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Newsline - August 15, 2006

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 14 that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed in a telephone conversation earlier that day on the "need for all countries to implement" Security Council Resolution 1701 on Lebanon "as soon as possible," Interfax and RIA Novosti reported. The two men also "particularly emphasized the task of working out a formula for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East." Earlier on August 14, ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement that the current cease-fire "is generally being observed. It is a very crucial moment, and everything possible should be done to secure a final breakthrough for the better and prevent any backsliding," reported. He added that Russia hopes "that all parties...will avoid any actions that could undermine this still very fragile truce. The top priority now lies in calmly and smoothly introducing a Lebanese army contingent into the south of Lebanon in conjunction with UN forces, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from there" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). PM

Lieutenant General Valery Yevnevich, who is deputy commander of Russia's ground forces, said in Moscow on August 15 that no decision has been made on sending Russian peacekeepers to southern Lebanon, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7 and 14 , 2006). He added that "any decision to dispatch Russian peacekeepers to Lebanon will be adopted by the parliament. There has been no such decision so far. If it is made, Defense Minister [Sergei Ivanov] will decide which units to send there." Yevnevich added that "the 15th Peacekeeping Brigade of the Volga-Urals Military District could be involved, but even these units would have to undergo additional training for some six weeks and study the region and its characteristics. Before heading for Lebanon, the peacekeepers would have to be supplemented with experts with appropriate language training," Interfax reported. PM

An unnamed representative of the Russian Embassy in Berlin told Interfax on August 14 that Russian and German officials have signed a final agreement on Russia's early repayment to Germany of $10.35 billion of former Soviet debt within the framework of the Paris Club, which is an informal grouping of 19 governments that have large financial claims on various other governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27 and June 26, 2006). Russia and the Paris Club concluded a basic agreement on June 16 to enable Moscow to repay a total of about $23 billion to all creditor countries ahead of time, thereby saving Russia $7.7 billion in debt-service payments. The agreement with Berlin, which is Moscow's largest single creditor, is seen as the first step to concluding similar pacts with other countries. Increased oil and gas revenues have made it possible for Russia to pay off its debts early, as President Vladimir Putin and other top officials have said that they want to do. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin recently said that his country will pay off all its debts to the Paris Club by August 21. PM

Anatoly Kvashnin, who is President Putin's envoy for Siberia, told him in Moscow on August 14 that the first link of the proposed East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline will be laid in late August or early September, the daily "Kommersant" reported on August 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and July 17, 2006). Kvashnin added that 42 kilometers of taiga have already been cleared and that progress is rapid. In April, Putin ordered that the pipeline be rerouted to run 40 kilometers north of Lake Baikal, which critics said was threatened by the pipeline's original route. PM

Mikhail Shvydkoi, who heads the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema, told a gathering on safeguarding museum collections in St. Petersburg on August 14 that President Putin has ordered an "inspection" of all art museums, the first of its kind since 1976, Russian media reported. The move follows the theft of 221 items from the State Hermitage Museum and Putin's order for an inventory of all art treasures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 9, and 11, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). Mikhail Piotrovsky, who is director of the Hermitage Museum, apologized for the thefts, which appear to be the work of insiders, primarily one curator and her family. Shvydkoi nonetheless defended his own position and that of Piotrovsky, saying that demands for them to resign should stop. If they must go, Shvydkoi added, then so should "the heads of housing departments." He stressed that resignations will not "get rid of existing problems at museums." He added that "that is why we should leave the issue alone. This is a very dangerous issue." Meanwhile, Boris Boyarskov, head of Rosokhrankultura, the federal service for the protection of Russia's cultural heritage, told the gathering that there is no plan in place to guard the museums against theft. Other speakers called for introducing more modern concepts of organizing and staffing into what they regard as an antiquated museum structure. PM

On August 15, Hermitage Museum director Piotrovsky told the gathering on museum security on its second day that Russia needs a "national program" or "road map" to safeguard its cultural treasures, Interfax reported. He argued that "we should admit the fact that employees may be corrupt and carry out someone's orders." He added, however, that the state is also "guilty in the decline of Russia's culture and in the absence of cultural priorities." PM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has ordered a probe of possible price-fixing for housing in Moscow and St. Petersburg in light of record prices for flats and houses in both cities in the post-Soviet era, Reuters and reported on August 14. An unnamed spokesman for the prosecutors told the news agency that construction firms may be colluding to force up prices, which have risen dramatically in recent months. One square meter of Moscow real estate now costs $3,770, while the average annual Russian income in 2005 was $3,600. Decent, affordable housing is one of President Putin's four "national projects," the implementation of which is the responsibility of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It is not clear whether price fixing or a flood of oil and gas money is more responsible for the rise in prices. It is also not clear whether the campaign against high housing costs in the capital is somehow directed against Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has held that office since 1992. PM

Echoing comments by Mher Shahgeldian, a leading member of his Orinats Yerkir party, Artur Baghdasarian expressed concern on August 12 at the increasing involvement in Armenian politics of criminal elements with close connections to the government bureaucracy, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on August 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). He called on the Armenian people to unite against that perceived alliance of "criminals and oligarchs." Baghdasarian also alleged that a small group of people (whom he did not identify) have gained millions of dollars from the strengthening in recent days of the Armenian dram against the U.S. dollar, while many ordinary citizens who depend heavily on remittances in U.S. dollars from relatives working abroad have lost out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9 and 10, 2006). LF

Robert Kocharian announced on national television on August 11 that the Armenian government should not have deducted 10 percent income tax from the compensation paid to hundreds of families whose homes in Yerevan have been demolished in the course of urban redevelopment, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on August 14. He said the deductions will be refunded in coming months, and "the issue will be closed," a comment that implies the households involved will not receive additional compensation, even though the Constitutional Court ruled in April that the evictions were illegal. Many of them claim that the payments they received are inadequate to purchase new homes elsewhere in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, September 12, and October 13, 2005 and February 28 and March 6, 2006). LF

Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on August 14 with 46 Azerbaijani diplomatic representatives abroad, and reported. Aliyev cited as an indication of Azerbaijan's importance to the international community the fact that since his election in November 2003 he has visited all five countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Aliyev reiterated that Azerbaijan will not condone the creation of a second Armenian state on its territory, and stressed that no decision on the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is possible until Armenian troops have been withdrawn from occupied Azerbaijani territory and Azerbaijani displaced persons have returned to their abandoned homes. Aliyev further announced the appointment of Hafiz Pashayev, who has served for 14 years as ambassador to the United States, to head the Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy. Pashayev was simultaneously named a deputy foreign minister. Observers consider Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov the most likely candidate to succeed Pashayev as ambassador in Washington, according to LF

In a televized address on August 14 to mark the 14th anniversary of the Georgian offensive that triggered the 1992-93 war, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said Georgia's so-called police operation last month to restore law and order in the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge testifies to Tbilisi's intentions to launch a new war against his unrecognized republic, reported. Bagapsh stressed that Abkhazia remains committed to peaceful dialogue and will not respond to Georgian "provocations." He appealed to the UN, Russia, and the so-called Group of Friends of the UN secretary-general tasked with mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict to demand that Georgia withdraw its forces from Kodori in compliance with the May 1994 Moscow cease-fire agreement; grant the Russian peacekeepers and UN observers unimpeded access to the conflict zone in order to monitor the situation in Kodori; and sign a pledge of nonresumption of hostilities. LF

The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia issued a statement on August 14, carried by, responding to the August 11 statement on developments in Kodori by the U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). The response noted that the Abkhaz leadership shares U.S. concerns over the situation in the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, and it appealed to the United States to pressure Tbilisi to comply with its obligations under the 1994 cease-fire agreement. It further argued that the breakdown of law and order in the gorge was the direct consequence of the distribution of large quantities of weaponry to the local population by the Georgian Defense Ministry. The Abkhaz statement said the United States was relying on inaccurate information in asserting that the Georgian authorities kept the Abkhaz government informed of their planned moves. It also argued that the influx of volunteers from the North Caucasus prepared to help the Abkhaz repulse any new Georgian aggression is the direct consequence of Georgia's "unilateral actions," and affirmed the Abkhaz side's readiness to send those volunteers home as soon as Georgia agrees to withdraw its military formations from the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge. It suggested that the U.S. Mission to the OSCE "is openly seeking to exonerate" Georgia by assigning to Abkhazia the entire responsibility for the escalation in tensions in Kodori. LF

Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, one of the founders in the 1980s of the National Democratic Party of Georgia, convened on August 12 in Tbilisi the first congress of a new opposition party named Imedi (Hope) and founded in May, and "The Messenger" reported on August 14. Sarishvili-Chanturia, who also heads the Igor Giorgadze Fund, said the new party's primary objective is to oust Georgia's present leadership. She claimed Imedi already has some 12,000 members, and said it is ready to cooperate with any political force except the ruling United National Movement (GEM) and the Republican Party, which she branded a satellite of the GEM. Imedi will not participate in the local elections to be held in December 2006. LF

Russia plans to reduce the number of commissioned officers currently stationed at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, Interfax-AVN reported on August 14, citing comments by Russian Space Forces Commander Colonel General Vladimir Popovkin. "A total of 4,224 commissioned officers employed at the Baikonur Space Center are to be streamlined, with 708 of them to be transferred to other units and 3,517 more to retire," Popovkin said. The reduction of Russia's Baikonur deployment is taking place in accordance with a general reduction of Russia's armed forces, the report noted. DK

The trial of defendants charged with the murder of Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev and two aides (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006) has been adjourned until August 21, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on August 14. Judge Lukmat Merekenov said that the adjournment will give defense lawyers time to prepare for the final phase of the trial now that testimony has been completed. DK

Officers of Kyrgyzstan's Drug Control Agency confiscated 42 kilograms of raw opium in Bishkek on August 13, news agency reported the next day. Drug Control Agency spokeswoman Aisuluu Sadykova said that one of two drug smugglers arrested was a police captain, and that both were residents of the southern city of Osh. The opium was of Afghan origin. DK

Kyrgyz Health Minister Shailoobek Niyazov has warned that the country's location on drug-smuggling routes has made it vulnerable to an epidemic of drug abuse, Kabar reported on August 14. "The large amount of heroin is making it cheap and available to the population," Niyazov stated. "That's why young people are easily drawn into this epidemic, including women, teenagers, and children." Niyazov suggested that the "reproductive and sexual health of young people is displaying a clear tendency of deterioration." DK

U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Stephen R. Mann, who is a former ambassador to Turkmenistan, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on August 14 for talks focused on energy cooperation, reported. Niyazov reportedly stressed that Turkmenistan's energy strategy envisions the creation of a varied pipeline system, while Mann expressed U.S. support for plans to build new export pipelines from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and China. DK

Five Uzbek citizens recently extradited from Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006) face serious charges, including terrorism, at home, reported on August 14, quoting sources in the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office. The report identified Rasuljon Pirmatov as an active member of the banned Islamic Akramiya movement who helped to seize a prison in Andijon on May 12. It also claimed that Jahongir Maqsudov and Odiljon Rahimov were involved in the kidnapping of Andijon Prosecutor Ghani Abdurahimov, who was later killed. Aktam Jalilov, identified in the report as an expert with the Regional Policy Foundation, said that the extradition provided a convincing example of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan despite pressure from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and "certain states." The UNHCR, European Union, and rights groups strongly condemned the return of the four Uzbek refugees and one asylum seeker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006). DK

The opposition right-wing Conservative Christian Party (KKhP) called for boycotting next year's elections for local soviets, warning that the Belarusian and Russian governments might use the vote to hold a referendum on a constitution of the Belarus-Russia Union State, Belapan reported on August 14. "On election day one should not go to the polls to vote for the regime but should rather take to the streets to join others for protests and actions," the KKhP said in a statement, adding that "no fair election could be held under the occupational regime and dictatorship." The KKhP boycotted the 2004 parliamentary elections and this year's presidential vote. JM

Viktor Yanukovych, who was confirmed in office by the Ukrainian parliament on August 4, went to the Black Sea resort of Sochi on August 15 to participate in a two-day informal summit of the Eurasian Economic Community hosted by vacationing Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian media reported. Ukraine has observer status in the Eurasian Economic Community, which consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It is widely expected that Yanukovych, while in Sochi, will discuss the price of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine in 2007 with Putin and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Yanukovych told journalists in Kyiv on August 14 that this year he does not expect any changes in the current gas-supply scheme, under which Ukraine pays $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of a Russian-Turkmen gas mix supplied by the Swiss-based intermediary RosUkrEnergo. The Ukrainian premier also assured journalists that Ukraine's gas transport system, which Moscow has been seeking to manage jointly with Ukraine through an international consortium, will remain in Kyiv's ownership. JM

Miodrag Vukovic, an official with Montenegro's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), is seeking to have the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) banned in Montenegro, B92 and FoNet reported on August 14. "If it is just a salient sector of the central office in Belgrade, then it should be banned," Vukovic was quoted by the daily "Dan" as saying. "If it is an authentic political subject in Montenegro, then there will be no problem in catastrophically defeating them in the next elections," Vukovic added. He also called supporters of SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic in Montenegro "political invalids" who "need an infusion from the side," an apparent reference to Serbia. SRS Secretary-General Aleksandar Vucic described Vukovic's move as a politically motivated attack at the behest of Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic. "The Montenegrin government will not convince Serbia and other Montenegrin citizens that the [SRS] is bad, but will rather show that the [SRS] is the only party that represents the interests of the people in the best possible way," he said. BW

Metropolitan Jovan of Zagreb, Ljubljana, and all of Italy said on August 14 that a proposed visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Serbia could serve to highlight the plight of the Orthodox Church in Kosova, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "If the pope sees with his own eyes what is happening in Kosovo and the injustice that the Serbian people and Serbian Orthodox Church are subjected to, there is no doubt that his voice would be heard loudly around the world." Jovan was quoted by the Novi Sad-based daily "Dnevnik" as saying. "If the question of the pope's visit comes before the assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church, I believe that the right decision will be made," he added. Bishop Eugenio Sbarbaro, the Apostolic Nuncio to Belgrade, told Novi Sad's "Gradjanski list" on August 12 that the pontiff would like to visit Serbia. BW

A spokesman for the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said on August 14 that the partition of the breakaway province will not be considered as part of a final solution, Focus and Beta reported the same day. Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, the head of Serbia's Council for Kosovo, said on August 12 that Belgrade would consider partition if no other solution was possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). "Such statements do not help at all as the whole international community, the Contact Group, [UN envoy] Marti Ahtisaari, and the UNMIK hold the opposite opinion," UNMIK spokesman Alexander Ivanko said. "The international representatives have said numerous times that Kosovo's partitioning will not be tolerated." The Council for Kosovo has since backtracked on Raskovic-Ivic's comments, calling them a "hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question" that was taken out of context. BW

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has chosen German diplomat Joachim Ruecker to be the new head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Reuters and dpa reported on August 14, citing unidentified UN officials. Ruecker currently heads the UNMIK Reconstruction and Economic Development Unit. If the report is true, he will be the sixth person, and the second German, to head the UN administration in Kosova. Ruecker would succeed Soren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark, who announced his resignation in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). BW

Law enforcement officials in Montenegro have arrested seven people, including a police officer, and seized more than 1 million euros ($1.27 million) and $100,000 in forged banknotes, UPI reported on August 14, citing the daily "Dan." The arrests, in which Montenegrins and foreign nationals were taken into custody, took place in Podgorica and in towns along the Adriatic coast. "Dan" reported that the banknotes, which were of extremely high quality according to police, were forged in Bulgaria and transported to Montenegro via Macedonia. BW

Viktor Yanukovych will go to Russia on August 15 for the first time since Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada approved his nomination as prime minister earlier this month. On his two-day trip to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, he is scheduled to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. The talks are expected to focus on the price of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine.

The gas deal hatched in January, after Russian gas giant Gazprom briefly cut supplies to Ukraine and Europe, has never been particularly popular in Ukraine. Kyiv agreed to an increase in the price of Russian gas imports from $50 to $95 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Critics of this deal, including former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, have repeatedly called for its renegotiation. There are two provisions in the January deal that are subject to particular criticism in Ukraine.

First, the deal established the price of gas imported by Ukraine only for the first half of 2006. At the same time, it set an invariable tariff for Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine for five years in advance.

Second, the deal introduced a murky intermediary, the Swiss-based company RosUkrEnergo, as a monopolist responsible for gas supplies to Ukraine. Under a scheme laid down in the deal, RosUkrEnergo mixes Russian gas priced at $230 per 1,000 cubic meters with much cheaper Turkmen gas and sells the mix to Ukraine at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Although it was revealed in April that RosUkrEnergo is owned half by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen, both Moscow and Kyiv have so far failed to explain satisfactorily why they needed to include this company in the gas deal.

Yanukovych told journalists on August 14 in Kyiv that he is not expecting any substantial change in the Russian-Ukrainian gas-supply scheme this year. "If it is possible to change the price, I mean, make it lower, we will go for it. We will see what we can achieve. As for 2007, we will create a transparent system and inform both the international community and the Ukrainian public about the way the system of relationships will work on the Ukrainian gas market," Yanukovych said.

Can the Ukrainian government hope for the preservation of the current gas price in 2007? Probably not. Some Gazprom managers have already suggested that Ukraine should be ready for another gas price hike in 2007, which could mean Ukraine paying as much as $230 per 1,000 cubic meters instead of the current $95.

The question of how much Kyiv will pay for gas in the future will also depend on the amount -- as well as the price -- of Turkmen gas in the Russian-Turkmen mix sold by RosUkrEnergo. Turkmenistan has already signaled that it wants to increase the price of gas sold to Gazprom from the current $65 per 1,000 cubic meters to $100.

On the other hand, analysts warn that $120 per 1,000 cubic meters is the highest gas price the Ukrainian economy can accept without losing its competitiveness.

But what about Ukraine's bargaining chips? For many years Moscow sought to persuade Kyiv to set up an international consortium, with Russia as a major partner, in order to manage the Ukrainian pipeline pumping Russian gas to Europe. It's possible that the issue of control over the Ukrainian gas pipeline will resurface at the Sochi talks. In the past, the issue has been successfully delayed and torpedoed by Kyiv.

But Yanukovych unambiguously told journalists on August 14 that he will not agree to turning over Ukraine's gas-transport system to Russia. "This [gas-transport] system will be owned by Ukraine. We will never do this, because it does not serve the national interests of Ukraine," he said. "The matter of reconstructing this system is a separate question. We will invite partners regardless of what part of the world they are from."

That leaves Moscow with a headache: how should it react to Yanukovych's political comeback? Russian media see Yanukovych's return as a major victory for the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine over the Orange Revolution camp personified by President Viktor Yushchenko and former Prime Ministers Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Yekhanurov.

Now Moscow must confirm in deeds what it asserted in words in the past 18 months -- namely, that it is easier for Russia to come to an understanding with "pro-Russian" Yanukovych than "pro-Western" Tymoshenko or Yekhanurov. In other words, Yanukovych will have to return from Sochi to Kyiv with a small political victory if Moscow is to remain true to its word.

While it is highly unlikely that the price of Russian gas for Ukraine will remain unchanged in 2007, a staged price increase cushioning the Ukrainian economy against any shock hike could well soften the blow.

A UN survey released on August 14 concluded that violence against women in Afghanistan remains a feature of daily life in homes across the country, AP reported. According to the UN study, which was conducted between January 2003 and July 2005, women in Afghanistan continue to endure physical, sexual, and psychological violence despite the ouster of the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was notorious for its harsh treatment of women and girls. "Acts of violence [against women] are happening with impunity," said the report, released by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). "It appears that the government, communities, and families are not doing enough to prevent violence against women." Roughly 82 percent of the cases relate to domestic violence, according to the report. UNIFEM said domestic partners are responsible for nearly half the abuse suffered by Afghan women. "The shame associated with reporting most forms of domestic violence, such as rape and other forms of sexual abuse, may contribute to the fact that women often suffer in silence," said the study, which drew on more than 1,300 cases. MR

Bombs rigged to bicycles in two separate locations in the capital, Kabul, on August 15 suggest that militants might be launching a new phase of attacks on the Afghan capital, AP reported. Four French soldiers and three civilian passersby suffered injuries when a bomb rigged to a bicycle exploded as the troops passed on patrol, while another bicycle device was detonated near a NATO patrol close by a UN office but left no one injured. Elsewhere in Kabul, another bomb was found and disarmed the same day, AP reported. Kabul, a city patrolled by thousands of international troops, has generally seen much less violence than other parts of Afghanistan caught up in a widening campaign by apparent neo-Taliban insurgents. MR

A suicide car bomber struck a bazaar in southeastern Afghanistan on August 14, injuring six soldiers and one civilian, AFP reported. The explosion tore through a crowded market in the Barmal district of Paktika Province, regional governor Mohammad Akram Khepelwak said. The governor said "enemies of peace in Afghanistan" were behind the attack, in phrasing similar to that used by other government officials to refer to neo-Taliban fighters. MR

Fighting in southern Afghanistan left 11 suspected neo-Taliban fighters dead on August 15, AP reported. Amir Mohammed Akhunzada, the deputy provincial governor of Helmand Province, said two policemen died in clashes with militants in the area. One policeman was wounded and three guerrillas were arrested, he said. Meanwhile, militants killed four other policemen in southeastern Ghazni Province, according to Abdul Ali Fakuri, spokesman for the provincial governor. MR

Government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said in Tehran on August 14 that Hizballah defeated Israel in the conflict that began on July 12 and appears to have concluded with UN Resolution 1701 of August 11, IRNA reported. Elham called Israel the root of corruption, and said its continuing existence precludes regional peace. BS

"Karnameh" had its license revoked and Managing Editor Negar Eskandarfar received a suspended one-year prison sentence and on August 14 for articles offending morality and chastity, ILNA reported. The Tehran Penal Court's decision follows a ban on the same publication by the Press Supervisory Board. Eskandarfar has appealed the decision. Also on August 14, "Cheshmandaz" Managing Editor Lutfollah Meysami was found guilty of publishing materials that damage the system and the country, insulting and libeling the police, and propagandizing against the system, ISNA reported. The Tehran Penal Court acquitted Meysami on charges of publishing false reports, publishing anticonstitutional reports, publishing materials that are offensive to Islam, and insulting the country's judiciary. On August 7, the Press Supervisory Board instructed "Sharq" newspaper to replace its managing director, ISNA reported on August 12, because the paper has received 70 warnings to date. These warnings relate to the alleged publication of atheistic materials, divisive materials, and materials that violate Supreme National Security Council directives. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad recently offered congratulations on the eve of Journalists Day (August 8), IRNA reported. BS

In a speech to the nation on the state of the economy, President Ahmadinejad detailed his administration's accomplishments and described the steps he has taken to deal with unemployment and waste, state television reported. Ahmadinejad also discussed the nuclear situation, saying that those who have harnessed the use of nuclear power are trying to prevent Iran from doing so. He accused other countries of trying to undermine Iranians' unity, and Ahmadinejad said it is bad for Iranians to speak with multiple voices. "They lie when they claim that they have given up trying to create discord among us," he charged. BS

Police raided Tehran's Behjatabad residential district on August 14 and confiscated residents' satellite dishes, Radio Farda and ILNA reported. Tehran police chief Morteza Talai described it as a "routine task." "The police are duty-bound to enforce the law," he explained, "and as long as the use of satellite dishes is illegal, we have to perform our duty to that end." Residents complained that they did not receive advance notice of the raid. Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi said in early August that the headquarters for the promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice recently discussed satellite dishes, "Etemad" reported on August 7. Some people set up the dishes where they are visible, he said, and the action is necessary because this is a violation of social norms. Special teams will be trained to deal with satellite dishes, he added. If people turn their dishes in, he continued, the police will not take action against them. BS

Ardabil Province's governor-general, Ali Nikzad, announced on August 13 that President Ahmadinejad would visit on August 15, provincial television reported. Nikzad said the president and his cabinet will visit nine cities. Also on August 13, commanders of the Ashura and Al-Zahra battalions of the Basij met in Asadabad's Jameh Mosque for a briefing on upcoming war games, provincial television reported. One week earlier, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' new Imam Hussein base was inaugurated in the province's Aslanduz district, provincial television reported, and the Ashura battalions began a three-day exercise at the IRGC's Qods garrison in Meshkinshahr. BS

U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters on August 14, "In both [Iraq and Lebanon] Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold," Reuters reported the same day. Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN on August 13, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad repeated his accusation that Iran is inciting sectarian unrest in Iraq, AFP reported on August 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). "[Iran] is providing arms, training, and money and other support to groups involved in sectarian violence, including militias that have death squads associated with them," Khalilzad told CNN. Moreover, the chief spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell, told reporters on August 14, "We do know that Shi'ite extremist groups have received training from some sort of third elements associated with Iran," AFP reported. "We do in fact have evidence that weapons, ammunition have been found in Iraq that were of Iranian origin. We have found ammunition, weapons from Iran with recent manufacturing dates.... We have verified. It did come from Iran," Caldwell added. But he said that the military has no evidence that Iranian personnel are operating in Iraq. BAW

Kurdish parliament member Mahmud Othman said on August 13 that Kurdish and Shi'ite parties in the Iraqi Council of Representatives are preparing to remove parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani from office, Peyamner news agency reported on August 14. Al-Mashhadani, who belongs to the Iraqi Accordance Front, has been criticized for his support for gunmen in Iraq and his opposition to the federal system, Othman said, adding, "Shi'ite and Kurdish representatives have already asked [the Accordance Front] to replace al-Mashhadani." Accordance Front representative Salim Abdullah said that the front will not defend al-Mashhadani, and that "the Iraqi street needs peace and stability. If [al-Mashhadani's] position has negative effects, then we will find an alternative. We respect the views of our allies," Peyamner quoted him as saying. BAW

General Peter Pacer, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview on August 13 that more U.S. troops could stabilize Iraq, but would outweigh the benefits and create Iraqi dependency, AP reported on August 14. "More U.S. and coalition forces could get the job done quicker, but that would mean dependency much longer for the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi government," Pacer said. He agreed with the Pentagon that the main focus of coalition forces should be to train Iraqi security forces. Answering questions by U.S. troops in Al-Fallujah, he did not specify what U.S. troops would do if Iraq fell into an all-out civil war. He said that setting a deadline for troop withdrawal would force Iraqis into making unviable political decisions, adding, "You do not want to leave it open-ended." BAW

A series of explosions on August 13 in the Al-Za'faraniyah neighborhood in Baghdad killed 67 and injured 188, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. U.S.-led coalition spokesman Major General Caldwell told reporters on August 14, "Our explosives specialists reported today that it was a very significant gas explosion on the first floor of the building," which triggered secondary explosions, AFP reported the same day. But Iraqi authorities blamed the explosions on rockets and bombs by insurgents. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the incident, calling it "an ugly crime by terrorists...who try to kill as many civilians...and incite division and sectarian fighting among Iraqi citizens," RFI reported on August 14. In an Internet statement, a group calling itself the Soldiers of the (Prophet's) Companions Group claimed responsibility, according to AFP. BAW