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Newsline - September 11, 2006

Chita Oblast in eastern Siberia is marking September 11 as a day of mourning for the 25 gold miners who died underground near Vershino-Darasunsky in a fire that broke out on September 7, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 8, 2006). Some 39 of their colleagues survived. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu noted on September 10 that 380 rescuers took part in the operation, which, he said, was a record for any single mining accident in Russia. A spokesman for the government watchdog agency Rostekhnadzor, however, told ITAR-TASS that the welders at the site of the accident initially tried to put out the fire themselves instead of calling their dispatcher for help immediately. Shoigu said on national television that the resulting delay in getting help to the trapped miners proved to be "quite serious." PM

President Vladimir Putin visited Kaliningrad Oblast on September 10 in a trip designed to underscore Russia's intention to shore up its strategic position there, reported. He visited the newly consecrated Christ the Savior Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kaliningrad, which for centuries until 1945 was the Prussian royal city Koenigsberg. The cathedral is the largest such structure in the region, and Putin said that its construction was a sign of the "revival of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church from the Baltic to the Pacific." Putin was accompanied by Patriarch Aleksy II and numerous high state and regional officials. En route to the port of Baltiisk, he visited new housing for soldiers and their families and asked detailed questions about the standard of living there. In Baltiisk, he inspected and inaugurated the railway ferry line connecting that port with Ust-Luga, which is not far from St. Petersburg. The ferry is a strategic project that enables direct contact with Kaliningrad Oblast without crossing Lithuanian territory. Putin told Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on national television that Lithuania is currently blocking some Russian military shipments across its territory. Russia itself has shut off most oil shipments to Lithuania while the Druzhba pipeline is "being repaired" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 17, 2006). In Russia's Far East, the authorities have recently stressed Russia's claim to the Kurile Islands, which Japan also claims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). PM

Speaking to a group of journalists and academics at Novo Ogaryovo near Moscow on September 11, President Putin denied that Russia seeks to be an "energy superpower" that bullies other countries, Britain's "The Independent" reported. He said that such a term is a throwback to the Cold War. He argued that "the world has an interest in stability of supplies and in the development of a stable Russia. That's our goal, too, and reflects our own interests as well." Referring to Russia's energy agreements with other countries, he said that "we just want negotiations that are fair. We don't need superpower status.... We have huge energy potential that is still underestimated...but we have always behaved responsibly and intend to continue doing so." Among his several barbs at the European Union and the United States, Putin suggested that those who use the term "energy superpower" are, in effect, attempting to revive the Cold War concept of the "evil empire." Turning to other aspects of world affairs, he asked rhetorically why it is that one sees only Kurdish and not Iraqi flags flying in northern Iraq. Putin also noted that "some people, including Western secret services, suspect that Russia and China may be cooking up something between themselves." He argued, however, that Moscow and Beijing are not interested in forming a "military-political bloc" and said that he "did not anticipate" that anyone would think so. Closer to home, he unexpectedly praised Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko as a "wise politician" for his recent compromise with Viktor Yanukovych, who is now prime minister. PM

Arkady Volsky, who founded and for 15 years headed the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), died of leukemia on September 9 at the age of 75, reported. The RSPP is Russia's largest business association. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov praised Volsky on September 10 for his intelligence and sound decision-making abilities that greatly benefited his country. PM

The Presidential Center for the Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism sent a letter on September 8 to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov to reject his suggestion that the Russian Constitution be amended to enable President Putin to legally seek a third term when his current mandate expires in 2008, reported. The message strongly suggested -- as did the fact that it was the antiterrorism center that sent it -- that Kadyrov would do well to concentrate his energies on fighting "terrorism" rather than making legal proposals. Kadyrov also tried to expand his national political profile during the recent violence in Karelia Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2006). In the course of 2006, several dozen regional officials have called for a constitutional amendment to enable Putin to run for a third term. Putin has opposed any such move on the grounds that he would have no legitimacy if he changed the laws to suit his own purposes. He has not been explicit, however, as to whether he would go along with a constitutional change if there were widespread popular "demand" for it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16, and July 3, 7, and 18, 2006). PM

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov dismissed on September 8 as "fabricated" Russian media reports that members of his bodyguard assaulted Ingushetian police who tried to halt their convoy on September 7 at a checkpoint near the village of Alkhasty in Ingushetia's Sunzha Raion, reported on September 8. One policeman was subsequently hospitalized, and his fellow officers have reportedly sworn to avenge themselves, according to on September 8. Kadyrov visited Ingushetia on September 6 for talks with Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). LF

A Yerevan court on September 8 sentenced Arman Babadjanian, the jailed editor of the independent newspaper "Zhamanak Yerevan," to a four-year prison term, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo reported. The 30-year-old Babadjanian was sentenced after his conviction on charges of evading Armenia's compulsory two-year military service, although the usual sentences for such convictions are significantly less (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and September 5, 2006). Arrested just weeks after returning to Armenia to publish the newspaper in June 2006, he issued a statement from his prison cell accusing the authorities of trying to silence an "independent and incorruptible media outlet supporting the removal of the illegal regime and the establishment of a legitimate government in Armenia." RG

A group of six prominent journalists from Georgia's Rustavi-2 television station resigned on September 9 to protest the dismissal of the station's general director, Nika Tabatadze, Caucasus Press reported. The resignations included journalists Nana Lezhava, Tengo Gogotishvili, and Tamar Gvinianidze; news service chief Tamar Rukhadze; producer Dudu Kurdgelia; and the station's anchor of the "Kurieri" (Courier) news program for 11 years, Natia Lazashvili. The station's fired director was recently replaced by Koba Davarashvili, a former executive of the Sarke advertising company who is reportedly a close friend of Georgian presidential-administration chief Giorgi Arveladze. The prominent Rustavi-2 TV station is owned by businessmen Kibar Khalvashi, who is said to be a close friend of Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili. RG

Georgian police arrested an activist of the Justice movement on September 9 after he was caught trying to plant a bomb in the Tbilisi headquarters of the ruling National Movement party, the Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 reported. Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili reported that police detained Aleksander Chumburidze, a former counterterrorism official who worked from 1993-95 for former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, and found a detonator and 400 kilograms of explosives in his possession. The incident follows the recent arrest of more than a dozen of Giorgadze's supporters and friends for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). RG

In an interview with a Russian news agency on September 9, South Ossetian Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzaev threatened to "destroy Georgia's economic and military facilities" through "sabotage" and "special operations" in the event of a military attack by Georgia, Regnum reported. Mindzaev also threatened to "shoot down any aircraft" that violates South Ossetian airspace, noting that "exceptions will be made only for civilian aircraft." Tension has escalated in recent days following a clash between Georgian and South Ossetian forces on September 8 and the September 3 incident in which South Ossetian soldiers attempted to shoot down a Georgian military helicopter carrying the Georgian defense minister and other senior officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). RG

Meeting in Kazakhstan on September 8, representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan signed a UN-sponsored accord calling for the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in Central Asia, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. With a symbolic signing ceremony in the former Soviet nuclear test ground of Semipalatinsk in northern Kazakhstan, the Central Asian representatives pledged not to produce, purchase, nor deploy nuclear weapons or any component that could serve to develop such weapons on their territories. The accord also forbids third countries from transporting or storing nuclear weapons or materials on or through the territory of Central Asia. Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said the signatories "hope the treaty will provide an impulse to renew coordinated efforts by the international community to maintaining the [nuclear] nonproliferation regime and to prevent weapons of mass destruction from getting into the hands of terrorists." RG

Speaking at a news conference in Bishkek, the head of the Kyrgyz penal system, Sergey Zubov, announced on September 8 that "the death penalty will soon be abolished in Kyrgyzstan and it will be replaced by life imprisonment," according to the Kyrgyz news agency Zubov added that the Kyrgyz government has submitted a bill to the Kyrgyz parliament to abolish capital punishment. He also said the government is actively seeking assistance to finance the 140 million-som ($3.5 million) construction of new "special prisons" to hold prisoners serving life sentences. There are an estimated 167 prisoners currently on death row in Kyrgyzstan. RG

Former Kyrgyz parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev was released from police custody in Poland on September 8 after appearing before a Polish court that subsequently dropped all charges against him, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Tekebaev had spent nearly 24 hours in a Polish detention facility. He was initially charged with narcotics trafficking following his arrest in Warsaw on September 6 after airport security there discovered drugs in his luggage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). Tekebaev, the leader of the Ata-Meken party and the head of the For Reforms opposition movement, resigned as parliament speaker in the wake of a highly publicized dispute with President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2006). Tekebaev was traveling with parliamentarian Yury Danilov and former deputy Zainidin Kurmanov to attend an international business forum in Poland. RG

Several hundred supporters of opposition leader Tekebaev continued on September 9 to demonstrate against his arrest and for his safe return to Kyrgyzstan despite his release by Polish authorities the previous day, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Demonstrators in Tekebaev's native Bazarkorgon district in southern Kyrgyzstan blocked a major highway to the capital Bishkek and crowd of more than 500 people demanded that the Kyrgyz government ensure Tekebaev's safe return. A smaller demonstration was held in the southern city of Osh, where opposition activists staged a picket outside the regional government building. In a public statement released on September 7, the Ata-Meken party accused the Kyrgyz authorities of orchestrating the incident as "a provocation" against the opposition leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). Unnamed officials of the Kyrgyz National Security Service have denied any wrongdoing, and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov announced on September 8 that he is "100 percent certain" that Tekebaev is innocent and a victim of a "dirty provocation." Parliamentarian Tayirbek Sarpashev, the chairman of a special committee formed to investigate the incident, announced that a security video at the Manas airport showed a uniformed man who might have tampered with Tekebaev's suitcase. Airport security officials denied the possibility of any such involvement, AKIpress reported. RG

Missing U.S. Air Force Major Jill Metzger reappeared early on September 9 at a private home outside Bishkek and told its residents that she had been kidnapped, AKIpress and the Kyrgyz news agency reported. The servicewoman, reportedly kidnapped from a Bishkek shopping center on September 5, just two days before she was slated to return to the United States, said she had been held by three young men and a woman in a rural area 50 kilometers east of the capital, according to Kyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). In a statement issued on September 9, U.S. military spokeswoman Captain Anna Carpenter welcomed Metzger's release but was unable to provide any details on the abduction or her escape. Carpenter noted that Metzger's blonde hair had been cut and dyed black. RG

Kyrgyz opposition politician Melis Eshimkanov announced on September 10 that his supporters apprehended a Kyrgyz security officer who was allegedly following him, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. During a news conference in Bishkek, leaders of the For Reforms opposition bloc told reporters that Dmitry Ogorodnikov, an officer with the Kyrgyz National Security Service (UKK), was closely monitoring Eshimanov's activities and refused to identify himself until opposition members summoned the traffic police. Commenting on the incident, unnamed UKK officials confirmed the identity of the officer but said he was engaged in a completely different surveillance operation that had nothing to do with the opposition leader. The For Reform movement plans to convene a public rally in Bishkek on September 12 to draw attention to the incident as evidence of what it calls the Kyrgyz authorities' attempt to harass and intimidate the opposition. RG

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov opened a celebration on September 9 marking the 15th anniversary of the country's national independence, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at a military parade that opened the festivities in Dushanbe, Rakhmonov praised the country's armed forces as ready and able "to protect the sovereignty of the state and nation" and safeguard Tajikistan's "constitutional order," Tajik state television reported. Tajikistan endured a violent civil war in 1992-97 that resulted in nearly 100,000 casualties and destroyed much of the country's infrastructure. RG

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra concluded an official state visit to Tajikistan on September 9 following a series of meetings with senior Tajik leaders, according to Tajik state television. Thaksin signed several bilateral agreements with his Tajik counterpart, Oqil Oqilov, including new initiatives in the energy, trade, and tourism sectors. In a separate meeting with President Rakhmonov, Thaksin discussed plans to formalize a set of measures aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation to counter terrorism, Islamic extremism, and drug trafficking. RG

During a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat on September 9, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov appointed Batyrmukhammet Aymyradov as new first deputy interior minister and replaced the senior police officials in two provinces, according to Interfax. Niyazov named Tangryguly Khojagulyev to be the new chief of police in Akhal province and Kabul Rakhmanov as new police chief in the Mary province. Niyazov also awarded Defense Minister Agageldy Mammetgeldyev with the "Turkmenbashi" order of meritorious service. RG

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on September 8 that Minsk is ahead of London, Madrid, and Paris, and a little behind Berlin in terms of residents' satisfaction with living conditions, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. Lukashenka was speaking at a meeting of the CIS International Association of Capitals and Large Cities, which took place in the Belarusian capital. According to Lukashenka, 86.2 percent of Minsk residents are satisfied with their standard of living. The Belarusian president also revealed that Minsk accounts for 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product and some 30 percent of Belarusian exports. JM

The Reform and Orders Party (PRP), a constituent of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc, has announced that it is switching to the opposition with regard to the current government and the "anticrisis coalition" that supports the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, UNIAN reported on September 11. "The coming to power of such forces as the Party or Regions (PRU) and the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) testifies to the existence of a direct threat to democracy, the national-cultural self-identification and development of the nation, and fundamental principles of the Ukrainian statehood," the PRP said in a statement. According to the statement, the current government presents a danger of revising "the state-language status, the unitary character of the state, [the state's] foreign-policy course, and the fundamentals of civic society." Our Ukraine leaders are now in talks with the PRU, the KPU, and the Socialist Party on signing an expanded coalition agreement with them. Our Ukraine, although it has several ministers in the cabinet, is not a signatory to the anticrisis coalition accord signed by these three parties in July. JM

A candidate in elections for Novi Pazar's local assembly was killed and three other people were injured in a drive-by shooting on September 10, AP reported the same day. Gunmen opened fire on a polling station from a passing car and killed Ruzdija Durovic and wounded his nephew Sulejman Durovic and two bystanders, police and local officials said. Some 175 kilometers south of Belgrade, Novi Pazar is in the Sandzak region, which has a large Muslim community. Durovic was a candidate for the List for Sandzak coalition, one of two rival Muslim groups vying for power in the region. His group immediately accused the rival Sandzak Democratic Party of being behind the attack. The Sandzak Democratic Party denied any involvement and party leader Rasim Ljajic announced that the party was "withdrawing from the elections." Serbia's state-run Tanjug news agency claimed that the suspects fled to the adjacent province of Kosova. BW

Milo Djukanovic said on September 10 as Montenegrins headed to the polls for the first general elections since independence that he expects his center-left government to win decisively, Reuters reported the same day. "I expect an absolute victory," he told reporters. "When I say that, I mean that we will win a sufficient number of mandates to form a government by ourselves." A poll by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) released on August 30 showed the ruling coalition, comprising the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led by Djukanovic and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), leading with 45.1 percent of the vote, Bloomberg News reported on September 10. The opposition coalition of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) and the People's Party had 18.8 percent. Djukanovic is widely seen as the architect of Montenegro's independence drive, which culminated in the May 21 referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22 and 23, 2006). BW

Also on September 10, Djukanovic said Montenegro needs to carry out far-reaching reforms after the elections the same day to speed entry into the European Union, Reuters reported the same day. "It will be necessary in the coming period to carry out comprehensive reforms to adapt our standards to those of the European Union," Djukanovic said. "We will need to keep the interest of foreign investors without whose impetus economic development would be slower. We need stability to secure the Europeanization of Montenegro." Reuters quoted election monitors as saying that turnout was markedly lighter than at the May 21 independence referendum. BW

Boris Tadic said on September 10 that Hungary's economic reforms provide a useful model for Belgrade in its quest to join the European Union, B92 reported the same day. Tadic was speaking after meeting with Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom in the Hungarian-majority town of Senta, Vojvodina. Tadic said the Serbian authorities hold Hungary's reforms ahead of its entry to the EU "in high esteem." Tadic also said he is pleased with the level of Hungarian investment in Serbia. The two also discussed future collaboration in the sphere of environmental protection, B92 reported. BW

The Russian oil giant LUKoil announced on September 8 that it plans to open 40 gas stations in Macedonia over the next four years, RIA Novosti reported the same day. The company's refineries in Bulgaria and Romania will supply the stations. LUKoil's press service said the company and the Macedonian government signed a memorandum of cooperation to supply fuel to the country in June 2005. The company, which opened its first gas station in Skopje on September 8, purchased an oil-storage facility with a 5,600-cubic-meter reservoir in Macedonia in August, LUKoil's press service said. BW

The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, had a significant impact on Central Asia. Afterward, the region became a U.S. ally in the global war on terror and Western troops were deployed in several Central Asian countries. But five years after 9/11, the region's governments are cracking down on domestic dissent under the pretext of fighting terror.

Analysts often define two phases in Washington's relations with the Central Asian governments since 9/11. The first phase began five years ago when all Central Asian countries threw their support behind the United States in the war against terror. The governments of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan allowed U.S. troops to come to their countries, while Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan allowed U.S.-led coalition flights over its territory to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Some experts in Central Asia saw it as the beginning of a new geopolitical paradigm. "Was it possible [five years ago] to think that [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov could abruptly cut ties with the White House and [Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek] Bakiev would negotiate the price for use of an air base with the United States?" Sabit Zhusupov, the president of Kazakhstan's Institute for Socioeconomic Information, a nongovernmental organization in Almaty, asks. "I believe the role of Central Asia and the Central Asian states increased significantly after September 11. New vectors of geopolitical developments, in my view, have been fully defined."

But the May 2005 bloodshed in the Uzbek city of Andijon marked a turning point in Washington's relations with Central Asian governments.

The United States and the European Union criticized Uzbekistan for its brutal quelling of the protests, which resulted in hundreds of dead. In response, Washington's strategic ally in the region, Uzbekistan, kicked U.S. troops out of a military base in the country's south and looked to other countries for support.

Tanya Costello, a London-based analyst for Eurasia Group, a political-risk advisory and consulting company, says that the Andijon events "did spark off increased tension and problems in the relationship [of Central Asian states] with the U.S., as well as Europe. And since then, we've seen Uzbekistan look more closely to Russia and China for support and for help in its campaign against what it views as terrorist threats in the country."

Costello told RFE/RL that, in addition to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan's currently unstable relations with Washington are another example of Russia and China trying to limit the United States' influence in the region.

Kyrgyzstan's postrevolutionary government, which is comprised of pro-Western forces that took over after the March 2005 revolution, demanded more than a token payment from Washington for use of a military base near the capital, Bishkek. Costello says Kyrgyzstan is facing pressure from Moscow and Beijing to limit its cooperation with the United States.

The first calls on Washington to set a deadline for its overall military presence in Central Asia came at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's (SCO) summit in July 2005. The SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Dosym Satpaev, who heads an Almaty-based think tank called Risk Assessment Group, told RFE/RL that the Kyrgyz government is also facing pressure from Uzbekistan, and therefore lately stepped up its cooperation against what both governments define as terrorists and religious extremists.

Satpaev says that Kazakhstan, rich with oil and more open than its neighbors, is emerging as Washington's preferred partner in the region. "Kazakh-American relations haven't had drastic ups and downs, and because of that Washington may value Kazakhstan [more than the others]," he says. "It is a more predictable partner, and Americans don't expect unexpected surprises from it as it happened with Uzbekistan. Tashkent used to be very pro-American, but then suddenly changed its foreign-policy orientations."

After 9/11, Satpaev says, the Central Asian governments had certain expectations from their cooperation with Washington. They hoped the U.S. engagement in the region would help provide better regional security. But they were somewhat disappointed, as the region continues to face threats and challenges similar to the ones it did five years ago.

"Americans failed to help Central Asians strengthen their stability after the Afghan war," he says. "Drug trafficking remains huge. The level of military instability in Afghanistan is still very high, which affects border problems and the situation there. Therefore, I believe the [U.S.] policy [in Central Asia] became more limited and, to some extent, less effective."

The Eurasia Group's Costello says, however, that there were some benefits from the U.S. presence in Central Asia immediately after 9/11. She says Washington helped eliminate the threat of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the radical militant group that attacked Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000. The IMU was dismantled, she says, and does not pose an immediate threat, although its remnants are believed to be hiding in remote border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Costello adds that Washington's relations with several of the Central Asian regimes soured because of suspicions among local political elites that the United States had somehow been involved in regime changes and social unrest in the post-Soviet region.

Some regimes in the region have since strengthened domestic repression. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has used the war against terror as a pretext to crack down on political and religious opposition. The same trend is becoming more visible in Kyrgyzstan -- which has recently greatly stepped up its cooperation with Tashkent.

"Central Asian governments do tend to view the terrorist threats differently to the way the U.S. views it," Costello adds. "And that's part of the reason why they have turned more to Russia and China, who tend to share their views on where the terrorist threat is coming from. Some observers in both the U.S. and the EU believe that some of the security threats in Central Asia come not from international Islamist violent groups, for example, but from ostracized social groups in Central Asia who are pushed aside and marginalized by rather authoritarian governments in the region."

Experts say undemocratic domestic policies make the Central Asian countries' political futures -- as well as their strategic partners -- more precarious.

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

A suicide bomber killed Paktiya Province Governor Mohammad Hakim Taniwal and three other people and injured six others on September 10, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack and appointed a commission that includes four cabinet ministers to prepare a state funeral for Taniwal. An eyewitness quoted by Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said a man waiting near Taniwal's offices dashed toward the vehicle in which the governor was riding and "carried out the suicide attack." A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country during the rule of the Taliban -- claimed on September 10 that a "heroic mujahed" named Gholam Gol carried out a "martyrdom-seeking" operation, killing Taniwal and seven soldiers. Mohammad Hanif, speaking for the Taliban, also claimed responsibility for the attack, adding that Gholam Gol was a resident of Paktiya. Taniwal was a close confidant of President Karzai's who returned to his native Afghanistan after nearly two decades of exile in Australia and was regarded by many as a voice of peace and reason. AT

Afghan National Army and U.S.-led coalition forces in the Panjwayi and Zhari districts of Kandahar Province killed "a total of 94 insurgents" and wounded another in the course of an ongoing joint military operation, according to a statement released by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on September 10. The operation, codenamed Medusa, began in early September and is designed to push the neo-Taliban from their stronghold of Panjwayi district. AT

Two soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition forces were killed in separate incidents in the Kandahar and neighboring Zabul provinces, according to a statement released by ISAF on September 10. One soldier was reportedly killed while supporting the ISAF-led Operation Medusa in Kandahar. The second soldier died during an operation in support of the Afghan National Army in Zabul, according to the statement. AT

Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said that while the mission of Italian forces supporting ISAF in Afghanistan is a difficult and dangerous undertaking, Rome is not planning any withdrawal of forces from that country, the Rome-based daily "La Repubblica" reported on September 9. Responding to a question about whether Italian soldiers are in Afghanistan to wage war on the Taliban, Parisi responded: "We are not there to fight the Taliban; but if they attacked us, they would find us ready." Some members of Italy's coalition government have suggested the country should reduce its forces deployed with ISAF in order to deploy forces in Lebanon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 2006). Parisi said such calls are "unacceptable," adding that Italy has made "a commitment" with NATO that it will "respect." AT

President Karzai attended the launch of a new Coca-Cola bottling plant near Kabul on September 10, international news agencies reported. Karzai described the investment as "an important step forward to economic growth, self-sufficiency, and [a] better future of Afghanistan," according to a press statement released by Coca-Cola. Afghanistan was home to bottling and other Coca-Cola facilities in the 1970s. The $25 million bottling investment is among the largest ventures in Afghanistan in more than a decade. AT

After the second day of talks in Vienna between Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, unnamed diplomats reportedly told AP on September 10 that the two sides have reached a compromise in which Tehran would suspend uranium enrichment for a month or two if this can be portrayed in a face-saving way. However, Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asqar Soltanieh said on state television on September 10 that reports of a suspension are false. "Suspension, or as some news agencies say, 'a suspension for one or two months,' was not discussed in the talks and, based on my information from the meeting, I denied this," he said. Aside from that seemingly significant discrepancy, both sides have been publicly enthusiastic about the discussions. RFE/RL quoted Larijani as saying that "we have made constructive progress" and adding: "We have reached common points of view on a number of issues that we have. And, as was mentioned by Solana, many of the misunderstandings were removed." Solana described the "hours of work" as "productive" and said some "misunderstandings" were "clarified." Solana said another meeting will follow within a week. BS

Seven Jewish-Iranian families filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court on September 7 claiming that the Iranian government kidnapped their relatives as they tried to escape Iran in 1994-97, Radio Farda reported. One day later, a summons relating to the case was delivered to Iran's former president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, at a reception hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arlington, Virginia. The lawsuit alleges that Khatami's policies precluded a trial and these same policies prevented the provision of information on those missing. One of the attorneys in the case, the Los Angeles-based Pooya Dayanim, told Radio Farda that U.S. law allows foreign victims of torture to file cases against the torturers in U.S. federal courts. BS

The Bank Saderat Iran announced on September 10 that all its activities comply with Islamic law and with international regulations, IRNA reported. The announcement added that the bank's extensive ties with foreign financial institutions make it immune to any actions by the United States. The Iranian bank was responding to a September 8 speech by U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Levey announced that Bank Saderat is prevented access to the U.S. financial system because its activities aid terrorist organizations. "Iran provides Hizballah with hundreds of millions of dollars each year, which is why I have said that Iran is the central banker of terror," Levey said. "It is remarkable that Iran has a nine-digit line item in its budget to support Hizballah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations at the expense of investing in the future of its young people." Levey went on to say that he and other U.S. officials will travel to the Middle East and Asia to discuss "measures we should all be taking to protect ourselves from Iran's use of the international financial system to advance its dangerous policies." BS

South Khorasan Governor-General Seyyed Solat Mortazavi told a September 10 meeting of provincial officials in the provincial capital of Birjand that the actions of Baluchi insurgents led by Abdulmalik Rigi have been stopped, Mehr News Agency reported. "With the grace of God and owing to an unprecedented action, all active members of the Rigi revolt have been arrested and full security has been [restored] in eastern Iran," he said. Rigi's group, called Jundullah, was blamed for a March 16 attack on a motorcade traveling between the cities of Zahedan and Zabol in which more than 20 people were killed and seven others injured; in early April, it released a videotape in which it claimed to have killed an officer in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," March 29 and April 18, 2006). Mortazavi attributed the actions of Jundullah to foreign powers, saying, "The arrogant powers, bent on undermining the security of the Islamic republic, seek to exacerbate ethnic and tribal differences and in so doing commit all sorts of crimes by using operatives like Rigi." BS

Seyyed Mohammad-Ali Husseini was named the Iranian Foreign Ministry's new spokesman in a September 10 directive from Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, Mehr News Agency reported. Previously director of the Supervision and Assessment Department in the Foreign Ministry, Husseini also has served as charge d'affaires in Jordan, Syria, and Tajikistan. He succeeds Hamid Reza Assefi, who has served as spokesman since 1999. BS

Saddam Hussein and six co-defendants returned to court on September 11 for the resumption of the Anfal trial in Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). An Iraqi doctor now living in the United States told of chemical attacks against Kurdish villages that she witnessed, describing them as genocide, Reuters reported. "I saw hundreds of people, not dozens, but hundreds of people. They were vomiting and their eyes were watering. They complained of having sore stomachs," Katherine Elias Mikhail said in describing a June 5, 1987, attack. Chemical weapons were "dropped regularly" in separate attacks in autumn 1988, she added. Mikhail demanded compensation in her formal complaint from Hussein, his cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid, "and all the international organizations or companies which provided the Iraqi regime with these weapons." KR

The Council of Representatives postponed a reading of the draft law on federalism on September 10 after Sunni parliamentarians refused to attend the parliamentary session, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Lawmakers closed the usually public council session on September 7 after a fierce debate broke out on the parliament floor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). The parliament is now expected to take up the issue in 10 days' time. "Many of the political forces in Iraq consider federalism...a dismemberment plan and a red line. Therefore, presenting this draft law at this time torpedoes the reconciliation and dialogue plan, which is the gateway of hope and a bridge leading to stability, security, and political balance in Iraq," parliamentarian Iyad Jamal al-Din, a member of the Iraqis List, told reporters on September 10. KR

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), called on Iraqis to accept federalism as laid out in the constitution in a statement posted to his party's website on September 8. "We believe that federalism in Iraq can achieve justice, reconstruction, security, and stability," he said. Al-Hakim pointed to the stability and economic success achieved in the autonomous Kurdish region, which he attributed to federalism. "Whoever accepts Kurdistan's federalism must accept the federalism of the center, the south, Baghdad," and other areas. KR

An independent witness who toured Abu Ghraib Prison last week told London's "The Sunday Telegraph" that detainees were neglected and abused by their Iraqi captors there, the newspaper reported on September 10. Iraqis took control of the prison last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2006). The witness reported hearing screams coming from cell blocks that housed terrorist suspects, but said he was denied access to those areas. Prisoners told the witness in front of their jailers that they were afraid for their safety, and they said they were no longer being fed chicken and milk, and were only being fed rice and water. Detainees released from the facility over the past week said torture was routinely being carried out. One such detainee said conditions had worsened after the U.S. military handed the prison over to Iraqis. He added that local human rights workers tied to Shi'ite political parties have failed to support the detainees, and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) no longer visits the facility. The ICRC confirmed it has not visited the prison since January 2005. Twenty-seven Iraqis were hanged in a mass execution at the prison on September 6, the newspaper reported. KR