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Newsline - August 31, 2006

During the recent meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Fairbanks, Alaska, Rumsfeld offered Russia unspecified help in tracking down those who killed four Russian diplomatic personnel in June in Iraq, reported on August 30, citing an unnamed high-ranking Defense Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, July 7 and 12, and August 18 and 28, 2006). President Vladimir Putin has instructed Russia's special services to find and "eliminate" the killers. PM

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said on August 31 that he has placed Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov in charge of operations aimed at improving the safety of civil and military aviation, Interfax and reported. Fradkov noted that economic considerations have often in practice taken priority over flight safety. This is a point cited by many experts in assessing the possible causes of the recent crash of a Pulkovo airliner with the loss of 170 lives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23 and 24, 2006). Fradkov said that "we have to take measures and not wait for new tragedies" to happen. PM

Vladislav Surkov, who is one of several deputy heads of the Kremlin's administration and an exponent of the theory of "sovereign democracy," said in Moscow on August 30 that Russia must develop what he called a "national ideology accepted by the majority of citizens" if it wants "to be taken seriously" abroad, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 7, 2006). He stressed that "it is essential to understand the importance of dialogue. We must have our own voice in the European political discourse, as we did in Soviet times." He added that Russia is part of an ongoing "process of democracy." Surkov said that his concept of sovereign democracy, in which Russia defines what its democracy is and accepts no criticism from abroad, "appeals to the dignity of the Russian people and the Russian nation. It's about who we are." He stressed that "terminology and image-making are very important because the process of their creation is a characteristic of a proactive nation." Surkov was addressing a meeting organized by the state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta." PM

In the latest in a string of media reports about the possible sale of the business daily "Kommersant," which is one of the few remaining major papers not controlled by the Kremlin, metals magnate Alisher Usmanov said on August 30 that he might buy the daily for about $200 million, "The Moscow Times" reported on August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5 and June 8 and 9, 2006). Usmanov said that he would not fundamentally change the editorial policy or management but would consider "improvements," such as more color. Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who once owned the paper, told "The Moscow Times" by phone that Usmanov is a level-headed businessman who "doesn't let political passions get the better of him." Berezovsky added that "the authorities will try to influence the company's policies by leaning on Usmanov, of course, but I know that he is also very protective of his personal reputation. He will try to find a reasonable compromise in the interest of 'Kommersant' [that will] allow him to maintain as much independence as is possible in Russia today, while not spoiling his relationship with the authorities." "Forbes" puts Usmanov's personal fortune at $3.1 billion. He and his partners hold the country's largest iron-ore assets through the Metalloinvest holding company. He also works as a troubleshooter for the state gas monopoly Gazprom. Usmanov said, however, that he is under no pressure from the Kremlin to buy the daily, adding that it is "purely a business deal." PM

Some Russian websites and news agencies reported on August 31 that Usmanov has already concluded the deal to buy "Kommersant." Interfax, however, said that the "deal will be completed by the end of the week." Whatever the case may be, several journalists told that news agency that the daily will need to maintain its current editorial policy if it to hold its position in the market. Rodionov publishing house President Aleksei Volin said that "'Kommersant' will lose its influence and its readers if they turn it into another [state-run daily] 'Rossiiskaya gazeta' or the printed counterpart" of the state-run television news program. Igor Yakovenko, who is a leader of the Russian Union of Journalists, said that the sale of "Kommersant" is linked to preparations for the 2007 parliamentary elections. He argued that the daily will either become the mouthpiece of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party or retain a certain degree of independence in order to maintain its credibility. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Interfax that Usmanov's purchase of "Kommersant" "was carried out as a personal investment and is not related to his work with Gazprom." PM

With the start of the new school year on September 1, "The Fundamentals Of Orthodox Culture" will become a compulsory subject at various levels in the school systems of an additional four Russian regions, bringing the total to approximately 19, "Novye izvestia" and reported on August 30. The Moscow Patriarchate says it does not keep a record of how many regions offer such courses in some form or other, but Marat Murtazin, who is deputy head of Russia's Council of Muftis and an expert on Islamic education, puts the number of regions teaching Orthodoxy in the schools at about 75. The constitution requires the separation of church and state, but the public role of the Orthodox Church has been on the rise in recent years, including in the military. Legislation on religion recognizes only Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as "traditional" religions, and thus imposes limits on the activities of the Roman Catholic Church and Western-based evangelical groups, which thrived in the years immediately following the collapse of communism. PM

Muslim leaders in particular have criticized the expansion of Orthodoxy into the school system and have developed their own textbook and curriculum on "Muslim culture" that is used in at least four regions, "The Moscow Times" reported on August 31. In an effort to limit the explicitly Orthodox nature of religious instruction in the schools, Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko sought to introduce a more neutral course in world religions in high schools earlier in 2006, "Novye izvestia" reported on August 30. But he was shouted down at a conference in February with remarks such as: "You're living in Russia, aren't you?" and "We don't need your world religions." One representative of the Moscow Patriarchate told Fursenko not to be afraid of priests in the schools and religion in the souls of pupils but rather of drug addiction, smoking, alcoholism, and many young people's addiction to various games (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 17, 2005). PM

Igor Kio, who was arguably Russia's best-known magician, died in Moscow on August 30 after surgery at age 63, and reported. He was the son of Emil Kio, who was probably the Soviet Union's most famous magician of his day. The younger Kio at first studied under his father, then became a performer on his own in 1965, and finally emerged as a creative artist and writer of entire shows in 1977. In his 30-year career, Igor Kio gave up to 600 performances annually, both at home and in many foreign countries. In 2003, he was awarded the title People's Artist of the Russian Federation. A memorial gathering is scheduled to take place at Moscow's Nikulin Circus on September 3. PM

Chechen Republic Ichkeria Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev appealed on August 30 to the Council of Europe, the UN Commission for Human Rights, and to the human rights commissions of the U.S. and European legislatures to launch an independent investigation into human rights violations in Chechnya, the resistance website reported. Zakayev referred specifically to an article published in the August 30 issue of "The New York Times" detailing the torture of a Chechen woman by pro-Moscow Chechen police and other atrocities. Zakayev said those "barbaric" acts are the direct consequence of the double standards Western governments apply when dealing with Russia. LF

Speaking on August 30 to journalists in Gudermes, pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov distanced himself from statements made by Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the lower house of the Chechen parliament, reported. Echoing earlier statements, Abdurakhmanov told ANN on August 21 that he considers imperative the reunification of Chechnya and Ingushetia. He also noted that some districts that were historically part of Chechnya now belong to Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 19, 2006). Kadyrov denied that Chechnya has any territorial claims on Daghestan, and described relations between those two republics as "very close." He further said he does not consider the reunification of Chechnya and Ingushetia a priority at the present time. LF

Robert Kocharian is against opening a debate on altering the existing ratio for distributing parliament mandates, his press secretary Viktor Soghomonian told journalists in Yerevan on August 30, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Under an agreement reached last year, 90 seats in the parliament to be elected in 2007 will be allocated on the basis of party lists and the remaining 41 in single-mandate constituencies. It would be wrong "to separate a deputy from his constituency, his voters, at this state of our democratic development," Soghomonian added. Soghomonian declined to comment on a recent Armenian media report that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want to see Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian elected as Kocharian's successor when the latter's second and final presidential term expires in 2008. He also denied rumors of "a conflict" between Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia and the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party established last year by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian, but admitted that there are "disagreements and contradictions" between the two parties. LF

Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian denied on August 30 allegations by the U.S. Global Gold Corporation (GGC) that he solicited a $3 million bribe in return for granting GGC the right to mine uranium on a tract of land that company had purchased in northeastern Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Earlier this month, a six-month probe conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office implicated Ayvazian in illegal logging, poaching, and mining (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 2006). LF

Azerbaijan's Appeals Court began reviewing on August 30 an appeal by three members of the opposition youth group Yeni Fikir (New Idea) against the sentences handed down to them last month by the Court for Serious Crimes, the online daily reported on August 31. Yeni Fikir Chairman Ruslan Basirli was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on charges of colluding with Armenian intelligence to stage a coup d'etat and overthrow the Azerbaijani government ( see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 15, 2005, and "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). Those charges were based on video footage which Basirli's lawyers told the court on August 30 was edited in 24 places. Basirli demanded that the Appeals Court summon as witnesses persons whom the prosecution alleged he consulted with about the planned coup, including former U.S. national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. LF

Kazakh police have arrested a woman who has been sought since 1995 in connection with the embezzlement of $10 million from Germany's Deutsche Bank, Interfax-Kazakhstan and "Kazakhstan Today" reported on August 30. The suspect, whom the reports did not identify, allegedly obtained a guarantee from Kazakhstan's National Bank to obtain the funds for a company called Kazakhstan and then absconded with the money, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

Taalaibek Tatkulov, deputy head of Kyrgyzstan's Social Fund, which is responsible for coordinating tax payments that fund social services, told a news conference in Bishkek on August 30 that his agency is in talks with U.S.-based NGO Freedom House about the payment of back taxes the fund says it is owed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22 , 2006). The fund has estimated the back taxes owed by Freedom House, which says it is tax-exempt under a 1993 agreement, at $1 million, reported on June 22. Tatkulov said that while his agency insists that Freedom House pay the back taxes, it is willing to give the organization time to do so. DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev told the Russian television channel Vesti-24 on August 30 that the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan will remain until "the situation in Afghanistan is normalized." "Afghanistan is a hotbed of both international terrorism and of drugs," Bakiev said. "It is a real evil. It poses a serious problem, not only to Kyrgyzstan, but to the entire Central Asian region. For this reason, we cooperate [and decided] to host the [U.S.] military base. It has precisely this kind of purpose, a local one: [stabilizing] the situation in Afghanistan." DK

Paulo Neuhaus, deputy director of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Middle East and Central Asia department, met with Kyrgyz President Bakiev in Bishkek on August 30, Kabar reported. Bakiev assessed Kyrgyzstan's relationship with the IMF as positive, and Neuhaus noted that the Kyrgyz economy is developing in the right direction. Meanwhile, Economics and Finance Minister Akylbek Japarov told a news conference on August 30 that talks on Kyrgyzstan's possible participation in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, a debt-reduction program sponsored by the IMF and World Bank, will begin in October, news agency reported. The possibility of Kyrgyzstan's participation in HIPC has sparked a national debate, with some arguing against what they have termed intrusive conditions. Kyrgyzstan's sovereign debt currently stands at over $2 billion, reported. DK

Tajik police recently seized nearly 900 kilograms of narcotics in two drug busts, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on August 30. In the first, a man in the Hamadoni district of Khatlon Province was stopped with 23 kilograms of raw opium and 5.5 kilograms of heroin in his car. In the second, a mother and son were detained in Khujand after the man was found with 5 kilograms of heroin. Police found an additional 3.5 kilograms of heroin and 850 kilograms of cannabis at their home. DK

Data from the Russian Central Bank suggests that Uzbekistan was the largest recipient of remittances from Russia in the second quarter of 2006, reported on August 30. Uzbekistan and Ukraine each received some $210 million, followed by: Tajikistan ($187 million); Armenia ($129 million); Moldova ($115 million); Kyrgyzstan ($102 million); Azerbaijan ($94 million); Georgia ($81 million); and Kazakhstan ($22 million). DK

South Korea and Uzbekistan have signed a production sharing agreement that gives South Korea's state-run Korea National Oil Corp. (KNOC) a 20-percent stake in an international consortium to develop gas resources on the Aral Sea, Yonhap reported on August 30. Other members are state-owned oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz, Russia's LUKoil Overseas, Malaysia's Petronas, and China National Petroleum Corporation, ITAR-TASS reported. Consortium members will put up $100 million for exploratory drilling over the next three years. Production on the field, which is believed to contain 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, will not start until 2012. DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a government conference on August 30 that careless parents should fully compensate the state for the maintenance of their children, Belapan reported. "If neglectful parents cannot raise healthy descendants, drink heavily, and lead an immoral life, the state must take the children from such families and take care of them," Lukashenka said. "But such parents, if they can be called so, would be held fully responsible. They should fully compensate for the expenses on the maintenance of their children, until the last kopeck is recovered," he added. According to the Belarusian president, if such neglectful parents do not manage to earn the necessary $120 per month for the maintenance of a child, they should be forced to do so and even assigned to forced labor. "Send them [bad parents] to collective farms, to construction sites, to menial work, regardless of their profession and education. Let them work 24 hours per day, seven day per week, 360 days per year," Lukashenka told his ministers. JM

The Union of Belarusian Writers (SPB) was evicted from the House of Writers, its longtime headquarters in downtown Minsk, on August 30, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The Minsk City Economic Court ruled in March that the SPB has occupied premises in the House of Writers illegally since January 2003 (see End Note below and "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25, 2006). The SPB is expected to hold a congress in Minsk in October. SPB Chairman Ales Pashkevich told journalists that measures to recover the headquarters will top the agenda of the congress. "It will be symbolic if Belarusian poets, prose writers, and dramatists adopt an appeal to the Belarusian people and the international public, including their European colleagues and CIS authors, calling for moral and financial support for the union," Pashkevich added. JM

Justice Minister Roman Zvarych told journalists in Kyiv on August 30 that a new coalition agreement may be signed within two weeks after the Verkhovna Rada inaugurates its autumn session on September 5, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "At present, the situation with the coalition government is not quite logical and clear, as representatives of Our Ukraine work in the government, while this political force is not a subject of the coalition agreement," Zvarych said. He predicted that most members of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus will sign the new agreement. The current cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was formed on the basis of a coalition accord concluded in July by the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, and of a declaration of unity signed by these parties, Our Ukraine, and President Viktor Yushchenko on August 3. Our Ukraine, which has several ministers in the cabinet, is not a signatory to the coalition accord. JM

Survivors of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina have reported receiving death threats over the telephone from numbers in Republika Srpska, B92 reported in August 30, citing the daily "Oslobodjenje." The threats came after "Oslobodjenje" published a list of 810 police officials suspected of participating in -- or aiding and abetting -- the killings. Munira Subasic and Kada Hotic, the president and vice president of the Mothers of Srebrenica advocacy group respectively, said that they received such threats from the Republic of Srpska shortly after the 1992-95 war ended, but that the threats stopped until the list was published. "However, we are getting the angriest calls from hidden numbers," Subasic said. "Oslobodjenje" also quoted one unidentified Srebrenica survivor as saying that a caller told her she would be murdered with pleasure, in the same way her sons were killed. BW

A witness to a grenade attack in a Serbian section of the divided town of Mitrovica said a middle-aged man was the perpetrator, B92 and Beta reported on August 30, citing the Prishtina-based daily "Koha ditore." Police arrested a 16-year-old boy in the August 26 attack on a cafe that injured nine people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2006). "If we can believe the words of a Serbian witness, the arrested 16-year-old...was not the person who threw the bomb into the cafe," "Koha ditore" reported. The daily added that a 14-year-old Serbian witness "said that the bomb was thrown by an individual who was about 40 years old." Meanwhile, the parents of the detained 16-year-old have said he had nothing to do with the bombing and ran from the scene because the explosion frightened him, B92 reported. BW

Martti Ahtisaari's spokeswoman has said that his comments about Serbia's responsibility for the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic were taken out of context, B92 reported on August 30. Ahtisaari, the UN envoy to Kosova's final-status talks, sparked fierce criticism from Serbia when he said the legacy of the Milosevic era is relevant in determining Kosova's future status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 29, and 30, 2006). "The remarks in question were [misrepresented] and taken out of context," Hua Jiang said. "The special envoy never referred to 'the collective guilt' of the Serbia nation. He noted, in response to a remark by a member of the Serbian delegation on August 8 that every nation had its own burden to bear and had to live and deal with its past," she added. BW

Vuk Draskovic has called for the international community to conduct an expert analysis of who bears historical responsibility for the situation in Kosova, B92 reported on August 30, citing the daily "Vecernje novosti." Draskovic said such an investigation, if it started from the beginning of Serbian-Albanian relations in the region, would show that Serbia bears less guilt than is commonly assumed. "What [UN envoy] Ahtisaari said in Pristina has made it necessary for Serbia to ask the UN secretary-general, Contact Group, and international community to call for an investigation of the heritage of Kosovo...from the beginning, without skipping over history and not having history proclaimed as only the period that Slobodan Milosevic was in power," Draskovic said. He added that while there is no doubt that Serbia bears some blame, it has already been punished through bombing and international sanctions. BW

Vladimir Voronin has said that Moldova will never become part of Romania, Focus reported on August 30, citing an interview the Moldovan president gave to BBC television. "Neither Moldova nor any particular part of the country will join Romania either now or after Romania's accession to the EU," he said. Voronin added that the breakaway region of Transdniester has no reason to secede from Moldova because its residents have the same nationality and religion as the rest of the country. BW

The Union of Belarusian Writers (SPB) was evicted from its headquarters in Minsk on August 30 because of a dispute with the presidential administration over unpaid rent. The eviction is widely seen as a premeditated measure by Belarusian authorities to limit and marginalize the public significance of an organization still perceived as a rare model of intellectual independence in a country controlled by an authoritarian regime.

The SPB was first ordered to vacate its headquarters at the House of Writers last week, but was given a brief respite when the presidential administration postponed the eviction until August 30.

Until nine years ago, the House of Writers, a three-story building in downtown Minsk, belonged entirely to the SPB, which was founded in 1934. But in 1997, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree handing control of the property to his administration's property-management department. From that point on, building space began to be rented out to various organizations and commercial firms.

The property managers made clear they also expected the SPB to begin paying rent. The union refused, saying its writers' royalties had contributed to constructing the building in the first place.

So when the union's lease agreement on the House of Writers expired in January 2003, the presidential administration declined to renew it. Union members, however, refused to leave.

Thus began a court dispute that ended earlier this year with a court ordering the SPB to vacate the premises and pay the president's office more than $20,000 in compensation for lingering past the expiration of its lease.

Belarusian writer and SPB member Volha Ipatava initially proposed that the union make a public appeal to raise the required sum. "When they who owe us many millions for our house demand $23,000 from us, I think that we need to collect this sum," Ipatava said. "And we will collect it. We should remain in the House of Writers, because it's a really sacred place for us -- in contrast to them. They're going to make some kind of entertainment structure out of it."

Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich also suggested that the SPB should try to raise money in order to keep its office. "There are two options. First, to fight to the end for one's own honor and the truth -- because it is unjust to pay this money -- and to find oneself on the street," Milinkevich said. "To do so would mean to lose this remarkable house. The second option is to begin paying, even if the verdict is unjust. In this case, we would preserve the most spiritual thing that we have. I am in favor of the second option. The world is not without good people, both in Belarus and abroad, and we all are able to stand together and to show that it is not so easy to break us."

In the end, however, a special council of SPB members gathered at the House of Writers for the last time on August 30. They decided to forego any further negotiations on their eviction, and to vacate their historic headquarters. The decision was a disappointing milestone in the union's struggle with Lukashenka, which began shortly after his presidential inauguration in 1994.

Belarusian writers welcomed en masse official plans to revive the Belarusian language after the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991. SPB members wrote mostly in Belarusian, and were delighted at the thought of a language revival.

Three years later, they were no doubt shocked to hear their first president declare that such efforts were of no value. It's a statement that's become notorious among supporters of the Belarusian language: "The people who speak the Belarusian language cannot do anything else apart from speaking the Belarusian language, because it is impossible to express anything great in Belarusian," Lukashenka declared in December 1994. "Belarusian is a poor language," he added, before delivering his final verdict. "There are only two great languages in the world -- Russian and English."

A referendum in 1995 gave Russian official status in Belarus, along with Belarusian. In practice, the decision meant that Belarusian was once again relegated to secondary status, deprived of any real opportunity to achieve widespread public use. At the same time, the government began to gradually limit its subsidies to publishing houses and authors producing texts in Belarusian.

In 2001, the government ceased to finance the SPB altogether. State-controlled media began to portray the writers union as a nationalistic organization hostile to the president's policies.

In 2002, the government attempted to take control of the SPB. A group of writers, at the apparent behest of the government, tried to replace the SPB leadership with a more compliant group that could provide a sort of intellectual support for the ruling regime.

But the SPB that year managed to elect one of its own to serve as its chairman, 30-year-old novelist Ales Pashkevich. Pashkevich refused to bow to the will of the authorities -- an uncompromising stance that apparently recently cost him his job at Belarusian State University.

In 2005, the government tried a new tactic, creating an alternative group to the SPB, the almost identically named Union of Writers of Belarus. Its chairman, Mikalay Charhinets, is both a lawmaker and a Russian-language novelist. He has done little to conceal that his organization is ideologically driven and in full support of Lukashenka's program of re-Sovietization and re-Russification. "I was brought up in a Russian-speaking environment," Charhinets has admitted in interviews. "I have never considered myself Belarusian."

The eviction of the SPB from its headquarters appears to be the latest in a series of official measures to quash political dissent among the intellectual elite in Belarus. Many people in Minsk told RFE/RL's Belarus Service they were appalled by the forced eviction:

"I have no words for that. It's an absurdity. Most likely there is no other country in the world where such things happen," said one Belarusian woman. "Writers everywhere are highly esteemed and respected. Here, meanwhile, we watch as our pride is trampled down in the dirt."

Another interlocutor was no less categorical. "Seizing the building by the presidential administration is an act of dictatorial violence," she said. "It is a step into nothingness."

Such opinions are unlikely to carry much weight with the current Belarusian authorities, however. There is little that Belarusians can do to support their uncompromising writers, other than to continue buying and reading their books.

Reluctance to publish in Belarusian has led to a significant drop-off in the number of Belarusian-language publications. But the situation is not yet hopeless. Private publishing companies have filled the gap, printing four-fifths of the 500 Belarusian-language books printed in Belarus in the first half of 2006.

Afghan Defense Ministry officials have announced the arrest of a Taliban commander in the Garmser district of Helmand Province, the official National Afghan Television reported on August 29. Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi identified the commander as Mullah Abdul Rahim, who was reportedly arrested along with five of his fighters. AT

Pakistani authorities have discovered two headless corpses believed to be Afghan refugees in separate locations near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan Federally Administered Tribal Agency (FATA), AFP reported on August 30. Notes accompanying the bodies in Pashto reportedly claimed: "This is the fate of those who are for the government of [Afghan President] Hamid Karzai." AT

Demonstrations in Afghanistan's Farah Province against a perceived lack of security, an increase in kidnappings, and overall administrative corruption entered their third day, Kabul-base Tolu Television reported on August 30. The protesters have called for the replacement of provincial security officials who they claim are allowing abductions in broad daylight. An unidentified protester told Tolu that there is "no government in Farah" and added that "provincial officials" have a "hand in kidnappings." Farah's security chief said the security situation has worsened all over Afghanistan and complained that his department is not receiving sufficient public support. AT

Prime Minister Romano Prodi stressed in Telese Terme on August 29 that his country cannot abandon Afghanistan, AGI reported. Speaking about the Italian contingent within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Prodi said, "We have taken pledges and there are not the conditions to diminish or [increase] them." Italian Justice Minister Clemente Mastella suggested on August 28 that Rome should reduce the strength of its forces deployed with ISAF in order to deploy forces to Lebanon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2006). AT

Anonymous officials in Washington and European capitals said on August 29 that Iran is enriching a new batch of uranium, "The Washington Post" reported on August 30. The International Atomic Energy Agency will report on this on August 31, the day by which UN Security Council Resolution 1696 demands that "Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities" or face "the possibility of economic and diplomatic sanctions." Enrichment of the new batch involves very small amounts of uranium, however, and the low level of enrichment precludes weaponization, the daily said. Iran may be unable to enrich larger batches of uranium due to technical difficulties. The cascades of centrifuges that are used in enrichment break down easily, AFP reported on August 30. BS

Iran has said that although it will not comply with international requests to cease uranium enrichment by August 31, it is open to serious talks regarding its nuclear program (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 28, 2006). An anonymous "informed Iranian official" told ISNA on August 30 that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani will meet with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana next week. It was Solana who in June traveled to Tehran to present the Iranian government with an international package of incentives meant to resolve the nuclear crisis. The French daily "Le Figaro" reported on August 30 that Solana has proposed meeting with Larijani before the end of the week. The newspaper reported that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Said Jalali was in Helsinki on August 29 to discuss the nuclear issue with Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja. Finland currently holds the EU rotating presidency. BS

John Bolton reminded reporters on August 30 of the approaching deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear activities, RFE/RL reported. "We've said repeatedly that we expect that no later than August 31, pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1696, that the Iranians will suspend all uranium enrichment-related activity," he said. Bolton added that the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, will seek the imposition of sanctions if Tehran does not meet the deadline. Earlier in the week, Bolton suggested that the U.S. would impose sanctions unilaterally if other countries do not do so. BS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during a August 30 meeting in Tehran with Felipe Gonzales, the former prime minister of Spain, that some Western countries are discriminating against Iran's possession of a nuclear program, state television reported. Ahmadinejad went on to dismiss the possible imposition of sanctions, saying, "Sanctions cannot dissuade the Iranian nation from its decision to pursue the heights of honor and progress; therefore, it is better for the European countries to be independent in their decisions and to settle issues through negotiations." BS

An Iranian prison organization confirmed on August 30 that intellectual Ramin Jahanbegloo has been released, Radio Farda reported. He was arrested in late April on espionage charges and was later accused of trying to bring about a nonviolent, Velvet-type revolution in Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5 and 6, and July 3, 2006). Iranian human rights activist Abdul Karim Lahiji told Radio Farda that the regime's new strategy focuses on discouraging young people's pursuit of their civil rights. The arrest of Jahanbegloo, as well as of Mansur Osanlu of the bus drivers' syndicate and attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, should be seen in this context, he said. Lahiji said the security forces do not recognize any limits when they build cases against the Iranian people. BS

Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir Muhammad al-Ubaydi has reportedly rejected the terms of a truce reached between members of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army and officials in the Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on August 30. A truce was agreed on August 28 after several days of fighting in the capital city of Al-Diwaniyah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2006). Al-Ubaydi told a meeting of governorate officials, tribal leaders, and members of the military that the army will not give in to terms imposed by armed men. He pledged to use an iron fist against militiamen operating in the governorate, adding that a security plan will soon be announced. Al-Sharqiyah television reported that the terms of the truce included a provision that only police forces will be allowed in the city, but Iraqi and coalition military forces will be banned from entering Al-Diwaniyah for a specified period of time. KR

U.S. General George Casey, who is the commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, told reporters at an August 30 press briefing in Baghdad that the Iraqi government has a plan to deal with armed groups. Referring to the reports of a truce in Al-Diwaniyah, Casey said: "There was no compromise on the part of the Iraqi division commander. He didn't engage in any negotiations" with militiamen. "The battle may be over, but the campaign to clean that city up and to restore it to Iraqi government control isn't finished," Casey added. Saying Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is "quite serious" about disarming militias, Casey noted, "There's a political and a military track that are working in parallel here, and it's fairly sophisticated and delicate, but both those tracks have to be pursued if we're going to stand the militias down in an appropriate fashion." KR

Lakhdar Brahimi, former special adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Iraq, told "Jiji Press" in an August 30 interview that he is worried about the future of Iraq, the news agency reported on August 31. Brahimi claimed that the 2003 war was illegal. "Even before it took place, everybody knew that this war was considered wrong, unnecessary, and unjust by 95 percent [of the] population of the world," he said. Brahimi further contended that Iraq has already entered a civil war. "It is very unfortunate that Americans and [the] Iraqi leadership try to close their eyes to this reality," the news agency quoted him as saying. KR

The Kurdish weekly "Hawlati" on August 30 reported that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) political bureau has not followed through with a promise to fight corruption some 80 days after establishing an accountability bureau. Iraqi President and PUK head Jalal Talabani announced the formation of the bureau on June 12, saying the PUK will investigate claims of graft against its members and hold officials responsible for their actions. He also promised to implement reforms in the administration, financial, and media sectors of the PUK. The weekly quoted an "informed source" as saying that the bureau "does not exist and will not be established in the future" because of internal conflicts within the PUK. "Hawlati" reported that it found no evidence of a bureau office, and knew of no investigations into alleged corruption. KR

A former Australian weapons inspector has told the "Sydney Morning Herald" that his government ignored repeated warnings that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, the daily reported on August 31. John Gee was a member of the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group from 2003 until his resignation in March 2004. Gee said he briefed the Foreign and Defense ministries and Prime Minister John Howard's office of his conclusion that there were no WMD in Iraq and that the Iraq Survey Group was "run by the CIA to protect the CIA." Gee claimed the hunt for WMD was "fundamentally flawed," and told officials in his resignation letter that the Iraq Survey Group "has found no evidence so far on ongoing WMD programs of the type I had assumed would be there." He contended that the government, including Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, took steps to cover up his revelations. KR