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Newsline - September 1, 2006

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said on September 1 that Russia "regrets" Iran's failure to halt uranium enrichment by the August 31 deadline set by UN Security Council Resolution 1696, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 25, 2006). He added that "our position is that vigorous consultations will be held within the six-nation format [Russia, the United States, China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom] and in the UN Security Council within the next few days to decide what further steps could be taken regarding the Iranian nuclear program." Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated on September 1 his view that sanctions do not achieve anything positive in international relations, Reuters reported. Russia, along with China, opposes sanctions on Iran, with which it has extensive business and military ties. Some Russian commentators have warned, however, that Iran could pose a clear danger to Russian interests if it acquires nuclear weapons. PM

A two-day conference entitled "Russia and the Islamic World" opened in Kazan on August 31 with calls for a "multipolar world" and "partnership," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Delegates from 15 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and from Russia, which has observer status in that body, attended the conference, Interfax reported. About 20 million of Russia's 142 million people are of Islamic heritage. Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiyev told the conference that "the world has divided into Christians, Jews, and Muslims. There is a gap that may become an abyss. The world can be united only by new values, and they cannot be purely liberal. But neither can [these values] be traditionally Islamic." In a reference to Iraq, he added that "values cannot be imposed by force." For his part, Council of Muftis of Russia Chairman Ravil Gainutdin argued that "for the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the whole world, it is a priority to seek a way toward a multipolar world, a way of unity in the international community through the mutual enrichment of religious and ethnic cultures." PM

Delegates attending the Kazan conference passed a declaration on August 31 that called for, among other things, "partnership between various cultures and religions, each being a unique contribution to world history," Interfax reported. The declaration also warned against "Islamophobia," which will "help nobody." The text also called for "swift and peaceful settlement of conflicts, which will help...defeat terrorism." The participants agreed that "educational institutions must include the history of religions in their programs" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2006). Also at the conference, Russian Middle East expert and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told delegates that "nobody is trying to justify those who carry out terrorist acts against civilians [in Israel]. But can one turn a blind eye to the terrorism of the other side when whole districts in Lebanese towns are cruelly destroyed by Israeli bombardments?" He also noted that "the Middle East conflict has never had a religious nature. Whether somebody wants to admit it or not, this is a confrontation not between two religions, but between two [forms of] nationalism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31 and August 17, 2006). PM

An unnamed source close to Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, was quoted by the daily "Vedomosti" on August 31as saying that Yemen might buy a further 32 MiG-29SMT fighters in addition to the 20 it already purchased between 2001 and 2005. Neither Rosoboroneksport nor MiG agreed to comment on the report. A spokeswoman for MiG said nonetheless that a contract to upgrade 66 MiG-29s belonging to the Indian air force might be signed in the first quarter of 2007. PM

Russia has acquired 4.8 percent of the stock in the European aircraft maker EADS, which controls Airbus, which is widely touted by many in the EU as that group's "champion" against the U.S. giant Boeing, dpa reported on August 31, citing Russian and French media. An EADS spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny the media reports. But if they are correct, then Russia now owns as much of EADS as does the Spanish government, which was one of its co-founders along with Germany and France. In 2005 in Toulouse at the ceremonial unveiling of the giant Airbus A380, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suggested that Russia join in the project, adding that "there's still room in the boat." Dpa noted that "someone took the chancellor seriously. Less than two years later, Schroeder's good friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is following through on the idea and appears to be coming aboard." In response to the breaking of the story in the French media about Russia's role in EADS, stock in the company began to recover some of the value it lost over the summer as a result of production delays and management corruption scandals. An unnamed source within EADS told dpa that fears that Russia's role within the firm would hurt its military dealings with the United States are unfounded. PM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin said on August 31 that 39 Japanese vessels that entered Russian waters on August 27 did so within the terms of a 1981 agreement on harvesting seaweed, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2006). On August 28, Russia filed a formal protest with Japan against what it called the "challenging provocation" by the 39 boats. Kamynin said on August 31 that "emotions played a role" in Russia's decision to file the protest. He was alluding to an incident on August 16 in which one Japanese fisherman was killed and three taken into custody by the Russian border guards. Two of the three have since been released, but their captain is still being held on Yuzhno-Kurilsk to face trial for poaching in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 22, 27, 29, and 30, 2006). Russia maintains that its coast guard acted in keeping with the law. Local Japanese on nearby Hokkaido are accustomed to fishing in the disputed waters, particularly at this time of year, which is the peak of crab season. It is not clear why Russia decided to make an example of the one ship at this particular time. The Russian coast guard and border troops are subordinated to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. PM

On August 30, the daily "Izvestia," which is owned by Gazprom, commented on the recent visit to Georgia by U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona), saying that he deserves to be known as "the No. 1 Russophobe of the United States" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21 and August 28, 2006, and "U.S. Senators Wrap Up Georgia Visit,", August 29, 2006). The daily noted that McCain referred to Georgia as a "friend of the United States" and future member of NATO. When he reportedly saw a sign in South Ossetia proclaiming that President "Putin [is] our president," McCain is said to have responded that Putin will never be a president on Georgian territory. McCain is frequently mentioned as a possible contender for his party's 2008 presidential nomination and has previously spoken out against growing authoritarian tendencies in Russia. PM

Mikhail Margelov, who chairs the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, has criticized U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for engaging in "groundless Russophobia," the daily "Kommersant" reported on August 31. Lugar recently accused Russia of using its energy resources for political purposes and aligning itself with regimes "adversarial" to the United States, such as Iran and Venezuela. Lugar also called for a new U.S. energy policy that will protect the United States from the "geopolitical threats of energy-rich regimes." He further pointed out that "we maintain a massive military presence overseas, partly to preserve our oil lifeline." "Kommersant" noted disapprovingly that both Lugar's and especially McCain's remarks indicate that "Washington is openly saying that the southern part of the Caucasus is in the sphere of its vital interests." Margelov recently called for a "gas alliance" between Russia and Iran to fix the price of natural gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2006). In Moscow on August 31, Gleb Pavlovsky, an adviser to Putin's chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin and the head of the Effective Policy Foundation, said that Lugar's remarks reflect "inevitable paranoia...and serious failures in U.S. foreign policy," Interfax reported. Pavlovsky nonetheless explained that Lugar's remarks were the product of a recent trip to the Baltic states, "where he underwent extensive anti-Russian treatment." Later on August 31, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin said that "Lugar's statement that Russia, alongside Iran and Venezuela, ranks among the United States' adversaries for allegedly using its energy supplies as a means of pressuring its neighbors, came as a surprise for us," Interfax reported. Kamynin added that Lugar's statement "deserves to be regretted." 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 at a meeting organized by the state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that "those who don't talk listen, and those who listen obey," Russian media reported on August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24 and 26, and August 31, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 7, 2006). He added that "in the Russian tradition, and in our ideological matrix, sovereignty is largely associated with our allies -- the army and navy -- and consequently the term has this military-police connotation," "Vedomosti" noted. One commentator in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" pointed out that "sovereign democracy" will play a central role in the rhetoric of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's campaign for the 2007 legislative elections. Some other commentators recalled that in July, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the weekly "Ekspert" that any time one attaches a qualifier to the word democracy, it gives the impression that what is meant is something less than full-fledged democracy. Medvedev noted that this is precisely the impression that has been generated abroad by the use of the term sovereign democracy in Russia. Medvedev believes that sovereignty is important and goes together with democracy, but not as an adjective that appears to limit it. PM

Robert Grigorian, the defense counsel for Arman Babadjanian, editor of the independent newspaper "Zhamanak Yerevan," questioned on August 31 the validity of the prosecution's case, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Babadjanian faces charges of evading compulsory military service in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and 28, and July 3 and 7, 2006). The prosecution case is based on testimony by a certain A. Khachatrian, identified as a neighbor of Babadjanian, but Grigorian told RFE/RL that Babadjanian never had a neighbor of that name and that he doubts any such person exists. The prosecutor rejected Grigorian's objections. LF

The Orinats Yerkir party, which quit the three-party coalition government in late May, has issued a statement criticizing the Armenian authorities' disinclination to intervene to prevent the ongoing rise in value of the Armenian dram vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, Noyan Tapan reported on September 1. Since December 2003 the value of the dram in dollar terms has risen by 40 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 6 and 12, June 16, and August 9, 10, and 15, 2006). Armenian Central Bank personnel attribute that rise to the increase in remittances sent home by Armenians working abroad; Orinats Yerkir branded the exchange rate increase "artificial," and suggested that it has been orchestrated by an unnamed group within the Armenian leadership that has profited financially from the rise in value of the dram. LF

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told journalists in Baku on August 31 that his next meeting with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian to resume discussions of approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict could take place either in Paris on September 12-13 or in London on September 14-15, reported. Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry press service head Tahir Tagizade said the same day that "at the present stage of negotiations" any attempt to coerce Baku into direct talks with representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is doomed to failure, reported. On August 30, Armenian President Robert Kocharian's spokesman Viktor Soghomonian told journalists in Yerevan he does not exclude the possibility that Kocharian might meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev before the end of this year to discuss the peace process, Noyan Tapan reported. But Azerbaijani opposition politician Eldar Namazov said in an interview carried on September 1 by the online daily that he doubts any progress toward resolving the conflict is possible until after the expiry of Kocharian's second presidential term in 2008. Namazov suggested that the Kocharian leadership seeks at all costs to avoid a "phased" solution to the conflict, but no other variant exists. LF

Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," claimed in an August 31 interview with that unnamed factions within the Azerbaijani government are seeking to co-opt the media in their battle for power and influence. Arifoglu said unnamed people approached both himself and his deputy editor and offered $500 for every article his paper would publish denigrating Interior Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov. Usubov is under pressure as a result of the ongoing trial of former ministry staffer Haci Mammadov, who headed a gang that over a period of 10 years committed a series of high-profile murders and kidnappings. On September 1, Usubov's first deputy, Vilayat Eyvazov, told that Usubov has embarked on a 12-day vacation. Eyvazov denied that Usubov will be fired upon his return. LF

Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev dismissed on August 31 the reservations expressed three days earlier in Slovenia by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner over the steep increase in military expenditure in the South Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2006). "If some European Union commissioner is worried by Azerbaijan's defense expenditure, then that's his problem," Abiyev was quoted as saying. Abiyev also told journalists on August 31 that Azerbaijan and Turkey will "very soon" hold joint maneuvers, reported on September 1. He said that one brigade of Azerbaijan's armed forces already corresponds to NATO standards, and he rejected as without foundation rumors that a group of pro-Russia senior military officers are against Azerbaijan joining NATO. LF

Sergei Bagapsh, who is president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, said on August 31 that the Abkhaz authorities will not accede to Georgian demands to be permitted to inspect the former Russian military base at Gudauta, Caucasus Press reported. Russia pledged to close that base by July 2001 and claims it has done so, but Georgian authorities dispute this, and on August 28 the Georgian newspaper "Kviris palitra" published purported photos of Gudauta showing Russian military helicopters on the runway there. Lieutenant General Valery Yevnevich, who is Russian ground forces second-in-command for peacekeeping operations, was quoted by "Voenno-promyshlenny kurer" No. 32 for August 23-29 as saying, "there is nothing at Gudauta but grazing cows." Speaking in Moscow on September 1, Bagapsh said Abkhazia will resume talks with Georgia only within the framework of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council, reported quoting ITAR-TASS. Visiting Sukhum earlier this week, Jean Arnault, who is the special representative of the UN secretary-general for the Abkhaz conflict, suggested a meeting between Abkhaz officials and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba was quoted as telling the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" on August 31. Bagapsh said mutual trust between Georgia and Abkhazia "has been reduced to zero," but he nonetheless reaffirmed Abkhazia's readiness to sign a formal pledge on the nonresumption of hostilities. LF

A court in Kazakhstan on August 31 sentenced Rustam Ibragimov to death for the murders of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev, his driver, and a bodyguard in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). Erzhan Utembaev, who was charged with paying for the killing, received a 20-year prison term. Eight other defendants received prison terms ranging from three to 20 years, with most getting over 10 years. Both Ibragimov and Utembaev initially confessed, but they subsequently recanted those confessions and denied involvement in the murders. The death sentence is symbolic, as Kazakhstan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in December 2003. DK

Kazakhstan has extradited Nazirjon Khudoinazarov, a Kyrgyz citizen, to Uzbekistan, where he faces charges in connection with attacks that took place in Uzbekistan in October 2004, reported on August 31. A spokeswoman for Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB), Botagoz Ibraeva, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that Khudoinazarov is suspected of ties to radical Islamic groups. She said Uzbek law enforcement agencies want Khudoinazarov for "18 serious crimes" and believe he "is involved in terrorism and anticonstitutional activities." Khudoinazarov was detained in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on July 11. In the Uzbek capital, an Interior Ministry official, Ikrom Niyazov, said that Khudoinazarov is wanted for his suspected role in a series of terror attacks that took place in Tashkent and the Tashkent region in October 2004. He gave no further details. Interfax-Kazakhstan reported that Khudoinazarov is the fifth suspected criminal to be deported from Kazakhstan to another CIS country this year. DK

In an address in Bishkek on August 31 to mark Kyrgyzstan's 15th anniversary of independence, President Kurmanbek Bakiev stated that the country's post-Soviet experience has shown the need to "build a real democratic society founded on a democratic constitution and a strong national economy," Kabar reported. He expressed confidence that Kyrgyzstan will become "a country of political stability and civil accord." DK

A joint session of Tajikistan's parliament voted on August 31 to hold the presidential election on November 6, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. November 6 is the day on which current President Imomali Rakhmonov's term in office expires. He is expected to seek another term. A second round would be required if no candidate wins a majority. DK

Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on August 31 for talks focused on energy cooperation, official Turkmen news agency TDH reported. The report noted that Toqaev and Niyazov agreed to cooperate on a bilateral and multilateral level to implement a planned natural-gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan and China. Addressing the pipeline agreement between China and Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006), Toqaev said that "Kazakhstan plays an important transit role," NewsCentralAsia reported. The pipeline, slated for completion in 2009, is still in the planning stages, and neither China nor Turkmenistan has stated what route it will take. Toqaev also met with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and they signed a protocol to mark the implementation of agreements to delimit and demarcate their two countries' mutual border. DK

A group of 55 Uzbek refugees from Andijon is preparing to return to Uzbekistan from the United States, reported on August 31. The report said the group includes Yodgora Yoldosheva, the wife of Akrom Yoldoshev. Uzbek authorities charge that Yoldoshev, who is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence in Uzbekistan, provided the ideological inspiration for the religious extremists they say were behind May 2005 violence in Andijon. A refugee contacted by said that homesickness was their main reason for wanting to return home. Another said that he believes the Uzbek authorities' guarantees that the returnees will not face prosecution or persecution in Uzbekistan. Two other groups of Uzbek refugees, consisting of 12 and 41 people, have already returned from the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18 and August 24 and 28, 2006). As in those cases, the latest return is being organized by the Uzbek Embassy in the United States. DK

Police seized Ales Chyhir in Babruysk, Mahilyou Oblast, on August 31, shortly after he chained himself to a lamppost near the building that houses the Babruysk City Council, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Chyhir, a local councilor and history teacher, was protesting his dismissal from a teaching job at a local school. He headed opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich's team in the region during the presidential election campaign earlier this year and believes that he was fired for political reasons. Simultaneously with Chyhir, police detained 10 reporters who were at the scene of the protest. The reporters were released after spending several hours at a police station. JM

Belarusian schools began a new school year on September 1, Belarusian media reported. More than 92,000 first graders began their education in the 12-year general-education system. According to official data released last month, 20.5 percent of schoolchildren will be instructed in Belarusian, 66.7 percent in Russian, and 12.7 percent in both languages. In the capital city of Minsk, just four out of 234 general-education schools instruct children in Belarusian. JM

Some 5 million Ukrainian children embarked on a new school year on September 1, Channel 5 reported. Their number includes nearly 380,000 first graders, a decrease of 140,000 compared to last year. JM

The Serbian government has announced that it will formally ask Secretary-General Kofi Annan to clarify the UN's position on recent comments made by Martti Ahtisaari, B92 reported on August 31. 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 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 29, and 30, 2006). "To say that Serbs are guilty as a nation, that any nation is guilty as such, is one of the basic assumptions of fascism and it cannot be overlooked," Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, the head of Serbia's Council for Kosovo, said. Raskovic-Ivic added that Annan, "renowned for fighting racism and discrimination," would not support the comments. Ahtisaari's spokeswoman, Hua Jiang, who has already said the UN envoy's comments were taken out of context (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2006), told B92 that he will not apologize. "There is no reason for Ahtisaari to offer an apology and that is not going to happen." Hua said. BW

Serbian negotiators have told officials from UN envoy Ahtisaari's office that they are not satisfied with a new decentralization plan for the province, Beta and B92 reported on August 31. Belgrade is concerned that under the proposal, Serbian municipalities in Kosova will not have sufficient jurisdiction over education, social welfare or culture. Ahtisaari's office presented a new decentralization proposal to Belgrade on August 30 ahead of the next round of final-status talks scheduled for September 7 in Vienna. Meanwhile, diplomats from the Contact Group of Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and the United States met in Vienna on August 31 to find a way to jump-start the stalled talks on Kosova's future status, UPI reported the same day. BW

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik warned on August 31 that Kosova's independence could lead to potential unrest in the Bosnian Serb republic, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. "We...believe that Kosovo should remain a part of Serbia. A solution leading to Kosovo's independence could lead to strong movements expressing dissatisfaction in [Republika Srpska]," Dodik said. He was speaking at a meeting in Belgrade with Serbian President Boris Tadic in which the two discussed Kosova, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, and economic issues. At the meeting, Tadic and Dodik agreed that Serbia should increase its investments in Republika Srpska, especially in the energy sector. BW

Montenegro abolished compulsory service in the armed forces on August 30, Makfax and B92 reported the next day. "No one will serve in the Montenegrin army, except as an employee," Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said late on August 30 after meeting with army Chief of Staff Jovan Lakichevic. All draftees currently serving in the Montenegrin army will be relieved of duty during the month of September. Lakichevic said. He added that the planned professional army will initially have 2,500 people. Among these will be 340 officers, 900 noncommissioned officers, 900 paid volunteer soldiers, and 260 civilian employees. In the future, the army will seek to recruit an additional 800 volunteers, Lakichevic said. BW

Montenegro formally applied for membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program on August 31, Makfax reported the same day. The application came in a letter from Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic to NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer. In the letter, Montenegro said it considers NATO's role in securing peace and stability to be important and that Podgorica shares the values promoted by the Partnership for Peace program. BW

President Mikheil Saakashvili's August 26 decision to bring forward the date of elections for local and municipal councils and mayors of major towns and cities has triggered a storm of protest from Georgian opposition parties, including those that earlier announced their intention to boycott that ballot. And the apparent willingness of the ruling National Movement to "bend the rules" to permit parliament deputies to participate in mayoral elections has only made things worse.

On August 7, presidential-administration head Giorgi Arveladze said the local elections would be held in early December, Caucasus Press reported. But on August 28 -- a public holiday in Georgia -- it was announced that President Saakashvili signed a decree two days earlier scheduling the elections for October 5. Those opposition parties that had not yet done so were constrained to scramble to submit applications to register for the ballot before the formal deadline for doing so expired at 6 p.m. local time on August 28.

Earlier this summer, the major opposition parties -- the Republican party headed by Davit Usupashvili, the New Conservatives (aka New Rightists) headed by Davit Gamkrelidze, the Conservatives (co-chaired by Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri), the Industrialists (Zurab Tkemaladze), the Labor party (Chairman Shota Natelashvili), Tavisupleba (Liberty, chaired by Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, son of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia), and the People's Forum (headed by Akaki Asatiani) -- mulled a collective boycott of the ballot, but were advised against it on the grounds that the minimum voter participation for the ballot to be valid is so low that a boycott could not affect the outcome, according to "The Messenger" on July 17.

Following further consultations on August 5, the Republicans, Conservatives, and Industrialists decided to field candidates in the ballot, while the remaining four parties held fast to the idea of a boycott, Caucasus Press reported. Labor's Natelashvili was nonetheless quoted on August 7 as saying he might reconsider that decision. On August 22, Republican party parliament deputy Davit Berdzenishvili was quoted by the daily "Rezonansi" as saying that the Republicans, Conservatives, and Industrialists would resume talks at the end of the month on forming an election bloc, and hoped they could persuade the Labor party to align with them, Civil Georgia reported. On August 31, Natelashvili announced that Labor will indeed participate in the vote, adding that he believes it has "the best chance" of winning, Caucasus Press reported. Labor made a strong showing in the 2002 municipal elections, garnering the largest percentage of the vote (25.5 percent) in Tbilisi.

But Tavisupleba reaffirmed its intention to boycott the election, Caucasus Press reported on August 28. The Greens and the movement We Ourselves issued comparable statements on August 30 saying they will not participate in the ballot, while Samartlianoba (Justice) did likewise on August 31.

Prior to Saakashvili's August 28 announcement, the only opposition formation to have registered for the local elections was Georgia's Path, the movement established by Salome Zourabichvili following her dismissal as foreign minister last fall. On August 28, seven other parties also applied for registration: the Republican party, Industry Will Save Georgia, and the smaller and less influential National Ideology Party, Merab Kostava Society, and Mother Georgia. The two latter parties were refused registration, however, on the grounds that they failed to submit the required 50,000 signatures in their support, according to Caucasus Press on August 31. The Conservatives and Labor were exempt from registration, having fielded candidates independently in previous elections, according to Caucasus Press on August 28.

A total of nine parties finally succeeded in registering, according to Caucasus Press on August 31: Industry Will Save Georgia, the Republican Party, the Conservative Party, the National Ideology Party, Georgia's Way, the New Conservatives, the ruling United National Movement, the National-Democratic Party, and the Labor Party.

Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission sought to address a further problem resulting from the timing of the local election. The election law stipulates that parliament deputies must temporarily relinquish their mandates before registering as mayoral candidates. But the deadline for registration is September 11, while parliament reconvenes after its summer recess only on September 12. That restriction affects Conservative party leader Koba Davitashvili and the Republicans' Berdzenishvili, who sought to run for mayor in Tbilisi and Batumi, respectively. Both men accused the Georgian authorities on August 29 of sabotaging their chances of participating in the election, the pro-government television station Rustavi-2 reported.

Giga Bokeria, a prominent member of the parliament faction of the majority National Movement, suggested on August 28 that Davitashvili and Berdzenishvili should appeal to the parliament's bureau to convene an emergency session at which they could surrender their mandates, Caucasus Press reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Guram Chalagashvili for his part reasoned that the parliament bureau will convene one week before the opening of the fall session and that body strip the two deputies of their mandates, Civil Georgia reported on August 29. But Tina Khidasheli of the Republican party countered on August 29 that Bokeria's suggestion violates not only the law on parliament deputies but also the Georgian Constitution. Parliament deputy Kakha Kukava (Conservative) similarly said it would be "absolutely illegal" for the parliament bureau to do so.

The Tbilisi mayoral election may, moreover, prove an obstacle to the creation of an opposition bloc to challenge the ruling National Movement in voting across the country. Four parties -- the New Conservatives, the Republicans, the Conservatives, and Industry Will Save Georgia -- are currently mulling such an alignment, according to Civil Georgia on August 30.

But as indicated above, Conservative leader Davitashvili hopes to run for Tbilisi mayor, while the New Conservatives are reportedly considering making their participation in a putative opposition bloc contingent on that bloc nominating wealthy businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili as its candidate for that post. New Conservatives leader Gamkrelidze explained to journalists on August 29 that there is little point in participating in the elections unless the bloc has a real chance of success, and that Patarkatsishvili is undoubtedly their best bet. (An opinion poll of 447 people conducted in June by the weekly "Kviris palitra" found that Patarkatsishvili was the most popular prospective candidate, with 27 percent support, followed by Zourabichvili [18 percent], Davitashvili [16 percent] and incumbent Gigi Ugulava and beer magnate Gogi Topadze, founder of Industry Will Save Georgia, both with 14 percent.)

But Tkemaladze was quoted on August 30 as saying the Industrialists plan to nominate Topadze as their candidate for Tbilisi mayor, while Republican party leader Usupashvili told Civil Georgia on August 22 that his party has "never considered" nominating Patarkatsishvili.

In light of those two parties' reservations about Patarkatsishvili's candidacy, the prospective opposition alliance could be confined to the Conservatives and Republicans. Those two parties are now considering the possibility of nominating former Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava as their candidate for mayor of Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported on August 31. Khaindrava, who was dismissed in July following disagreements with hawkish Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, has not yet commented publicly on that possibility. Nor is it clear whether Davitashvili would shelve his own ambitions to back Khaindrava.

Zourabichvili, who plans to run in the Tbilisi mayoral election, stands to gain if the other opposition parties fail to unite behind a single candidate. Speaking on August 29 at a press conference in Tbilisi, she described herself as "the real opposition candidate," according to Civil Georgia. She also branded the authorities' decision to bring the election date forward by two months "a sign of weakness."

A gathering estimated to have numbered in the hundreds in Helmand Province on August 30 condemned the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti by Pakistani forces, Kandahar Television reported. Jamhuri Watan Party leader Bugti was killed in unclear circumstances during an attack by Pakistani security forces on his cave hideout on August 26. The protesters, mostly Baluch, accused Pakistan of oppressing the Baluch people, "who have been fighting for their rights," the report indicated. The gathering also condemned what it described as Pakistan's interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs. Islamabad has called comments made by Afghan and Indian officials regarding Bugti's killing interference into its internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2006). AT

The body of an abducted tribal militia leader has been discovered in Nuristan Province, Kabul-based Ariana Television reported on August 30. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country during the rule of the Taliban -- claimed on August 29 that a man identified as Mohammad Yunos and working for "Americans" who "confessed to spying" was killed on August 28. Mohammad Yunos was abducted by the Taliban on August 20 during an attack in which two pro-government militiamen were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). AT

Mullah Mohammad Osmani, claiming to be a Taliban leader in Helmand Province, claimed that a man from the village of Adam Khan in the Greshk district was decapitated for spying for the United States, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on August 31. The victim reportedly worked for the local police department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2006). AT

A Dutch fighter jet crashed in Ghazni Province on August 31, killing the pilot, international news agencies reported. A statement issued by the Dutch Defense Ministry indicated that the aircraft was flying at a "great height" and that therefore it was unlikely to have been brought down by ground fire. The F-16, attached to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), was on its way to Oruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan. The death brings the number of Dutch troops killed in Afghanistan to three. AT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei delivered his confidential report on August 31 on the Iranian nuclear program to members of the nuclear watchdog's governing board, the IAEA website reported. The report notes that Iran has provided the IAEA with access to nuclear materials and facilities but denied access to its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, according to leaked copies obtained by Reuters and dpa. El-Baradei reportedly says Iran has been insufficiently transparent or cooperative on some subjects -- for example, inspectors were allowed to take notes on a document about uranium metal but Iranian officials then confiscated the notes. The report adds that Iran will begin operating another 164-centrifuge cascade for enriching uranium in September. Cameras are in place to monitor the cascade, but Tehran reportedly has not granted permission for their operation. "Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities; nor has Iran acted in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol," the report adds. August 31 was the deadline set by the UN Security Council for Iran to halt enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31, 2006). BS

Mohammad Saidi, a Supreme National Security Council of Iran official, suggested on August 31 that the latest IAEA report on Iran shows that the country is cooperating fully, IRNA reported. He also said UN Security Council Resolution 1696's demand that the country cease aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle contravene the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). "There is no justification in terms of international law and NPT regulations to stop the fuel cycle when all Iranian nuclear sites are under supervision of the IAEA," Saidi said. BS

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in New York on August 31 that Iran's behavior as described on the public record shows that the country seeks nuclear weapons, RFE/RL reported. "There is simply no explanation for the range of Iranian behavior, which we've seen over the years, other than that they are pursuing a weapons capability," Bolton said. As for the meaning of the IAEA report, Bolton said, "The [IAEA] report makes clear that not only has Iran not suspended uranium enrichment activities as required by [UN Security Council] Resolution 1696, it is accelerating them." Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City, Utah, President George W. Bush also addressed the nuclear issue, reported. "It is time for Iran to make a choice," Bush said. "There must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon." BS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met on August 30 in Tehran with members of the Assembly of Experts, a popularly elected body of clerics tasked with supervising his performance, IRNA reported. Khamenei praised the knowledge and insight of the members, and, noting the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts, urged qualified people to sign up as candidates. Khamenei said it is a "religious obligation" for "learned figures" to enter the contest. The assembly had concluded its semi-annual meeting the previous day; the communique it issued afterward urged Iranians to refrain from acts that would disturb the country's unity, IRNA reported. The communique also emphasized the perceived right to use nuclear technology, and it addressed the recent conflict in Lebanon. "The victory of the Lebanese nation and the champion Hezbollah in their combat against the armed-to-teeth Zionists and their arrogant supporters, led by the expansionist, warmonger U.S. regime, once more proved the righteousness of the great late Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (PBUH [peace be upon Him])," it said. BS

One day after his release from prison, Iranian intellectual Ramin Jahanbegloo voluntarily turned up at the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and gave an interview on his confinement, Radio Farda reported on August 31. Jahanbegloo said that he was not subjected to physical or mental pressure during the four months he was held in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security section of Evin prison. Radio Farda quoted Jahanbegloo as telling ISNA that when he had a fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, he became acquainted with a former official in the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton who was associated with the German Marshall Fund. This person allegedly encouraged Jahanbegloo to conduct a study of East European intellectuals' role in strengthening civil-society organizations and overthrowing the communist regimes, and then examining how Iranian intellectuals and nongovernmental groups could empower themselves. He said it was in connection with this research and the alleged promotion of a Czechoslovak-style "velvet revolution" that he was arrested. Jahanbegloo -- who speaks five languages and earned a doctorate at the Sorbonne -- also questioned his opportunities in Iran, noting that the head of philosophy department at Shahid Beheshti University does not even have a doctorate. Jahanbegloo said this is why he pursues overseas fellowships and conducts research in other countries. BS

At least 66 Iraqis were killed and some 255 wounded in an insurgent attack on a Shi'ite neighborhood in Baghdad on August 31, international media reported. Police said that insurgents rented shops and apartments in several areas of the New Baghdad district just days earlier, and planted explosives, detonating them in rapid succession around 6 p.m. A multistory apartment building was flattened in one of the attacks. At least a dozen women and an equal number of children were killed in the attacks. The Sunni-led Mujahedin Shura Council called on Sunni Muslims to fight Shi'a in an August 31 Internet statement, Reuters reported. "God the Almighty has ordered us to fight the infidels and apostates...and promised heaven to those who died fighting and victory to those who survive," the statement said. KR

The Iraqi Central Criminal Court convicted 25 people between August 18 and August 24 for various crimes against the state, according to an August 31 press release by the U.S.-led coalition forces. Two men were found guilty of joining armed groups to undermine the stability and security of Iraq and sentenced to life in prison. Another was sentenced to 30 years in prison for possession of illegal weapons after huge quantities of weapons and explosives, explosive devices, detonators, transmitters, video cameras, and anticoalition propaganda were found during a raid on his home. Nine men were found guilty of possession of illegal weapons and given 15-year sentences; several others were given lighter sentences. Three men were found guilty of illegal border crossing and sentenced to 15 years in prison. One man found guilty of forging and using three different identification cards was sentenced to nine years in prison. The court has tried 1,414 people to date, and handed down 1,214 convictions, including some death sentences, the press release noted. KR

U.S.-led coalition forces have released some 30 Iraqis from the Camp Bucca detention center in Umm Qasr, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on August 31. The release is part of an ongoing commitment to close the files of detainees not charged with crimes, the report noted. Some 3,000 detainees have been released from custody throughout the country in recent months; another 10,000 Iraqis remain in prison. KR

The U.S. military now has some 140,000 soldiers in Iraq, an increase of 15,000 troops since June, the Pentagon announced on August 31. U.S. military commanders in July called for additional troops in Baghdad to support Operation Together Forward. The Pentagon said earlier this week that it will delay the departure of some 4,000 troops from Iraq by up to four months. KR

Kurdish autonomous region President Mas'ud Barzani told the Istanbul-based "Sabah" newspaper in an interview published on August 31 that he wants strong and stable relations with Turkey. Barzani said his party and the regional government have made it a policy not to interfere in the internal affairs of any of Iraq's neighbors, including Turkey. "We want our ties with Turkey to continue in a friendly and brotherly way. I do not want there ever to be a problem between us. We are a family," he added. Barzani denied Turkish media reports claiming that his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has handed out identification cards to Turkish Kurds, saying the media has "continually engaged in slander against myself and my family." Asked about relations between the KDP and the pro-Turkey Iraqi Turkoman Front, Barzani said: "The Iraqi Turkoman Front engages in politics based on hostility to the Kurds. But we favor policies of friendship, not hostility." KR