UN seat, is scheduled to formally declare its own independence on June 5. BW

A key government-protected witness to the assassination of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was found slain on June 3, Reuters reported the same day. The charred body of Zoran "Vuk" Vukojevic, with his wrists handcuffed behind his back, was found alongside a highway to Belgrade, Tanjug reported, citing the police. Vukojevic was a member of the "Zemun gang," the organized crime group alleged to be behind the March 12, 2003, assassination. As an insider, Vukojevic had given valuable testimony. Thirteen people have been indicted in Djindjic's murder, six of whom are still at large. The alleged mastermind, former special police commander Milorad Lukovic, denies involvement. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Investigation and Protection Agency detained three war crimes suspects on June 2 in the southern city of Mostar, dpa reported the same day. The agency did not reveal the names of the detainees. But local media identified them as Bosnian Croats Marko Radic and Dragan Sunjic, and Muslim Emir Brekalo. All were former members of the former Bosnian Croat militia (HVO) during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. The three, who were wanted on a warrant from Bosnia's State Court in Sarajevo, were suspected of war crimes against non-Croats in Herzegovina during the war. BW

As unrest among ethnic Azeris in Iran settles down, disturbances involving university students are picking up. In the past week, several student leaders have been detained by plainclothes security personnel and are being held at unknown locations. Such incidents follow protests triggered by the Iranian government's increasing interference in campus affairs. There are roughly 2.4 million university students in Iran, and student affairs will therefore have an impact on national politics for some time.

The Iranian government's involvement in university affairs includes dismissing popular professors, appointing unqualified individuals to administrative positions, and manipulating student elections. The most recent incidents involve the detention of student activists by security forces. Much is made of these forces being in plainclothes -- rather than in uniform -- because this makes it difficult to determine the security institution with which they are affiliated. Similarly, the detainees are frequently held incommunicado at unknown locations.

Student activists told Radio Farda that on the morning of May 31 plainclothes security forces detained Abdullah Momeni, spokesman of the majority wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV). Reza Delbari, another DTV member, told Radio Farda that the security forces have been after the organization's members for some time. The security forces, he continued, see no need to operate within a legal framework because any action on the part of the students prompts a disproportionate reaction.

The same day, students at the Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran held a lunchtime rally to protest the detention of two classmates, ISNA reported. Yashar Qajar, the head of the Islamic Students Union at Amir Kabir University, and Abed Tavancheh, who wrote about recent campus protests on his weblog, were detained the previous week.

Student Abbas Hakimzadeh told Radio Farda on May 30 that there is no news of Qajar's whereabouts and no one answers calls to his mobile telephone. The authorities told Tavancheh's family that he would be released after answering a few questions, Hakimzadeh said, but that was days ago. Hakimzadeh claims that the University Basij wants to bring the hard-line pressure group Ansar-i Hizbullah onto the campus. Hakimzadeh predicted that the situation will quiet down with the approach of exams and the summer holiday.

The detentions in Tehran follow violent demonstrations at Tehran University and Amir Kabir University on May 22-23. Demonstrating students at Tehran University objected to "the prevalence of a police atmosphere at the university," "Mardom Salari" reported on May 23.

This has been a concern for some time. In November concerns were expressed that universities could become "garrisons" if the personnel responsible for physical security of the facilities were given more extensive powers that might relate to intelligence gathering. More recently, students objected to plans to bury veterans of the Iran-Iraq War on campuses.

Tehran police chief Morteza Talai said on May 24 that some 20-30 people were behind the previous night's unrest at Tehran University, and he estimated that some of these people were not students, IRNA reported. Eyewitnesses reported some injuries and damage to parked vehicles, and Talai said 40 police were hurt. Students told Radio Farda that some students are missing and others were injured when police and paramilitaries attacked them.

Tehran police spokesman Mohammad Turang said on May 26 that eight people were arrested for damaging dormitories. Turang referred to "thugs" who make trouble, and added that foreigners are involved: "Investigations show that a current from outside the university was involved in the recent turmoil in the Tehran University dormitory. It seems that these people are related to foreign sources."

Tehran was not the only place where disturbances involving university students occurred during the last week in May. Students at Chamran University in Ahvaz and at Kermanshah University complained of interference in campus elections. The ones in Ahvaz also complained that university authorities would not allow outside speakers who were critical of the government, ISNA reported on May 23. Kermanshah University students also complained that the university authorities refused to permit a seminar at which pro-reform politicians would discuss the economic situation, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 23.

In other incidents, students in Kerman reported cases of harassment, students in Zanjan and other places demonstrated over the publication of the "cockroach" cartoon deemed insulting to Azeris, and those in Shiraz complained of restrictions on their activities.

The protests continued in the last days of the month. Students at the Iran University of Medical Sciences staged a sit-in on May 29 to protest against the refusal of the chancellor's office to permit elections for the Islamic Students Union. Union head Mustafa Vafai said efforts to hold the election began seven months ago. He added that on May 28 the union was advised that it cannot hold elections until its activities conform with "the regulations regarding Islamic organizations." Vafai said the union was told at an earlier meeting that its Student Day rallies, its statements on the 2005 presidential election, and its publications are objectionable.

The main concern at Amir Kabir University related to elections in the DTV, which now has two wings -- the more radical majority in the Neshast-i Allameh and the more traditional minority in the Neshast-i Shiraz.

Members of the two DTV wings got in a brawl at Amir Kabir University on May 22, state television reported. The next day, the conservative "Kayhan" newspaper reported that the Allameh wing was trying to hold an illegal election and its members attacked another student group.

The Shiraz wing of the DTV at Amir Kabir University submitted a letter to the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology in which it claimed that the other wing is trying to dominate the student organization, "Kayhan" reported on May 23. It accused the rival group of "denying the Islamic nature of Islamic associations and questioning the principles of the Islamic Revolution and the religion of Islam." It added that the Allameh wing has "been taking positions in conflict with the Iranian nation's national interests and in accordance with the country's foreign enemies at different junctures and during the country's political crises." The letter added, "they invite foreigners to interfere and meddle in Iran's internal affairs."

Two University of Tehran students who were members of the DTV central council explained in a letter to university Chancellor Ayatollah Abbas Ali Amid-Zanjani that because neither wing of the DTV could gain a majority in campus elections in spring 2005, they signed an agreement in which five of the traditionalists and four of the reformers would serve on the student council. Since that time, however, the traditionalists have squeezed out the reformers, "Sharq" reported on May 30.

Hamid Karzai replaced Major General Jamil Jonbesh as chief of police in the capital on June 3, appointing Amanullah Gozar as his replacement, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Karzai's office described Jonbesh's dismissal as long-planned, but AFP quoted an unnamed official within the Interior Ministry as saying the May 29 riots in Kabul "sped up" the plan. The same source said he thinks Jonbesh's removal was prompted by weak policing during the deadly riots that shook Kabul after a fatal traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck and civilian vehicles on May 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline" May 30 and 31, and June 1 and 2, 2006). AFP reported that the head of Kabul's rapid-reaction force, General Mahbub Amiri, was also dismissed. Jonbesh was appointed as Kabul's police chief in June 2005 after his predecessor, General Akram Khakrezwal, was killed in Kandahar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2005). New York-based Human Rights Watch in early May urged Karzai to replace Jonbesh, accusing him of murder, torture, intimidation, and bribery; Jonbesh said those allegations were the result of a conspiracy directed against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5 and 12, 2006). AT

A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle in Kandahar as a convoy of Canadian troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was approaching on June 4, killing three bystanders and the bomber and injuring about a dozen civilians, international news agencies reported. Purporting to speak for the Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yusof claimed that a "Taliban fighter" named Azim Khan carried out the attack, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Mohammad Yusof claimed the attack destroyed two Canadian military vehicles, while the Canadian military said there was only minor damage to their vehicles. Pajhwak Afghan News reported that the blast occurred near the motorcade of Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khaled. In a statement, President Karzai condemned the attack, which he described as having targeted Khaled and been carried out by "enemies of peace and stability" in Afghanistan, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Bakhtar reported that Karzai's statement did not include any suggestion that the Canadian troops were the target of the attack. AT

Unknown gunmen on June 2 killed Hajji Morsalin, head of the Tribal Council of Konar Province's Marwido district, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The slain tribal leader was active in trying to persuade Taliban members to join the Afghan government's reconciliation process. Morsalin had reportedly been warned by "enemies of the country" not to cooperate with the government. The official Bakhtar News Agency's June 4 report suggested Morsalin was killed by the "people's enemies." President Karzai condemned Morsalin's murder. AT

Qari Najibullah, leader of the border town of Hayratan in the northern Balkh Province, used a meeting with the Uzbek consul-general in Balkh on June 4 to accuse Uzbekistan of "invading" Afghanistan, Mazar-e Sharif-based Balkh Television reported. Najibullah reportedly pointed out damage to the riverbanks on the Afghan side of the Amu River, which separates the two countries, suggesting they have been damaged by Uzbek ships. The Uzbek consul-general reportedly vowed to discuss the matter with his government. Hayratan lies on the banks of the Amu River at the Afghan end of the only bridge that links Afghanistan with Uzbekistan. AT

In a June 3 speech at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic revolution, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked him to take his time considering the international proposal on the nuclear issue and not publicize it, state television reported. Details have not yet emerged of the package of incentives and sanctions formulated by the 5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany). Ahmadinejad said Iran will reveal all the details eventually, and it "will record all the talks word for word" to keep people apprised. Iran's ultimate decision, he continued, will be based on the national interest. Iran is willing to negotiate, Ahmadinejad said, but consider its "nuclear rights -- the use of the technology of nuclear-fuel production and nuclear technology for peaceful purposes -- to be part of our self-evident and legal rights and we will not negotiate about our self-evident rights with anyone." Possible topics for negotiations, he continued, are "mutual concerns," world peace, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. BS

Speaking in Tehran on June 2, President Ahmadinejad dismissed Western concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, Fars News Agency reported. For Westerners, he claimed Iranian access to nuclear technology means "the access of the world's independent states to this advanced technology." Western pressure, he added, "will not bear results." BS

Mohammad Javad Saidi, deputy chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, on June 2 downplayed the significance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's proposal two days earlier that the United States would participate in nuclear talks with Iran, ISNA reported. "Iran has not asked the U.S. to participate in the nuclear talks," he said, adding that the preconditions set out by Rice -- suspension of uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities, full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) -- are unacceptable. "It would be almost impossible to accept the preconditions set by America," he said. "We are interested in taking part in any discussions that stress our legal right, irrespective of who is at the other side of the negotiating table -- be it Russia, China or others," Saidi said. BS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a June 4 speech at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that U.S. propaganda is trying to convince the world that Iran wants nuclear weapons, state television reported. He described these alleged claims as "a sheer lie." Khamenei said Iran does not need a nuclear bomb, adding that "using nuclear weapons is against Islamic rules" and the costs of building and maintaining such weapons are "unnecessary." "Unlike the Americans, who want to rule the world with force, we do not claim to control the world and therefore do not need a nuclear bomb," he added. Khamenei also said the world needs Iran's gas supplies. "Beware that if you make the slightest mistake over Iran, the energy flow through this region will be seriously in danger," Khamenei said. BS

In the face of repeated reports in the Azerbaijani media suggesting that Azeri protesters were killed amid protests in Iran, the Tabriz city prosecutor said on June 2 that no one was killed, ILNA reported. Identified only as Firuzi, the city prosecutor said 153 of the 253 people arrested have been released. Firuzi acknowledged that some people were injured with pellets, but he added that "law enforcement personnel do not use pellet guns." Also on June 2, Ardabil Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Hassan Ameli said alleged extremists behind the recent disorder "committed a major crime," ILNA reported. The violence against people and property, Ameli continued, portrays Azeris in a bad light and is a disservice to them. He urged the justice system to deal with the perpetrators quickly and decisively. The clandestine Turkmensahra Freedom Organization of Iranian Turkmen declared solidarity with Iranian Azeris in a June 1 statement, APA news agency reported. Azeris and Turkmen share Turkic-language roots, and the statement noted that "Persian chauvinists" are working against the language. The recent protests, the statement continued, were not triggered by an isolated incident but have been building up for many years. BS

A session of the Iraqi National Assembly scheduled for June 4 was postponed after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki failed to reach agreement within the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance on nominees for the key ministries of Interior, Defense, and National Security, AP reported the same day. Announcing the postponement, deputy parliament speaker Sheikh Khalid al-Atiyah told reporters that the delay was necessary because "new names were put forth at the last moment.... This is a chance [for Iraqi parties] to choose the best, most qualified, and most acceptable" candidates. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News on June 4 that she is confident that Iraqi politicians will "get [the security posts] settled in the next few days." Reportedly, the United Iraqi Alliance could not agree on al-Maliki's candidate for interior minister: Faruq al-Araji, a Shi'a, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on June 4. Abd al-Qadir Muhammad Jasim, a Sunni, was the nominee for defense minister. BAW

Masked gunmen pulled over two minivans north of Baghdad on June 4, separated out the Shi'ite passengers, lined them up, and shot them, killing 21, AP reported the same day. The gunmen then let the Sunnis go. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has called on Sunnis to confront the Shi'a and ignore the calls for national reconciliation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). He also called Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani an atheist, Western news agencies reported on June 2. The Italian news agency AKI reported on June 2 that 1,423 people were killed in Iraq in May, a rise of 38 percent over April's casualty figures. BAW

Gunmen attacked a car carrying Russian diplomats on June 3 not far from the Russian Embassy in the Al-Mansur district of Baghdad, killing one and abducting four others, AFP reported the same day. Despite reports that Interior Ministry commandos arrested the kidnappers in a raid, ministry spokesman Brigadier Adnan Abdul Rahman dismissed the report as "not true," the BBC reported on June 4. BAW

A U.S. military report issued on June 2 cleared U.S. troops of allegations of misconduct in the deaths of up to 13 civilians on March 15 in the town of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad, international news agencies reported. Local police and residents claimed that U.S. soldiers shot dead a family of 11, including five children. Adnan al-Kazimi, an aide to Prime Minister al-Maliki, said: "We have from more than one source that the Ishaqi killings were carried out under questionable circumstances. More than one child was killed. This report was not fair for the Iraqi people and the children who were killed," Reuters reported on June 3. Linking Ishaqi to the Al-Hadithah case currently under investigation where U.S. Marines are also accused of killing civilians, al-Kazimi said that the Iraqi government demands an apology from the United States and compensation for the victims. Al-Maliki has demanded that the U.S. military share its files in the Al-Hadithah case with the Iraqi government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006). BAW