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Newsline - September 14, 2006

Russian Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov died on September 14 from wounds suffered when he was shot by unknown gunmen in Moscow late on September 13, international news agencies reported. Kozlov died after undergoing emergency surgery on wounds to his head and body, which he sustained when waiting gunmen fired on him as he emerged from a company soccer match. During a cabinet meeting in Moscow on September 14, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov called for a minute of silence to honor Kozlov. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told the cabinet that a high-powered investigation is under way. He said that "after the crime was committed yesterday, the most experienced officials from the Criminal Investigations Division, from the Organized Crime Division, [along with] the head of the city police, went to the scene. I am in effective control of all phases of the investigation. We are working on a scenario that is work-related, and we are pursuing other scenarios as well." Kozlov was conducting an active campaign to clean up the banking sector. "Vremya novostei" recalled on September 14 that he said in his last interview that he is prepared to continue revoking the licenses of banks engaged in money laundering. Some other Russian commentators suggested, however, that Kozlov might have made some powerful enemies in Russia's shadowy business world in the course of his broader career. Several papers called his death "a contract killing." Reuters described the killing as the most high-profile assassination since President Vladimir Putin took office at the start of the decade. PM

Konstantin Zatulin, who is the director of the Institute of CIS Countries and a State Duma deputy, said on September 14 that "Russia definitely respects the principle of referendum to decide of the fate of nations and populations," RFE/RL reported. He added that "Russia is totally prepared to recognize, under certain conditions, the independence of Transdniester from the Moldovan republic, especially since this independence has long been a fact." He stressed nonetheless that "with all due respect to the organizers of the [September 17] referendum and to the results of the vote, I think that Russia is unlikely ready to merge with Transdniester. Russia today has no interest in creating additional difficulties by inviting Transdniester to join the Russian Federation. We can develop ties with Transdniester without doing this. Besides, Transdniester does not border the Russian Federation." Zatulin said that the Duma will not send an official delegation to the upcoming vote but some deputies will go there on a private basis. PM

Prime Minister Fradkov on September 11 dismissed Yury Zhdanov as head of the Federal Agency for Special Economic Zones (RosOEZ), which is directly subordinated to German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, "Vedomosti" reported on September 13. The daily "Kommersant" wrote that Gref learned of the sacking only after the fact and then issued a statement saying that the dismissal had nothing to do with Zhdanov's performance on the job. RIA Novosti suggested that Zhdanov asked to "be relieved of his duties" to take up other, unspecified business offers. "Vedomosti" wrote that a group of Federal Security Service (FSB) officers around President Putin's aide Viktor Ivanov, who himself has served in the KGB and FSB, wanted Zhdanov out. Zhdanov has backgrounds in both economics and security and had a mandate from Gref to develop the special economic zones. "Izvestia" noted on September 14 that some observers believe that Zhdanov's security background made him ill-suited to serve in Fradkov's team, while other observers feel that Zhdanov simply was not up to the job. For months, there have been reports in the media saying that Gref himself is on his way out. In June, there was a flurry of media Kremlinological speculation when Putin sacked the prosecutor-general and replaced him with the justice minister. In the end, all that happened was that the two men switched jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 23, 2006). PM

Nineteen senior Russian officials have been sacked over a high-profile smuggling case, reported on September 14. Among those dismissed were several generals from the FSB, a senior official in the presidential administration, and other officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office and the customs service. The case relates to the alleged illegal importing of large shipments of furniture in 2000 to two Moscow furniture stores. One of them, known as the Three Whales, has given its name to the affair, which has been the subject of media speculation for months. PM

Andrei Savelev (Rodina) proposed at a plenary session on September 13 that the State Duma formally request that President Putin dismiss Ramzan Kadyrov as Chechen prime minister for unspecified statements and actions that fuel interethnic tensions, according to RIA Novosti as reposted on Also on September 13, seven people were killed and 20 injured in a shoot-out on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia between Ingush traffic police and Chechen Interior Ministry special forces (OMON), reported. Kadyrov said that incident was the result of "a misunderstanding," and he vowed to punish those responsible. LF

Aslanbek Kelekhsayev, who is secretary of the North Ossetian Economic and Social Security Council, denied on September 13 that the Ossetian jamaat exists, RIA Novosti reported. He said resistance fighters created the "myth" of the Ossetian jamaat "for propaganda purposes." The jamaat has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the past six months, and most recently for the crash on September 11 of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter in which 10 senior military officers died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12 and 13, 2006). According to the Chechen resistance website, Amir Saad, who commands the Ossetian jamaat, personally launched the shoulder-fired missile that downed that helicopter. The jamaat claims to have several more such missiles at its disposal and has warned it will mount further such attacks on Russian military aircraft. LF

Doku Umarov held consultations earlier this month with the commanders of the various Caucasus fronts and sectors, the resistance website reported on September 12. In a video appeal recorded during those consultations, Umarov again stressed that all Muslims have the right to defend their faith, and that international law empowers all peoples to defend their own freedom. He appealed to the world Muslim community "not to forget their brothers in faith, the Caucasus mojaheds," and to pray to Allah that he may help them. LF

In the same video address, Umarov stressed his personal loyalty to his two predecessors as resistance commander and Chechen Republic Ichkeria president, Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, reported on September 12. He recalled that their policy was based on an exchange of views with lower-level commanders, and pledged to continue it. Umarov admitted that his knowledge of Islam is not as profound as that of his two predecessors, and that he counts himself as a warrior above all else. For that reason, he said, he is constantly accompanied on his travels by alims who advise him and alert him to his errors. In conclusion, Umarov warned his envoys abroad that the policies they pursue should not deviate from the decisions of the State Defense Council. LF

President Putin signed on September 11 decrees on preparations to celebrate in 2007 the 450th anniversary of the voluntary incorporation of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Adygeya into the Tsarist empire, according to as cited by The social-political organization Cherkess Congress criticized Putin's decree the same day, according to Kavkazsky Uzel. Alyy Tliap, who heads a second Cherkess organization, Adyge Khase, argued that it is inappropriate to mark the alleged voluntary incorporation of the region into the Russian empire given that tens of thousands of Adygs and Cherkess were either slaughtered resisting Russian forces or constrained to emigrate. He suggested that it would be more appropriate to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the establishing of "union relations" between Circassia and imperial Russia. LF

Andranik Markarian issued a statement on September 13 defending his embattled Environment Minister Vardan Ayvazian against recent corruption allegations by a U.S. company mining company operating in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The prime minister confirmed that the U.S. government has raised the matter with the Armenian authorities after the company reportedly submitted documentary evidence demonstrating Ayvazian's demand for a $3 million bribe but contended that "the facts presented by them do not correspond to reality." The recent accusations of corruption are the latest in a series of disputes between the Environment Ministry and the Global Gold Corporation and come in the wake of a recent decision by the ministry to revoke the company's license to carry out exploratory work at a mine located at Marjan, near the Iranian border. RG

Parliamentarian Armen Ashotian denounced on September 13 recent criticism of the governing Republican Party (HHK) as a "smear campaign," according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The deputy was referring to recent criticism denouncing the growing role of "criminal elements" in Armenian politics that were widely interpreted as veiled references to the Republican Party. Ashotian denounced the linking of crime and politics and argued that his party is being unduly targeted simply because "we are now the strongest party and we have the greatest ambitions." The opposition has sought to mobilize support by advocating the creation of a broad "anticriminal movement" as a campaign issue in the May 2007 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006). RG

Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian signed on September 11 a new bilateral agreement on military cooperation with his Bulgarian counterpart Veselin Bliznakov, Arminfo reported September 13. The agreement with Bulgaria, concluded during an official visit by Sarkisian, provides for an expansion of military cooperation that includes an increase in the number of Armenian officers studying in Bulgarian military institutions, specific Bulgarian assistance in the formulation of Armenia's military doctrine and national security strategy, as well as the preparation of an annual defense budget. Sarkisian also met with Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov, deputy parliament speaker Petur Beron, and senior members of the parliamentary Defense Committee. RG

An unnamed official from the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released on September 13 details on proposed structural reforms to the armed forces, according to the APA news agency. According to the official, the planned reforms will expand the scope of responsibilities of the General Staff and grant it a greater degree of autonomy within the Defense Ministry, thereby reducing the oversight power of the defense minister. Aimed to conform more closely to NATO standards, the reforms will also shift several departments from the Defense Ministry to the General Staff, including the office of the military inspectorate and the enlistment office. The overall package of structural reform will not be fully introduced until mid-2007, although some shifts in internal financing and personnel have already been implemented. RG

Zurab Noghaideli reported on September 13 that he is "very pleased" with the progress of the government reconstruction effort in the Kodori Gorge and noted that it has improved living conditions and contributed to overall security, Imedi television reported. Noghaideli added that the government has allocated funds for the provision of food supplies, which are to be delivered to local residents in the coming weeks under the supervision of presidential-administration official Jambul Bakuradze. Energy Minister Nika Gilauri also reported that his ministry plans to construct two small hydroelectric power plants in the Kodori Gorge, with the first to become operational by the middle of next month, the Kavkas Press news agency reported on September 13. The Georgian government effectively extended its authority in the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge in an offensive in late July (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 3, 2006). RG

In a special ceremony in Tbilisi, the founder of Georgia's Imedi television station, Badri Patarkatsishvili, and a delegation led by Martin Pompadur, an executive of the U.S. News Corporation group, marked on September 13 the merger of the two media groups, Imedi reported. The ceremony, attended by U.S. Ambassador John Tefft, was followed by a board of directors meeting and a subsequent news conference where the visiting American corporate delegation stressed that they value Imedi's "independent editorial policy" and pledged to closely cooperate as "equal partners" with their Georgian partners. The News Corporation group incorporates a wide spectrum of media interests throughout the world and has concluded similar partnership agreements with media outlets in Bulgaria, Serbia, Poland, and Israel. RG

Nursultan Nazarbaev said in Astana on September 13 that there are no plans for Kazakhstan to join the European Union, but added that the country will, over time, be of significant interest to the European community, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev noted that although "our plans today don't include joining the EU," Kazakhstan is quickly becoming a "factor in energy security in Asia and Europe" and has a strategic trade agreement with the EU that has helped to make it Kazakhstan's second-largest trading partner after Russia. He further explained that Kazakhstan "closely cooperates" with both the Eurasian Economic Community and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, also reflecting China's position as Kazakhstan's third-largest trading partner. RG

President Nazarbaev called on September 13 for closer relations with the United States, arguing that "the time is coming when our relations can be raised to an absolutely different level," Interfax reported. His comments, at a press conference in Astana, come ahead of a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush during an official state visit to Washington at the end of this month. Nazarbaev has not visited the United States since 2001, although Kazakhstan has steadily increased its role as a partner in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, supporting coalition operations in nearby Afghanistan by providing logistical assistance and participating in joint maritime security efforts in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan is also currently hosting a 10-day international military exercise on counterterrorism, known as Steppe Eagle 2006, that includes the participation of U.S. troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). RG

Kurmanbek Bakiev accepted on September 13 the resignation of Busurmankul Tabaldiev, the head of the Kyrgyz National Security Service (SNB), according to Kabar and AKIpress. Bakiev also fired his brother, Janysh Bakiev, from his position as SNB first deputy chairman the day before, after reports indicated his involvement in an alleged conspiracy by the SNB to target opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev by planting drugs in his luggage prior to his departure for a conference in Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 11, 12, and 13, 2006). RG

In a ceremony in Dushanbe, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and U.S. Ambassador Tracey Ann Jacobson formally signed on September 13 a protocol on counternarcotics trafficking, Tajik state television reported. The new protocol bolsters an existing January 2003 agreement by providing some $5.7 million in assistance to Tajik border guards and law enforcement personnel to support their efforts to fight drug trafficking. RG

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan in Minsk on September 13 that Belarus and China are implementing "absolutely coordinated and identical foreign policies," Belapan reported. "We adhere to common criteria in assessing international events and situations," the Belarusian president added. Lukashenka also expressed his satisfaction with military cooperation with China, noting that both countries signed more than 220 agreements and contracts in this sphere. He presented Cao with Belarus's Order of Friendship Between Peoples. Cao reportedly said in Minsk that Lukashenka enjoys much support among the Chinese people, including military servicemen. JM

Lyudmila Shakhotska, a demographic expert in the Economic Institute of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, said in a interview with the Minsk-based independent daily "Narodnaya volya" on September 12 that there will be no question about religious conviction in the questionnaire of a national census planned for 2009. "Earlier, such a question was not asked either," Shakhotska said. "The point is that if you ask people whether they are believers, many in Belarus will answer 'no.' But if you ask this question in a different way -- 'To what belief do you attribute yourself?' -- people will answer, for instance, to [Roman] Catholicism or to Orthodoxy. But this would be unreliable data. To study religiousness, one or two questions are not enough. It is necessary to hold a separate survey." JM

The European Union and Ukraine on September 14 signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for EU financing of oil and gas meters on pipelines traversing Ukraine's borders, Reuters reported. The signing took place within the framework of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's visit to Brussels. "This is a very concrete cooperation scheme to increase transparency, reliability, and safety of supplies to Ukraine, but also transit to the European Union," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told journalists after talks with Yanukovych. The flow of Russian gas through Ukraine to Europe was briefly disrupted in January when Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over gas pricing. On September 13, the European Commission promised to start a discussion early next year on a broader cooperation agreement with Ukraine that could include a free-trade deal. JM

Lawmakers from the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc on September 13 blocked the parliamentary rostrum and scuffled with colleagues from the pro-government coalition following a vote on a special commission to investigate steep gas-price increases this year, Ukrainian media reported. Former Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's cabinet raised gas tariffs two times this year, by 25 percent as of May and by nearly 100 percent as of July. The investigative commission was proposed by former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who said that private Ukrainian consumers now pay 414 hryvnyas ($82) per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, whereas the real gas cost is 114 hryvnyas. The Verkhovna Rada approved the commission with 230 votes, but rejected a candidate for its chairman proposed by the opposition. In addition, deputies from the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party mandated the commission to look into a government decision to write off debts of the Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, which Tymoshenko headed in 1995-97. JM

Ethnic Albanian leaders have derisively dismissed Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's proposal that a new constitution define Kosova as an "inseparable part" of Serbia, AKI reported on September 13. Addressing parliament on September 12, Kostunica urged lawmakers to find a "lasting and comprehensive answer to all difficulties confronting us over Kosovo" to prevent its secession from Serbia. "Our best answer unanimously adopt in the shortest possible time, by the end of December, a new constitution and to confirm unanimously our irrevocable stand that Kosovo is a part of Serbia," he added. Skender Hiseni, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian negotiating team at Kosova's final-status talks, accused Kostunica of playing a "political game." He added that Kosova is clearly on the path to independence and that the Serbian leader's remarks were "not serious." Baton Hadziu, director of the Prishtina-based daily newspaper "Ekspres," said rewriting the Serbian Constitution "with Kosova within it, is like writing on the ice." BW

Mladjan Dinkic said on September 13 that the search for war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic has widened to include a review of records of companies suspected of aiding him, B92 and AP reported the same day. "Tax authorities are gathering information and controlling records of the firms that are suspected of having financed Mladic's hiding in the past," he said. Dinkic neither named the specific companies allegedly involved, nor did he specify how they assisted Mladic. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in Belgrade announced that 10 people suspected of aiding Mladic who have been arrested in recent months will go on trial on September 27, Beta and AP reported the same day. BW

Also on September 13, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, Clint Williamson, met with Serbia's Prime Minister Kostunica and President Boris Tadic to urge action on Mladic, AP reported the same day. Kostunica said his "government fully supports cooperation" with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and he praised the "action plan" that his government adopted to capture Mladic with the help of foreign intelligence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006). Tadic's office also issued a statement claiming that Williamson agreed it is "very important" that the plan be fully implemented as soon as possible. Williamson also met on September 13 with Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic to discuss Mladic as well as the case of Agron, Mehmet, and Ilijem Bitichi, three Albanian American brothers killed in Kosova in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4 and 25, 2006). BW

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said on September 12 that Serbs do not see their future in Bosnia, Reuters reported the same day. "The dominant feeling among the people in the Republika Srpska is that they don't see the Republika Srpska in Bosnia in the long run," Dodik said. Serbs in Bosnia have spoken increasingly openly about leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina since Montenegro won independence from Serbia in May and talks on Kosova's final status near their conclusion. Dodik has said that independence for Bosnian Serbs at some stage is inevitable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, September 1 and 5, 2006). BW

Official results in Montenegro's election have confirmed that the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has won a majority of seats in parliament, B92 reported on September 13. A coalition of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) won an absolute majority of 41 mandates in the 81-seat parliament. A new grouping of pro-Serbian parties will have the second-highest number of seats with 12, B92 and the BBC reported. The main opposition in the outgoing parliament, Predrag Bulatovic's pro-Serbian Socialist People's Party (SNP), won just 11 seats compared with 26 in the former parliament. A nongovernmental organization that became a political party called the Movement for Change took 11 seats. Montenegro's Election Commission announced that official turnout for the election was 71.37 percent of eligible voters. BW

The Reforms and Order Party surprised fellow Our Ukraine constituents when it recently announced it was switching alliances and entering the opposition in order to avoid a partnership with a government it accused of posing a threat to democracy.

What is taking place in Our Ukraine can be described as the final stage in the disintegration of the Orange Revolution camp that helped bring Viktor Yushchenko to the presidential post in December 2004.

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was the first to leave the pro-presidential alliance, in September 2005, after Yushchenko removed Tymoshenko from the post of prime minister.

When the Party of Regions, led by Yushchenko's erstwhile presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych, won the parliamentary elections in March, an opportunity arose for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to reunite in an effort to prevent Yanukovych from returning to power.

But as old political wisdom asserts, being in opposition unites, while being in power divides. Lingering animosities and personal ambitions prevented the leaders of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party from resurrecting their 2005 ruling alliance.

Thus, the second force to quit the Orange Revolution camp was the Socialist Party led by Oleksandr Moroz. The Socialists unexpectedly switched sides in July, signing an "anticrisis" accord with the Party of Regions and the Communists.

Yushchenko then tried to salvage the situation by having Our Ukraine sign a declaration of national unity with the anticrisis coalition. That deal allowed Our Ukraine to obtain several ministerial portfolios in Yanukovych's cabinet and represented a symbolic agreement between the signatories to pursue the basic goals and ideals of the Orange Revolution.

Running the government jointly with the Communist Party, however, has turned out to be an unpalatable idea for many Our Ukraine politicians. Only 30 of Our Ukraine's 80 lawmakers voted in August to confirm Yanukovych as prime minister, despite the fact that the bloc delegated four ministers to his cabinet, in addition to three ministers appointed by Yushchenko.

Mykola Katerynchuk, the chairman of the executive board of the Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) -- which constitutes the core of the Our Ukraine parliamentary bloc -- suggested that those NSNU members who backed Yanukovych in the vote should leave the union.

But this proposal was criticized by NSNU leader Roman Bezsmertnyy, who is in favor of Our Ukraine joining the anticrisis coalition on the basis of a new coalition accord.

How to do this, however, is a major headache for Yushchenko's loyalists.

Lawmaker Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov from the People's Rukh of Ukraine, another important component of Our Ukraine, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that his party took a "very stiff position" on a potential expanded coalition.

"We see the possibility of forming a new coalition, but only if it was done simultaneously with a full reformatting of the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada and the government. To which, I think, these guys [from the anticrisis coalition] will never agree," Pozhyvanov said. "And [we want a coalition] without the Communists. It is a very stiff position. It has not gained much favor with Borys Ivanovych [Bezsmertnyy], but it was approved by voting."

The Reforms and Order Party from the Our Ukraine bloc has overtly switched to the opposition, charging that Yanukovych's government poses "a direct threat to democracy, the national-cultural self-identification and development of the nation, and fundamental principles of the Ukrainian statehood."

However, others from Our Ukraine, like former National Security and Defense Secretary Petro Poroshenko, have not lost hope of making a deal with the anticrisis coalition. "Everything depends on the efficiency of the negotiating process," Poroshenko said. "I can't say that the negotiations are running very smoothly. There were different views regarding both the name and principles of the coalition -- it has to be a new coalition. It is very much a matter of principle [for us] to include the programmatic provisions of the declaration of national unity into the coalition agreement."

Some Ukrainian political commentators and analysts, like Kostyantyn Maleyev of the Kyiv-based Philosophical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, believe that Our Ukraine will not be able to reach a unifying conclusion on what position to take on working with Yanukovych's cabinet. "It is quite apparent that there are diametrically opposing views regarding this issue in Our Ukraine, as well as opposite trends regarding the development of Our Ukraine itself," Maleyev said. "It seems that these contradictions cannot be overcome in the future."

In theory, Yanukovych does not need Our Ukraine's support in parliament -- his Party of Regions, the Socialists, and the Communists jointly control 240 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, which is sufficient to pass most legislation.

In practice, however, backing from Our Ukraine may be needed to introduce some economic measures where the views of the Marxism-rooted Communists and Socialists differ from those of the pro-market Party of Regions. In addition, Yanukovych may need Our Ukraine in the ruling coalition as a sort of legitimization of his government in the eyes of the West.

But irrespective of the final outcome of this coalition-building story, it is already evident that the pro-presidential Our Ukraine, which several months ago stood a realistic chance of dictating its own conditions for the government, will now have to reconcile itself to the status of a secondary political force.

Our Ukraine's political weight may be diminished even further by lawmakers who choose to switch to the opposition and side with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. According to cautious estimates, there may be around 20 such defectors.

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service correspondent Tetyana Yarmoshchuk contributed to this report.)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on September 13 inaugurated the Torkham-Jalalabad highway in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, a press release from Karzai's office indicated. Aziz traveled to Jalalabad to inaugurate the highway, which was reconstructed with $17 million from Pakistan. The 75-kilometer road is the main link between Kabul and Peshawar in Pakistan. While Pakistan is unable to be a provider of assistance to other countries, it will play a role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Aziz said. Karzai told Aziz that he is "happy that Pakistan stresses the need for strengthening security and reconstruction in Afghanistan." According to Aziz, the highway project is one of several Pakistani projects in Afghanistan costing $250 million, Islamabad-based PTV reported on September 13. Karzai and Aziz also broke ground on turning the current two-lane highway into a four-lane highway. AT

As expected, Kabul has reacted negatively to the remarks made by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Brussels on September 12 when he warned that the Taliban phenomenon posed a greater danger than Al-Qaeda because the former has roots among the Pashtuns in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Afghanistan and the international community are aware that the Taliban came into existence as part of the policies of Pakistan's military intelligence (Inter-Services Intelligence), the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on September 13. The Taliban continue to receive logistical and financial support from "specific circles" on the "other side of the Durand Line" -- the Afghan-Pakistani border, which Kabul does not officially recognize. According to the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Musharraf accusing the Pashtun tribes of "collective support" of the Taliban is an "insult" to a people who are interested in peace and security in their country. The Foreign Ministry regards Musharraf's comments as unfriendly and counter to what the Pakistani leader promised during his recent trip to Kabul. AT

The German cabinet on September 13 decided to extend the mandate of German forces serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ddp reported. The mandate of German troops with ISAF, which expires on October 13, has been extended for an additional year, while the mandate and strength of the German contingent remains unchanged. Germany has around 3,000 troops mostly stationed in northern Afghanistan. The cabinet decision requires parliamentary approval. While NATO members such as Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have contributed forces to fight the neo-Taliban in southern Afghanistan, others such as Germany have been reluctant to put their forces in combat situations. Meanwhile, NATO has called for reinforcements in the face of the unexpected intensity of the insurgency but is yet to get more commitments for additional troops for its southern area of operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). AT

The Norwegian Defense Ministry has refused to accept a request by NATO to redeploy around 300 Norwegian troops from northern Afghanistan to the more restive south, the Oslo daily "Aftenposten" reported on September 13. Defense Ministry spokesman Kjetil Eide said that NATO sent an "inquiry" and not an "order." The move to southern Afghanistan "was an assignment not in keeping with what the Norwegian" forces were sent to that country to perform, Brigadier Gunnar Gustavsen, the chief of staff of the Joint Defense operative headquarters, said. Oslo has made it clear to NATO that its forces in Afghanistan are not battle-ready. AT

Nuri al-Maliki met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on September 13, receiving the cleric's pledge that Iran will give Iraq "practical support," IRNA reported. Khamenei said the "happiness and progress" of Iraqis constitutes the same for Iranians. "The Islamic Republic...considers itself obliged to provide the Iraqi people and government its practical support," he said. He expressed hope that the "daily suffering" of Iraqis, which he blamed "partly" on the previous "diabolical regime" and partly on "the presence of occupiers," will end soon. "With the departure of the occupiers, many of Iraq's problems will be resolved," Khamenei said. Al-Maliki thanked Khamenei for Iran's supportive stance, and said, "the expansion of relations with friendly and neighborly states is one of Iraq's foreign-policy priorities," IRNA reported. Separately, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived in Senegal's capital Dakar the same day, where he was to attend a formal dinner, before flying to Cuba for a Nonaligned Movement summit, Fars news agency reported. VS

The governing board of the UN's the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) met in Vienna on September 13 to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear program, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and news agencies reported. The board was to consider a statement drawn up by France, Great Britain, and Germany mildly critical of Iran's failure to suspend nuclear fuel-making and related activities in response to repeated Western requests, AP reported. The text of the statement uses "toned-down" language that will not jeopardize scheduled September 14 talks with Iran, AP quoted unnamed diplomats as saying. Western powers want Iran to drop its ambition to make nuclear fuel, to prevent it from using related know-how in making bombs. Iran says it has a legal right to make fuel for future power stations. On September 14, scheduled talks between Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana were postponed, and talks are to be held between aides instead, AP reported. It added that EU spokeswoman Christina Gallach did not immediately give a reason for the development. VS

Intelligence and Security Minister Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei said in Tehran on September 13 that the judiciary and Intelligence Ministry must closely cooperate to counter "enemy plots," IRNA reported. Enemies including Western powers are "trying to sow discord among officials," he told a gathering of public and revolutionary prosecutors. He said the judiciary and Intelligence Ministry can "with vigilance and a firm approach undo the enemy's programs." The enemy should never be underestimated, he said, lest this weaken the resolve to fight it. "While we enjoy a high level of peace and calm with your efforts and cooperation, one should never underestimate the enemy and overlook such manifest devils as America, Great Britain, and Israel," he said. The enemy is "seriously trying to spy" in Iran, and not just looking for secret information. "The enemy is today brainwashing some people," he said, and training them to "utter what it wants to say." Iran's enemies, he said, are determined to curb its growing regional influence, and are trying by "various means such as satellites, websites, weblogs, paid agents, duped agents, the fifth column and ignorant people, and through writing and audiovisual broadcasting to create divisions among the Islamic people," IRNA reported. VS

Editors and managers of several "nongovernmental" dailies met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in Tehran on September 13, and heard his views on responsible reporting. He said newspapers are a "strategic" necessity in Iran, but need to respect truthful reporting and consider state interests, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani said "supra-legal restrictions on the press go against the interests of the revolution and country," and it is "practically impossible" to block the news in a "global village" and amid an "information explosion." But he urged the press to "respect the interests of the people, regime, and country, and commit themselves to reporting realities and respecting" their "professional principles." He deplored the "bad tradition" of "insults and calumny" against politicians, "especially at elections," IRNA reported. The same day, Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said in Tehran that his ministry is trying to regulate, but not restrict, the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), IRNA reported. He denied that new working norms for NGOs proposed by the ministry are restrictive: "Regulating and clarifying the work of [NGOs] is not restriction." "We say [NGOs] should be orderly and...supervised...we want the implementation of the same standards used with these bodies in the West, which everyone says are good," IRNA quoted him as saying. VS

Shi'ite parties belonging to the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) bloc agreed during a September 13 meeting to postpone presenting to parliament draft legislation to establish mechanisms for forming regional governments, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Two parties in the bloc, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, attempted twice in recent days to propose a draft law on federalism. Their attempts were shot down by smaller parties in the bloc, including supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Islamic Virtue Party (Al-Fadilah). The latter party's spokesman, Sabah al-Sa'di, told Al-Sharqiyah that UIA members concluded that more time is needed to present a viable draft law to parliament. Al-Sadr supporters and the Islamic Virtue Party are strongly opposed to the SCIRI-Al-Da'wah proposal and have said in recent days that they intend to present an alternative draft law to parliament. KR

The southern Iraqi city of Al-Diwaniyah was placed under curfew on September 14 after clashes broke out between U.S. forces and militiamen from Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army, international media reported. The clashes broke out after an overnight raid on the cleric's office in the city in which the U.S. military removed computers and files, Reuters reported. When U.S. troops returned to the area hours later, militiamen threw rocks, then fired on the soldiers. The troops withdrew, and militiamen subsequently marched to the local governor's office where they exchanged gunfire with the governor's security guards. Al-Diwaniyah was the sight of several days-long clashes last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2006). KR

Two Iraqi journalists have been killed in Iraq this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced on September 13. The killings follow the September 11 killing of a design editor working for state-run daily "Al-Sabah" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006). Safa Isma'il Inad, a journalist employed by "Al-Watan" newspaper, was found shot in the head near the Al-Sadr City district of eastern Baghdad. He was shot inside a photo print shop elsewhere in the city and dragged away by the gunmen, CPJ reported. Hadi Anawi al-Juburi, a journalist and representative of the Diyala branch of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, was killed on a road north of Baghdad, according to CPJ. "Journalists continue to be targeted simply because they report the news in Iraq and their murderers have gone unpunished by the Iraqi authorities," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement on the organization's website. KR

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters at a September 13 press briefing in New York that the next International Compact for Iraq meeting is slated for September 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006). The Iraqi government "will be setting benchmarks that they will put forward as to what they intend to do in order not only to firm up their own economic situation, but also to provide assurance and confidence to the international community that they have a serious partner on the other side, and for all of us to work together," Annan said. "There will be separate meeting between Iraq and its neighbors, but this is a much broader meeting." Asked if the government intends to seek donor support at the September meeting, Annan said, "No, there will be no pledges and fund raising." The secretary-general said that so far 33 countries have pledged to attend the meeting. He did not say where the meeting will take place. KR

Annan told reporters at the same September 13 press briefing that many Middle Eastern leaders have expressed frustration over the U.S.-led war in Iraq and its consequences. Annan recently returned from a tour of the region. "Most of the leaders I spoke to felt that the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has been a real disaster for them. They believe it has destabilized the region," he said. Annan said that the leaders he spoke with tended to subscribe to the view that "the Americans should stay until the situation improves and that, having created the problem, they cannot walk away." By contrast, Iran's leadership in particular, "believes that the presence of the U.S. is a problem and that the U.S. should leave and that, if the U.S. were to decide to leave, they would help them leave," he added. "I believe that, if [the U.S. military] has to leave, the timing has to be optimum and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region," the secretary-general noted. KR