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Newsline - July 11, 2006

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev announced in Moscow on July 10 that Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev was preparing an attack in southern Russia to coincide with the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries' summit in St. Petersburg on July 15-17, Russian media reported. Ingushetian officials said Basayev was killed near a truck that blew up while fighters were loading it with explosives in the village of Ekazhevo. Russian officials later confirmed that Basayev's remains have been positively identified. Patrushev said, "Shamil Basayev and several bandits, who have planned and carried out terrorist acts in Ingushetia, have been eliminated." President Vladimir Putin said nonetheless that "the terrorist threat is still very high, and we should under no circumstances weaken our operations in this area but, on the contrary, intensify them and improve the effectiveness of all actions that we take in this area." On July 11, "Komsomolskaya pravda" and "Moskovsky komsomolets" both referred to Basayev as "the number one terrorist." PM

Patrushev informed President Putin that Basayev was killed in the course of an FSB special operation, Russian media reported. Basayev, together with at least four and possibly as many as 12 other fighters, was traveling in a convoy consisting of a truck packed with explosives and three accompanying cars when the truck exploded. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on July 11 quoted unidentified sources close to the FSB as saying that one of Basayev's associates betrayed to the FSB the route the convoy planned to take. It is not clear whether the truck was hit by a missile, or whether the explosives detonated spontaneously or as a result of careless handling. LF

Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov was quoted by on July 10 as claiming that the killing of Basayev marks the "logical culmination" of the struggle with "illegal armed formations." Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who has repeatedly boasted that he would apprehend and kill Basayev sooner or later, expressed regret that he did not participate in the operation that brought about Basayev's death. Former FSB Director Sergei Stepashin told Interfax on July 10 that the killing of Basayev marks a "turning point" in the struggle against terrorism, and testifies to a marked improvement in the work of the FSB, on which he congratulated his former colleagues. Speaking to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service from London on July 10, Akhmed Zakayev, foreign minister in the Chechen Republic Ichkeria government, stressed that "the death of one, or three, or 10 individuals" cannot fundamentally change the situation in Chechnya given that "it is not those people but the entire Chechen people that constitute the core of the resistance" to Russia. LF

Former chess champion Garry Kasparov and some other opposition leaders opened the Other Russia conference in Moscow on July 11, which will raise and highlight opposition concerns just four days before the G8 summit opens in St. Petersburg, international and some Russian media reported. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who has signaled his intention to run for president in 2008, is among the participants. Also attending is Andrei Illarionov, an outspoken former economic adviser to President Putin who resigned in protest in late 2005 against the rise of what he called a "corporate state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2005, and January 23, 2006). Several opposition parties previously announced that they will not attend officially or will only send observers. The liberal Yabloko and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) are staying away to protest the presence of what they called extremist and nationalist groups. Kasparov said on July 10 that police outside the capital detained about 20 political activists to prevent them from traveling to Moscow for the gathering. The state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" commented on July 11 that the circumstances surrounding the Other Russia meeting reflect the deep divisions within the opposition. The daily added that the presence of some official representatives from Western countries "compensates somewhat" for the absence of most prominent domestic opposition figures. PM

British Ambassador to Russia Anthony Brenton, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Barry Lowenkron, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried are among the small group of foreign diplomats expected to attend the Other Russia conference in Moscow, London's "The Times" reported on July 11. On June 30, Igor Shuvalov, who is an aide to President Putin and his chief planner for the G8 summit, told the "Financial Times Deutschland" that "if high [foreign] officials take part in [the Open Russia meeting], we will view this as an unfriendly gesture." Later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Piskov said that the authorities would take a negative view of foreign participation in a gathering that he described as "criticism for criticism's sake." A British Embassy spokesman told "The Times" of July 11, however, that "we are aware of Mr. Shuvalov's comments. [But] we see this forum as contributing to the development of civil society in Russia, and the ambassador therefore has accepted an invitation to take part in it." Brenton recently told Ekho Moskvy radio that he has spoken to Shuvalov, whom he described as "my friend," and "cleared the air" regarding his presence at the conference. PM

Stephen Hadley, who is President George W. Bush's national security adviser, said in Moscow on July 10 that at the G8 summit Bush will raise concerns about Russian democracy with President Putin "frankly but privately," Reuters reported. Hadley noted that Bush has a good relationship with Putin, "and one of the reasons he does is because he thinks it is important for him to be able to sit down privately with President Putin and speak his mind and for President Putin to feel comfortable to do the same." For his part, Putin told the BBC on July 10 that he considers Bush "my friend" and a man with whom he can comfortably do business. PM

National Security Adviser Hadley said in Washington on July 10 that public discussion of recent international and Russian media reports of a possible U.S.-Russian agreement for Russia to store spent U.S. nuclear fuel on its territory are premature, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2006). "It's something that we'll have to talk about because, in order to do that, there would have to be all kinds of technical details and safeguards worked out, and we have not made a decision to do that," he added. But in Moscow on July 11, Igor Konyshev said on behalf of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) that "Russia has never imported, does not import, and is not planning to import spent nuclear fuel. Officials who stated otherwise either do not understand the essence of the matter or are attempting to purposefully mislead the public," RIA Novosti reported. reported on July 10 that Washington might be motivated by domestic as well as foreign policy considerations in seeking a nuclear deal with Moscow, and it noted that many Russian ecologists have doubts about the safety of any storage project. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on July 11 that he does not agree with some media reports that a "cool war" between Russia and some Western countries will emerge after the upcoming G8 summit, Interfax reported. "Speculation by certain political analysts concerning the transition to a so-called cool war should be regarded in the context of the unfavorable coverage of Russia that has unfortunately been spread by Western media recently," he noted. Lavrov argued that "groundless attacks on our country have been intensifying as the summit approaches. Somebody finds it hard to swallow the fact that Russia has regained its strength and has to be taken into account in global politics. At a serious political level, none of our partners doubts the need to strengthen the unity of the G8 in finding collective responses to the complex challenges and threats of the present day." PM

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told the Turkish daily "Cumhuriyet" in an interview published on July 10 that he has no plans to meet with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian on the sidelines of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg on July 15-17, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Aliyev noted that he and Kocharian have met twice in recent months (in February on the outskirts of Paris and in June in Bucharest) but, due to what he termed the "unconstructive position" adopted by Armenia, those meetings "did not yield any results" in terms of further progress towards resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to on July 10. He added that a resumption of hostilities "cannot be excluded" in light of the "very fragile" cease-fire and the absence of a peacekeeping force to separate the warring sides. Kocharian's spokesman Viktor Soghomonian similarly told RFE/RL that the president's July 17 agenda does not include a meeting with Aliyev. LF

Shahin Ragimli, the prosecutor at the trial of Ruslan Bashirli, head of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Idea) and his colleagues Ramin Tagiyev and Said Nuriyev, demanded on July 10 that the court sentence Bashirli to seven and Tagiyev to five years' imprisonment, respectively, and reported on July 11. He proposed a suspended five-year sentence for Nuriyev, who suffers from thalassaemia. All three men are accused, on the basis of video footage of dubious origin, of plotting with Armenian intelligence last year to instigate mass unrest on the eve of the November 6 Azerbaijani parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 15, 2005). They have denied those charges. Addressing U.S. embassy personnel present in the courtroom, Bashirli's lawyer Elchin Gambarov accused Washington of having betrayed democracy in Azerbaijan, and he warned: "Do you want to see radical Islamic fundamentalism emerge in our country? That's what you're going to get," reported. LF

Gela Bezhuashvili met in Tbilisi on July 10 with OSCE mission head Roy Reeve to discuss developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. The talks focused specifically on the repercussions of the unilateral decision by Russia to close the Verkhny Lars border crossing with Georgia and the murder of South Ossetian National Security Council Secretary Oleg Arbolov; Bezhuashvili construed both events as part of an attempt by Russia to thwart Tbilisi's efforts to resolve its conflict with South Ossetia. Also on July 10, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told journalists in Tbilisi that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has deployed 30 of its operatives to the South Ossetian conflict zone where, Khaindrava claimed, they are preparing unspecified "new provocations" against Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Sources at the National Surgical Center in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek told Interfax on July 10 that British citizen Sean Daley remains in serious condition after a gunshot attack on the night of July 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2006). Daley is representing the interests of the British company Oxus in its attempt to restore its license to operate the Jerooy gold mine in Kyrgyzstan. DK

A traffic policeman was shot and killed in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad on July 9, and two police officers were wounded in a separate shooting incident the next day, Kabar and reported on July 10. Accounts of both incidents varied. Kabar, quoting Interior Ministry spokeswoman Aida Bakirova, reported that traffic inspector Mamasodiq Tursunbaev was fatally wounded during a routine traffic stop when a passenger exited the vehicle and shot him in the chest. quoted local police head Nurlan Temirbaev, who told the news agency that the inspector was killed when a car failed to heed orders to stop and passengers in the vehicle fired on him as they were fleeing. Temirbaev said that the July 10 incident occurred during a police search of a private residence in Jalalabad after a group of six to 10 individuals opened fire on them and fled, wounding two policemen. A police press release put the number of gunmen at three and said that they wounded two police officers and a bystander before fleeing in the direction of the Uzbek border. DK

Donald Rumsfeld visited Tajikistan on July 10, holding meetings on U.S.-Tajik cooperation and regional issues with President Imomali Rakhmonov and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The two sides expressed satisfaction with bilateral relations, Tajik television reported. On the issue of Iran's nuclear program, Rakhmonov said that Tajikistan supports the "political and diplomatic settlement of all existing problems." For his part, Rumsfeld said that profits from the Afghan drug trade are helping to fund a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Reuters reported. Rumsfeld called on Europe to do more to fight demand for drugs from Afghanistan, AP reported. Rumsfeld said that the United States, which does not maintain troops in Tajikistan, does not plan to station more troops in Central Asia, Reuters reported. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov has appointed Gurbanmurat Ataev, minister of the oil and gas industry, deputy prime minister, the Turkmen government reported on July 10 on its official website ( DK

Turkmenistan's production of natural gas rose 1 percent in the first half of 2006 to 33.68 billion cubic meters, reported on July 10, citing data from the National Institute of State Statistics and Information. Natural-gas exports in the first half of 2006 totaled 23.6 billion cubic meters. DK

Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry has informed the Uzbekistan office of the Hungarian nongovernmental group Ecumenical Charity Service that it is in violation of Uzbek law, reported on July 10. The ministry charged that the NGO has failed to open a bank account, covered all local expenses with cash, and evaded taxes. A Justice Ministry source told the news agency that Ecumenical Charity Service has 30 days to rectify the violations or else it faces closure. DK

German State Minister Gernot Elner met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on July 10, UzA reported. Karimov called the visit "further evidence of Uzbekistan and Germany's striving to develop cooperation that meets the interests of both sides." The report did not provide further details on the talks, but the official news agency noted that bilateral trade volume in 2005 was $326 million. Germany is the only NATO country with a military presence in Uzbekistan, a contingent of approximately 300 troops at a military base in Termez. DK

The families of political victims in Belarus delivered on July 10 a statement to the Minsk embassies of G8 countries in which they called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop supporting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan reported. According to the statement, more than 1,200 opposition supporters were jailed, dismissed from their jobs, or expelled from educational institutions during and after the March presidential election. "I believe that it is necessary to raise the issue of political prisoners in Belarus at the G8 summit, because it is the pain of the entire world, not just Europe," said Ina Kuley, who coordinates the committee for support of political victims, the organization established this spring by the team of opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich. AM

Officers of a special unit have demanded 13 million rubles ($6,046) in damages from Alyaksandr Kazulin, whose case is under consideration at the Minsk district court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006), Belapan reported on July 10. Officers who testified on July 7 and July 10 said that they were seriously injured during a March 25 demonstration, which ended in clashes between protesters and police. Another officer, who detained Kazulin on February 17 in the National Press Center, claimed 2 million rubles in damages. Kazulin, who is charged with disorderly conduct and malicious hooliganism, reiterated his demand for the replacement of the public prosecutor, whom he accused of conniving with the officers. AM

Verkhovna Rada speaker Oleksandr Moroz announced on July 11 the creation of a new coalition, which includes lawmakers from the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, Interfax reported. Moroz also notified the parliament of the dissolution of the Orange coalition. Yuliya Tymoshenko, the head of the eponymous bloc and the leader of the dissolved coalition, described the new coalition on July 10 as "an illegal majority." The Socialist Party, Tymoshenko argued, endorsed "Orange" principles and the Communist Party pledged to fight against corruption, but both formations joined "the clan of criminal oligarchs." The parliament session descended into chaos as lawmakers scuffled before the new coalition was announced, and afterwards Orange parties' members blocked the rostrum preventing further debate. Lawmakers from President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party appealed to the president to call new elections. Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of the Regions, said his party does not support elections, but does not fear them. AM

Meeting in Belgrade on July 10, Montenegrin and Serbian finance ministers and central bank governors signed an agreement to divide financial rights and obligations of the former union state and to regulate membership in international financial organizations, Montenegrin Crna Gora television reported the same day. The agreement calls for Montenegro to receive 5.88 percent of the hard currency and gold reserves of the former Yugoslavia. The agreement also allows Serbia to succeed the former union state as a member of international financial organizations and Montenegro to begin membership procedures in these organizations after its parliament ratifies the signed agreement. RK

The Croatia Summit 2006 in Dubrovnik, which brought together senior officials from the region, ended on July 10 with the adoption of a joint declaration, which underscores the strong commitment of countries in southeastern Europe to membership in the EU and NATO, HINA news agency reported on July 10. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Rene van der Linden told the gathering that the countries in the region should be more decisive in implementing reforms because EU membership is not automatic and is not the result of geographic position. "I reiterate, carry out your tasks, and then you will receive our assistance," he said. RK

Sali Berisha, speaking at the Croatia Summit 2006, said that the signing of a stabilization agreement between Albania and the EU is a "historic event," ATA news agency reported on July 10. "It marks leaving behind the transition stage while consolidating in an irreversible way the road towards the realization of the nation's dream of joining with the European family, with which it shares the common values of Western civilization," Berisha said. The prime minister also described the fight against organized crime as being "highly successful" and stated that "Albania is today one of the safest countries in the region." RK

The death late on July 9 of Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev creates a window of opportunity for those few Russian officials who advocate peace talks as the only logical way to end the ongoing fighting across the North Caucasus. At the same time, if the Russian leadership chooses to spurn that opportunity, the North Caucasus resistance is already planning -- apparently in line with an eight year plan of action drafted and endorsed four years ago -- to take the fighting across the Volga and into the heartland of Russia.

The circumstances of Basayev's death remain sketchy: he is said to have been killed when a lorry packed with explosives detonated near the village of Ekazhevo, south-east of the Ingushetian town of Nazran. It remains unclear whether the explosion was freakishly fortuitous -- as the deaths of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in March 2005 and of Maskhadov's successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, last month appear to have been -- or whether it was the result of a sophisticated Federal Security Service (FSB) surveillance and interception operation.

Basayev's death, coming as it does less than a month after the death of Sadulayev, is undoubtedly a major blow to the Chechen resistance, especially in light of his fighting experience and role as strategist and as coordinator between the various North Caucasus fronts. But as both Sadulayev and his successor, Doku Umarov, have made clear, the strength of the resistance to Russian domination both in Chechnya and in other North Caucasus republics long ago reached the point where the death of one man -- even of a legendary figure such as Basayev -- cannot derail it, given that a younger generation of fighters is waiting in the wings to take over. Neither the death of Maskhadov nor that of Sadulayev appears to have deterred young men across the North Caucasus from flocking to join the ranks of the resistance. Umarov said in an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in April, and again in a recent interview with the Turkish daily "Vakit," that the resistance has far more potential recruits to choose from than it can provide weapons for. In other words, the weak point of the resistance is not a lack of manpower but a lack of funds.

Moreover, the resistance drafted and endorsed four years ago -- while Maskhadov was still alive -- a plan of action for the period until 2010. The decision by Sadulayev in May 2005 to establish six "fronts," four within Chechnya, one in Daghestan, and one for the rest of the North Caucasus, the latter subdivided into separate sectors for Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Krasnodar Krai, is presumably part of that plan, as is the decision taken on July 8 by the State War Council to establish new fronts in the Urals and the Volga region.

Under Sadulayev, the resistance finally abandoned the tactic of large-scale terrorist attacks against the Russian civilian population that became synonymous with the name of Basayev. Such attacks -- launched first by Basayev in Budyonnovsk in June 1995 and again with devastating effect in the hostage takings in Moscow in October 2002 and Beslan in September 2004 -- more than anything else undercut international support and sympathy for the Chechen cause. Even more crucially, such tactics played into the hands of a Russian leadership that sought to persuade the West that the fighting in Chechnya was part of the international war on terrorism. In 2003, the UN and the U.S. government designated Basayev's Riyadus-Salikhin battalion a terrorist organization; the Russian leadership placed a bounty of $10 million on his head.

The death of the man whom Moscow branded Terrorist No. 1 at least theoretically removes the major obstacle to a negotiated settlement of the conflict, given that the U.S. also regarded Basayev as a terrorist. By contrast, the international community would be less likely to discourage Moscow from embarking on peace talks with Umarov, who is not known to have participated in any terrorist attack, or with London-based Chechen Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakaev, described by former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin in a recent interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service as representing the moderate wing of the armed resistance. Many senior Russian officials, however, claim that both Umarov and Zakayev are, like Basayev, tainted by terrorism or war crimes. One of Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika's first actions following his appointment last month was to launch a new bid to have Zakayev extradited from the United Kingdom. And Umarov recently announced the creation of what is tantamount to a death squad tasked with the assassination of "international terrorists and war criminals" outside Chechnya who have been sentenced to death by a Shari'a court for the "genocide of the Chechen people." Whether Umarov would be prepared at this juncture to impose a moratorium on the activities of that death squad to signal his readiness for peace talks is unclear, however.

Moreover, the resistance still intends, as Umarov stressed in his first public statement as president in late June, to continue to target Russian military and police facilities both in the North Caucasus and elsewhere. (The location at which Basayev was reportedly killed suggests that the intended target of the truckload of explosives may have been the Russian military base at Mozdok in North Ossetia.) And the example of the October 2002 Moscow theater hostage-taking suggests that the logistical problems involved in launching such attacks thousands of kilometers from Chechnya are not insurmountable.

The Russian leadership thus faces a choice between, on the one hand, abandoning President Putin's policy of Chechenization -- in other words offloading on to Moscow's quislings most of the responsibility for hunting down the remaining Chechen resistance forces and trying to revive Chechnya's war-shattered economy and infrastructure -- and embarking on peace talks, or, alternatively, ignoring the opportunity and risking an indefinite series of attacks on military, police and security facilities across Russia. Some of those attacks will in all likelihood fail, as did the October 2005 raids in Nalchik, capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, and the planned assault that appears to have killed Basayev. But the planned opening of the Volga and Urals fronts could herald an entire new dimension to what is no longer just the second Chechen war.

As for the continuing resistance in the North Caucasus, it will face its most serious challenge if Umarov is killed -- which he himself accepts with equanimity is simply a matter of time. His death will remove the last military leader of influence still in Chechnya whose combat experience expands an entire decade, and possibly one of the last to have been close to Maskhadov. True, Basayev and Umarov will have shared their experience with a younger generation of commanders who have fought under them for the past seven years, even though the names of those men may be unknown outside the North Caucasus. But that younger generation of men in their 20s and early 30s, possibly with only a rudimentary formal education and only hazy childhood memories of an era when Chechnya was not at war or in turmoil, are less likely either to consider peace talks an option, or to be taken seriously as negotiating partners either by Moscow or by the international community. From that point of view, President Putin and other members of the Russian leadership now have a window of opportunity that could slam shut in a matter of weeks if Umarov, too, is killed.

The United Kingdom announced on July 10 that it is dispatching an additional 845 military personnel to Afghanistan's restive southern Helmand Province, international news agencies reported. "This has always been a tough task, and people have always understood that it was going to be dangerous and tough for a very simple reason... [F]or the first time, we are going into southern Afghanistan where the Taliban and the terrorists are trying to get a foothold back," the "Financial Times" quoted Prime Minister Tony Blair as saying of the Afghan mission. British Defense Secretary Des Browne previously announced that his country was planning to increase its forces in Helmand, while neo-Taliban elements have warned London to withdraw its forces or face a protracted war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 10, 2006). Speaking in the British Parliament on July 10, Browne said that "the steady-state size of the Helmand Taskforce will increase between now and October from some 3,600 to some 4,500 personnel," according to the British Defense Ministry's official website ( AT

The Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) of the Afghan National Assembly has requested that President Hamid Karzai present his choices for the five cabinet posts whose nominees were rejected in April, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on July 10. In a letter dated July 10, the Wolesi Jirga asked Karzai to submit the names of his nominees for a vote when the lower house meets after its summer vacation on July 23. The Wolesi Jirga has approved 20 of Karzai's 25 cabinet nominees (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 28, 2006), but legislators dismissed five of the president's choices -- including Women's Affairs nominee Soraya Rahim-Sobhrang, Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin, Gol Husayn Ahmadi (Transport and Aviation), Mohammad Amin Farhang (Economy and Labor), and Mohammad Haidar Reza (Commerce and Industry). All five rejected candidates have remained on as caretaker ministers since the vote, however. AT

Suspected "Taliban insurgents" fired a rocket at workers of a Korean road-construction company in Balkh Province on July 10, destroying a tarring machine but causing no casualties, Mazar-e Sharif-based Balkh Television reported. Balkh deputy police chief Brigadier General Abdul Rauf Taj blamed "enemies of the Afghan government" for the attack. Attacks targeting construction and aid workers, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) installations, and schools have increased in northern Afghanistan in recent months. AT

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces identified by the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press as "Colonel Hoop" claimed on July 10 that Kandahar Province's Panjwai district "was cleared of Taliban" during a recent operation, the agency reported. Hoop indicated that the operation was launched on July 7 and has concluded. The spokesman also said the operation left 20 Taliban dead, 20 wounded, and six people in custody. AT

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani arrived in Rome on July 10 to discuss the nuclear issue with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema, IRNA reported. Later that day, Larijani told Italian television that the international proposal intended to resolve the nuclear crisis is ambiguous and must be clarified before Tehran can respond to it, IRNA reported. Therefore, he continued, a response will not be forthcoming before the G8 meeting in Russia on July 15-17. Larijani is scheduled to meet with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on July 11 to discuss the same subject. In Tehran on 9 July, however, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran is not going to respond to the international proposal yet, IRNA reported. Solana delivered the proposal from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States during an early-June visit to Tehran. The international community has been urging Iran to respond, whereas Iranian officials say they are studying the proposal closely and will not respond until August. BS

More than 200 workers at a Tehran soft drink factory began a strike on July 10, ILNA reported. The majority of the workers are on contract, rather than being permanent staff members, and they say they have not been paid in the first three months of the Iranian year (which began on 21 March) and have not received all their benefits from the previous year. An unnamed striker told ILNA that the factory's managers were dismissed the previous week and there is nobody to whom they can complain. BS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad discussed governmental economic priorities during a July 9 meeting in Tehran of his cabinet and provincial governors-general, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad defended his efforts, saying, "The government's economic policies are quite transparent and based on planning and reason." Turning to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's call the previous week for distributing half the shares of state enterprises to provincial cooperatives, which would then distribute them to the public, Ahmadinejad said the government is trying to reduce the state's involvement in economic affairs. Ahmadinejad also said the government wants to lower the inflation rate, control imports to protect domestic industries, and increase production. BS

During his discussion of economic affairs with cabinet members and provincial governors-general on July 9, President Ahmadinejad dismissed rumors that there are imminent plans to increase gasoline prices through rationing, IRNA reported. He added, "If the government decides to ration gasoline, its decision will be transparent and announced to the nation with the aim of controlling excessive use of this commodity." Deputy Interior Minister for Development Affairs Seyyed Mehdi Hashemi said on July 9 that energy management was a major aspect of the meeting, Mehr News Agency reported. He added that fuel subsidies cost the government $13 billion annually, and a committee consisting of a presidential envoy, the cabinet secretary, and the head of the Management and Planning Organization will address the subject of gasoline soon. He said legislation will be introduced to the parliament for approval in the coming year. The legislature's Budget and Planning Committee met on July 9 to discuss the possibility of gas rationing, Fars News Agency reported. It was determined by the legislature that gasoline requirements for the latter half of the year will be met through imports, and rationing should be unnecessary, it said. BS

Minister of Roads and Transport Mohammad Rahmati announced on July 9 that a 500 billion rial (approximately $57 million) bond issue will be made public to help fund completion of the Imam Khomeini International Airport, Mehr News Agency reported. Rahmati added that an investment of 1 trillion to 11 trillion rials is needed to complete the airport's first phase. All international flights can be transferred to the new airport if the first phase is completed, Rahmati continued. Construction of the airport began in 1994 and it was to be completed by 2000, but its inauguration did not take place until February 2004. Operations were supposed to get under way in May 2004, but a dispute involving the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps caused further delays. A limited number of airlines began using the airport in April 2005; Tehran's Mehrabad Airport remains in use. BS

A video attributed to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council and posted to the Internet on July 10 asserts that group killed two U.S. soldiers it kidnapped in Al-Yusufiyah last month as retribution for the alleged rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by U.S. servicemen. The video shows two mutilated bodies, purportedly the soldiers, one of which was decapitated. Men are seen standing over the bodies, prodding and examining the remains. The video also carries a picture of Osama bin Laden and audio from a July 1 message by the Al-Qaeda leader that previously circulated on the Internet, as well as the banner of the Mujahedin Shura Council and a picture of its former leader, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. U.S. officials have said that they do not believe the soldiers were killed as retribution for the alleged rape and murder, because locals believed until recently that the rape victim and her family were killed in a sectarian attack. The two soldiers were kidnapped from a checkpoint on June 16 in Al-Yusufiyah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). KR

The U.S. military announced on July 10 that five soldiers currently stationed in Iraq have been charged in connection with the same March 12 rape of an Iraqi girl and the murder of her and three family members, including her 5-year-old sister. Four soldiers were charged on July 8 in connection with their alleged participation in the rape and murder. A fifth soldier was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report the rape and murder of the Iraqi civilians. He is not alleged to have been a direct participant in the incident, the military said. All the soldiers are charged with conspiring with former soldier Steven Green to commit the crimes. Green, who earlier had been honorably discharged from the military, was arrested in North Carolina on June 30. KR

The Iraqi High Tribunal announced on July 11 that the Al-Dujayl trial will be adjourned until July 24, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The reason for the delay is not clear, but RFI reported that only two defendants appeared at the brief July 11 session. Several defense attorneys, as well as six of the seven defendants, boycotted the July 10 session to protest the June assassination of defense attorney Khamis al-Ubaydi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2006). KR

Wisam Jabir Abdullah al-Awadi, Iraq's consul to the Iranian city of Kermanshah, was kidnapped from his home in Baghdad on July 11, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Al-Awadi was reportedly in the capital on holiday when gunmen kidnapped him from his home in the Al-Amil district, ministry sources said. Iraqi Judge Qays Abd al-Sattar escaped an apparent assassination attempt in the upscale Al-Mansur area of the capital on July 10, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. One of Abd al-Sattar's bodyguards was killed in the attack. KR

Shaykh Jamal Abd al-Karim al-Dabban, grand mufti for Iraq, issued a written fatwa (religious edict), banning the abduction and killing of people, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on July 10. The fatwa said such attacks, as well as attempts by unauthorized groups to issue religious edicts constitute "religiously prohibited" actions. The fatwa said the abduction of women is a particularly heinous crime that goes against heavenly laws, earthly laws, and Arab norms, the news channel reported. KR

Nuri al-Maliki addressed the Kurdish parliament in Irbil on July 10, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. The prime minister spoke of the necessity to join efforts to defeat terrorism and build a united country, saying Iraq's destiny "depends on the level of [its] commitment to the constitution." "Reality demands that we speed up the establishment of the state principles of federalism, democracy, and well as resolve the outstanding issues such as Kirkuk and some contested areas," al-Maliki added. The prime minister also stressed the need to build relations "between the federal state, the center, and the currently existing regions or those that will be formed later." KR