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Newsline - September 15, 2006

London's "Financial Times" reported on September 15 that Manfred Bischoff and Arnaud Lagardere, who are, respectively, the German and French co-chairmen of EADS, said in a joint statement that Russia will not be allowed to "buy a power role" in the European aerospace company. The statement came after it became public that the Russian state bank Vneshtorgbank recently purchased a stake of over 5 percent in EADS, that Russia wants to acquire a "blocking stake" in the firm, and that President Vladimir Putin plans to ask for Russian representation on the EADS board when he meets French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in France later in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12 and 13, 2006). In their statement, the two co-chairmen said that they have "taken note" of statements made by various Russian officials regarding extending Moscow's stake to that "of a blocking minority." The two men said that they have "great interest" in expanding cooperation between EADS and Russia. They nonetheless added that "it would not be in the interest of the company to change corporate governance or enlarge the group of international shareholders." Russia now appears to own as much of EADS as does the Spanish government, which was one of its co-founders along with Germany and France. In 2005 in Toulouse at the ceremonial unveiling of the giant Airbus A380, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suggested that Russia join in the project, adding that "there's still room in the boat." PM

Charles Edelstenne, who heads Dassault Aviation, said in Paris on September 14 that the Russian role in EADS touches on some fundamental issues, dpa reported. He argued that "it poses problems because we are in an industry [based on national] sovereignty," adding that "on the European political scene, Russia has not yet joined Europe." Asked by journalists about the possible consequences of Russian ambitions for Dassault, 45.76 percent of which is owned by EADS, Edelstenne said that "unless we can imagine that a political rapprochement between the European Union and Russia will take place in the future, that there will be a grand fighter-jet project with the Russians, and that Dassault and the Russians will participate in each other's [aerospace] industry, this is all premature today." Concern has also been raised in EADS business circles about the possible effect of a Russian presence on the board on the company's hopes for a larger role in the U.S. defense industry. PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on September 15 that Russia does not practice what he called the "unilateral military methods" of the United States, RIA Novosti reported. He stressed that "this is no secret. We do not agree with the United States on everything, and we do not share their unilateral military methods. We say this openly to our American partners." Lavrov argued that the two countries should act together to solve existing conflicts as well as to fight terrorism. PM

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said in Moscow on September 14 that recently slain Central Bank executive Andrei Kozlov "was at the cutting edge of the battle against financial crime. He was a very brave and honest man and through his activity he repeatedly encroached on the interests of unprincipled financiers," Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2006). Almost all domestic and foreign media speculation on September 14 and 15 about Kozlov's killing centered on the possibility of a contract murder stemming from his efforts to clean up the banking system, which included shutting down dozens of banks involved in suspected money laundering and other criminal activities. Numerous commentators stressed that the slaying should remind business and political figures that Russia still has a considerable criminal underworld that acts as a law unto itself. Anatoly Chubais, the head of the state power monopoly (EES) and the target of an assassination attempt in 2005, called the slaying "an impudent challenge to all the Russian authorities." Several European dailies said that the killing is a warning to foreign firms that think that Russia has become a "normal" country in which to do business. But other European commentators suggested that Kozlov's murder is unlikely to deter foreigners who feel that Russia poses a unique opportunity to make huge profits. PM

The Moscow City Court on September 15 sentenced Aleksander Koptsev to 16 years in prison in conjunction with his stabbing of eight people at a Moscow synagogue on January 11, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23 and 27, and June 21, 2006). He was previously sentenced to 13 years, but that sentence was later overturned. In making the ruling on September 15, the judge said that "given the nature and degree of danger to the public, as well as extenuating and aggravating circumstances, the court finds it necessary to hand down a sentence to Koptsev involving isolation from society." He will spend his sentence in a "strict regime" prison and undergo psychiatric treatment, reported. PM

Moscow police detained more than 100 people at an unsanctioned rally by the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) on September 14, Russian news agencies reported. Demonstrators called for the authorities to tighten controls over students from Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus. The same group urged tougher measures against migrants following recent violence in the Karelian city of Kondopoga and was blamed by some people for much of the violence itself. That violence has been variously described as hooligan, ethnic, criminal, a popular reaction against corruption, or the result of outside manipulation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 6, and 7, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," September 12, 2006). On September 15, reported that what it described as "Caucasian pogroms" have spread from Karelia to Volsk in Saratov Oblast. PM

Supporters of Ramzan Kadyrov disrupted a roundtable discussion in Moscow on September 14 organized by Dmitry Rogozin's Rodina (Motherland) party and had to be forcibly restrained from physically assaulting former Grozny Mayor and Motherland member Beslan Gantamirov, and reported on September 14 and 15 respectively. The theme of the discussion, which was chaired by politologist Stanislav Belkovsky, was "The Political Meaning of 'Kadyrovshchina' and the Threat of the Disintegration of the Russian Federation." Gantamirov argued that state power in Chechnya has been concentrated in the hands of a small group of people aligned with Kadyrov, as a result of which pro-Moscow administration head Alu Alkhanov is now in a "humiliating situation." In 2000-03, Gantamirov, then Chechen deputy prime minister, repeatedly crossed swords with Ramzan Kadyrov's father and Alkhanov's predecessor, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," July 20 and September 15, 2000 and "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2003). LF

The shoot-out on September 13 at a police post on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia erupted when Ingush traffic police tried to halt a convoy of Chechen Interior Ministry special forces (OMON) who had apprehended an Ingush whom they were transporting to Chechnya, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2006). Issa Kostoyev, who represents Ingushetia in the Federation Council, told Ekho Moskvy on September 13 that the Ingush should do all in their power to prevent any attempts to arrest Ingush citizens without the prior approval of the republic's authorities. Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov declared three days of state mourning for the Ingushetian police who died in the shoot-out, reported. Attending the funeral on September 14 of Chechen deputy OMON commander Buvadi Dagiyev, one of the eight men killed, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alkhanov described the clash as "treacherous" and claimed it was planned in advance. LF

The new North Ossetian cabinet is virtually identical to that dissolved in the wake of the August 29 dismissal of Prime Minister Aleksandr Merkulov, according to on September 14. Although Merkulov's successor Nikolai Khlyntsov pledged to replace 80 percent of the outgoing ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006), the only minister not to be reappointed was Finance Minister Konstantin Urtayev, who is currently the subject of a criminal investigation. The number of deputy prime ministers has been increased from five to six, and a new Ministry for Nature Protection has been formed. LF

Republic of Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen issued a decree on September 12 dismissing Yevgeny Kovalyov from the post of acting prime minister to which he was named on July 2, RIA Novosti reported. That agency quoted presidential administration head Talyy Beretar as saying that Kovalyov failed to solve a single one of the problems facing the republic's government. But Grigory Senin, who heads the Communist faction within the republic's parliament, was quoted on September 14 by as criticizing Kovalyov's dismissal on the grounds that frequent changes of government personnel hinder the efficient functioning of the government. Senin recalled that before the parliament summer recess, he and 13 other deputies appealed to President Putin to consider dismissing Sovmen before the latter's presidential term expires in January 2007. Also on September 14, quoted a second parliamentarian, Yevgeny Salov, as denying any knowledge of a campaign allegedly under way to collect the requisite 18 signatures to call for an emergency parliament session to demand a vote of no confidence in Sovmen. Salov explained that the support of no less than 30 of the 54 parliament deputies would be required for such a vote to pass. In April, Sovmen formally submitted a letter of resignation to Putin, who rejected it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12 and 18, 2006). LF

Armenian police arrested two suspects on September 14 as part of their investigation into the murder of a state tax official, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Sona Truzyan, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, identified the suspects only as colleagues of the slain official, working in the Armenian State Taxation Service (STS), although the Armenian media reported that the victim's driver was one of those arrested, Arminfo reported. The victim, Shahen Hovasapian, was fatally wounded on September 6 by a car bombing as he sat in his official vehicle outside of his home in central Yerevan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). President Robert Kocharian, a childhood friend of the victim, condemned the killing as an attack in response to Hovasapian's "efforts to tighten tax administration and create equal taxation conditions for everyone." RG

Vardan Oskanian said on September 14 that another round of talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart is planned for later in the month, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speaking to journalists in Yerevan, the foreign minister added that Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to meet during the New York meeting of the UN General Assembly in an attempt to restart the peace talks aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The format of the talks, set for September 25-26, will be limited to the foreign ministers but are intended to achieve progress in anticipation of a subsequent meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents sometime before the end of the year. But the talks will depend on Azerbaijan's attempt to call for a possible UN debate on the Karabakh conflict, as Oskanian said that "there will be a question mark over the meeting of the ministers until it becomes clear what happens at the UN." Oskanian first admitted the possibility of such a meeting in comments to RFE/RL after two days of meetings with OSCE Minsk Group mediators in Paris (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006).

In the wake of calls by the Armenian opposition for the dispatch of peacekeepers to Lebanon, Foreign Minister Oskanian clarified on September 14 Armenia's position on the issue in comments to reporters in Yerevan, according to Noyan Tapan. Oskanian explained that any decision to deploy troops would depend on the details of the mission mandate and stressed that "Armenia will not make its decision until these issues are clarified." He also revealed that Lebanon had requested that Armenia send a team of military sappers to clear mines in areas of southern Lebanon. RG

Armenian human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian warned on September 14 that violence against Armenian journalists is becoming disturbingly "systematic" and poses a serious threat to press freedom in Armenia, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Speaking at a Yerevan press conference, Harutiunian added that "freedom of speech is really in danger," and urged "all relevant law enforcement bodies to take the problem very seriously and solve those crimes." He pointed to a recent spate of violence against journalists, arguing that with "four or five such cases in as many months," it demonstrates an "alarming trend." The Yerevan office of the OSCE issued a similar statement the day before expressing its deep concern over "recent incidents of violence and intimidation against local journalists" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). Harutiunian formerly served as a legal adviser to President Robert Kocharian before assuming the government's ombudsman position. RG

The results of a recent nationwide survey on Armenian public opinion revealed that 80 percent of Armenians see Turkey as a threat to Armenian national security, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on September 14. On the question of a possible end to Turkey's closure of its border with Armenia, some 57 percent of those surveyed expressed disproval of an open border with Turkey without formal recognition of the Armenian genocide. The survey also found that 85 percent referred to Russia as Armenia's "strategic partner," followed by France with 53 percent, and the European Union with 36 percent. Sixteen percent identified the United States as the country's strategic partner. Some 1,200 Armenians were randomly sampled in the survey, which was conducted last month by the U.S. International Republican Institute, the Gallup Organization, and the Armenian Sociological Association on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). RG

Gela Bezhuashvili met with EU officials on September 14 during a visit to Brussels, Caucasus Press and Imedi television reported. The foreign minister is engaged in a diplomatic effort to garner greater support from the European Union for the Georgian government's renewed efforts to resolve the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts and will spend three days in Brussels meeting with various officials, including Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, and members of the European Parliament. Speaking to reporters following a meeting with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Bezhuashvili stressed that Georgia seeks to resolve those conflicts through "direct bilateral talks" and ruled out any suggestion that Tbilisi will pursue a military approach. He also said that Georgia would like the EU to act as "guarantor" for mediation talks on the South Ossetian conflict. For her part, Ferrero-Waldner reminded Bezhuashvili that the EU remains "concerned by the atmosphere" in Georgia, reflecting her previous criticism of the recent increase in Georgian defense spending and her characterization of some official Georgian government statements as "hate speech." Bezhuashvili is also to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to discuss Georgia's strategic bid to join the alliance. RG

Following a series of meeting with EU officials during a visit to Brussels, Georgian Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili is to go on to the United States to prepare for a meeting between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and U.S. President George W. Bush tentaively set for September 26, Imedi and Caucasus Press reported on September 14. The presidents are to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York and are expected to review U.S. military assistance and discuss democratic reform as Georgia faces local elections early next month. RG

In comments during a meeting with a visiting Ukrainian parliamentary delegation, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze vowed on September 14 that Georgia is committed to ensuring that the local elections set for October 5 meet "European standards" and are "free and fair," Georgian Public Television reported. Burjanadze added that the coming elections pose a "serious test" but expressed that she is "more than confident that we will once again prove to the whole world that Georgia and the Georgian people are truly ready for democracy." RG

The nongovernmental Georgian Young Lawyers Association announced on September 14 that it has discovered several campaign violations during its monitoring of the local election campaign, Caucasus Press and Georgian Public Television reported. The leader of the group, Ana Dildze, pointed to violations of the Electoral Code by local officials who engage in campaign activities while carrying out their official duties. Dildze named specific individuals, including Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, who reportedly used achievements from his official capacity as mayor to strengthen his reelection campaign, and some members of the Labor Party. The NGO also plans to conduct a training seminar on the election campaign for journalists in the coming weeks. RG

Central Election Commission Chairman Guram Chalagashvili refuted on September 14 recent allegations by the opposition bloc of the Republican and Conservative parties that the commission was unfairly preventing one of their candidates from running in the October 5 local elections, Georgian Public Television reported. Chalagashvili explained that the commission is investigating the documents used to support the registration of opposition candidate Tina Khidasheli as a candidate in the Saburtalo district of Tbilisi, after roughly 10 percent of the names from her list of supporting signatures were found to be from residents of another constituency. Conservative Party deputy Koba Davitashvili and Republican Party parliamentarian Davit Berdzenishvili have each criticized the commission for exerting "unprecedented pressure" on opposition candidates running in the local election. RG

Speaking during a session of parliament, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev dismissed on September 14 opposition demands calling for his resignation over the escalating political crisis involving an alleged conspiracy to discredit opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. Bakiev argued that "there are no reasons or circumstances for my resignation" and challenged the opposition to seek his impeachment "in accordance with the law." Opposition deputies are leading a mounting demand for an official clarification of the circumstances around the recent arrest of Tekebaev in Poland after members of the Kyrgyz National Security Service (SNB) allegedly planted drugs in his luggage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 11, 12, and 13, 2006). RG

President Bakiev also denied on September 14 recent reports charging that he secretly met with the self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who is wanted in Moscow on fraud and other criminal charges, Kabar and the news agency website reported. Addressing parliament, Bakiev denounced those allegations as an attempt to damage his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that "some people dislike the warm relations we have with Russia and the support" Putin "is offering Kyrgyzstan." Recent media reports said that Berezovsky secretly flew to Kyrgyzstan from London in late July and held talks with Bakiev and his son, although those reports were never substantiated by any evidence, according to AKIpress. RG

Imomali Rakhmonov met on September 14 in Dushanbe with the visiting head of the China Development Bank, Asia-Plus reported. At the meeting, China Development Bank chief Chen Yaun reported on plans to expand cooperation with the Tajik government and to increase the loan portfolio that the bank holds in Tajikistan. In comments to reporters after the meeting, Chen explained that the China Development Bank also seeks to enhance its role in the country in support of the expanding activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with particular interest in investing in the energy and light-industry sectors. Tajikistan is also preparing to host a three-day military counterterrorism exercise with China next week in the southern part of the country, within the framework of the Shanghai Convention on the fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism, and as part of the broadening cooperation between the defense ministries of Tajikistan and China. RG

Relatives of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradiova report that she has died while in custody, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Her children said that security officials summoned them to the morgue on September 14 to identify Muradova's body. The time and circumstances of her death were not immediately clear. The 58-year-old Muradova was arrested in June along with two human rights activists on grounds that were not made public. On August 25, a Turkmen court sentenced Muradova to six years in prison on charges of illegally possessing ammunition. Another two defendants at the trial received terms of six and seven years, respectively, on similar charges. Western rights organizations have said that the charges were fabricated and condemned the trial as a parody of justice. International human rights groups blame the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov for Muradova's death. Her children said there were marks on her neck and a huge wound on her forehead when they were allowed to briefly view the body. Turkmen security officials say she died of natural causes. PB

Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived in Havana on September 14 to take part in a summit of the Nonaligned Movement, Belapan reported. According to official sources, Lukashenka in Havana is expected to verbalize Belarus's position on major international problems and offer proposals for enhancing the role of the Nonaligned Movement in the international arena. Belarus is the only European country that is a full member of the Nonaligned Movement, which currently has 116 member states. JM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said in NATO headquarters in Brussels on September 14 that Kyiv is putting on hold its aspirations to join NATO's Membership Action Plan because of public opposition to NATO membership, international and Ukrainian news agencies reported. "The level of support [for Ukraine's membership in NATO] is at 12 to 25 percent [of the population]. This is not enough for taking such a step. Therefore, we should proceed gradually. We have learned that support [for NATO membership] has decreased in society in the past two years. This means that there now is a need to significantly strengthen the information campaign, which we will do. When the time comes, the next step will be taken," Yanukovych said at a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. JM

Anatoliy Hrytsenko told a news conference in Kyiv on September 15 that Prime Minister Yanukovych's statement in Brussels that Ukraine is unprepared to join NATO's Membership Action Plan was "mistaken," Ukrainian media reported. "The Defense Ministry has carried out and will continue to carry out a plan of action to acquire membership in the alliance, regardless of any statements made at any visits," Hrytsenko said. "This is required by legislation [as well as] directives and orders of the president who, according to the constitution, provides guidance in this sphere, and we will continue to do this," he added. Hrytsenko was appointed to Yanukovych's cabinet by President Viktor Yushchenko, who under a constitutional reform enforced this year has the right to nominate the foreign and defense ministers. JM

The Party of Regions, the core of the currently ruling coalition in Ukraine, has taken a break to study proposals from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine for building a broader coalition, Interfax-Ukraine reported on September 14. "We have asked for several days to study a new version of the coalition agreement. Then we will be prepared to sit at the negotiating table and proceed," Party of Regions lawmaker Yevhen Kushnyarov told journalists. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine lawmaker Anatoliy Matviyenko has accused the Party of Regions of dragging out the coalition talks and warned that Our Ukraine may join the opposition. According to a poll held earlier this month by the Ukrainian Academy of Political Sciences, 39.4 percent of Ukrainians support the creation of a broader coalition by Our Ukraine, the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, while 37 percent oppose such a move. Our Ukraine, which has several ministers in Prime Minister Yanukovych's cabinet, is not a signatory to the coalition agreement signed by the three other parties in July. JM

Milorad Dodik said on September 14 that he will call an independence referendum if authorities move to abolish the Republika Srpska, UPI reported the same day. Dodik also said he will never agree to a reform of police and security services demanded by the European Union. Reform of Bosnia's police, including the unification of the forces of Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, is a key condition in negotiations with the EU for a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The EU warned Bosnia in June that the Republika Srpska was moving too slowly on police reform, which Dodik has strenuously opposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 16 and August 16, 2006). Dodik has said repeatedly that if Montenegro and Kosova are eligible for independence, the Republika Srpska should be as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, September 1, 5, and 14, 2006). Bosnian Muslim politicians, meanwhile, have sought to weaken the powers of the Serbian and Muslim-Croat entities in favor of a stronger central government. BW

A U.S. federal judge has ruled that former Bosnian Foreign Minister and UN Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey should be extradited home to face corruption charges, Reuters reported on September 12. Sacirbey, who holds both U.S. and Bosnian citizenship, is accused of embezzling $2.5 million in government funds while he served at the UN during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Sacirbey was arrested in March 2003 at his home on Staten Island and held in prison until July 2004, when he was released on $6 million bail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 29, 2004). He claims the charges are politically motivated. Sacirbey testified that he spent between $600,000 and $800,000 of his own money to finance Bosnia's UN mission from 1992-95 because it had no government funding. But U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones ruled that the evidence showed "significant shortfalls in the mission's account" and that Sacirbey had evaded efforts by Bosnian authorities to question him. Sacirbey said he intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. BW

Joachim Ruecker, the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), said on September 13 that postponing a decision on the province's final status will have negative consequence, B92 and Beta reported the next day. Ruecker said further delays will postpone the process of reconciliation and economic development in Kosova. He said he is prepared to work with Serbia to build Kosova's future and urged the Serbian community in Kosova to participate in the province's civic life. He added that tensions can be expected to rise in the coming months, ahead of the final stages of the negotiating process. BW

Skender Hiseni, an official with the ethnic Albanian negotiating team at Kosova's final-status talks, said on September 14 that an agreement on the province's future should be reached by the end of this year, B92 reported the same day. Hiseni added that efforts by Belgrade, such as drafting a constitutional clause making Kosova a part of Serbia, are meaningless (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13 and 14, 2006). "Kosova finds itself on the path to finding a status solution, which will happen by the end of the year at the latest," Hiseni said. "At a meeting with [UN envoy Martti] Ahtisaari, we saw that he was convinced that the process would be completed by the end of the year. That is why Serbia's stances do not deserve any comments," he added. BW

Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, the head of Serbia's Council for Kosovo, has argued against racing to a solution on the province, saying that the security situation is worsening, B92 reported on September 14. "Since the last UN Security Council meeting, 51 incidents occurred in Kosovo, involving attacks on Serbian lives and property," Raskovic-Ivic said. "In the past year there were 260 such attacks. Belgrade is deeply convinced that Kosovo's future status can only be solved thought systematic and responsible negotiations without imposed deadlines. Any hasty acceleration will cost the whole region dearly, as well as the province itself, and the international community," she said. Earlier this month, Raskovic-Ivic predicted that the talks are likely to drag out beyond the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). BW

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis signed an agreement on September 13 to boost cooperation in the energy sector, dpa reported the same day. The deal, signed during Berisha's official visit to Athens, covers electricity, natural gas, and hydrocarbons. The two prime ministers also discussed Greek support for Albania's bid to join NATO and the EU. Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2006). "Greece is willing to help Albania's EU and NATO prospects," Karamanlis said. Berisha thanked the Greek people for supporting democracy and reform in Albania. Berisha and Karamanlis also called for future cooperation in the economic and military sectors. BW

Moldova's separatist Transdniester region is due to hold a referendum on September 17 to decide whether it should stay independent in order to join the Russian Federation in the future, or give up independence and reunite with Moldova.

The Moldovan authorities have strongly condemned the vote. While the international community has largely shunned the poll, Moscow has not said whether it will recognize the results of the referendum. Similar polls were held in 1990 and 1991 to create the self-styled Dniester Republic and declare independence from Moldova.

Pro-Russian secessionists fought a short but bloody war with Moldova in the summer of 1992. The fighting left some 1,000 people dead and was halted by Russian troops stationed in Transdniester. Since then, no country has recognized Transdniester.

Negotiations on Transdniester's final status have continued on and off for more than a decade under mediation from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). More recently, the United States and the European Union have also gained observer status at the talks.

The region receives unofficial but strong support from Russia, and two-thirds of its 555,000 citizens speak either Russian or Ukrainian. Many hold Russian passports. Some 1,500 Russian troops are still deployed in Transdniester, despite Russia's pledge to withdraw all its forces and equipment by 2002.

The referendum consists of two mutually exclusive questions: "Do you support the course toward the Dniester Republic's independence and ensuing future free accession to the Russian Federation?" And "Do you consider it possible that the Dniester Republic give up its independence and then join Moldova?

Independence and eventual unification with Russia are expected to win overwhelming backing. The only problem could be the turnout, since many of Transdniester's almost 400,000 eligible voters are working abroad.

In order to be valid, a simple majority of "yes" votes is needed, provided the turnout is over 50 percent. Some 262 polling stations have been prepared and early voting has been allowed five days in advance.

Moldova has adopted a parliamentary statement condemning the vote. And the international community has declared the referendum illegal, and called on the separatist leadership to resume negotiations, which have been suspended for half a year.

The head of the OSCE mission to Moldova, Louis O'Neill, told RFE/RL that the poll is illegitimate. "The OSCE will not recognize this referendum, and we have no intention to support or observe a unilateral action, which calls into question the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova," O'Neill said. "Particularly when you consider the suggestive character of the questions, which are themselves compound questions, each one of them contains two parts, so there really should be four questions, and that they pretty much imply the desired answer."

The European Union and the United States have also shunned the vote. Emma Udwin, the spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said the referendum will not change the status quo.

"We don't recognize Transdniester as a state, we don't recognize Transdniester's independence, and there is no country that does," Udwin said. "This referendum which will be held doesn't alter any part of that state of affairs. It will not be recognized by the EU, we understand that it will not be recognized by the OSCE, and therefore it is not something that will have international validity."

David J. Kramer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said no one should question whether Transdniester is part of Moldova.

So far, Russia has not said whether it will recognize the results of the poll. The Russian Foreign Ministry today issued a statement saying that referendums are "seen in recognized democratic states as an important legal basis for building civil society."

However, some Russian officials have spoken in favor of recognizing the Transdniester referendum and an upcoming similar poll. On November 12, Georgia's separatist pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia is holding a referendum.

Konstantin Zatulin, the director of the Institute of CIS Countries and a Duma deputy from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, said Russia is generally in favor of referendums. "Russia definitely respects the principle of referendums to decide the fate of nations and populations. In my opinion, 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," Zatulin said.

Abkhazia, another Moscow-backed separatist region, has also reaffirmed its independence from Georgia. The three pro-Russian territories cite the precedent of Montenegro, which broke off from its union with Serbia through a referendum in June.

The EU's Udwin does not think the analogy is a good one. "We do not see a parallel between the Transdniestrian referendum and the Montenegrin referendum for the very simple reason that there was a contractual agreement between Serbia and Montenegro that such a referendum could take place and would be recognized -- that is not the case with Transdniester."

Officials in the separatist regions are also closely following talks on the future status of Kosova.

(Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski announced during a visit to Washington on September 13 that his country has decided to send 1,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to serve with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), PAP reported the following day. The Polish contingent is scheduled to leave for Afghanistan in February. The Polish move is the first major response to a NATO call for reinforcements in the face of unexpectedly intense fighting in southern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). Poland currently has 100 soldiers serving with U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. AT

Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak for the Taliban, called Poland's decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan a mistake and warned Warsaw of the consequences of its decision, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on September 14. "We regard all foreign invaders," Mohammad Yusof told AIP, adding that every Afghan "considers [it] his responsibility to step up jihad against these foreign troops." He went on to warn that the Polish troops will "be defeated" in Afghanistan and advised the Polish government "to revise" its decision. "The very rebellious and defiant Canadian and British forces are now facing several problems in Afghanistan," Mohammad Yusof said, referring to the two lead countries in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces of southern Afghanistan, where neo-Taliban activities have increased. He then called on the Polish parliament to avoid "disappointment" by blocking the government's decision. AT

A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on September 14 that the "mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate" have captured the Bakwa district of Farah Province. District security chief Ne'amat Khan and 15 soldiers joined with the mujahedin, the posting said. There has been no independent confirmation of the claim. The neo-Taliban previously claimed to have taken control of the Delaram township in Nimroz Province, south of the Baku district (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). AT

Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in Islamabad on September 14 that President Pervez Musharraf did not equate Taliban with ethnic Pashtuns in remarks that sparked harsh words from Kabul, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The Afghan Foreign Ministry called remarks attributed to Musharraf in Brussels on September 12 -- suggesting the Taliban phenomenon posed a greater danger than Al-Qaeda because the former have roots among Pashtuns in Afghanistan -- insulting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13 and 14, 2006). "At no stage [sic], the president equated Pashtuns with the Taliban," Aslam said, adding that the reaction from Kabul was a "storm in a teacup." Aslam said the response from the Afghan Foreign Ministry was based on incorrect reporting by an unnamed news agency. AT

Nuri al-Maliki continued his visit to Tehran on September 13 with meetings with Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani, ISNA reported. Rafsanjani told him it is the "shortcomings" of the "occupying power" that are causing instability in Iraq: "the people of Iraq can rely on internal capabilities to resolve many problems." He said Iranians will do everything to help Iraq's government restore security to the land, but also help with reconstruction and development. "In suitable conditions, Iranians can swiftly help so the problems of the Iraqi people are resolved," he said. Larijani said separately that Iraq is Iran's "natural ally" and this alliance could take "evident" form now under al-Maliki's government. Iran's "fixed policy," he said, is to help assure Iraq's security and territorial integrity, ISNA reported. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in Tehran on September 14 that "talks and negotiations are the only solution" to the diplomatic impasse over Iran's nuclear program, ISNA reported. He accused the United States of "intensifying pressure to damage the existing atmosphere and obstruct the current process of talks." The United States is using "threats and forcefulness to pursue its unilateral aims," and resorting to "blackmail by publicity" to "infect" the atmosphere against Iran and "sidetrack" talks, he said. Husseini said Iran and "the other parties" are trying to "find a solution" through talks; he urged Washington "to be a little patient" to "prove its sincerity in welcoming negotiations," ISNA reported. On September 13 in Vienna, U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency Gregory Schulte said Iran's "refusal to suspend" uranium enrichment and related activities that could one day serve military purposes "and its refusal to cooperate is a choice of confrontation over...negotiation," AFP reported. VS

Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told a congress in Tehran on September 14 that supporters in Iran of a secular republic or a religious oligarchy are both going to "extremes" and the regime needs moderation and public support, ISNA reported. He told members of the Moderation and Progress Party that if "people do not accept the system, you cannot run society." Rafsanjani said even Iran's supreme leader -- a senior cleric some Iranian conservatives have said is selected in heaven -- is chosen through a two-stage voting process. Iran's leader is elected by a body of clerics elected by voters. "We have to see who is saying there is a contradiction between Islam and a republican system," he said. "Islam gives extraordinary importance to the people's vote, and considers freedom a right for the people. The choice must be made by the people, on the basis of Islam," he added. He said "balance and moderation" both in economic and in foreign policy is the basis for lasting progress in Iran. "It is very important for a country that wishes to expand Islam to respect moderation with others. The claim that Islam is the religion of the sword is a great lie," he said. VS

There is a rising number of "abused" women turning to drugs and prostitution in Iran, and this is becoming a grave problem in cities, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on September 14, citing rights activist Mehrangiz Kar. She said more women she termed "vulnerable" for their precarious financial conditions and difficult home conditions are turning to drugs and prostitution, and at an increasingly young age. They can expect very little support from the government or society, she added. She cited a recent report in which a woman staying at a state shelter or health-care facility killed her "illegitimate" child to rid herself of the "shame." Kar said some social workers chide the women in their care for their lifestyles and help bring about such crimes. Kar said the woman told the health-care worker that by killing her child she "wiped away the stain of shame and sent it to God." Kar said this statement effectively "put the government, society, and even social workers on trial." She urged the government to provide job training for such girls. VS

Abdallah al-Amiri, the chief judge in the Anfal trial told former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the September 14 session that he was not a dictator, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The comments were made after Hussein questioned the testimony of a Kurd, Abdallah Muhammad Husayn, who said the Iraqi army attacked his village in 1988. Husayn escaped to Iran and then returned after the regime offered a pardon. He subsequently attempted to contact Saddam Hussein to seek information on the whereabouts of eight family members. Commenting on the testimony, Hussein asked: "Why did [Abdallah Husayn] try to meet with Saddam Hussein? Was Saddam not, as it is claimed, a dictator who the Kurdish people viewed as an enemy?" Judge al-Amiri responded: "You are not a dictator. You were not a dictator. Those people and officials around you made you a dictator. This is true not only in your case, but in all cases everywhere in the world." Hussein reacted with a smile and "thank you." KR

Judge Ra'id al-Juhi, the spokesman for the Iraqi Special Tribunal, told reporters at a September 14 press briefing that Judge al-Amiri's comments were misconstrued, international media reported. "The word 'dictator' was a slip of the tongue by the judge," al-Juhi said. "The court can't characterize defendants and should stick to legal terms. [Al-Amiri] has been a judge for 25 years, but he got the expression wrong," AP quoted him as saying. Al-Juhi stressed that the court will rule on the case based solely on the evidence and the incident will have no bearing on court proceedings, Reuters reported. Prosecutor-General Munqith al-Farun clashed with al-Amiri during the September 13 session of the Anfal trial after al-Farun accused the judge of being too soft on Hussein and his six co-defendants and demanded the judge resign. Al-Amiri declined, saying, "One of the conditions for becoming a judge is that the judge must treat people equally and justly in his courtroom." He later added: "We have a mission and great principals. Our present speaks for us and our future will be prosperous, God willing. That is the Iraqi judicial system." KR

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told reporters at a September 14 press briefing in Washington that the government will propose legislation in October to disband militias, Reuters reported the same day. Salih said the continued existence of militias impacts the government's credibility. "The prime minister has been adamant that this cannot be tolerated and that the state must be the sole practicer or holder of weapons as such," he said. Salih also spoke candidly about Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, saying: "There are discussions with Muqtada al-Sadr and other political leaders in the country that they all have to make a choice -- either they are part of the political process and renounce arms and integrate into the country's political system and governing institutions, or the present situation will not be acceptable." In Baghdad, Iraqi Accordance Front leader Adnan al-Dulaymi told reporters that the government will face an imminent catastrophe unless it addresses the issue of militias soon. Meanwhile, police have said some 100 bodies have been found in and around Baghdad in the past two days, many bearing signs of torture. KR

The south-central governorate of Wasit has reported a bumper harvest of wheat and barley this year, "Al-Zaman" reported on September 11. Governorate agriculture official Salam Iskandar said that some 110,000 tons of wheat and some 90,000 tons of barley have been sent to state silos. The yield is a record for the governorate, and about four times higher that the 2005 yield of 48,000 tons. "Al-Zaman" reported that Iraq was a surplus producer of wheat and barley in the 1940s and 1950s, but became a major importer over the past few decades. The country's current wheat needs are estimated at 4 million tons a year, of which it produces less than 1 million. Iskandar attributed the bumper crop to better fertilizers and seeds, as well as to strong government incentives, saying the government pays farmers 450,000 dinars (around $300) for each ton of wheat shipped to silos. KR