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Newsline - August 1, 2006

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 31 that Russia "strongly supports" the UN Security Council statement of July 30 that "expressed 'extreme shock and distress' at the shelling by the Israeli forces of a residential building in Qana, which has caused the killing of dozens of civilians, mostly children," reported. The ministry added that "Russia strongly supported the statement. We have time and again expressed our condemnation and rejections of actions that cause suffering to the civilian population. Such 'mistakes' constitute a gross violation of elementary norms of the international humanitarian laws." The statement stressed that "the Qana tragedy [shows] anew with utmost clarity the need to immediately stop military operations, bloodshed, and violence in Lebanon. This is what Russia and the overwhelming majority of the world community members are pressing for. There is no accepting the logic and arguments of those who, under various pretexts, delay a cease-fire, especially since the world community is nearing consensus on the principal configuration of the settlement of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). PM

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said on July 30 that the Security Council statement on Lebanon constitutes a "very important call to stop violence," reported on July 31. Churkin added that "it seems very important to me that the [council] has finally spoken out seriously on the humanitarian situation in the conflict zone." He believes that "finally, the Security Council has managed to switch from a passive and even somewhat contemplative perception of the situation in Lebanon, for known reasons, to more dynamic action." Work on a French-backed resolution will begin soon, he noted. Churkin stressed that "many, including us, will continue to push for a cease-fire, perhaps without waiting for the resolution," adding that Russia's position is that an immediate cease-fire is necessary. In related news, RIA Novosti on July 31 cited two recent polls that indicate that over 60 percent of Russians do not favor one side or the other in the Middle East conflict. Only a small percentage of respondents, generally in single digits, have strong feelings for one side or the other. PM

The Natural Resources Ministry announced in a statement on July 31 that a "serious" oil spill occurred on July 29 from a hole in the Druzhba Pipeline in Bryansk Oblast near the Belarusian and Ukrainian borders, reported. The ministry added that the spill then spread out over 10 square kilometers and contaminated local water sources and forests. Later on July 31, the ministry downplayed the extent of the damage, and other Russian officials called the effects of the spill minor. Mikhail Sayapin said on behalf of Transneft, which operates the pipeline, that damage was done only to an area about 350 square meters in size. He added that the leak was quickly repaired. The brief interruption in oil supplies from Siberian fields to Europe nonetheless caused Brent crude to rise to $73.95 per barrel. The incident also highlighted the need for repairs and upgrades for the 4,000-kilometer-long pipeline, which is about 40 years old. PM

Inna Khodorkovskaya, the wife of imprisoned Yukos oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, told RFE/RL's Russian Service on July 30 that the authorities are trying to "break" her husband. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence in the remote Chita Oblast for fraud and tax evasion after a 2005 trial that was widely viewed as politically motivated and engineered by the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006, and "Russia: 'They Are Trying To Break Him,'", July 31, 2006). Khodorkovskaya told RFE/RL that the authorities are using "methods that have probably long been worked on and refined. I would say that it works on the principle of amplitude. They raise the pressure, then they reduce it, and then they raise it again. So there's no straight upward line, they're just trying to drain him." She noted that her husband's biggest difficulty is the isolation and the mental vacuum caused by his inactivity. He reads a lot of religious literature, but primarily from "an analytical interest," she added. Referring to politics, Khodorkovskaya commented that her husband now "sees what's happening from a slightly different perspective [than before]. Naturally, he has changed greatly." She added that she and some of her neighbors who were formerly connected to Yukos expect to lose their homes soon as a result of politically motivated legal proceedings. But on August 1, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced that it has no plans at present to take away Khodorkovskaya's home, reported. PM

St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum announced on July 31 that a recent inventory revealed that 220 objects, including jewelry and enamel works, valued at about $5 million have disappeared, Russian media reported. The statement indicated that museum employees were probably involved in the thefts. When the inventory began at an unspecified date, the curator of the section involved suddenly dropped dead at his workplace, according to the museum. The statement did not provide specifics about the death or about the stolen objects. On August 1, an unnamed city police official told Interfax that the museum "has not seen a complete inventory for decades" and that some of the missing objects might have disappeared up to 30 years ago. Not only Russia, but much of postcommunist Europe has been plagued by thefts of important cultural objects from poorly guarded museums, churches, and other sites, where the staff are often badly paid. A particularly lively trade in Russian icons has emerged in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe. PM

Oleg Deripaska's car company GAZ announced in Moscow on July 31 that it will buy Britain's LDV, which produces vans, and expand production to 20,000 vehicles per year by 2008, "Vremya novostei" and the BBC reported on August 1. Martin Leach, who previously headed Ford Europe, will chair LDV and GAZ International, the new subsidiary that will be responsible for the Russian automaker's foreign expansion. GAZ, which is Russia's second-largest car manufacturer, will produce some of the vans in Nizhny Novgorod, but company spokesmen stressed that no jobs will be lost at LDV's Birmingham plant. PM

Ramil Bignov, the leader of Bashkortostan's united opposition and the chairman of a Tatar cultural center in Bashkortostan, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service in Ufa on July 31 that the opposition appealed to President Vladimir Putin on July 30 to downgrade Bashkortostan's republican status to that of an oblast or a krai (see "The Future of Russia's 'Ethnic Republics,", April 21, 2006). Bignov said that "we, the ethnic groups living in Bashkortostan -- Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Maris, and Russians -- we all ask the same question: If the rights of all ethnic groups are violated and the status of the republic [of Bashkortostan as a republic within the Russian Federation] gets in the way of solving problems, then what do we need this status for?" He also suggested that Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov has abused human rights since taking office in 1993 and used the privatization process for his own purposes, especially where the oil-processing industry was concerned, reported. "We don't need that kind of sovereignty," Bignov added. In April, an aide to Rakhimov opposed Moscow-backed plans to merge so-called ethnic administrative regions with roots in Soviet administrative practices with predominantly Slavic administrative bodies, saying that "one needs to cool the hotheads demanding the abolishment of nations and the unification of everything." Some observers note that the merger plans would ultimately create a system similar to that of late tsarist times, in which centralized rule was represented by appointed regional governors. PM

Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev extended on July 31 from August 1 to September 30 the deadline for members of illegal armed formations in the North Caucasus to lay down their arms and turn themselves in to the authorities, reported. But as noted on August 1, only a few dozen militants have availed themselves so far of Patrushev's offer, and it is unlikely more will do so until the Russian State Duma reconvenes and passes a law formalizing that amnesty. Seventeen members of the Federation Council, including Issa Kostoyev, who represents Ingushetia, have volunteered to act as contact persons for Chechen fighters who want to surrender but do not trust the current pro-Moscow Chechen authorities. Meanwhile, the parents of young Muslim men arrested in Kabardino-Balkaria on suspicion of having participated in the attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005 have appealed to the Duma to include in the amnesty bill a clause stipulating that it applies to those who participated in the Nalchik raids or are being held on suspicion of having done so, according to as reposted on July 31 on A list of 34 such detainees can be accessed at LF

Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), met in Stepanakert late on July 29 with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who is the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Noyan Tapan reported on July 31. Ghukasian told journalists that the purpose of Bryza's visit was not to unveil new peace proposals but to listen to the Karabakh position, which Ghukasian said differs in some minor respects from the broad framework for resolving the conflict made public by the co-chairs in June, reported on July 30 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 30, 2006). Ghukasian warned that individual provisions of that agreement should not be viewed in isolation from the whole. Ghukasian also said Bryza, like his fellow co-chairmen, understands that it will not be possible to resolve the conflict if the NKR remains excluded from the ongoing peace talks. NKR Foreign Minister Georgy Petrosian told on July 30 that Ghukasian unveiled "a whole range of new proposals" for fleshing out the co-chairs' basic principles, but did not list them. LF

The online daily on August 1 quoted Peter Semneby, the EU special envoy for the South Caucasus, as having suggested in an interview with Trend news agency that Armenia and Azerbaijan should cooperate in fighting and extinguishing the brush fires that have caused damage in recent months to Azerbaijani districts bordering on the NKR that are under Armenian control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 19, and 29, and July 18 and 21, 2006). Semneby admitted that forming a joint force to extinguish the fires would require international assistance. Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry official Tahir Tagizade has expressed readiness for such cooperation, according to, quoting Trend. LF

Speaking on July 31 at a session to review the performance of the Azerbaijani government and socioeconomic progress during the first six months of 2006, Ilham Aliyev said that defense spending this year will amount to $700 million, which is $100 million more than previously anticipated, reported on August 1. But the daily "Gun" on July 29 reported that much of Azerbaijan's defense budget is being spent on construction and repair work, rather than on procuring up-to-date weaponry. LF

Ali Kerimli, who is chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), told a press conference in Baku on July 31 that his request for a new foreign-travel passport to replace his previous one that expired in June has been rejected on the grounds that a criminal case against him opened in 1994 has never been closed, and reported on July 31 and August 1, respectively. He noted that since 1994 he has twice been issued a passport, in 1996 and 2001. At the same press conference, Kerimli decried the ongoing harassment and arrest of AHCP activists in Azerbaijan's Naxicevan Autonomous Republic, the leadership of which he compared to the authoritarian presidents of unnamed Central Asian states, reported. Kerimli also said that the opposition Azadliq bloc headed by the AHCP will boycott the presidential election due in 2008 if the political situation in Azerbaijan does not become more liberal and if opposition representation on election commissions is not increased. LF

In a statement posted on July 31 on its website (, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned what it termed the "large-scale military action" undertaken by Georgian forces last week in the Kodori Gorge, "close to Russia's borders." The statement termed the course of action pursued by the Georgian leadership "dangerous," and warned that it could lead to further tensions and an unforeseen confrontation. It called for the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the gorge and the resumption of talks between Georgia and Abkhazia on resolving the conflict. LF

Emzar Kvitsiani, the former governor of Kodori against whom the "police operation" in the gorge was directed, told the independent Imedi television channel on July 30 that the fighting was instigated by the Georgian government. He rejected Georgian media reports that his fighters were surrounded by Georgian government forces or that he was wounded in the fighting. LF

Sergei Shamba, who is foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, rejected on August 1 the offer by Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili to permit an international inspection of the Georgian forces in the Kodori Gorge after a similar inspection has been made of the Russian military base in Gudauta, Caucasus Press reported. Russia claims to have withdrawn materiel and personnel from that facility in Abkhazia by July 2001 in line with an agreement signed during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Istanbul in November 1999, but Georgia maintains that some Russian military personnel are still there. Shamba reasoned that linking the two inspections is not permissible given that the Georgian military action in Kodori constituted a violation of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement. LF

Kazakhstan's Emergency Situations Ministry announced on July 31 that levels of heptyl, a toxic compound found in rocket fuel, are 1,000 times higher than acceptable limits at the site where a Dnepr rocket crashed on July 27 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006), "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Bolatbek Kuandykov said that a 20-kilometer quarantine zone has been set up around the site, Khabar reported. Foreign Minister spokesman Ilyas Omarov said that if a bilateral Kazakh-Russian commission finds that Kazakhstan suffered damage as a result of the crash, Russia will provide compensation, Interfax reported. DK

Trade volume between China and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 rose 8.5 percent to $129 million, Kabar reported on July 31. Edil Smanaliev, deputy minister of economy and finance, said that China is now one of Kyrgyzstan's top five trade partners. He presented the statistics at a roundtable on investment in Bishkek. DK

Police in southern Kyrgyzstan have seized more than 600 brochures by the banned Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir over the past week, Interfax reported on July 31, quoting an Interior Ministry source. The source said the seizures took place at a number of locations in Jalal-Abad province. An unspecified number of suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members were also detained, and video and audio materials were confiscated. DK

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on July 31 to discuss bilateral ties and international issues, Asia Plus-Blitz and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. After the meeting, Alliot-Marie said that, on the Israel-Lebanon conflict, France shares Tajikistan's position "that there must be an immediate cease-fire and that the conflict must be resolved peacefully." Alliot-Marie, who also met with Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev, thanked Tajikistan for allowing a French military deployment to be based at Dushanbe airport. The French contingent, which provides support for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, currently comprises 400 troops, two cargo planes, and six fighter jets. It is deployed on a temporary basis with reviews every six months. DK

The political council of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) has condemned the Israeli strike on a bomb shelter in Qana, Lebanon, as a "brutal crime," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on July 31. The strike killed more than 50 people, the majority of them women and children. The IRP asked the international community, and in particular Islamic countries, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations "not to remain indifferent in the face of these merciless actions, not to become a party to these crimes and to do everything in their power to achieve a ceasefire in the region as quickly as possible." The IRP also asked the Tajik government to express its solidarity with Lebanon. DK

Uzbek songwriter Dadakhon Hasan went on trial in Tashkent on July 31 on charges of defaming President Islam Karimov, undermining the constitution, and threatening public security and order, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. reported on July 31 that Hasan was arrested after he wrote songs about the bloodshed in Andijon in May 2005; the news agency said that National Security Service (SNB) officers searched Hasan's home in April and confiscated tape recordings of Hasan's songs. Hasan told RFE/RL that he had not distributed his work. "Some people from Bukhara played the song in a bus. I don't know how they got it," Hasan said. "[An audiotape with the song] was stolen from my car. There is apparently an article in the criminal code [that punishes the writing of] this kind of song. What can I do? Nothing." A larger-than-expected diplomatic presence at the trial prompted the court to adjourn until August 4 while officials consider how many foreigners can attend the trial and where they can sit while court is in session. DK

Belarusian Television on July 30 aired a video allegedly showing a Latvian diplomat in Minsk having sex with another man, Belapan reported on July 31. The host of the show "Focus Of Attention," on which the footage was aired, claimed that the purported sex act was filmed using a secret camera in the diplomat's apartment. The Latvian Foreign Ministry commented on July 31 that the video constituted "one more provocation against the Latvian state and its diplomat, and is a serious violation of the norms and practices of diplomatic law." Last week, the Latvian Foreign Ministry lodged an official protest against a recent search of the diplomat's residence by Belarusian law enforcement personnel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2006). Belarusian Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau said on July 28 that the diplomat was suspected of distributing pornography. Navumau added that the search resulted in the seizure of "pornographic products" from the diplomat's residence. According to Belarusian media, the incident involved Reimo Smits, second secretary of the Latvian Embassy in Minsk. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on July 31 met with Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych to discuss the signing of a "declaration of national unity," which was proposed by Yushchenko last week as a precondition for forging a new, expanded coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006), Ukrainian media reported. "I remain firmly convinced that the declaration must be signed," Yushchenko said. At the same time, he added that his meeting with Yanukovych can be viewed as a link in the chain of consultations that the president is constitutionally obliged to hold with political leaders before dissolving the Ukrainian parliament. Yushchenko met on August 1 with Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc, to discuss the possible dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada. Tymoshenko commented after the meeting that Yushchenko is set to disband the legislature because of its failure to form a government within the constitutionally prescribed term. JM

In an interview published on July 31, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Belgrade will reject any Kosova settlement that grants the province independence, Reuters reported the same day. "The policy of Serbia would be to declare that Kosovo is part of Serbia. That's not empty rhetoric, but a constitutional, legal formula," Kostunica said in an interview published in the daily "Danas." "Serbia will reject a solution that takes Kosovo away from Serbia and, very importantly, will continue to consider Kosovo part of its territory," he added. Kostunica distanced himself, however, from a pledge by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) to take up arms to keep Kosova in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). "Serbia so far has only resorted to legal arguments, not force," he said. "That is how it would act in the future." BW

In the same July 31 interview with "Danas," Kostunica said that any attempt by the European Union to link the question of Kosova to Serbia's eventual accession to the union is unacceptable, B92 reported the same day. "There are certain preconditions set for all the countries that wish to join the EU. None of these preconditions include territorial concessions in favor of others. Therefore, Serbia cannot be asked to do anything of the kind," Kostunica said. He added that he believes that part of the international community is biased in favor of independence. "A part of the international community works with only one solution for Kosovo in mind. That solution -- independence -- brings with it many shortcomings, while the solution we're advocating -- essential autonomy -- has many advantages," he added. BW

Vuk Draskovic said on July 31 that he plans to ask Serbia's parliament for a vote of confidence on his performance, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. Draskovic said that he would resign if he were to lose such a vote and that his Serbian Renewal Movement (SRO) would leave the government. Draskovic said he did not ask Prime Minister Kostunica to secure a parliamentary majority before proposing a vote. He also said he does not plan to pander to the Socialist Party (SPS) or the SRS to secure their support. BW

Prominent Kosovar Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic on July 31 said recent statements by SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic about using force to keep Kosova have damaged Serbia's international standing, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. "As it is, we do not enjoy a position of particular authority. Waving guns can only increase mistrust," said Ivanovic, who leads the Serbian List for Kosovo party. Ivanovic added that the capture and extradition of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic could improve Belgrade's position. "However, the point here is not in Kosovo alone...the point is, the notion that crime cannot be justified must prevail in Serbia," he said. BW

Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on July 31 that political stability and clarity about the province's status will improve the prospects for economic development, the Beta news agency reported the same day. Ceku said Kosova's economy is being held hostage to its unresolved status. If Kosova wins independence, Ceku said, he will seek to hold an international donors conference to attract foreign aid. He would also seek to draw foreign investors. "Big international investors have shown significant interest in investing in Kosova," he said. BW

Central Asian governments have spent years engaged in high-profile efforts to repress membership of the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Some observers are warning that harsh repression could prompt Hizb ut-Tahrir's members to take up arms -- they also suggest that young members compose the group's hard core.

It is virtually impossible to estimate the size or composition of Hizb ut-Tahrir's membership in Central Asia. The movement is banned in most places. But some observers say anecdotal evidence suggests the group's core of younger members is growing.

Vitaly Ponomaryov, who runs a human rights monitoring program that focuses on Central Asia for the Moscow-based nonprofit group Memorial, says circumstantial evidence points to desperate youths who turn to Hizb ut-Tahrir out of frustration with the system -- in Uzbekistan, for instance. "If we look at trials, and also based on my own meetings [with Hizb ut-Tahrir members], most members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are young people who do not see future of their country within the system created by [Uzbek] President Islam Karimov," he says.

Twenty-nine alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members are currently on trial on charges related to the group's activities in Uzbekistan. The youngest of those defendants is 19, and most of the others are under the age of 30.

Uzbekistan is ruled by one of the region's most repressive regimes, which has launched a long-running campaign to prosecute Hizb ut-Tahrir sympathizers. It also appears to have a relatively high number of Hizb ut-Tahrir members. But neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan have also banned Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In Kyrgyzstan, former President Askar Akaev used to allow Hizb ut-Tahrir members to organize informational and even charitable events despite the ban. Due to fears of increased Hizb ut-Tahrir sympathy, current President Kurmanbek Bakiev has cracked down on such activities. Bakiev now says Hizb ut-Tahrir is a militant group that should be eliminated.

Kyrgyz authorities say there are recent signs of cooperation between Hizb ut-Tahrir and an avowedly violent Islamist group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). They cite events in southern Kyrgyzstan, where police reportedly found weapons in Hizb ut-Tahrir hideouts.

Kyrgyz National Security Service official Talant Razzakov recently implied an implicit ideological and operational link between Hizb ut-Tahrir and the IMU. "Only those who 'graduated' from the [Hizb ut-Tahrir] school can subsequently join the IMU," he told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Hizb ut-Tahrir representatives have consistently rejected violence as a tool, and say they have no ties to the IMU.

Sultonbek Badalov is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Jalal-Abad, in southern Kyrgyzstan. Speaking to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, he claimed there is animosity between the two organizations, and cooperation is therefore out of the question. "[Violence] is absolutely alien to us," he says. "Many say [Hizb ut-Tahrir] is with the IMU, led by Tahir Yuldosh. Recently Tahir Yuldosh released [audio] disks on which he spoke out against us. [Mutual cooperation] is absolutely impossible, as it goes against our ideology and our principles."

Observers warn that the factors that contribute to recruitment of new Hizb ut-Tahrir members in the region remain. Aalybek Akunov, a professor of political studies at Kyrgyz National University, says that poverty and high unemployment in the areas around the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border encourage young people to join.

"The main reason is, of course, an economic one -- poverty among people living in that area," Akunov says. "There are many unemployed people. The economic future is precarious. There is despair and exhaustion. They are tired of waiting for changes in government policy on both sides [of the border]." Akunov warns that Hizb ut-Tahrir ideas will continue to resonate unless economic problems are solved.

But Memorial's Ponomaryov says there is more than simply economic hardship to blame. He says a lack of political and other freedoms plays a significant role. "The situation in which there is unjustified repression by the authorities, the fabrication of criminal charges -- when people see clear injustice, they start perceiving repressed people as victims of the fight for justice," he says. "They get a sense of solidarity. Some of them start saying, 'If justice can't be achieved by peaceful means, more radical ways should be found.' In this regard, Uzbekistan is a highly illustrative example. There, repression begun by [President Islam] Karimov in late 1990s became the main instrument of destabilization in the whole region."

Hizb ut-Tahrir member Badalov insists that government repression has increased the group's popularity. "The people have already seen the governments' slander against us," he says. "They understood that it is slander and provocation. The authorities can blame us, but the people already know very well that we won't do anything like [carrying out acts of violence]."

Badalov denies resorting to violence. But could other Hizb ut-Tahrir members take up arms in the future? Memorial's Ponomaryov says that Hizb ut-Tahrir, as a whole, is unlikely to change its methods. But he warns that many of its younger members might respond to repression with increased militarism, perhaps splitting off from Hizb ut-Tahrir to take up arms against governments in Central Asia.

(Gulnoza Saidazimova is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officially assumed responsibility for security operations in southern Afghanistan on July 31, taking over from U.S. forces who had led counterinsurgency efforts in the region, AP reported. A simple flag ceremony at the Kandahar airfield marked the change of command, with the new NATO commanding officer, British Lieutenant General David Richards, vowing to "retain the capability and will to strike ruthlessly at the enemies of Afghanistan when required" in the south of the country. Richards said NATO forces will maintain military assaults on neo-Taliban fighters, using the same kind of heavy firepower that U.S.-led coalition forces have used in recent months in response to rising levels of violence. MR

Nangarhar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai survived a bomb attack in Jalalabad on July 31 that killed five policemen and three civilians, AFP reported. Sherzai, the apparent target of the attack, was 15 meters from the blast and escaped unharmed, but a car carrying the policemen was destroyed. A second car carrying the governor's bodyguards suffered damage. "Five policemen in the car were martyred," said Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanizai. "The bomb, a remote-controlled device, was placed in the car and exploded." Nangarhar police chief Basir Salangi said five other police officers were wounded, as were seven civilians. MR

Legislators in the Afghan National Assembly approved President Hamid Karzai's prposed nominee for a new chief justice on July 31, AFP reported. The parliament voted 179-16 to approve Abdul Salam Azimi, a U.S.-educated technocrat who will replace a religious conservative as Afghanistan's top judge. Azimi, known for wearing a tie among political figures who tend to favor robes and turbans, was previously a professor at the University of Arizona. He was previously Karzai's legal adviser, and served for a time as education minister. Azimi replaces Fazel Hadi Shinwari, a conservative cleric whom the parliament rejected in May after lawmakers questioned his age and lack of formal education. MR

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for African and Arab affairs Mohammad Reza Baqeri told ISNA in Tehran on 31 July that the Israeli offensive against Hizballah in Lebanon is "in line with America's overall policies" and the "prelude" to "a comprehensive and multifaceted plan" for the Middle East. Nobody, he said, sees Israeli air strikes as "proportional" to Hizballah's "considered, restricted, and legitimate" move to kidnap two Israeli soldiers, which triggered Israel's attack. The Israeli offensive, Baqeri said, has suffered a "dramatic failure," and the U.S. is "extremely angry" at the revelation of its "larger regional plans." He dismissed any alleged connection between the crisis and Iran's troubles with its atomic dossier. Iran has "sufficient legal bases and national levers" to pursue its dossier, Baqeri said, and "does not need to expend its Lebanese friends and the Islamic resistance," ISNA reported. He said Israeli failure and the "firm slap in the face" Hizballah has given it means Israel will devote "all its capacity to preserving itself, and should remove from its mind the thought of attacking another Islamic country." VS

The Palestinian Authority's envoy in Tehran, Salah Zawawi, praised the Hizballah's fight against Israel at a July 31 Tehran seminar to support the Hizballah and Palestinians, and said the conflict has given Palestinians "once again a taste of victory," ISNA reported. He was speaking at a conference in Tehran for "thinkers, intellectuals, party representatives, politicians, and human rights activists," ISNA reported. Zawawi claimed that while Israel has "theoretically" accepted the formation of a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to taking "78 percent" of Palestinian lands it has built 200 settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and previously Gaza, built a "racist" wall, sought to take all Jerusalem as its territory, then "extended war to the West Bank and Gaza Strip." Zawawi said Hizballah missiles are now making Israel suffer the "injustice" it once inflicted on Palestine, ISNA reported. VS

Akbar Mohammadi, a student jailed for his involvement in 1999 Tehran demonstrations, died in Tehran's Evin prison on July 30 after what was described by authorities as a nine-day hunger strike, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on July 31, quoting the Tehran provincial prisons chief Akbar Soleimani and the Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters. The Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters stated that other prisoners saw marks on Mohammadi's body suggesting that he had been beaten, Radio Farda reported. "This regime brings Palestinian children to be treated in Tehran hospitals, and gives them money and homes, but is destroying our children under torture," Mohammadi's father told Radio Farda on July 31. Mohammadi had been sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison, according to Radio Farda. One of his lawyers, Khalil Bahramian, said Mohammadi had been on indefinite leave in the past year but "recently he was rearrested by agents without any warning and transferred to prison." Another lawyer, Nemat Ahmadi, said prison doctors confirmed Mohammadi was ill and should receive treatment outside prison but Mohammadi told him by phone that prison authorities were depriving him of necessary medicines, including for asthma, Radio Farda reported. VS

An Iranian student sentenced to prison for involvement in the 1999 riots, Ahmad Batebi, was arrested at his home on July 29, apparently while on prison leave, ISNA and the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on July 30 and 31, citing lawyer Khalil Bahramian and Batebi's father. The latter told ISNA on July 30 that family members "have no news of Batebi for now." A Tehran deputy prosecutor, Mahmud Salarkia, said Batebi was arrested for failing to return to prison six months after his prison leave had ended, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Separately, a group of legislators visited Evin prison on July 30 to inspect prisoners' conditions but were not allowed into Section 209, where political or security-related prisoners are kept, ILNA reported on July 30, quoting legislator Akbar Alami. Alami said the visitors previously coordinated their visit with officials, including a deputy-intelligence minister, but "most regrettably" the wing was closed, and this, he said, has "contributed to doubts" about what goes on there. Alami said that if the "law is respected" in this as in other wings, "there was no reason not to let [legislators] visit" it, ILNA reported. VS

More than 40 Iraqis, at least half of them members of the security forces, were killed in bomb attacks in various cities on August 1, international media reported. In Baghdad, a suicide car bomber targeted Iraqi soldiers who had queued up outside a bank in the Al-Karrada district to cash their monthly paychecks, Reuters reported. At least 14 people were killed in the attack and 37 wounded, AP reported. Farther north, 20 soldiers were killed and 13 wounded in a roadside-bomb attack on a bus transporting soldiers between Tikrit and Bayji, an unidentified police captain told AP. A car bomb also targeted a police patrol in Al-Miqdadiyah, killing at least seven and wounding eight others, Reuters reported. Elsewhere, a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded a third in Kirkuk. KR

The Interior Ministry announced on July 31 that 12 employees of the U.S.-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce were among those kidnapped from offices in the Arasat district of the capital that day. Earlier reports had indicated that 25 employees of a nearby mobile-telephone store were kidnapped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). The ministry announced that eight employees and six customers of a mobile-telephone store located across the street from the Chamber of Commerce were abducted in the same raid. Police said they have no leads in the case. KR

The Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association claimed in a July 31 statement posted to its website that U.S. forces carried out a bombing "massacre" against women and children in the Al-Dawanim neighborhood of Baghdad the previous day, killing 20 and wounding several others. The association likened the alleged attack to Israeli attacks on Lebanon: "The criminal spirit haunting the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq is unmistakably the same criminal spirit steering the Zionist occupation forces in Lebanon." The statement cited eyewitnesses as claiming that U.S. soldiers planted explosives in the bombed-out buildings to level what remained standing. It further claimed that soldiers "imposed a siege on the crime scene until sunset, thus making it impossible for citizens to remove the bodies from under the wreckage." KR

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told Lebanese Hizballah's Al-Manar television on July 31 that he believes the Lebanese people have a legitimate right to resist occupation. Saying that the "entire Islamic world's fate is linked to the fate of the resistance against Israel," al-Sadr claimed the current conflict there is based on a U.S. policy aiming to reshape the Middle East. "The truth is that the plans of the United States are old and not new ones. If it says it is time for a new Middle East, we say yes...but it is [time for a Middle East] against the United States and the abhorrent trinity," he said, apparently referring to the United States, Great Britain, and Israel. "The raising of the voice of resistance...will uphold Islam and support the wronged peoples," he added. Al-Sadr also contended that the United States has no intention of withdrawing its forces from Iraq, and he claimed that the United States intends to use its base in Iraq to back up an Israeli occupation of Lebanon. "If Israel succeeds in imposing its will on Lebanon, then it will impose its control on the whole world," he said. KR