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Newsline - September 7, 2006

The Russian Defense Ministry announced on September 7 that a fire broke out the previous night in the electrical system of the nuclear-powered submarine "Daniil Moskovsky" in the Barents Sea near the Russo-Finnish border, leaving two sailors dead from smoke inhalation, Russian and international news agencies reported. The ministry added that the fire was put out quickly and that the nuclear reactor shut down automatically. There was allegedly no danger of a radiation leak at any time. The submarine was then towed on the surface to base at Vidyayevo, where "military prosecutors are investigating," Interfax reported. At the base, Admiral Vladimir Masorin told reporters that Russia did not notify its neighbors about the fire at the time because "there was no threat of a radiation leak." Reuters quoted a Norwegian expert as saying that much of the Russian Northern Fleet suffers from poorly maintained equipment because of "economic problems." The news agency also cited a Russian environmentalist as questioning the wisdom of having nuclear reactors at sea in the first place. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Beirut on September 7 that all Russian weapons exports comply with international agreements and Russian law, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006). In a reference to charges by some Israeli media and politicians that Hizballah has successfully used Russian-made RPG-29 Vampyr antitank grenade launchers against Israeli forces, Lavrov said that Russia wants proof of accusations that its weapons sold to Syria have wound up in other hands. He added that "if such facts are presented, we will conduct an investigation." Lavrov spoke on the first leg of a two-day trip to the Middle East that will also take him to Israel, Syria, and the Palestinian territories. Among the topics he discussed with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora was the sending of Russian engineers as part of the projected UN peacekeeping contingent to that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). In August, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Russia has "reliable control" over its weapons exports, including over where the arms eventually wind up. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov suggested that unnamed Israelis were making the charges for domestic political reasons. He added, however, that one cannot hold Russia responsible for former Soviet weapons exports. PM

Mayor Viktor Maslyakov of Petrozavodsk, which is the capital of Karelia, said on September 6 that numerous ultranationalists have arrived there recently from St. Petersburg and Moscow in an effort to provoke interethnic strife, Russian media reported. Organized ultranationalists are widely seen as having been at least in part responsible for the recent violence in Kondopoga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5 and 6, 2006). On September 5, up to 400 people gathered in Petrozavodsk to demand that migrants from the Caucasus be deported from Karelia. Karelian President Sergei Katanandov was quoted by "Izvestia" on September 6 as saying that the behavior of at least some migrants from the Caucasus region contributed to the tensions in Kondopoga and that it might be necessary to expel some of them from Karelia. In the night of September 5-6, unknown people set fire to a sports school in Kondopoga, but it is not clear if the incident was related to the violence of the previous week. PM

In Moscow on September 5, Aleksandr Belov of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) told a news conference that the message from the people of Kondopoga to the migrants is that "we're fed up with you," RFE/RL reported. He also pledged unspecified "help" for the residents of Karelia. Nikolai Kuryanovich, a deputy from the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, told the same news conference that he is waiting for President Vladimir Putin to "make good on his promise to 'wipe [criminals] out in the outhouse.'" Kuryanovich also proposed to build what he called a "wall of China" that would separate the North Caucasus republics from the rest of Russia. Meanwhile, several Russian journalists have noted that Putin, who is abroad, has yet to comment on the recent events in Karelia, and that there has been little response from other federal authorities either. State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said on September 6 that the legislature might investigate the events in Kondopoga. Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov said that the council might send a delegation there. PM

Unknown persons severely vandalized a bas-relief honoring victims of Stalinism at a memorial cemetery in Medvezhegorsk in Karelia, reported on September 7. Thousands of victims are buried at the site, which attracts thousands of visitors each year from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Finland, and other countries. PM

Officials of the Emergency Situations Ministry said on September 7 that a fire in a mineshaft near Vershino-Darasunsky in Chita Oblast left 19 miners trapped, Interfax and reported. The shaft is reportedly about 300 meters deep. An unnamed ministry source added that "it is a Category 5 fire, the top category on the difficulty scale. According to preliminary reports, 48 people were in the mine [when the blaze broke out]. As of noon Moscow time, 29 miners had been evacuated to the surface." Later, another source said that attempts are under way to evacuate the 19 miners through another shaft. Interfax described the mine as one for coal, but said that it is for gold. PM

Ramzan Kadyrov met in Magas on September 6 with Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov to discuss various aspects of bilateral cooperation between their respective republics, RIA Novosti and reported. Kadyrov stressed that he considers "sacred" agreements signed by Zyazikov and his late father, pro-Moscow administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. He added that unidentified persons who he claimed seek to sow discord between Chechens and Ingush will not succeed in doing so. Zyazikov for his part stressed that "the inhabitants and leadership of Ingushetia have always supported and will always support the Chechen people in their bid to restore their statehood," reported. LF

The parliament of the Republic of North Ossetia formally approved on September 6 President Taymuraz Mamsurov's nomination to succeed Aleksandr Merkulov as prime minister, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2006). He is Nikolai Khlyntsov, a former senior CPSU functionary whose most recent post was that of deputy customs head. Khlyntsov announced his intention of replacing up to 80 percent of cabinet ministers, not including outgoing Interior Minister Major General Sergei Arenin, who was named to that post by the Russian central government. LF

Four Russian servicemen died and four more were injured on September 6 when the armored personnel carrier in which they were traveling was blown up near the settlement of Maysky, close to the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, and reported. Militants from the Caucasus Front were responsible for the blast, the Chechen resistance website reported, citing Russian media reports. LF

Hovhannes Galadjian, editor in chief of the independent weekly "Iravunk" (Law), was attacked in the street in Yerevan on the morning of September 6 by two skinheads, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Galadjian told RFE/RL that he believes the attack was retaliation for articles published in "Iravunk" that criticize the Armenian government. "Iravunk" has ties to the small Union of Constitutional Right. LF

The committee established to protect the rights of members of the opposition youth group Yeni Fikir (New Idea) has appealed to the governments of the United States and of Council of Europe members to insist that Azerbaijan's Appeals Court conduct an "objective and transparent" review of the appeals lodged by three Yeni Fikir members against the sentences handed down to them in July, and reported on September 6 and 7, respectively. That court sentenced Yeni Fikir leader Ruslan Basirli to seven and his deputy Ramiz Tagiyev to five years' imprisonment on charges of conspiring with Armenian intelligence to destabilize the political situation in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the November 2005 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). Said Nuriyev, also a Yeni Fikir deputy leader, who was given a suspended sentence on grounds of ill health, told journalists on September 6 that as a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is obliged to ensure a fair hearing of the appeals. LF

Georgian police detained 29 supporters and alleged associates of fugitive former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze during raids in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities on September 6, Georgian media reported. Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told journalists the same day that his ministry had information that suggested that the people in question were planning to overthrow the present Georgian leadership and install Giorgadze as national leader, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Fourteen of those detained have been charged with treason and plotting a coup d'etat, including Conservative-Monarchist Party Chairman Temur Zhorzholiani. Also arrested were Maia Nikolaishvili, chairman of the Anti-Soros movement, and Maia Topuria, a relative of Giorgadze who heads the youth organization of Giorgadze's Samartlianoba (Justice) party. Reports that veteran dissident Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who heads the Giorgadze charitable fund, was also arrested proved false, but the fund's offices were searched. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili told journalists on September 6 that Tbilisi will ask Russia to reveal Giorgadze's sources of funds, Caucasus Press reported. Giorgadze, whose whereabouts have remained a mystery since he left Georgia 11 years ago after being accused of a failed attempt to assassinate then Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, condemned the arrests in a telephone interview with Russia's NTV television on September 6. LF

Labor Party chairman Shalva Natelashvili condemned the arrests of Giorgadze's supporters as "political repression," Caucasus Press reported on September 6. Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Conservatives (aka New Rightists) told Caucasus Press that while his party's attitude to Giorgadze is "definitely negative," he regards the arrests of Giorgadze's supporters as "political persecution." Zviad Dzidziguri, one of the co-leaders of the opposition Democratic Front parliament faction, said that while anyone who accepts money from a foreign state to try to "overthrow constitutional order" in Georgia deserves condemnation, the Georgian authorities should make public the evidence that served as the basis for the arrests. Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze for his part was quoted by Civil Georgia on September 6 as saying, "we have firm evidence to prove the guilt" of those arrested. LF

Zhakyp Marabaev, the managing director of the Kazakh state oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz, told an energy forum in Astana on September 6 that a massive increase in investment in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea is forecast for the period 2006-2015, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Marabaev said, "According to forecasts, the volume of investment to develop the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea in 2006-2010 is expected to be $12.9 billion and $16.8 billion [from] 2011-2015." Investments in Kazakhstan's Caspian sector totaled $3.8 billion from 2003-05, Marabaev said. DK

Deputy Energy and Natural Resources Minister Bolat Akchulakov told the same forum in Astana that Kazakhstan boosted uranium production by 11.7 percent year-on-year to 2,336.7 tons in the first half of 2006, Interfax reported on September 6. Noting that Kazakhstan "owns 21 percent of the world's uranium stock," Akchulakov said that Kazakhstan hopes to become the world's leading uranium producer by 2010 with 15,000 tons produced annually, ITAR-TASS reported. Akchulov noted, "With the exception of the uranium enrichment stage, Kazakhstan has practically the entire required technological chain for processing raw uranium," Interfax reported. DK

Kazakh police have arrested two suspects in the murder of a French journalist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 2006) and are seeking a third, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on September 6. Almaty police chief Erlan Turgumbaev said that investigators picked up the suspects' trail by checking journalist Gregoire De Bourgues's acquaintances in Almaty. The two arrested suspects have admitted to killing the journalist after breaking into his apartment with the intention of robbing him, Almaty police said in a press release. DK

Oral Mukhammedzhanov, speaker of Kazakhstan's Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament), told journalists on September 6 that he does not support the idea of a "constitutional monarchy" recently proposed by Rakhat Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006), the deputy foreign minister and son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Mukhammedzhanov noted, "We have a democratic state, we have absolute freedom of speech, and everyone has the right to voice his or her opinion and express his or her viewpoint on any issue." In the recently released "Freedom of the World 2006" report by the human rights watchdog Freedom House, Kazakhstan was given the rating "not free." DK

U.S. Air Force Major Jill Metzger vanished while on a shopping trip in Bishkek on September 5, Reuters reported the next day. Anne Carpenter, a spokeswoman for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan where Metzger is stationed, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on September 6: "The service member was separated from the group from the Manas air base in the TsUM shopping center and has not been located. The 376 Air Expeditionary Wing base officials are working with the U.S. embassy and local officials to locate the service member as soon as possible." Bishkek police chief Moldomus Kongantiev told a press conference on September 6 that after Metzger left Bishkek's central department store on September 5, law enforcement authorities recorded outgoing calls from Metzger's mobile phone at 5 p.m. from Bishkek's eastern bus station and at 7 p.m. from the city's Tunguch neighborhood. The phone was switched off at 8 p.m., Kongantiev said. Metzger was slated to return to the United States on September 7. DK

Tajikistan's Democratic Party published an issue of "Adolat" (Justice), its political and social publication, on September 6 after a two-year hiatus, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The four-page issue came out in a print run of 1,000 copies. Editor Rajab Mirzo told RFE/RL that the newspaper had been unable to find a publisher to print "Adolat" but now has a verbal agreement to print it on a regular basis. DK

Uzbek Interior Minister Bahodir Matlubov and Chinese State Councilor Zhou Yongkang signed a 2006-07 cooperation protocol in Beijing on September 6, Xinhua reported. The report said that the two officials discussed cooperation on police training as well as fighting terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and cross-border crime, reaching a "broad consensus on strengthening mutual trust between the two ministries." DK

A civil court in Tashkent ruled on September 6 to close down the Uzbekistan offices of the U.S.-based NGO Partnership in Academics and Development, reported. The court acted in response to a request from Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry, which charged the NGO with engaging in unlawful missionary activity, offering Internet access without a license, and other "violations," Regnum reported. DK

The World Bank on September 6 released its annual survey of 175 countries pertaining to ease of doing business. The report appraises 10 specific areas of business regulations, such as the ease of registering a business, paying taxes, and cross-border trade. According to the report, Belarus is the worst country in the world in the category "paying taxes," which addresses the taxes a medium-sized company would have to pay in a given year. According to the report, businesses in Belarus have to pay 186.1 percent of their profits and make 125 tax payments a year in order to comply with tax regulations. Former Belarusian businessman Leu Marholin told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that he agrees with the World Bank's evaluation. "If entrepreneurs in Belarus worked honestly, they would simply cease to exist. They still exist today because they take the personal risk of cheating the state," Marholin noted. Meanwhile, Alyaksandr Zhyhulich from the Belarusian Tax and Duties Ministry cast doubt on the World Bank's assessment of Belarus's tax system. "It cannot be seen from this report what they consider to be tax payments and from where they took this number -- 125 [tax payments a year].... I think there is a biased approach there. I don't know how they calculated this. We don't have any such statistical data [confirming that businesses must pay] 186 percent of their profits," Zhyhulich told RFE/RL. Overall, Belarus received a ranking of 129 in terms of ease of doing business. JM

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki arrived in Minsk on September 7 for two days of high-profile talks, Interfax reported the same day. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry's press service told Interfax that Mottaki will meet with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, his counterpart Syarhey Martynau, and with the chairman of the National Assembly's Chamber of Representatives, Vladimir Konoplyov. The visit will focus on "the entire range of bilateral cooperation and key items of the international agenda," Interfax quoted the press service source as saying. MS

Meeting at an economic forum in Krynica Gorska in Poland on September 6, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski confirmed their intention to extend the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline -- which was completed in 2001 -- to the city of Plock in Poland, UNIAN reported. In May 2003, Ukraine, Poland, and the European Union signed a declaration of intent to work toward extending the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline to Poland in order to transport Caspian oil to Europe. The project, however, had failed to progress beyond the planning stage. The Odesa-Brody oil pipeline remained idle until July 2004, when the Ukrainian oil pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta and the Russian oil company TNK-BR signed a three-year contract to ship 9 million tons of Russian oil annually through the Odesa-Brody pipeline in the reverse direction, that is, from Brody to an oil terminal in the Black Sea port of Odesa. "Decisive steps have to be made now. As they say, we need to move from words to deeds. First, light Caspian oil has to be found -- and such a possibility is there -- from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, who have said they're interested in being involved in the project. Then, a lot in building the pipeline will depend on Poland," Ukrainian Television quoted Yanukovych as saying in Krynica Gorska. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko left on September 7 for a two-day visit to Azerbaijan, UNIAN reported. On the agenda are talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, government officials, and a trip to parliament. Trade and economic cooperation are expected to dominate the talks -- primarily pertaining to gas and oil. The Russian daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated on September 7 that Yushchenko is seeking to reduce Moscow's influence on Ukraine by securing commitments for Azerbaijani energy supplies to feed the Odesa-Brody pipeline. In May, Aliyev pledged to deliver crude to Europe via the pipeline. Ukraine's Naftohaz and Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR are expected to formally sign a cooperation agreement during the visit. The agreement reportedly includes provisions for cooperation in the production, refining, and exploration of oil and gas in the two countries. Azerbaijani media has predicted that Yushchenko and Aliyev will use their visit to discuss ways of strengthening the GUAM alignment of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. MS

The War Crimes Chamber of Belgrade's District Court found former Serbian paramilitary Sasa Radak guilty of war crimes and sentenced him to 20 years in prison on September 6, B92 reported the same day. Radak, whose nickname is "The Cleaner," was convicted for participating in the execution-style killing of 192 Croats at the Ovcara pig farm in eastern Croatia on November 21, 1991. He was also convicted of beating and abusing prisoners. After the verdict was read, Radak began to curse and insult the judge, after which he was removed from the courtroom. The Ovcara case is widely viewed as a test of Serbia's ability to prosecute war crimes cases. The court sentenced 14 other paramilitaries in December for participating in the Ovcara killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 13 and 14, 2005). BW

The Serbian government has announced that it will hold a tender to choose a marketing company to advise it in creating a strategy to "rebrand" the country, B92 reported on September 5. The goals of the campaign are to change what officials believe is the negative political image that Serbia has in the world. The campaign will also seek to boost foreign investment, exports and tourism. The Foreign Economic Affairs Ministry, which is organizing the tender, has earmarked 1 million euros ($1.28 million) for the first phases of the project. Eight international marketing companies will compete in the tender. BW

Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, the head of Serbia's Council for Kosovo, said on September 6 that the province's final status will not be determined as quickly as UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari planned, B92 reported the same day. "Many member countries of the Contact Group and the UN Security Council are against fake deadlines that have been set for October and November," Raskovic-Ivic said. "Nothing has to be finished by the end of Martti Ahtisaari's mandate, and I am convinced that the discussions will be continued, as the best way to find a solution." Raskovic-Ivic also said the Serbian negotiating team will ask that special ties be established between Belgrade and courts and police working in Serbian municipalities in Kosova. Meanwhile, Slobodan Samardzic, the coordinator for Belgrade's negotiating team, said he does not expect much progress in the coming round of talks, scheduled to begin in Vienna on September 7. BW

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has said that regardless of Kosova's final status, it must be able to form a relationship with the European Union, B92 reported on September 6. "Kosovo must be given the necessary tools so that it can help itself," Rehn said. "Legal security and functioning legal surroundings are a prerequisite for achieving progress in Kosovo," he added. "Kosovo must have the ability to form agreements with international financial institutions because that is a needed condition for economic development. The right institutions must set the foundation necessary for better economic conditions and employment, because the unemployment rate of 40 to 50 percent sets a precedent for crime and corruption." Rehn's comments follow remarks by Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic suggesting Kosova's independence would slow the province's integration with Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2006). BW

Albania announced on September 4 that it will hire former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to work as a consultant to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Reuters reported the same day. Ridge will advise Berisha on security issues, NATO matters, and investment. "We have agreed with Mr. Ridge he will be the adviser of the prime minister and the Albanian government effective this month," Berisha said. "Our cooperation includes...[the] integration of Albania into NATO as a major priority, national security strategy, and the fight against organized corruption and crime." In addition to Ridge's security expertise, Berisha said he wants him to repeat his "success story" as governor of Pennsylvania in Albania in the fields of education, the judiciary, information technology, agriculture, and money laundering. BW

On September 6, Georgian police detained 29 supporters and allies of fugitive former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, and have already charged 14 of them with treason and with plotting to overthrow the Georgian leadership and bring Giorgadze to power. Senior Georgian officials claim to have watertight evidence to substantiate those charges and have hinted that Russia may have financed the planned coup bid.

Giorgadze, however, whose whereabouts have remained unclear since he left Georgia in September 1995 after being accused of masterminding a failed car-bomb attack on then Georgian parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, condemned the arrests as an act of political repression intended to boost the Georgian authorities' dwindling popularity.

Giorgadze, who is 56 and made his career in the Soviet-era KGB, has been a thorn in the side of the Georgian authorities for the past decade, giving numerous interviews to the Russian media in which he condemned first the Shevardnadze regime and then that of current Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. One year ago, Interfax quoted Giorgadze as affirming that "saakascism," meaning Saakashvili's brand of fascism, "has turned into an open form of suppressing dissent in Georgia."

He has claimed to enjoy widespread support, especially in western Georgia, but his efforts to register as a candidate in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and the parliamentary ballots of 2003 and 2005, failed as he could not prove he was permanently resident in Georgia for the requisite period prior to the vote. A recent Russian opinion poll found, however, that the Russian public at least considers him a serious political figure: almost 40 percent of those questioned said they believe he will succeed Saakashvili as Georgian president.

The Russian authorities' inability, or reluctance, to either apprehend Giorgadze or at least prevent him using the Russian media have led successive Georgian governments to suspect that he receives covert support from fellow former KGB veterans in Moscow.

The Georgian political activists arrested on suspicion of colluding with Giorgadze include Maia Nikolaishvili, who heads the so-called Anti-Soros movement; Maia Topuria, who heads the youth organization of the Samartlianoba (Justice) party that Giorgadze founded in early 2004; and Temur Zhorzholiani, chairman of the Conservative-Monarchist Party, who is said to have attended a meeting with Samartlianoba activists in May 2006 at which the alleged coup plans were discussed. Other members of Zhorzholiani's party have denied that allegation.

Initial reports on September 6 that veteran opposition activist Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who began her political career in the late 1980s and currently heads a charitable organization that bears Giorgadze's name, was also arrested proved false. Sarishvili-Chanturia told journalists later on September 6 that allegations of a coup in the making were unfounded.

A second veteran oppositionist, National Independence Party of Georgia head Irakli Batiashvili, was arrested in late July and remanded in pretrial custody on charges, which he claims are unsubstantiated, of encouraging renegade warlord Emzar Kvitsiani in his apparent defiance of the Georgian authorities in the Kodori Gorge.

President Saakashvili told journalists on September 6 in Poland, where he arrived on an official visit, that "those [arrested persons] will get what they deserve.... And those who supported and finance them and those who pinned their hopes on them will see it." But until such time as the evidence against the 14 people charged with treason is made public, possible alternative explanations for those arrests cannot be completely discounted.

One such possibility is that Tbilisi is seeking to use the arrests as a bargaining chip to coerce Moscow into agreeing to withdraw the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones. A second is the Georgian authorities may have sought to preempt an anticipated coup bid by Giorgadze, and are counting on Western governments not questioning the evidence against the 14 suspects.

There is at least a superficial similarity between the September 6 arrests in Georgia and the arrests in Baku last October of several prominent former government officials who were likewise accused of conspiring with an exiled former senior political figure to seize power. In the Azerbaijani case, former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev and former Health Minister Ali Insanov, among others, are suspected of colluding with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to seize power. Those suspects remain in pretrial detention, in failing health.

Pervez Musharraf arrived in Kabul for an official two-day visit on September 6, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Musharraf held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on bilateral relations and counterterrorism activities, Islamabad-based PTV reported on September 6. The Pakistani leader said his country and Afghanistan have to establish mutual trust in order to establish peace in the region. Musharraf also said he hopes for the removal of the "misunderstandings" between Kabul and Islamabad. Prior to departing for Kabul, Musharraf told reporters that the purpose of his visit was to consolidate "friendship" and to move on a "path of mutual trust, mutual benefits" between his country and Afghanistan. Saying that he understands that "Pakistan and Afghanistan's history is intertwined," Musharraf added that the successes or failures of one country affect the other. According to Musharraf, the "happenings" between Afghanistan and Pakistan also "directly affect the region, even the Central Asian republics." While Kabul has accused Islamabad of not doing enough to stop cross-border infiltrations by the neo-Taliban or of even aiding the antigovernment forces in Afghanistan, Islamabad has charged that Afghanistan has allowed India to use its territory to destabilize Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 26 and September 4, 2006). AT

Zinat Karzai, the wife of President Karzai, met Sebha Farid Musharraf, the wife of President Musharraf in Kabul on September 6, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The two first ladies discussed cultural ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan and upgrading the status of women in both countries. The presence of Musharraf's wife in Kabul suggests a personal effort by the Pakistani President to improve relations with Karzai. AT

Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer arrived to Kabul on September 6 for a two-day official visit, international news agencies reported. Scheffer signed an accord with Karzai providing more international support for Afghan security and development programs, a press release from NATO said on September 6. De Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Kabul that NATO will prevail in the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan. "As we speak, NATO forces in southern Afghanistan are fighting side by side with the Afghan National Army. Why are they fighting? Because they and we and you do not want the terrorists to win," he added. De Hoop Scheffer indicated, however, that Afghanistan's problems cannot be solved militarily as development is a necessary component in solving that country's problems. "Development has to take place and development means fighting corruption, means finding a solution for the scourge of narcotics, [and] means reforming the legal and judicial system." The speaker of the Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga (People's Council), Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, told de Hoop Scheffer that "preventing civilian casualties" is a primary demand of the Afghan people, AFP reported on September 6. AT

One British soldier serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed and five others were wounded in Helmand Province on September 6, a press statement from the U.K. Defense Ministry indicated. The soldier died when a land mine exploded. AT

Three people, including the bomber, were killed and two were injured in Khost Province in a suicide car bomb attack on September 6, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Mirza Khan Nimgaray, head of the Ya'qubi district, told AIP that the "director of the statistics office" and a school principal were killed. Nimgaray claimed that he was the intended target of the bomber, but the bomber "mistakenly" struck the vehicle of the director of the statistics office. Mohammad Hanif, speaking for the Taliban, told AIP on September 6 that "a Taliban fighter named Khaled carried out a suicide attack" against the vehicle belonging to Mirza Khan Nimgaray, killing himself and five others. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country during the rule of the Taliban -- claimed on September 6 that a "martyrdom-seeking" attack was carried out by Khaled against the vehicle of the district head of Ya'qubi, destroying the vehicle and killing four of its occupants. However, the website adds, there is no specific information on the condition of the district head. AT

The Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asqar Soltanieh, said on September 6 that talks between Iran and the Europe Union regarding the nuclear issue have been postponed, AP reported. The discussions were expected to take place in Vienna on September 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2006), but Soltanieh said, "Both sides are arranging for a couple of days later." Soltanieh ascribed the delay to "a procedural matter." In Tehran, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran-EU talks are welcome, Mehr News Agency reported. He said the two sides are determining a convenient date. BS

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on September 6 that President George W. Bush's comments about Iran in a speech one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2006) were "repetitive and baseless," IRNA reported. Such claims -- Bush noted Iran's alleged support for terrorism and its suspected nuclear weapons program -- are meant to counter Iran's reasonable and determined effort to protect its rights, Assefi claimed. The U.S. presence in Iraq contributes to terrorism there, Assefi claimed, adding, "There is now the general belief that the terrorist moves in Iraq take place under U.S. direction and support." He also hinted at U.S. responsibility for the September 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S. by Al-Qaeda, saying, "On the threshold of the anniversary of the September 11 explosion of the twin towers and five years after the event, which is still ambiguous, the U.S. officials intend to justify their failure and blunder." Assefi urged President Bush to accept his Iranian counterpart's invitation to engage in a televised debate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 4, 2006). BS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad gave the opening speech at the second International Conference on Mahdaviyat Doctrine in Tehran on September 6, IRNA and Fars News Agency reported. The purpose of the conference is to "promote the culture and thoughts of the last imam of the age and last descendant of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH [peace be upon him]) infallible household -- Imam Mahdi [may God hasten his reappearance]." The Mahdi is the Shi'a's 12th imam and went into occultation some 1,200 years ago; his reappearance is supposed to restore justice before the end of the world. Ahmadinejad's affinity for these beliefs has been noted by some observers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," December 19, 2005, and July 18, 2006). A sign of Ahmadinejad's beliefs was his statement in the speech: "Today is the day when we invite humanity to the only true path and course because there is no other path." He also referred to his earlier invitation to President Bush to debate him, saying, "we're ready to assess the problems of the world in a face-to-face debate and to think of solutions for them and to allow humanity to choose; of course, it must be uncensored." BS

Iranian air force jets successfully fired laser-guided bombs on September 6, the Fars News Agency reported. The test took place in northwestern Iran during the fifth stage of the Zarbat-i Zolfaqar war games. The domestically made Saqeh fighter jet also flew in these exercises, which began in August. Brigadier General Javad Mohammadian, the spokesman of the war games, said the Saqeh provides close-air support and can carry bombs, rockets, and missiles, Fars News Agency reported. Major General Ataollah Salehi, speaking in Shabestar, East Azerbaijan Province, explained that external threats are the reason for the exercises, IRNA reported. Salehi is the commander of the regular army. BS

Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MEK) sympathizer Valiollah Feyz-Mahdavi died on September 6 in Tehran's Shariati Hospital, Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian websites. Feyz-Mahdavi was sentenced to death for possession of explosives and confined at Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj, and fellow detainees told Radio Farda that he fell ill on September 2, nine days after beginning a hunger strike. Prison officials denied that he was on a hunger strike, saying instead that Feyz-Mahdavi attempted suicide. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, one of Feyz-Mahdavi's lawyers, told Radio Farda that other detainees told him his client became ill during his hunger strike, was taken to the prison infirmary, and then taken to the hospital. Subsequently, the attorney continued, news of his being brain dead was released, and then of his death. It was not in Feyz-Mahdavi's nature to kill himself, Dadkhah continued, and it is difficult to commit suicide in prison. He asked, "who are the witnesses to the suicide attempt?" Dadkhah suggested that his client died because he did not receive medical attention. BS

Abbas Kazemi, managing director of the Tehran Refinery, announced on September 6 that his facility currently produces 82 octane gasoline and it soon will produce 90 octane gasoline, Mehr News Agency reported. He added that this development will increase Tehran Refinery's output by 500,000 liters, although he did not provide a time frame. Two days earlier, government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said Iran's policy is to import gasoline to meet shortfalls, IRNA reported. The government is also considering ways to reduce gasoline consumption, he said, including promoting mass-transit systems and possibly the use of natural gas in vehicles. BS

President Ahmadinejad told visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih on September 6 that insecurity in Iraq is harmful to Iran, the Mehr News Agency reported. He said the "occupation forces" encourage this insecurity as a justification for their continued presence. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told Salih that the development of a free, independent, and Islamic Iraq will benefit the entire region, IRNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani added, "Meanwhile, the chaos in Iraq and interference of foreign troops in the country's internal affairs are the main cause of the insecurity in all regional states." He called for the withdrawal of occupation troops. Salih said at a press conference with Foreign Minister Mottaki on September 5 that the two neighbors are keen on strengthening relations, the Mehr News Agency reported. They already enjoy cordial ties, he added. Salih also noted the need for a regional "compromise" between Baghdad, Tehran, and Washington. Mottaki also denied that Iran is interfering in Iraqi affairs. BS

In a step toward independence and paving the way for the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces, Iraq will take control over its armed forces on September 7, international news agencies reported on September 6. Following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Iraqi army was dismantled and the formation of a new Iraqi army has been led by the U.S. military. The ceremony, in which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will assume control over the military, is scheduled for September 7, following an last-minute five-day delay. Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir Muhammad al-Ubaydi said that the delay was the result of a dispute over defining the relationship between the U.S. military and Iraqi army, with the latter seeking more independence, Reuters reported on September 6. U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell described the shift as "a huge, significant event," Reuters quoted him as saying. "If you go back and you map out significant events that have occurred in this government's formation in taking control of the country, tomorrow is gigantic," he added. The handover will put al-Maliki in control of Iraq's small naval and air forces, and the army's 8th Division. BAW

The Iraqi Council of Representatives agreed during its September 5 session to extend the current state of emergency for yet another month, AP reported the same day. The decision was seen as necessary in the face of rising sectarian violence. The state of emergency was first put in place in November 2004, excluding the autonomous Kurdish region, and has been renewed on a monthly basis. BAW

In its second sitting after a monthlong recess, the Iraqi Council of Representatives will review a draft law presented by the largest Shi'ite bloc calling for the creation of an autonomous region in the south akin to the Kurdish autonomous region in the north, AFP reported on September 6. "The general committee of the United Iraqi Alliance finished drafting the law of regional formations and submitted it to the leadership of the parliament for review," AFP quoted Hamid Mualla al-Sa'di, a Shi'ite parliamentarian, as saying on September 6. The law "will define how the regions are formed and whether it will be done by the governing council or through popular referendum," he added. Sunni parties oppose the draft law, seeing it as a step toward dividing the country, which would ultimately leave the Sunnis isolated in areas without natural resources. However, their opposition has softened toward a conditional "administrative application of federalism" in the presence of a strong central government, according to AFP. BAW

On September 6, the Council of Representatives passed a law that allows private companies to import and sell oil products, AFP reported the same day. The deregulation law puts an end to the government monopoly over oil import and distribution. The law aims to end the long struggle with fuel shortages, one of the major problems the government has struggled to overcome (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14 and 18, 2006). Iraq's production and import capacity together amounts to 17 million liters a day, which runs short of demand by 5 million liters, AFP reported, citing figures provided by Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani. BAW