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Newsline - July 10, 2006

Russian and international news agencies cited Federal Security Service head Nikolai Patrushev as telling President Vladimir Putin on July 10 that Chechen resistance leader and Vice President Shamil Basayev has been killed. He was killed overnight in Ingushetia, according to ITAR-TASS. Upon being informed of Basayev's death, Putin said it was "deserved retribution" for the Chechen commander's role in past attacks on Russian soil, AP reported, citing RIA Novosti. Basayev, who was last month named vice president of the Chechen Republic-Ichkeria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2006), claimed responsibility for the September 2004 attack on a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in with 331 were killed and some 1,000 were taken hostage. He also led a hostage-taking raid in the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk in 1995 in which nearly 150 people died. (See for more information as the story develops.) MES

An Airbus 310-300 belonging to Russia's S7 airline, which was formerly known as Sibir, burst into flames upon hitting a concrete wall after landing on a wet runway in Irkutsk on July 9 on a flight from Moscow, Russian and international media reported. At least 122 passengers died, six are missing, and 57 people were hospitalized. The passengers included many children and young people headed for vacations on Lake Baikal. S7 is Russia's second-largest airline and grew out of the Siberian branch of the former Soviet carrier Aeroflot. The crash was the fourth involving fatalities in the Irkutsk area since 1994. PM

Within hours after learning of the Irkutsk plane crash on July 9, President Vladimir Putin announced that July 10 will be a day of mourning for the victims, and he expressed his condolences to their friends and relatives, Russian media reported. Putin promised to make "all necessary assistance" available and told Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to monitor the investigation of the incident. The Moscow daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on July 10 that this was an unusually quick reaction by the Russian authorities to a catastrophic incident. Early in his presidency in 2000, Putin was widely criticized for what many regarded as a slow and insensitive reaction to the sinking of the submarine "Kursk." Some observers suggested that Putin does not want a similar controversy to overshadow the July 15-17 St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries. RIA Novosti reported on July 9 that the crash in Irkutsk might have an impact on broader trends and developments in Russian civil aviation. Those include the formation of the holding company United Aircraft Construction Corporation (OAK), in which the state will own at least 75 percent of the equity and which will merge all Russian civilian and military aircraft producers. Putin signed a decree setting up the OAK in February. A second trend involves recent moves by Aeroflot to take over other major carriers, including S7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22 and March 7, 2006). PM

The "International Herald Tribune" reported from Washington on July 10 that "the Bush administration will [soon] open negotiations with Russia on a long-discussed civilian nuclear agreement that is to pave the way for Russia to become one of the world's largest repositories of spent nuclear fuel," citing White House sources on July 8. The daily suggested that the U.S. administration has given up its previous opposition to such a program that was based on concerns about the safety of Russian nuclear storage facilities. In return for giving its support to the storage project, which President Putin supports as part of expanding Russia's nuclear business, Washington will expect Moscow to exert greater pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program, the paper noted. Meanwhile, reported on July 10 that Washington might also be motivated by domestic considerations in seeking a nuclear deal with Moscow. The website further noted that many Russian ecologists have doubts about the safety of the storage project. PM

DID RUSSIA OFFER NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY? reported on July 9 that "Russia is facing [international] criticism after secretly offering to sell North Korea technology that could help [it] protect its nuclear stockpiles and safeguard weapons secrets from international scrutiny" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006). The website added that "Russian officials touted the equipment at an IT exhibition in Pyongyang a fortnight ago" but then retracted comments about possible North Korean purchases of the technology soon after those comments became public. PM

Vladislav Savisko, who is Kalmykia's human rights ombudsman, said in a statement on July 7 that the Russian authorities' recent decision to deny a visa to the Dalai Lama to visit Kalmykia on July 8-10 amounts to a "violation of the constitutional rights of [Buddhist] believers" to practice their religion, reported. Savisko noted that the planned trip by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists would have been of a strictly religious nature. The Kalmyks, Buryats, Tuvans, and Mongols are among the peoples of the Russian Federation of Buddhist heritage. The Kalmyks and Buryats in 1991 jointly marked the 250th anniversary of Russia's official recognition of Buddhism. In 1992, the Dalai Lama visited Kalmykia, Buryatia, and Tuva. PM

Russia unilaterally closed its Verkhny Lars border crossing with Georgia on July 8, citing the need to conduct unspecified "repairs," Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry immediately protested that decision as violating an agreement signed in October 1993 under which either side must give the other a minimum of three months' advance warning of any such repair work. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli commented that the closure will have no economic impact on Georgia but may negatively affect Russia's "strategic partner" Armenia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on July 10. That paper quoted Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian as telling journalists in Yerevan that "dozens" of trailers carrying Armenian agricultural produce to Russian markets are stranded at Verkhny Lars. LF

Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists in Gudermes on July 8 that Chechen resistance leaders Doku Umarov and Shamil Basayev have only a few dozen Chechen fighters under their command, together with some 60-70 foreign mercenaries, Russian media reported. Kadyrov contrasted that allegedly limited force with that of the 17,000 police under his own command, whom he characterized as "excellently trained and experienced in combat action." He added that 30 resistance fighters surrendered earlier that day and a further 50 are "preparing" to do likewise. Meanwhile, Umarov told the Turkish daily "Vakit" in an interview reposted on July 10 on the website that "thousands of young men in the Caucasus want to join our ranks to wage jihad against the Russian aggressors.... Believe me, if we had enough money and weapons, we could create a huge army in the Caucasus in the space of one week." LF

A session on July 8 of the resistance government State Defense Council empowered Umarov in his capacity as president and amir of the State Defense Council to use Chechen special services to arrest or assassinate "international terrorists and war criminals" outside Chechnya who have been sentenced to death by a Sharia court for the "genocide of the Chechen people," reported on July 9. On July 8, Umarov issued two decrees creating a Volga and a Urals front and naming amirs to head those sectors, reported. LF

The parents of an unspecified number of young men killed during the multiple attacks in Nalchik last October on police and security facilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 14, 17, and 18, 2005) have addressed an open letter to the presidents of the Group of Eight industrialized countries on the eve of G8's St. Petersburg summit, according to, as reposted on July 9 on The parents ask the G8 leaders to pressure the Russian authorities to release their sons' bodies for burial. Up to 10,000 residents of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic appended their signatures to an earlier appeal by the dead fighters' families to Russian President Putin to release the bodies. An official from the Southern Federal District prosecutor's office recently responded to that appeal, according to on July 7. That official claimed that an investigation has established that the young men in question were engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently in accordance with Russian law their bodies may not be returned to their kin, but are buried in unmarked graves. LF

Colonel General Seyran Ohanian, defense minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), told a press conference in Stepanakert on July 7 that the Karabakh forces currently occupying seven districts of Azerbaijan contiguous to the unrecognized republic will not be withdrawn until after a formal decision is reached on the NKR's future status, according to as reposted by Groong. Once that decision is reached, Ohanian continued, it will be possible to address the issue of deploying an international peacekeeping force in the conflict zone. The basic framework agreement for resolving the Karabakh conflict, as made public late last month by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, envisages the phased redeployment of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, with special modalities for Kelbacar and Lachin districts separating Karabakh from Armenia proper, the demilitarization of those territories, and the deployment of an international peacekeeping force, followed by a referendum or popular vote, at an unspecified future date, to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The NKR leadership has already rejected the idea of a new referendum on the grounds that the NKR population voted for independence from Azerbaijan in such a referendum in December 1991 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 30, 2006). LF

Oleg Alborov, secretary of the National Security Council of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, was killed early on July 9 by a bomb that exploded as he opened the doors of his garage, Caucasus Press and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on July 9 and 10, respectively. South Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiev blamed the killing on Georgia, suggesting that it is part of an attempt to destabilize the situation in South Ossetia in the run-up to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava denied any Georgian involvement in Alborov's death, hinting instead that Alborov may have been killed because he was more sympathetic to Georgia than many other members of the South Ossetian leadership, Caucasus Press reported on July 10. LF

Dmitry Medoev, who is South Ossetia's permanent representative in the Russian Federation, told journalists in Moscow recently that there is a "high possibility" that Georgian intelligence has recruited Chechen militants and "international terrorists" to participate in an anticipated attack on South Ossetia between July 10-20, Caucasus Press reported on July 10. Noting that the Georgian leadership and the Chechen resistance have a shared interest in undermining Russian influence throughout the Caucasus, Medoev alleged that a multiethnic militant group led by the brothers Ismailov is currently undergoing training in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to launch such an attack. Whether or not Medoev's claims are true, they could be adduced as the rationale for a Russian attack on Pankisi in line with threats made by Russian President Putin four years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2002). LF

Sultan Sosnaliev, who is defense minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, and his deputy, Lieutenant General Anatoly Zaitsev, both denied on July 7 that Russia has deployed unspecified materiel at the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed in a speech in Washington on July 6 that Russia has shipped unspecified weaponry to the Gudauta base, which Russian officials say was closed in 2001 in line with an agreement reached at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 22, 1999, July 2, 2001, and May 4, 2006). LF

Municipal authorities in Almaty destroyed approximately 500 homes in the settlement of Bakai on July 7 despite residents' protests, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. City authorities are clearing the dwellings, which they say are illegal, to make way for urban development. The conflict between Bakai residents and city authorities sparked clashes earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). Four Bakai residents were injured and two arrested during the demolitions on July 7, according to "Kazakhstan Today." DK

Sean Daley, a British citizen representing the interests of Britain's Oxus Gold in the latter's dispute with the Kyrgyz government, was hospitalized after suffering a gunshot wound in an attack in Bishkek on the night of July 6, reported the next day. Doctors in Bishkek told the news agency on July 8 that Daley was in serious condition after surgery to remove a kidney. Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov told "Bely parokhod" that police recovered a shell casing at the scene. He said they are also questioning a man who met with Daley shortly before the shooting. Daley is representing Oxus Gold in its attempt to recover its license to operate the Jerooy gold deposit. The attack on Daley took place one day after a Kyrgyz court upheld a ruling to keep the Kyrgyz government from executing a contract with Austria's Global Gold to work on the Jerooy mine, the "Daily Telegraph" reported. The report cited a statement by Oxus that the attack "will not affect these negotiations or the operations of the company and [we are] still confident of a successful resolution." DK

Kurmanbek Bakiev told a meeting of judges in Bishkek on July 8 that he supports the introduction of trial by jury, Kabar reported. Bakiev said that jury trials will help to ensure that citizens exercise their constitutional right "to participate in administering the law." He noted, "In democratic states, citizens should have the real right to participate both in governing a state and in administering the law." DK

In a press release on July 7, the World Bank announced that it has approved two grants totaling $15 million to support reforms in Tajikistan. A $10 million grant will go to improving the environment for private-sector development and the functioning of the public sector, while a $5 million grant will provide technical assistance for public-administration reform. DK

The bodies of 190 Tajik citizens were sent from Russia in the first six months of 2006, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on July 8, citing Interior Ministry data. The cause of death varied, with 69 killed in accidents, an equal number dying from disease, four committed suicide, and eight were killed in traffic accidents. The northern province of Sughd received the largest number of dead at 85. Khatlon Province, in the south of the country, received 47. In the first half of 2005, 151 Tajiks died in Russia. DK

Reporters Without Borders (RFS) held a demonstration in front of the Turkmen Embassy in Paris on July 7 to protest the detention of three journalists and rights activists in Turkmenistan, the organization reported in a press release on its website ( At least 30 journalists and RSF staff protested the detention of Annakurban Amanklychev, a contributor to the production company Galaxie-Presse and the French TV station France 2; Ogulsapar Muradova, a freelance correspondent for RFE/RL; and rights activist Sapardurdy Khajiev. RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard described Turkmenistan as an information "black hole" and expressed fear for the lives of the detainees, who face espionage charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21, 2006). Despite a preliminary agreement to meet, RSF representatives were unable to meet with a Turkmen official to discuss the case. DK

A source in Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry told Interfax on July 7 that the ministry has informed the Uzbekistan office of Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the group failed to provide documentary proof for allegations of rights violations in Uzbekistan. The source charged that "the representative office has been engaged in collecting and publishing sensational and non-objective information on the situation in the republic, which runs counter to the requirements of the mass media law of the Republic of Uzbekistan." reported that a Justice Ministry check showed that HRW was using an unregistered symbol and functioning as a branch of the organization's U.S.-based headquarters. DK

Islam Karimov issued a decree on July 7 appointing Alisher Azizkhojaev as his spokesman, UzA reported. In a separate decree, Karimov relived Azizkhojaev of the position of minister of culture and sports. DK

Police dispersed an opposition demonstration in downtown Minsk on July 7 marking the sixth anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Dmitry Zavadski, Belapan reported on July 8. Some 10 demonstrators were reportedly arrested. Svyatlana Zavadskaya, the wife of the missing journalist, said that "the authorities are afraid of not only those living but also those who are dead. They are afraid of the memory that exists in people's minds." A similar demonstration was staged in Hrodna, where police reportedly detained seven participants. Zavadski disappeared at Minsk's main airport in 2000. His alleged kidnappers were sentenced to life in prison in 2002, but the trial provided no answers as to what happened to Zavadski after his abduction. AM

Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych, the Socialist Party's Oleksandr Moroz, and the Communist Party's Petro Symonenko on July 7 signed an agreement on the creation of an "anti-crisis" coalition, Interfax reported the same day. The coalition would account for 240 votes in the 450-seat parliament supporters and intends to nominate Yanukovych as premier. The deal follows the unexpected election of Moroz as parliamentary speaker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2006), which cast doubt on the future of a renewed "Orange" coalition of Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2006). The votes of 226 lawmakers are needed for a parliamentary majority, and 300 for adopting constitutional amendments. AM

The trial of six high-profile Serbian military leaders and officials was to begin on July 10 in The Hague, international news agencies reported. The six, including former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, face charges related to the slaying, persecution, and deportation of ethnic Albanians in 1998-99, AP reported on July 10. Aside from Milutinovic, former Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, former army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic, generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic, and former Interior Ministry head Sreten Lukic are accused of either planning or failing to stop atrocities carried out by Serbian troops. All of the men have pleaded not guilty to five counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The indictment against the six says they were part of a "joint criminal enterprise" that sought to alter the ethnic makeup of Kosova by expelling half the province's ethnic Albanian population in 1999, thus ensuring "continued Serbian control over the province," news agencies cited the document as saying. The case is seen as pivotal to the legal determination of what happened in Kosova Province, as much of the evidence is expected to draw on the prosecution's case in the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in March while on trial in The Hague. MES

Hundreds of people lined Sarajevo's main street on July 8 to pay their respects by seeing off a convoy carrying the remains of more than 500 Bosnian Muslims to Srebrenica, AFP reported on July 10. Thousands of relatives of victims and survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre are expected to attend a mass funeral and ceremony outside the town on July 11 to mark the 11th anniversary of the massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006). Among the participants are some 1,000 people who will end a four-day trek with their arrival in Srebrenica on July 10. MES

At first glance, the small step of merging Kazakhstan's two largest pro-presidential parties on July 4 may not seem to be a giant leap for democracy. But it is a logical development in the parallel reality of "sovereign democracy," and one that underscores the increasing similarities between politics in Eurasia's two largest energy powers -- Kazakhstan and Russia.

The merger brings together the country's largest party, Otan, with the Asar Party, headed by Darigha Nazarbaeva, daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In his address to the congress, the president noted that the enlarged Otan will have 700,000 members and stressed, in line with political priorities he has laid out in earlier addresses, that the revamped "party of power" will be a "motor of modernization."

Nazarbaeva put forward the idea of a merger in remarks to an Asar Party conference in Almaty on June 19. Her conclusion -- that pro-presidential forces must unite -- is less than surprising, since it comes from the president's daughter. Yet the path to the conclusion is striking, proceeding from the threat of color revolutions -- the political upheaval that brought people into the streets and regimes tumbling down in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-2005 -- to the central importance of sovereignty.

Beginning with the December 2005 presidential election that saw her father reelected with over 90 percent of the vote amid less-than-glowing reviews from OSCE observers, Nazarbaeva interprets the result as proof that "Kazakhstan is not a place for color revolutions." These she defines as: "Discord within, pressure from without -- that's the tried and true recipe for recent color revolutions." And she warns, "Such a scenario existed for our country as well."

Kazakhstan, Nazarbaeva argues, has "built up its economy" and gained for itself "an oil breather." Now, the question is: "How will our sovereignty be ensured?"

Why sovereignty? Nazarbaeva explains: "For a long time, we trod a path to democracy guided by maps prepared in the West." But times are changing: "We see more and more countries and peoples in the world refusing to live according to identical patterns set up for them by someone else." Even the failure of the European constitution, Nazarbaeva argues, was "in defense of the national and the homegrown. In defense of sovereignty."

And what is sovereignty? Nazarbaeva quotes a definition from a text she identifies as the "New Philosophical Encyclopedia," published in Russia in 2003. It tells us, "State sovereignty presupposes full independence in internal and external relations." Returning to Kazakhstan's experience, Nazarbaeva explains, "We wanted to be closer to Europe. But haven't we handed over a part of our sovereignty to the West, which now rebukes us at every opportunity for failing to follow a tradition that is not the way of our people?"

She concludes, "All political and economic actions must be examined through the prism of this value: do they strengthen our sovereignty?" On Kazakhstan's democracy, Nazarbaeva makes it clear that impressing outsiders is not a priority: "Let some call it 'authoritarian,' others 'of the steppes.' What matters is that it's ours -- Kazakhstani. And that we like it."

Perhaps the most eloquent proponent of sovereign democracy is Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of Russia's presidential administration, who touted the concept to a select briefing of foreign journalists in Moscow on June 28. His fullest exposition of the idea came earlier, however, on February 7 at an address to loyal followers of the ruling party United Russia.

Surkov draws a stark line between Russia's current policy of strengthening the state and the disarray of the 1990s, when "it was necessary to have the federal budget approved by the IMF. Practically speaking, the country was on the verge of losing its state sovereignty." Russia must preserve its sovereignty because the benefits of globalization are distributed unequally, he says. Despite the interconnection of national economies, the Americans, English, and Canadians "count their dividends at home...while the majority count their losses." Surkov concludes: "That's why when they tell us that sovereignty is a thing of the past, like the nation-state, we need to stop and think: are they taking us for a ride?"

But the defense of sovereignty does not mean that Russia should shut itself off from the world. Quite the opposite. Amid globalization's inequalities, Surkov believes that sovereignty means "going out into the world, it means taking part in open struggle. I would say that sovereignty is the political synonym of competitiveness."

Sovereignty and democracy, Surkov argues, are the two preconditions for Russia's "stable development." When Russia becomes a "sovereign democracy" it will be "economically prosperous, politically stable, with a high level of culture. It will have access to the levers of influence on world politics. It will be a free nation -- together with other free nations -- forming a just world order."

But danger is never far away. The threats to sovereignty that Surkov enumerates are international terrorism, military confrontation, a noncompetitive economy and, in a reference to "color revolutions" that presages Nazarbaeva's remarks in June, a "soft takeover with modern 'orange technologies' amid reduced national immunity to external influences." The "soft takeover" is an "entirely real threat to sovereignty," Surkov stresses. As he describes the mechanics of the "takeover," "values are blurred, the state is pronounced ineffective, internal conflicts are provoked. The 'orange' technology shows this clearly."

Surkov sees an ongoing "orange" peril: "I can't say that this issue is off the agenda, since if they managed to pull it off in four countries" -- the reference includes Serbia in the list of "orange" victims -- "why not do it in a fifth? I think that these attempts will not be limited to 2007-2008 [when Russia holds parliamentary and presidential elections]. Our foreign friends can and will try to repeat them."

United Russia must fend off these threats by setting itself the task "not merely of winning in 2007 [parliamentary elections], but of thinking about and doing everything to ensure the party's dominance over the course of at least the next 10-15 years," he says. Lest anyone espy a retreat from democratic principles in this goal, Surkov invokes the examples of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, which "dominated for approximately 40 years," and Sweden's Social Democrats, who were "in power without interruption from 1932 to 1976."

Interestingly, Kazakh President Nazarbaev used virtually the same example in his address to Otan Party members on July 4. Praising the ability of strong parties to "provide a powerful impulse for the development of the country by mobilizing the nation in the name of countrywide goals," Nazarbaev cited Japan's Liberal Dems and Sweden's Socialists, as well as the experience of Singapore and Malaysia.

Nazarbaev's address also echoed Surkov in his reference to competitiveness. If Surkov called sovereignty the "political synonym of competitiveness," Nazarbaev, who has set the goal of making Kazakhstan one of the world's 50 most competitive nations, told Otan members on July 4 that the goal of political reforms should be the "formation of a modern and competitive political system." The Russian word that both Surkov and Nazarbaev used -- konkurentosposobnost, or, in its adjectival form, konkurentosposobny -- means "suited to compete," not "based on competition."

Nazarbaeva provided another parallel. If Surkov would like to see United Russia rule for at least 10-15 years, Nazarbaeva envisions a pro-presidential megaparty holding on to power for half a century. She effused to Asar members on June 19, "No other party will be able to compete with such a party for the next 50 years -- this is the task we should set for ourselves!"

As it is expounded in Kazakhstan and Russia, the doctrine of sovereign democracy -- with its emphasis on lurking threats, apparent distaste for universal standards, and calls for a strong pro-presidential party to maintain a decades-long hold on power -- may lead critical observers to conclude that it has more to do with enshrining the continued dominance of current ruling elites by whatever means they deem best suited to national tradition than with ensuring the orderly transfer of power in accordance with the popular will. As Dmitry Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, delicately put it in a July 6 interview with "In the phrase 'sovereign democracy,' the word 'democracy' doesn't carry any serious weight, while the word 'sovereign' carries significant weight."

More pointedly, despite its lofty intent to keep the homeland safe from the encroachments of a malign busybody international, sovereign democracy does not answer many specific questions about the democratic process. In fact, it seems to be less about explaining, for example, why the state needs to control nationwide television stations and how state-controlled broadcasters cover ruling incumbents in the lead-up to an election, than about denying outside observers the right to ask such questions, while rendering domestic critics inclined to similar inquiries vulnerable to charges that they are playing into the enemy's hands and undermining the nation's sovereignty.

Afghan police recently raided a number of mosques and Islamic seminaries (madrasahs) in different parts of Kandahar Province, arresting 125 people and detaining some 25 others, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on July 8, quoting Kandahar provincial security commander General Abdul Aziz Wardak. "The religious students [talibs] are suspected of having links with the Taliban," Wardak told AIP. The 25 detainees are "still under investigation," he added. AT

A Peruvian solider attached to the Spanish forces serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed in Farah Province on July 8, Madrid's RNE Radio 1 reported on July 9. Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told a news conference in Madrid on July 9 that soldier was killed by "an antitank mine set off remotely." Purporting to speak for the Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yusof claimed responsibility for the explosion, AIP reported on July 9. "The Taliban blew up an ISAF vehicle using a remote-controlled mine in the Bakwa District of Farah Province last night. All ISAF troops in the vehicle were killed," Mohammad Yusof told AIP. According to a statement released by ISAF on July 9, only one soldier was killed in the incident while five others sustained injuries. AT

One Canadian solider serving with the U.S.-led coalition forces was killed and two others sustained injuries in a firefight with suspected Taliban forces on July 9 in Kandahar, Canadian Press reported. The death brings the number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan to 17. AT

Purported Taliban spokesman Mohammad Yusof called AIP on July 8 to warn the United Kingdom not to send more troops to Afghanistan. "Any foreign soldier that has come to Afghanistan with the American invader army is also an invader and the Taliban will strongly fight them," he told AIP. Saying that Britain has "conceded" that its forces are facing "more resistance" than initially anticipated, Mohammad Yusof added that London should not "assist America any more." Unless the United Kingdom withdraws its forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible, it will face a long war and will "get bogged down" in that country, Mohammad Yusof warned. As has become customary with the neo-Taliban, Mohammad Yusof exaggerated the number of recent casualties among U.K. troops in recent week -- which stand at six -- by saying that some "80 to 100 British soldiers" have been killed in recent fighting. British Defense Minister Des Browne indicated to the British parliament on July 6 that he might request additional troops for deployment in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom currently has around 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, 3,200 of whom are deployed in that country's southern Helmand Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006). AT

"The basic and fundamental problem of the world of Islam is the existence of the Zionist regime," Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in a July 8 speech in Tehran at a meeting of foreign ministers from countries neighboring Iraq, state television reported. He said Islamic and regional states must work to resolve this problem. Ahmadinejad described Israel as a regional "threat and conspiracy" that was imposed by the Islamic world's enemies to cause discord, and he added that Israel is delaying regional states' "speedy progress and development." "There is no logical reason for the continuation of the life of this regime [Israel]," Ahmadinejad said, adding, "it is necessary for all of the regional countries to completely isolate the Zionist regime." BS

Anti-Israel rallies took place after the July 7 Friday Prayers in many Iranian cities, and in the Fars Province city of Shiraz the Students' Justice-Seeking Movement circulated a petition in which signatories indicated their willingness to go to Palestine, Fars News Agency reported. The number of signatories is unknown. Khuzestan Provincial television showed a rally in the city of Ahvaz at which demonstrators, using both Persian and Arabic, chanted, "Down with America," "Down with Israel" and "Palestine, Palestine." Video of rallies in the Khuzestan Province towns of Dasht-i Azadegan, Haftgel, and Shush, was shown, as well. Friday Prayers leaders discussed Palestinian affairs in their sermons. BS

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on July 9 that although Iraq was the focus of the July 8-9 conference in Tehran, events in Palestine necessitated a reaction, state television reported. Therefore, he said, a separate statement on this subject was issued. Mottaki also responded to a question about Iran's pledge to fund the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority -- many governments are withholding funding until Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel. "The process of that $50 million contribution is in the phase of decision-making now," Mottaki said, Reuters reported. "The payment that I talked about has not been paid yet." BS

Speaking to reporters in Tehran on July 8, two days after several Iranian pilgrims lost their lives in an Iraqi suicide bombing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006), Foreign Minister Mottaki urged his compatriots to change their travel plans, IRNA reported. Mottaki said Iranian travelers should wait until the security situation in Iraq improves. Mottaki added that some of the pilgrims are already breaking the law: "Some Iranians still dare to travel to Iraq illegally to visit holy shrines in that country. Based on regulations in Iraq, they are sentenced to six months in jail when caught." BS

An official statement was issued after the July 8-9 meeting in Tehran of foreign ministers from the countries neighboring Iraq (Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey), and also from Egypt, IRNA reported. Also in attendance were the secretaries-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and of the Arab League, as well as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi. Participants in the meeting declared their support for the Iraqi government and national assembly, and also for the national reconciliation plan of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The statement also underlined participants' concern about the continuing violence in Iraq, and it called for an end to the presence of foreign forces in Iraq. Participating countries agreed to open embassies in Baghdad and otherwise enhance their presence in Iraq. Participants agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism. The statement stressed the need for a fair and transparent trial for former president Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, IRNA reported. BS

Defense lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his seven codefendants presented on July 10 their closing arguments in the nine-month trial for crimes allegedly committed by the former regime against Shi'ite residents of Al-Dujayl following a botched assassination attempt against Hussein there in 1982, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Hussein and six of his codefendants were not in court, and nor was Hussein's lead attorney, Khalil al-Dulaymi, Reuters reported. Lawyer Ziyad al-Khasawinah told Al-Jazeera television on July 10 that the defense team was boycotting the session in protest of the assassination of the former lead attorney for Hussein, Khamis al-Ubaydi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2006). Al-Khasawinah added that he expected members of the defense to hold a press conference in Cairo later on July 10 to read out their defense argument. KR

Shi'ite Arabs were targeted in two remote-controlled car bombs in eastern Baghdad on July 10, in an apparent retaliatory attack for the July 9 killing of some 50 Sunni Arabs in the capital, international media reported. Twelve people were killed and 62 wounded in the blasts, which were carried out near a car repair shop in Al-Sadr City. The second blast reportedly targeted Iraqis who had gathered at the site following the first bombing. KR

Sunni parliamentarians on July 10 called on the United Nations Security Council to send peacekeepers to Iraq, AP reported. Legislator Iyad al-Samarra'i, from the Iraqi Accordance Front, told reporters in Baghdad that the U.S.-led multinational force cannot protect Iraqis. Some 50 Sunni Arabs were reportedly killed at the hands of Shi'ite militiamen in the Al-Jihad district of the capital on July 9, international media reported. Witnesses said the gunmen entered the neighborhood by bus after sunrise and set up checkpoints along a main street. They demanded identification cards from people on the street and in house-to-house searches, and shot dead anyone whose card identified them as a Sunni. The U.S. military put the number of dead at 11. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on July 10 that a curfew on vehicles will remain in place in the district until July 12; shops remain closed and U.S. soldiers are patrolling the streets. KR

Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i told Al-Jazeera television on July 9 that Shi'ite militias are to blame for the continuing violence in the capital. He said the police are incapable of bringing order because they have been infiltrated by the same militias. He did not identify the militias by name. "Those militias are the cause of such crimes, which lead to such a tragic loss of life," said al-Zawba'i, adding: "We have been on a state of alert since early morning. We have ordered officers and commanders to move. Unfortunately, if you build while others demolish, then what can you do?" The prime minister's office issued a statement later on July 9 saying that al-Zawba'i's comments were his own and do not reflect the government's official position, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Meanwhile, the spokesman for the influential Muslim Scholars Association, Muthanna Harith al-Dari, blamed Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army for the killings in a July 9 interview with Al-Arabiyah. The militia has denied any role in the attacks. KR

Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani told Al-Sharqiyah television in a July 9 interview from Bahrain that Iraqis who carry out sectarian attacks are acting on a Zionist sectarian agenda. He said the perpetrators of such acts "whether they know it or not, are linked to the most malicious agenda the world has ever known, that being the Israeli [intelligence agency] Mossad's agenda, which entered Iraq through the occupation." Al-Mashhadani also claimed that those behind the sectarian violence received "their orders from Tel Aviv and the leaders of the death squads," adding that "the Jews hiding behind Iraqi faces are known to us, and the day will come when we purge our country of them." KR

A Sunni parliamentarian, Salih al-Mutlaq, told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that he plans to present a new reconciliation plan to parliament this week, the London-based daily reported on July 9. Al-Mutlaq said the plan calls for annulling decisions made by the former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head, L. Paul Bremer, dissolving the militias, revoking the de-Ba'athification law, and abolishing the sectarian quota system on which the current government is based. He added that he will also present the plan to the Iraqi people, as he has little faith in the Council of Representatives. Al-Mutlaq said the council "votes for the party before it votes for the homeland." The parliamentarian said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national reconciliation plan contained some good ideas, but he criticized al-Maliki for backtracking on an amnesty for insurgents who had targeted U.S. soldiers. KR

The captors of kidnapped Sunni Arab parliamentarian Taysir al-Mashhadani have demanded the release of 25 jailed Shi'ites in return for her release, Iraqi Islamic Party member Iyad al-Samarra'i announced on July 9, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. Al-Samarra'i said the abductors have released two of the seven bodyguards kidnapped alongside al-Mashhadani. He called on the kidnappers to present a list of the 25 detainees now in U.S. custody. Al-Mashhadani was seized in the Iraqi capital on July 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 3, 2006). KR