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Newsline - September 27, 2006

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Sakhalin Oil and Gas Conference in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on September 27 that Russia has no intention of pushing foreign businesses out of the energy sector, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 25, and 26, 2006). He stressed that unspecified "assertions about 'revisions' of [production-sharing agreements] PSAs and especially about squeezing foreigners out of the Russian energy sector have absolutely no basis whatsoever." But Japanese Ambassador to Russia Yasuo Saito also told the conference that recent Russian actions against the Sakhalin-2 gas venture, which is of key importance to Japan, have not taken the interests of Moscow's partners into consideration, news agencies reported. He stressed that Russia's "one-sided, unilateral annulment of a three-year-old governmental approval [for the project] cannot [escape] the criticism that the decision lacked procedural transparency. This is disappointing with regards to investors' perception of Russia as an investment market." Japanese international broadcaster NHK noted that Tokyo is following with concern Lavrov's plans to visit after the conference some Russian-held islands in the Kuriles, which are also claimed by Japan. The islands have been the subject of much attention by top Russian officials in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 17, and 22, and September 20, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). PM

Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev said in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on September 27 that the agreement with Shell, Mitsui, and Mitsubishi setting up the Sakhalin-2 project "should never have been signed," reported. He argued that there have been environmental "problems and complaints for four years now," RIA Novosti reported. Trutnev added that he "had to dismiss last week all the territorial leaders" of the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) for failing to do their job in the face of alleged violation of Russian environmental legislation by Shell. Observers suspect, however, that Moscow's real concern is not the environment -- which many Russian firms are known not to respect -- but rather a desire to renegotiate the PSAs in order to include Russian state monopolies like Gazprom and Rosneft. Some commentators note that the current dispute over the PSAs comes at a time when Moscow has been exacerbating tensions with Tokyo and faces difficulties with Washington over exploitation of the Shtokman gas field, Russian plans for joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), and U.S. sanctions against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, and the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006 and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," August 11, 2006). PM

Russian and Iranian officials signed an agreement in Moscow on September 26, according to which Russia will supply fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant it is building, "The New York Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). The agreement also reaffirms plans for the plant to start up in September 2007 and come fully on line in November 2007. The daily commented that "the agreement...represents a small victory for Iran but seems certain to inflame Western anxiety over Iran's nuclear ambitions." PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov said in Los Angeles on September 25 that "not everyone in the United States has gotten used to...Russia's autonomy in foreign affairs," reported. He said: "I hope that those in the United States will prevail, who understand that the interest of the United States lies in having a strong, capable, and independent Russia, which is a partner. Conflicts in today's world spread largely because in modern international relations the factor of force has not subsided." He stressed that "both Russia and the United States should not only recognize national interests of each other but also be responsive to them." Lavrov argued that "no one in my country, except for some marginal political groups, wishes ill to anyone. Anti-American or anti-Western sentiment, as well as any manifestations of racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia, are utterly unacceptable in our society. No wave of anti-Americanism in other places of the world will make us waver." He believes that "the United States is going through a difficult period of adaptation to a new international reality. We know from our own experience how difficult it is psychologically. That is why all friends of the United States do not want to see the Americans fall into self-isolationism, which would have devastating consequences for the entire world and the United States itself." PM

Speaking in Los Angeles on September 25, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that "Russia has foregone ideology in favor of common sense," reported. He added that "unexpectedly for ourselves, we have become more pragmatic than many of our partners. Frankly -- a very unusual situation for Russia. We feel quite at home in this new situation, and our world outlook is determined by it." Lavrov believes that "when we talk about the European choice of Russia, we mean, first of all, our pursuit of a socially oriented model of economic development that exists in the vast majority of European countries." He also argued that "Russia has always lived at the crossroads of civilizations. For centuries, their coexistence in harmony and mutual influence were essential for our survival. Hence the unique role that we could play in maintaining harmony between civilizations of this world threatened not only by terrorists and extremists of all stripes, but also by ideology-driven approaches to the world affairs." PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov said in Los Angeles on September 25 that "attempts to disregard centuries-old relations and traditions are fraught with emergence of subject nations and weak states," reported. He noted that "this is also apparent in the CIS area. We want to build our relations with the CIS countries based on a sound economic reason." Lavrov argued that "one needs to get rid of mutual suspicions and double standards. For instance, nobody asked questions, when the European Union leaders announced that Europe should become a union of 'sovereign democracies.' The same reaction was to the words of [U.S.] Vice President [Dick] Cheney in Vilnius, Lithuania, regarding the establishment of a community of 'sovereign democracies' in the region between the Baltic and the Black Seas. However, when Russian politicians started discussing the concept of sovereign democracy, we were suspected of attempting to substantiate the establishment of authoritarian rule." Lavrov said that "we want to see our sovereignty, the bearer of which is the Russian people, as a guarantee of our ability to pursue our domestic and foreign policies independently without external interference. It is no secret that not every country by far, including those mentioned by[Cheney], is ready for that or can afford it" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24 and 26, August 31, and September 1, 2006). PM

The Central Election Commission ruled on September 27 against a referendum proposed by a North Ossetian nongovernmental organization (NGO) that would allow President Vladimir Putin to seek a third term when his current mandate runs out in 2008, reported. 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, July 18, and September 11, 2006). PM

Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Safonov told a special forum on international terrorism and crime in the State Duma on September 27 that steps must be taken to prevent the radicalization of Islam and block terrorists' plans to highjack the religion for their own purposes, Interfax reported. He stressed that "we must take away from the terrorists the arbitrarily privatized right to interpret and make use of Islam" throughout the Muslim world. He specifically named "Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Algeria" as sources of the problem. PM

Moscow Russian Orthodox Patriarchate spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said on September 27 that several recent attacks on mosques, synagogues, and chapels, as well as the killing of imam Abubekir Kurdzhiyev in his apartment building in Kislovodsk on September 25, have led to a strain in relations between Russia's religious communities, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). Chaplin stressed that "peaceful coexistence between believers has again been subjected to trials. This can be beneficial only to Russia's enemies, only to those who hate interreligious harmony, which is this country's strong point." But some other observers suggested that Kurdzhiyev's killing was the result of conflicts and disputes within the Islamic community, reported. He had reportedly been challenged by younger Muslim leaders who viewed him as being too close to the Russian authorities. Izmail Berdiyev, who is a senior Muslim official for the North Caucasus, rejected the idea that the killing stemmed from interfaith tensions. He added that Kurdzhiyev received unspecified death threats and had begun carrying a pistol as a result. No suspects have been arrested in the case. PM

Yevgeny Belov, who is the attorney for the family of Private Andrei Sychyov, said in Chelyabinsk on September 26 that he will appeal the four-year sentence given by the Chelyabinsk Military Court to Sergeant Aleksandr Sivyakov for his alleged role in the brutal hazing of Sychyov on New Years Eve, and "The Moscow Times" reported on September 27 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). Sivyakov was found guilty of "abuse of power leading to grave consequences," which critics said was too mild a charge. Sychyov and his family were particularly upset at what they called a lenient sentence. Marina Muffert, Sychyov's sister, called the court's ruling "horrible." One of the officers at the tank school where Sychyov and Sivyakov were based told the media on condition of anonymity that "this is all crap. I saw the bruises [on Sychyov] myself. Why did this [verdict] take so long? They should have shot [Sivyakov] at once." But Sivyakov's lawyer, Yelena Ustinovich, said that the light sentence only confirms that her client is innocent, adding that she will appeal the verdict. Some Russian commentators wrote that public pressure for fundamental reforms in the military must not let up. PM

At a September 25 meeting in Mozdok of senior Russian officials, including presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Sydoruk and Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev, with Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov and Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, it was decided that the Ingushetian authorities should not create any obstacles to the conduct by Chechen and North Ossetian law-enforcement agencies of special operations to apprehend suspected militants on the territory of Ingushetia, RIA Novosti reported on September 26. Militants in Ingushetia have targeted dozens of local police and government officials in recent months. The Ingushetian representatives present at the Mozdok talks reportedly did not raise any objections to that ruling, but the independent website on September 26 quoted an unidentified Ingushetian Interior Ministry official as warning that "we shall not allow bandits in uniform from either Chechnya or [North] Ossetia to rampage freely, whatever decisions they may reach in Mozdok." That official added that "we shall destroy on the spot" any members of those republics' law-enforcement agencies who try to seize or shoot people on Ingushetian territory without first coordinating their activities with Ingushetia's Interior Ministry. Eight people died on September 13 in a shoot-out between Ingushetian traffic police and a Chechen special detachment subordinate to Kadyrov that tried to arrest an Ingush suspect and take him to Chechnya for questioning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 19, 2006). LF

Unidentified perpetrators in camouflage uniforms opened fire and killed Krasnogvardeysk Raion administration head Murat Kudayev on September 25 as he was driving home from a cabinet session in the republican capital, Maykop, reported the following day. President Khazret Sovmen, whose term expires in January 2007 and who in April named Kudayev as a possible successor, denounced the killing as "unprecedented" and pledged to take the investigation under his personal control. LF

Following several months of negotiations, Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) formally acquired on September 26 complete control of the Armenian power-distribution network, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a ceremony held in Yerevan attended by Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and other senior officials, shares in the Electricity Networks of Armenia were formally transferred to an offshore-registered subsidiary of the state-controlled EES. The $73 million deal followed the September 2005 approval by the government but with the stipulation that the new Russian owners assume the investment commitments and liabilities of the network's previous owner, the British-registered Midland Resources Holding. RG

In an address to the UN General Assembly session in New York on September 25, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian criticized Azerbaijan for rejecting peace proposals seeking to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Yerkir reported. Oskanian added that "one cannot blame us for thinking that Azerbaijan is not ready or interested in a negotiated peace" and affirmed that Armenia has "agreed to each of the basic principles" of the current peace plan presented by the OSCE Minsk Group. Turning to Armenia's domestic situation, Oskanian noted that the government is "encouraged and rewarded" by the pace of its economic and political reforms, which he termed "extensive and irreversible," according to Noyan Tapan. He also pledged to "move now to second-generation reforms" with a special focus on the recently announced rural poverty-reduction program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). RG

In an address to the UN General Assembly in New York on September 26, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamadyarov criticized Armenia for its "unconstructive position" toward resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to Turan. Responding to the earlier speech by his Armenian counterpart, Mamadyarov said that "there are two main questions" regarding the conflict -- "the status of self-government of the population" of Karabakh and the "withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied Azerbaijani territories." He added that the Azerbaijani position holds that the status of Karabakh "cannot be resolved today," but "must be resolved through peaceful democratic and legal processes and direct participation of the Azerbaijani side and Armenian community of the Nagorno-Karabakh region." Mamadyarov ended by reiterating that Azerbaijan seeks the "unconditional withdrawal of occupying troops from all occupied territories and the restoration of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan." RG

Azerbaijani police forcibly dispersed on September 25 a demonstration at the Iranian Embassy in Baku, ANS-TV and Turan reported. The demonstration was organized to protest Iran's violation of "the rights and freedoms of ethnic Azeris living in Iran" and to show support for the National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, but police quickly broke up the rally and arrested at least 10 participants. The demonstrators were also prevented from presenting a petition to the Iranian Embassy calling for the release of ethnic Azeris who were recently arrested at public rallies in Iran. The petition also demanded that restrictions on Azeri-language instruction be repealed. The demonstration follows the signing of a recent agreement between the opposition Azerbaijani National Independence Party and the Iranian-based Southern Azerbaijan Independence Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). RG

In comments during a televised interview, Alakbar Mammadov, the chairman of the Confederation of Businessmen, noted on September 25 that corruption has a "great impact" on business in Azerbaijan and identified corruption as "the greatest obstacle" to the development of entrepreneurship there, according to ANS-TV. Mammadov's statements were supported by Rana Safaraliyeva, the executive director of the Azerbaijan chapter of corruption watchdog Transparency International, who added in the same television program that corruption is preventing investment in all sectors of the economy other than energy. She further noted that some 25 percent of complaints presented to her group deal with alleged corruption within the judicial system and between 15 and 20 percent regarding the behaviour of local government bodies and officials. RG

Speaking in a televised address, Georgian President Saakashvili hailed on September 26 the recent initiation of a new "intensified dialogue" with NATO as a "breakthrough" for Georgia, Civil Georgia and Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili criticized the opposition for "attempting to downplay the importance" of the higher level of negotiation over eventual full NATO membership, an achievement that he said overcame "hysterical obstacles" created by Russia and was the "beginning of an irreversible process of Georgia's integration into NATO," which may result in full NATO membership within two-three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). RG

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov accused Georgia on September 25 of seeking to use the "military potential in peacekeeping activities" of the GUAM alliance for replacing Russian peacekeepers deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Interfax reported. The new full name of the group comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova is the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development-GUAM. Ivanov warned that the Georgian authorities are seeking to use "the presence of additional forces" to "flex its muscles, as was the case recently in the Kodori Gorge," and to give Georgia greater leverage in its "confrontation" with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ivanov added that "it is natural that Russia, which favours a settlement of existing conflicts only through political methods, will find equivalent measures so as not to permit the development of the situation according to that scenario." RG

Abkhaz military units began a two-day military exercise on September 25 near the Georgian-controlled area of the Kodori Gorge, according to Caucasus Press. The live-fire exercises, supervised by Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Zaytsev, included a second day of mountain-warfare operations on September 26 that included military aviation and artillery units and an infantry brigade of Abkhaz active-duty personnel and reservists, Rustavi-2 television reported. After observing the final day of the exercises, Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba stressed that "the holding of these current exercises is not linked to any events surrounding Abkhazia" but are "planned exercises" aimed at ensuring the combat readiness and training of the Abkhaz armed forces, Civil Georgia reported. RG

Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Spanish King Juan Carlos in Madrid on September 26 to discuss the strengthening of economic relations between the two countries, Kazinform reported. Bilateral trade volume rose from $596.7 million in 2004 to $668.4 million in 2005, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported, citing Spanish statistical agencies. Kazakh official sources, which calculate the data differently, reported that 2005 bilateral trade volume rose 56 percent year-on-year to $540.2 million. DK

With President Nazarbaev scheduled to arrive in the United States for a September 26-29 visit, the U.S. State Department hopes for "a multidimensional relationship with Kazakhstan, which includes U.S. encouragement for continuing reforms," AP reported on September 26. The statement came after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev in New York on September 25. Their meeting focused on preparation for Nazarbaev's visit, the need to work toward stability in Central Asia, and Kazakhstan's contribution to U.S. stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

A group of up to 500 miners gathered in Shakhtinsk on September 26 to ask for higher wages and better working conditions, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The miners work for Mittal Steel Temirtau, where a mine explosion on September 20 killed at least 32 miners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006). A protester told Interfax-Kazakhstan, "Although coal prices [rose] a long time ago, wages have remained unchanged [at] $200-$300 [a month]." After the protest, miners accepted an offer from Qaraghanda Governor Nurlan Nigmatullin to appoint delegates for a meeting with local officials on September 27 to discuss their demands, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

Economy and Finance Minister Akylbek Japarov told a press conference in Bishkek on September 26 that Kyrgyzstan can save $800 million if it joins the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt-reduction initiative, reported. He said, "If the program is successfully completed, Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt will be 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Once we finish servicing the interest on the foreign debt, $300 million is written off; another $177 million is written off by the IMF, and $336 million by the World Bank." Japarov said that the final triggers for the program will be determined at IMF and World Bank meetings on October 15. Japarov stressed that Kyrgyzstan's participation in the HIPC initiative will require parliamentary and presidential approval. DK

The Kyrgyz NGO Citizens Against Corruption issued a statement on September 25 warning that poor conditions in the country's prisons could spark rioting, the website reported the next day. The statement noted that cash-strapped prison administrators are unable to provide adequate food and medical care. The statement's conclusions echo an August 16 report on Kyrgyz prisons by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Justice Minister Marat Kaiypov disputed the NGO's conclusions, however. Interfax quoted him as saying: "The situation in prisons is a lot more stable now than last year. The Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Department is in control." DK

In separate comments to the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov stressed that Afghanistan's drug production is a threat to Central Asian security, Bloomberg reported the next day. Nazarov spoke of the need for "an up-to-date, efficient, and capable Afghan border service." The report noted that in July, Nazarov stated that drug seizures along the 1,206-kilometer Afghan-Tajik border increased by 27 percent in the first three months of 2006. DK

Uzbekistan's Border Protection Committee has accused Tajikistan's border guards of opening fire on their Uzbek colleagues as the Uzbek guards were attempting to detain a group of 40-50 trespassers on the frontier between the two countries, reported on September 26. The Uzbek side also claimed that Tajik forces seized an armed Uzbek border guard and brought him to Tajik territory. Safarali Sayfulloev, deputy head of Tajikistan's Border Protection Committee, described the Uzbek charges as inaccurate. A number of cross-border incidents have recently occurred between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006). DK

Jamshid Karimov, a dissident Uzbek journalist who is also the nephew of President Islam Karimov, is being held in a psychiatric hospital in Samarkand, according to the journalist's family, reported on September 25. Karimov disappeared on September 12. also reported that Ulugbek Haydarov, a journalist who was arrested on September 14, has encountered health problems in detention. Both Karimov and Haydarov had worked for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Jizzakh. In a September 26 statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described itself as "gravely concerned" at the treatment of the journalists. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon commented: "We're shocked at the brutal methods used against these two journalists, including psychiatric detention, a hallmark of Soviet repression. If President Karimov is treating his own nephew in this manner, it's hard to imagine how others might fare." DK

The Justice Ministry has filed a suit at the Supreme Court to close the opposition Belarusian Party of Communists (PKB), accusing it of violating a law on political parties, Belapan and Reuters reported on September 26. The ministry said it wants to close the party because officials suspect that its membership is less than 1,000, which is the legal minimum. The ministry also accused the party of failing to provide data on members. PKB leader Syarhey Kalyakin, who managed the election campaign of opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, sees the suit as the authorities' revenge for the party's siding with the opposition. Belarus has another communist organization, the Communist Party of Belarus (KPB), which supports the policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In July more than 150 delegates claiming to represent the PKB or the KPB held a congress in Minsk, which was officially presented as a "reunification" of the two parties. Kalyakin subsequently called the congress a plot designed to liquidate his party. JM

An expert committee at the European Commission on September 26 rejected the proposal to temporarily suspend Belarus's benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) over the country's suppression of freedom of speech and assembly, Belapan and London's "Financial Times" reported. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece, and Cyprus voted against the proposal, while Italy, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia abstained. EU member-state ambassadors are reportedly to tackle the issue again next month. The measure, if adopted, would clear the way for the European Commission to impose tariffs on imports of Belarusian wood, textiles, and minerals in 2007. The delegations of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania reportedly maintained that the tariffs might affect ordinary Belarusians and damage the EU's profile in Belarus. The GSP extends duty-free treatment to certain products that are imported from designated developing countries. The purpose of the GSP, which was initiated by the United States and other industrial countries in the 1970s, is to promote economic growth in developing countries by stimulating their exports. JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on September 26 launched two days of commemoration for the 65th anniversary of the Nazi massacre at Babyn Yar, Ukrainian and international media reported. On September 29-30, 1941, invading Nazis killed more than 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children in the Babyn Yar ravine near Kyiv. During the war up to 100,000 more people -- including Jews, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and Ukrainian nationalists -- were executed at the site. "Babyn Yar must become a link that should forewarn and guard the world from aggressive and bloody xenophobia," Yushchenko said during the opening of an exhibition dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the massacre in Kyiv. The ceremony was attended by Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Croatian President Stipe Mesic, and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic. JM

The presidents and prime ministers of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska signed an agreement on September 26 aimed at boosting political and economic cooperation, dpa reported the same day. Republika Srpska's President Dragan Cavic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik signed the agreement in Banja Luka with Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. The pact seeks increase cooperation in the fields of science, culture, sports, education, ecology, information, human rights, law enforcement, defense, and the economy. Sulejman Tihic, chairman of Bosnia's rotating tripartite presidency, criticized the agreement. According to Tihic, a Muslim, Belgrade is pursuing a "hypocritical" policy toward Bosnia by courting Serbs and ignoring other ethnic groups. International officials in Sarajevo described the agreement as acceptable, noting that it was similar to one signed between Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska in March 2001. BW

Editors at the daily newspaper "Glas javnosti" are being threatened with criminal charges for publishing a picture of a man holding a poster of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 reported on September 26. The photo, published on September 25, shows a man holding a Mladic poster while Serbian military officers walk by and appear to salute. B92 quoted unidentified government sources as saying that Rasim Ljajic, the head of Serbia's Hague Coordinating Council, and War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic plan to submit a request that criminal charges be filed against the newspaper. "We had to convince the world again of our honest intentions for fulfilling obligations to the Hague tribunal," Ljajic said. "We are now being tested, we are taking an exam to see whether we want Mladic to be located, arrested, and extradited. The state institutions need to react to the publishing of the Mladic poster in the daily paper as soon as possible," he added. The alleged infraction, infringing on a legal decision made by the state institutions, carries a penalty of six months to five years in prison, B92 reported. BW

"Glas javnosti" responded to Ljajic and Vukcevic's criticism and threats of legal action in its September 26 edition, B92 reported the same day. In a small insert, the daily said it did not intend to unnerve or upset the public with the photo and that its publication should not be perceived as a show of support for Mladic. "It is strange that no one who reacted to the publishing of the photograph thought that we may have wanted to help the state institutions identify and find the person who is currently hiding," the newspaper commented. BW

A senior U.S. official said on September 25 that Washington is opposed to any delays in reaching a final-status decision on Kosova, Reuters reported the next day. "We are looking at this year," U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried told reporters after talks with Serbian leaders in Belgrade. "I have yet to hear any argument why delay would help." Fried said the Kosova issue needs to be "stated clearly for the Serbian people," adding that Serbia deserves a place in Europe "free of the nationalist poisons which did so much harm to this region." He compared nationalism to "cheap alcohol" that brings "nothing but pain and ruin." Some Serbian officials have called for a decision on Kosova to be delayed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 9, 2006). Fried, however, said that neither Prime Minister Kostunica nor President Tadic had lobbied Washington for a delay. BW

In Podgorica on September 26, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pledged to help train Montenegro's army to meet NATO standards, Reuters reported the same day. Rumsfeld, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Montenegro since it became independent in June, was in Podgorica to meet with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. The two discussed how Montenegro can assist Washington in the fight against terrorism. Reuters quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying that Djukanovic did not commit to providing troops to U.S. operations. But after the meetings, the prime minister told reporters that Montenegro is prepared to "accept all responsibilities of a nation to join Europe." Montenegro recently scrapped conscription and plans to reduce its current military force from around 4,000 to 2,500. "The danger from terrorism [is] a global threat to world peace and security," Djukanovic said. "That's why we are prepared to participate in the U.S.-led coalition to fight terrorism. What form that will take, we did not discuss in any great detail." BW

Romanian Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu announced on September 25 that Romania and Moldova have revived an interparliamentary commission for cooperation that stopped working in 2002 when relations cooled, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "These relations were not the way we would like to see them, and we must now develop them more dynamically," he said. Vacaroiu said both countries' parliamentary delegations have agreed to restore the commission. They also discussed signing a new treaty on friendship and cooperation between the two countries. "We would like Moldova to follow us as soon as possible on the way toward European integration, and we are ready to share our experience," Vacaroiu said. The interparliamentary commission was first formed in 1992. BW

Journalists in northern Iran's Gilan Province issued a statement on September 23 calling on the government to lift its recent ban on the daily "Sharq" newspaper. The plea argued that "banning a paper is tantamount to its execution." Such concerns are unlikely to resonate with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose government has adopted an adversarial attitude toward the media.

Not only is the state closing newspapers that it views as insufficiently sympathetic to the government, but it is also restricting the sources they can use and the way they can cover specific subjects. The effort to shape the news is connected with governmental concern over how the public might judge its diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue, as well as a desire to control information relating to elections scheduled for December.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said in mid-August that some media outlets have launched a smear campaign against the administration, and he called for legal action against publishers of such "slanderous reports," the dailies "Farhang-i Ashti" and "Hemayat" reported on August 20. Elham made his complaints in a letter to Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi.

At a subsequent news conference, reporters asked Ahmadinejad about government efforts to stifle criticism of his administration. He responded by blaming the media: "Look at what you have done to Mr. Elham to prompt him to respond in such a way. Mr. Elham likes you. You put pressure prompting him to write a letter. This is nothing compared to numerous false headlines which some people publish."

The administration's actions and statements suggest that it does not expect any media criticism, despite journalists' traditional watchdog function. Furthermore, it sees it as a duty for the media to report positively on government actions. That explains why, from the Ahmadinejad administration's perspective, national newspapers can be divided into two camps.

Those in the first camp, presidential press adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr says, "consider themselves the supporters and defenders of the serving government and voice support for its policies and strategies," "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on August 26. Those in the second camp backed the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and now oppose the Ahmadinejad administration, criticizing it and opposing its policies, Javanfekr continued.

Mostly connected with reformist parties, he said, they understate the government's strengths, look for weaknesses in its plans, and portray events in a negative light. "The nature and essence of these media are based on the objective of sabotaging the government," Javanfekr said.

Some two weeks later, the government closed the daily "Sharq" (East) and the monthlies "Nameh" (Letter), "Hafez," and "Khatereh." The Press Supervisory Board explained that in August "Sharq" had been given one month to appoint a new managing director and the newspaper replied the following month with a request for more time, ISNA reported on August 11. The ban resulted from the newspaper's failure to "reform itself," as well as its publication of a cartoon that purportedly insulted Ahmadinejad. The daily also was accused of publishing articles that insulted "religious, political, and national figures," and it was accused of "fomenting discord," IRNA reported on September 12.

The closure of "Sharq" was particularly noteworthy because the publication had taken a consistently defiant approach in its reporting. Other newspapers were either openly pro-government or, if critical, affiliated with pro-reform political groups but practicing self-censorship.

The "Sharq" shutdown was not the Ahmadinejad presidency's first salvo against the press. The Press Supervisory Board banned "Karnameh" in mid-August for publishing articles allegedly offensive to morality and chastity, and Managing Editor Negar Eskandarfar received a suspended one-year prison sentence. The same day, pro-reform activist and "Cheshmandaz" Managing Editor Lutfollah Meysami was found guilty of insulting and libeling the police, propagandizing against the system, and publishing materials that damage the system and the country. This was not Meysami's first run-in with the law, as he was summoned to court in September 2003 for allegedly publishing falsehoods.

At the end of August, the Tehran Public Court sentenced Issa Saharkhiz, managing editor of the monthly "Aftab," to four years in prison and barred him from press-related activities for five years. Saharkhiz was found guilty of publishing anticonstitutional articles and of propagandizing against the Islamic republic's political system. He also was found guilty of libel and publishing lies against the state broadcasting agency. The licenses of "Aftab" and sister publication "Akhbar-i Eqtesadi" were revoked.

The state newspaper "Iran" was closed in May for publishing a cartoon in its Friday edition that offended ethnic Azeris and led to riots. It remains closed. The trial of "Iran" Editor Mehrdad Qasemfar and cartoonist Mana Neyestani on charges of acting against national security and creating discord began recently.

The Iranian government is not limiting itself to closing media outlets due to their publication of materials that run afoul of vague laws or cross undefined red lines. It has also acted preemptively by advising publications on the subjects they can discuss and the way in which they can cover them, and it also has taken steps to limit the sources that publications can use in their reporting.

In January, the Intelligence and Security Ministry and the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry instructed two news agencies, ISNA and ILNA, to coordinate their reporting on summonses, arrests, or prosecution of student and political activists with the government, Radio Farda reported on January 12. Rezai Moini of Reporters Without Borders told Radio Farda that this is a "silent" and "informal" process, and, since being inaugurated the Ahmadinejad administration has been telling the press how it can report.

In February, the Supreme National Security Council -- after the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called for referring Iran to the UN Security Council -- instructed publications to portray the matter in such a way that the country's diplomatic efforts seem successful and the public is not discouraged. In March, the Supreme National Security Council warned editors in chief to avoid publishing political analysis that differs from the country's official policy.

Then, in September, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance reportedly provided publications with a list of 24 "reliable and valid" agencies they could use as news sources. Use of "suspicious" sources -- defined as those that criticize the Ahmadinejad administration or downplay the country's accomplishments in the last year -- was forbidden. The acceptable news sources included the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and state radio and television (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB), as well as the Fars, ILNA, ISNA, and Mehr news agencies.

International press watchdogs and human rights organizations -- including Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders -- have reported critically on developments in Iran over the last year. In the last month, observers have been especially outspoken about the state of the media. Committee to Defend Press Freedom spokesman Mashallah Shamsolvaezin warned that the country's press is facing one of the darkest periods of the last century, Radio Farda reported on September 6.

After the "Sharq" closure, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said restricting the press is harmful to the national interest and added that it is almost impossible to restrict the dissemination of information nowadays, the Mehr News Agency reported on September 13.

At least two factors explain the timing of the current media crackdown. The delicate state of nuclear talks involving Iran and the international community is one factor. If the Security Council decides to impose sanctions on Iran, the government will want to control the way Iranians are informed about this. It will seek to cast blame on other parties and avoid taking responsibility for its own diplomatic failings.

The fundamentalist Ahmadinejad administration seeks to control all information relating to the December polls for the Assembly of Experts and municipal councils, furthermore, so that the government's ideological allies will be elected and criticism of the flawed election process will be muted.

President Hamid Karzai met with U.S. President George W. Bush on September 26 in Washington, D.C., international news agencies reported. Regarding the recent controversial peace deal signed between tribal chiefs of North Waziristan and the Pakistani government, Karzai said his "initial impression was" that he deal was signed by "the Taliban," but he later learned that the tribal chiefs were the signatories of the deal. "It will have a different meaning [for Afghanistan, the United States, and allies against terror] if [the peace deal] is signed with the tribal chiefs," he added. "The most important element" in the peace deal is that the "terrorists will not be allowed to cross over to Afghanistan," Karzai said. Prior to his visit to the White House, Karzai criticized the peace deal as giving the Taliban greater access to Afghanistan. AT

A suicide attack on September 26 left 18 people, including three police officers, dead in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. According to Nabi Mullahkhayl, the provincial security commander, the bomber attacked the Endowment and Islamic Affairs Department, which is near the governor's house. All the casualties were Afghans, Mullahkhayl told AIP. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on September 26 that a "heroic mujahid of the Islamic Emirate mujahedin" named Saifullah carried out a "martyrdom-seeking" operation in Lashkargah, killing eight British and 14 Afghan troops. The website is increasingly using the term mujahedin to identify the neo-Taliban. AT

A roadside bomb killed an Italian member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and injured four Italians and five Afghans near the Afghan capital Kabul on September 26, AIP reported. The "Islamic Emirate" website on September 26 claimed responsibility for destroying a battle tank of the "foreign occupiers" by using a remote-controlled mine. AT

Mohammad Hanif, speaking for the Taliban on September 26, claimed that he has reports from an acquaintance that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is alive, AFP reported. While the Taliban "do not have any direct contacts with Al-Qaeda on the ground because of the current situation," someone in contact with bin Laden has indicated that he is alive, Mohammad Hanif told AFP. There have recently been reports indicating that bin Laden died after contracting a disease. AT

The United States has nominated General Dan McNeil to take command of ISAF in February, when the current British mandate ends, AP reported on September 26. ISAF is currently commanded by British Lieutenant General David Richards. McNeil's appointment is regarded by observers as an indication of the U.S. commitment to ISAF and Afghanistan, the report added. AT

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani arrived in Berlin on September 27 and is scheduled to meet with EU High Representative For Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana to continue discussions on the Iranian nuclear program, ISNA reported. Meanwhile, Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi has returned from a trip to Moscow, where the nuclear issue was the main topic as well, Iranian radio reported on September 27. He said completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant will take place in September 2007 and fuel for the facility will be delivered by March 2007. BS

Security forces used force to break up a demonstration in the city of Urumiyeh on September 24, arresting 15 people and injuring two or three others, Turan news agency reported on September 26. The demonstrators were calling for the use of Turkish in educational facilities and the declaration of Turkish as an official language. Currently, Persian is the official language, although the use of minority tongues is permitted. BS

Presidential adviser Mujtaba Hashemi-Samareh has been selected as the new deputy interior minister for parliamentary affairs, ISNA and the Young Journalists Club news agency reported on September 26. He will continue to serve as a presidential adviser. Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Purmohammadi had resisted the appointment, fearing that Hashemi-Samareh would bypass him in his dealing with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. BS

Some 2,300 Iraqi and 1,000 British soldiers on September 27 launched Operation Sinbad, which is aimed at rounding up insurgents and militias operating in Al-Basrah, AP reported. The operation is supported by another 2,000 British soldiers stationed in the area, U.K. military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge told AP. Burbridge said the operation "is akin" to Operation Together Forward, which was launched in Baghdad in June. Operation Sinbad will likely last several months, he said. "We're gradually inching our way forward," Burbridge noted, adding that the end goal is to secure the city so that Iraqi forces can take over security responsibility. Part of the operation will focus on police corruption, with a special team going station by station to weed out corrupt officers, he said. It will also focus on raising the standard of living for local residents through employment programs, initially aimed at infrastructure repairs, hospital restoration, and revitalizing a date plantation. "In time, it will employ several thousands of people," Burbridge said. KR

A source close to former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has denied Internet reports claiming Allawi is behind a coup plot to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, reported on September 26. According to the website, an Internet statement signed by "observers of the Iraqi affair in Britain" alleged that Allawi hosted a three-day conference in London this month that was attended by current high-level members of the Iraqi military, 100 former Ba'athist officers, former Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, Allawi's former spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib, current National Security Adviser Wafiq al-Samarra'i, army Chief of Staff Babakr Zebari, and Iraqi Ambassador to the United Kingdom Salah al-Shaykhali. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officers and U.K. military officers also allegedly attended the conference. The aim of the coup is reportedly to install a national salvation government. The Allawi aide claimed that the reports were fabricated to tarnish Allawi's reputation. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i warned that the government has received intelligence that army officers are plotting a coup, Iraqi media reported on September 25 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). KR

Sheikh Ja'far Sheikh Mustafa, the Kurdish region's minister for peshmerga affairs, told "Yekgirtu" that the region is still in talks with Iraqi and U.S. officials over changing the name of its peshmerga forces, the weekly reported on September 26. "The constitution stipulates that the name peshmerga has to be changed to national guards. We have held many meetings with Iraqi and multinational forces without reaching some conclusion," he said. "Even if the national guards were to be established, the name peshmerga has to remain unchanged." He added that the region's two ministries for peshmerga affairs will be merged by year-end. Asked about the possibility of peshmerga forces attacking Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) strongholds, Mustafa said: "There is no such plan. We are not against any Kurdistani or non-Kurdistani force. We believe in dialogue.... We have to follow diplomatic routes to reach agreements." Turkey has demanded that the region's peshmerga forces crack down of PKK militants based in Iraqi territory. KR

Hundreds of homeless people demonstrated in Baghdad on September 25 demanding government aid after they were evicted from government buildings and schools where they had been squatting, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' news service reported on September 26. The demonstration was one of three to take place in Baghdad this week, each with over 500 participants. One demonstrator said families have been squatting in some buildings since 2003 after their homes were destroyed during the U.S.-led invasion. Another said his family could not afford to pay high rents caused by housing shortages. A press officer with the Ministry of Housing and Construction, Haydar al-Kindi, claimed the families have not applied for government compensation, and said the squatters were warned six months earlier to vacate the buildings they occupied. KR