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Newsline - October 3, 2006

Russia escalated its dispute with Georgia on October 2, despite the latter's release of four Russian military officers accused of espionage to the OSCE (see Georgia items below). Moscow's Transportation Ministry ordered air, road, rail and sea links to be closed as of midnight, RIA-Novosti reported. The Communications Ministry said mail services will also be suspended, the agency reported. Aeroflot announced that it has halted all flights to Georgia. On October 3, Ekho Moskvy radio and Russian news agencies reported that the blockade was being implemented and Georgian citizens traveling to Russia will have to reach Moscow via a third country. Moscow has not cut off natural gas to Georgia, which could be catastrophic for an economy still heavily dependent on Russian imports, according to the "Financial Times." The newspaper added that the transport blockade, if it proves lengthy and if the State Duma follows through with threats to pass legislation suspending bank transfers, could create significant hardship. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on October 2 that the lower house will soon draft a bill that will allow the government to ban the wiring of money to certain countries, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, told "The Moscow Times" that Russia would be unwise to retaliate with sanctions. "Average Georgians, who will feel the brunt of the sanctions, will regard us as an evil empire," Malashenko said. FF

Announcing the decision to start a transport and communications blockade with Georgia on October 2, Russian officials avoided making references to the political crisis sparked by the arrests, "The Moscow Times" reported. All Russian ministers instead alleged violations of various agreements by Georgia and declined to say how long the measures would last. Deputy Transportation Minister Sergei Aristov, interviewed by Channel One television, said Georgian air carriers owe $3.6 million for services provided at Russian airports. Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin said he will cancel a planned order worth some $3.75 million for spare parts for electric locomotives from Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. He also said all rail traffic will be cut off. Information Technology and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said postal links will be severed. The payment of postal money transfers sent from Russia has often been delayed in Georgia, Reiman was quoted by Interfax as saying. Russia has already banned the import of Georgian wine and mineral water, citing high concentrations of pesticides and the large amount of counterfeit products on the market. FF

State Duma Speaker Gryzlov said on October 2 that "it is also a provocation that some 300,000 illegal immigrants from Georgia work in Russia without official permission, and earn money without paying taxes," "The Moscow Times" reported. The Federal Migration Service said the same day that more illegal immigrants have entered Russia from Georgia than from any other country, the newspaper reported. "Of the roughly 1 million Georgians who have crossed the border into Russia, just 1 percent are working here legally," the migration service said in a statement. More than 300,000 Georgians work in Russia, many of them sending money home to relatives on a regular basis. FF

President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush on October 2 discussed the situation surrounding the row between Russia and Georgia, the presidential website reported. The conversation took place at Bush's request, the Kremlin said. According to the website, Putin told Bush that any action by a third country could be interpreted by Georgia as encouraging its "destructive" policy. Putin also told Bush that such a situation would be "unacceptable and dangerous for peace and stability in the region," reported. Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have soured since Saakashvili came to power in the Rose Revolution of November 2003 and moved Georgia out of Moscow's orbit, pursuing EU and NATO membership. Russia has recalled its ambassador from Tbilisi and has evacuated dozens of its diplomats since the beginning of the crisis. Other issues, including Iran and Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization, were also discussed during the presidents' telephone conversation, according to FF

The European Union urged Russia on October 3 to lift its economic blockade on Georgia or risk deepening the crisis, Reuters reported. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told Reuters in an interview that the EU hopes "that Russia very, very soon lifts these sanctions because sanctions do not, particularly in this case, lead anywhere. There are so many irritants again on either side and therefore it is very important not to provoke and not to be provoked." OSCE Chairman in Office Karel De Gucht, speaking the previous day in Tbilisi after his talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, called on Russia not to carry through what was at that stage a threat to sever transport links with Georgia. FF

A senior official at TNK-BP's unit exploring the giant Kovykta natural-gas field in Eastern Siberia was shot and killed outside Irkutsk over the weekend, "The Moscow Times" reported on October 3. The newspaper quoted police in Irkutsk as saying that Enver Ziganshin, first deputy general director and chief engineer of Rusia Petroleum, died of one or several gunshots to his head at his country house on September 30. TNK-BP owns 63 percent of Rusia Petroleum. Local prosecutors are investigating the killing, focusing on the theory that it was a contract hit, the TNK-BP office told "The Moscow Times." The newspaper quoted Rusia Petroleum Deputy General Director Andrei Dovgan as saying that the killing "will not reflect on the implementation of the project, although of course the loss for the company is very serious. He was the chief engineer. It was the position on which everything else depended." Meanwhile, Konstantin Batunin, an oil analyst at Alfa Bank, said the killing could further hinder the field's development and complicate relations with the government. Kovykta is an $18 billion project to supply domestic users and Asian markets, including China. The company has previously faced threats that the government would revoke Kovykta drilling licenses unless it coordinates the field's development with Gazprom. FF

Unified Russia unveiled its platform for the upcoming election cycle on October 2, "The Moscow Times" reported. The party is expected to adopt the platform at its December 2 congress in Yekaterinburg ahead of regional elections next March and State Duma elections in late 2007. The platform announced by the pro-Kremlin party fully endorses the concept of "sovereign democracy" that the deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislavl Surkov, uses to support the Kremlin's claim that Russia has the right to pursue a course that has often brought it into conflict with Western democracies. Unified Russia leader and Duma Speaker Gryzlov on October 2 said that Russia should pursue its own interests at a time when other countries are "preparing for foreign rule," in a possible reference to several former Soviet republics that have pursued closer ties with the West. According to the draft platform, Unified Russia's three main objectives are: creating an innovative economy, fighting corruption, and reversing the country's demographic crisis. FF

Russian authorities said on October 3 that it will take what it called "appropriate measures" if Poland deploys elements of the missile-defense systems of the United States or NATO on its territory, Interfax news agency reported. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told Interfax ahead of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's upcoming visit to Poland that Russia believes the plan "along with the possible deployment of NATO's European missile-defense system can produce a negative effect on strategic stability, security in the region, and relations between the states." FF

Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak held talks on October 2 in Maykop, capital of the Republic of Adygeya, on the possible choice of successor to President Khazret Sovmen, whose term expires in January 2007, reported. The Unified Russia faction in the republican parliament suggested that either Sovmen be reappointed for a second term, or one of two possible candidates, parliament speaker Ruslan Khadjibiyokov and the republic's future representative on the Federation Council, Aslan Khashir, be named to replace him, according to Budget Committee Chairman Rashid Mugu. The Council of Workers of Maykop argued that Sovmen should not under any circumstances serve a second term, and proposed parliament deputy Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov, rector of the Maykop State Technical University, as his successor. The Communist faction likewise favors Tkhakushinov. The Union of Slavs of Adygeya, which represents up to two-thirds of the republic's 447,000 population, declined to specify its preferred candidate. Murat Kudayev, whom Sovmen himself wished to see succeed him, was shot dead last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19 and 27, 2006). LF

Masked men forced their way into the home of Ust-Djegut Raion administration head Magomed Khubiyev during the night of October 1-2 and beat him to death, Interfax and reported. The intruders stole 53,000 rubles ($1,980) in cash and gold jewelry worth some 200,000 rubles. Khubiyev's mother is the sister of Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Mustafa Batdyev. LF

In a ceremony in Yerevan, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian signed on October 2 a statement on the European Union's Action Plan for Armenia, Arminfo reported. The signing of the statement, which formally expresses Armenia's commitment to the EU Action Plan guiding the EU's Greater Neighborhood Policy, followed a meeting with visiting Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, representing Finland as the current EU president, and the EU representative in Armenia and Georgia, Ambassador Torben Holtze. Oskanian welcomed the move as a step closer to integration with the EU in the economic, political, and security fields, and as a five-year process offering "a precise guide" for Armenia "to become more democratic and our state more stable," Noyan Tapan reported. The current draft Action Plan was formulated after roughly 18 months of intensive negotiations and is due to be formally adopted in Brussels during the annual meeting of EU-Armenia Cooperation Council in mid-November. RG

In comments during a press conference in Yerevan following his meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian, Finnish Foreign Minister Tuomioja reaffirmed on October 2 that "the European Union entirely backs the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and believes that the window of possibilities for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict remains open," Mediamax reported. Also representing Finland, which currently holds the EU presidency, Tuomioja added that the EU seeks to encourage all sides "to take advantage this opportunity" for advancing peace and conflict resolution in the region. RG

In an address to a security conference in Yerevan, Ambassador Peter Semneby, the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, declared on October 2 that the South Caucasus is acquiring a greater significance for the European Union and pledged that the EU will assume an even greater role in the region as a "stabilizing force" and "honest broker," according to Noyan Tapan. Semneby further noted that with both Bulgaria and Romania set to become full EU member states within three months, the EU "will become a Black Sea power" and a closer neighbor of the South Caucasus. He also added that as conflicts in the region continue to be the "single most important obstacle to economic and political reform," the EU intends to hold the "separatist regions" to the same "standards and values" in order to "provide a vision" for regional cooperation. RG

A delegation of representatives from the three co-chairing states of the OSCE Minsk Group met on October 2 with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku in the latest round of talks aimed at mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. The OSCE Minsk Group delegation, consisting of Ambassadors Matthew Bryza from Washington, Yury Merzlyakov from Moscow, and Bernard Fasye from Paris, also met with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov to discuss the "resumption of direct contacts" between the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides "in the near future." Russian co-chair Merzlyakov told reporters following the meeting that the current negotiations include "some additional elements [that] could be regarded as new." RG

Just prior to a planned meeting between a visiting OSCE Minsk Group delegation and Azerbaijani President Aliyev, police on October 2 forcibly prevented a demonstration in Baku aimed at protesting the meeting, ANS-TV reported. Members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization attempted to stage the demonstration outside of the Foreign Ministry building but were quickly dispersed by police. Police arrested four demonstrators in the incident. RG

In an address to the Azerbaijani parliament, President Aliyev affirmed on October 2 his support for the international mediation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by the OSCE, according to Lider-TV. Aliyev said that "we are not thinking of giving up the format of the OSCE Minsk Group," but, referring to recent UN attention to the conflict, added that "at the same time, we think that other organizations' participation may help resolve the issue." Noting the arrival of OSCE Minsk Group mediators in Baku, Aliyev also stressed that his country "acts in a constructive way, is involved in the talks, and hopes the issue can be resolved as a result of the talks." RG

Speaking to reporters after attending the opening session of the Azerbaijani parliament, U.S. Ambassador Anne Derse stated on October 2 that a "strong, independent, and transparent" parliament is important for Azerbaijani reforms, ANS-TV reported. Derse added that Washington "attaches special significance to the development of democracy in Azerbaijan" and called on deputies to "fulfill their duties with full seriousness and to be responsible before voters." RG

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili confirmed on October 2 that Georgia has turned over to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) four Russian military officers recently arrested on espionage charges, Caucasus Press reported. In comments to reporters following a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Karel De Gucht, Saakashvili explained that "after intensive negotiations," a decision was adopted to "transfer the arrested Russian officers to the OSCE" as a "goodwill gesture." A group of five Russian officers were arrested by Georgian security forces on September 27, with one later released, and a Tbilisi court recently sentenced the other four to a two-month term of pretrial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 29 and October 2, 2006). In a televised handover, the Russian officers were escorted by Georgian police to an area outside the Prosecutor-General's Office, where a statement was read aloud informing them that they have been "accused of the crime of espionage against Georgia" and explaining that they "are being deported from Georgia" and "forbidden to enter Georgian territory," according to Imedi television. The Russians were then led away to OSCE vehicles parked nearby and soon thereafter departed Georgia via a Russian Emergency Situations Ministry aircraft, ITAR-TASS reported. RG

In comments during the Tbilisi press conference with OSCE Chairman in Office De Gucht, President Saakashvili warned on October 2 that despite his "goodwill gesture" in turning over the detailed Russians to the OSCE, "the message of Georgia to our great neighbor Russia is, 'enough is enough,'" Caucasus Press and Georgian Public Television reported. Saakashvili also noted that "we want to have good relations" with Russia but stressed that "we cannot be treated as a second-rate backyard of some kind of, in the minds of some politicians, reemerging empire." RG

Miners from all eight mines at Mittal Steel Temirtau's Shakhtinsk coalfield continued on October 2 to strike for higher pay and better working conditions, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Union leader Vyacheslav Sidorov told "Kazakhstan Today" that a conciliatory commission has appealed to Lakshmi Mittal, head of Arcelor Mittal, and will wait until October 7 for a response. Meanwhile, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on October 2 that Malay Mukherjee, Mittal's chief operating officer, has arrived in Kazakhstan's Qaraganda province to seek a solution to the conflict. The strike began after an accident on September 20 killed 41 miners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006). DK

Kyrgyz opposition legislator Temir Sariev told a news conference in Bishkek on October 2 that the For Reforms movement will hold a rally in Bishkek on November 2, reported. Sariev said that President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov have until that date to implement reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006) or protesters will demand they resign. For Reforms leader and former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev announced on October 2 that if Bakiev and Kulov resign, the current speaker of parliament, Marat Sultanov, will become acting president, news agency reported. Tekebaev stressed that there will be no "constitutional vacuum," as was the case after the flight of President Askar Akaev in March 2005. DK

Rahmatullo Valiev, the former chairman of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, told Asia Plus-Blitz on October 2 that the Tajik authorities' decision to recognize Masud Sobirov as party chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006) came about because "someone from 'above' did not like our decision to boycott the presidential elections and this someone decided to throw us out of the political struggle." Valiev added, "The current situation with regard to the Democratic Party of Tajikistan is further proof that our country is not moving along the path of democracy -- where a multiparty system is acceptable -- but toward the creation of a totalitarian state." DK

Aziz Obidov, the spokesman for Uzbekistan's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Russia's Regnum news agency on October 2 that the U.S. State Department's 2006 "International Religious Freedom Report" contains "absolutely groundless accusations against Uzbekistan." Obidov added, "The U.S. State Department is trying to create a negative image of Uzbekistan in the eyes of the international community by distorting the real situation." Responding to "allegations that inmates are subject to violence and torture in [Uzbek] prisons," Obidov commented, "it would be better for the U.S. State Department to be concerned about the activities of U.S. servicemen in Iraq and Afghan prisons as well as it is worthwhile to recall Guantanamo [Bay, Cuba]." DK

An Uzbek court has declared Zarafshan-Newmont, a joint venture half-owned by U.S.-based Newmont Mining, bankrupt and given the enterprise three months to liquidate, Reuters reported on October 2. In August, Newmont charged that the Uzbek authorities seized assets, blocked gold shipments out of Uzbekistan, and froze an account in the course of a $48 million tax dispute with the joint venture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 4, 2006). Last week, Newmont CEO Wayne Murdy told Reuters that his company plans to write off operations in Uzbekistan. "We are finished there," he said. "When I left Uzbekistan in June, I took the last two expatriates with me." DK

The 110-seat Chamber of Representatives on October 2 voted 103 to three to change the country's electoral legislation, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. According to Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna, most amendments concern local elections. In particular, local elections will now be held in one round, in which candidates winning more votes than their rivals will become councilors (formerly an absolute majority -- 50 percent plus one vote -- was required for this purpose). The amendments also require candidates -- in presidential, parliamentary, and local polls -- to seek approval from local authorities before meeting voters anywhere out of doors. "This is primarily linked to concerns for the safety of voters who come out to meet candidates, in presidential or parliamentary elections," Reuters quoted Yarmoshyna as saying. "This is clearly intended to severely limit and regulate [candidates'] communication with the population," Anatol Lyaukovich, leader of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service. "Earlier it was possible to hold electoral meetings in courtyards and even use a megaphone [without official approval]. Now all this has been cut off," he added. JM

A group of councilors representing mostly the ruling Party of Regions in the oblast, city, and district councils of the Kharkiv region went on a hunger strike in the building of the oblast administration in Kharkiv on October 2 over President Viktor Yushchenko's failure to sack Kharkiv Governor Arsen Avakov, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Four months earlier, more than two-thirds of deputies of the Kharkiv Oblast Council reportedly passed a no-confidence vote in Avakov over the region's deteriorating socioeconomic situation. The protesting deputies cite Article 118 of the Ukrainian Constitution, under which a no-confidence vote supported by two-thirds of lawmakers is sufficient to oblige the president to sack the head of a district or oblast administration. Last week Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych demanded that Yushchenko fire five regional governors, including Avakov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 29, 2006). JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office on September 2 decided to release Oleksandr Melnyk, a deputy of the Bloc For Yanukovych in the Crimean Supreme Council, from custody, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Police officers detained Melnyk last week on suspicion of murder and participation in an organized-crime group. Melnyk was allegedly involved in the killing of several businessmen in Crimea in 1995-96. Prosecutors reportedly did not find sufficient evidence of Melnyk's wrongdoings in materials supplied by the police following his arrest. JM

President Yushchenko has signed into law a bill providing for the reduction of Ukraine's armed forces to 200,000 personnel, including 48,000 civilians, by the end of 2007, Interfax-Ukraine reported on October 3. According to Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, the current numerical strength of the Ukrainian armed forces is 245,000. JM

The trial of eight former Serbian policemen accused of committing one of the worst atrocities in the war in Kosova began in Belgrade on October 2, AP reported the same day. The policemen are accused of executing 48 ethnic Albanian civilians -- including 14 children, two infants a pregnant woman, and a 100-year-old woman -- in Suva Reka in March 1999. All but one of the victims were members of a single family. Among the accused is Radoslav Mitrovic, the former assistant commander of an elite police unit who served as a special police commander in Kosova during the war. He pleaded not guilty, claiming to be in another Kosovar town at the time of the killings. Also among the accused is Radojko Repanovic, the former police commander in Suva Reka. The remaining defendants are lower-ranking policemen and state security officials. Bruno Vekaric, the spokesman for the war crimes prosecutor's office, said the case against the suspects is "solid." The defendants each face up to 40 years in prison if convicted. BW

Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), arrived in Belgrade on October 2 for a two-day visit in which she is widely expected to criticize Serbian officials for their failure to capture war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, B92 and dpa reported the same day. On the first day of her visit, Del Ponte met with chief Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic for over five hours, B92 reported. Her spokesman Anton Nikiforov declined to say whether she was satisfied with the meeting. Del Ponte was scheduled to meet Serbian President Boris Tadic on October 2, and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Hague Coordinating Council head Rasim Ljajic, and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic on October 3. "We will present everything that has been done in the past two months and what we plan on doing in the coming period of time," Ljajic told B92. "We will be realistic, honest, and open in our approach, without any intentions of convincing her of something." BW

Ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosova said they are not concerned about Serbia's passage of a constitution that includes the breakaway province as part of its jurisdiction, AKI reported on October 2. Serbia's parliament passed the constitution unanimously in a special session on September 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006). Kosovar Deputy Prime Minister Lutfi Haziri called the move "just Belgrade's political game," adding that it is aimed at the Serbian electorate. "It is an expected threat and a unilateral decision that will only create obstacles in the normalization of relations between a future independent Kosova and Serbia," Haziri said. Likewise, Skender Hiseni, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian negotiating team at the UN-sponsored final-status talks, said the document "will have no influence on the Kosova status process." He added sarcastically that "Kosova can be a part of Serbia as much as Azerbaijan or any other state." BW

After winning election as the Muslim member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, Haris Silajdzic appealed on October 2 for a smooth transition to facilitate integration into the European Union, reported the same day. "The European Union and the democratic wall will not leave us alone here, the job is not yet finished. We want to integrate Bosnia into the European Union. We want to have a normal, modern, democratic constitution and I hope they will help us do that," he said. Silajdzic, a former wartime foreign and prime minister who defeated incumbent Sulejman Tihic, advocates abolishing Bosnia's ethnically based entities and strengthening the central government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). "We have ethnic representation, not citizens' representation. There are obviously parties that have a different we'll have to talk," Reuters quoted Silajdzic as saying after the election results were announced. BW

Reuters quoted an unidentified Western diplomat in Sarajevo as saying on October 2 that Silajdzic's victory sets up a potentially explosive conflict with Nebojsa Radmanovic, who won the Serbian seat on the tripartite presidency with 56 percent of the vote. Radmanovic is a member of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Dodik has threatened to call an independence referendum if Bosnia's entity system is threatened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14 and 15, 2006). "It will be very hot. Silajdzic stirs up Dodik, whose fuse is very short," a Sarajevo-based European diplomat told Reuters. In other results, Zeljko Komsic of the multiethnic Social Democratic Party beat incumbent Ivo Miro Jovic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in the race for the Croatian member of the presidency. BW

Iranian government efforts to steer public perceptions through media restrictions are not limited to mainstream newspapers in the capital. Provincial publications and journalists face mounting official pressure -- especially among those dealing with minority affairs. Official provincial television broadcasts are changing, too, in a campaign that coincides with a national campaign to curb access to foreign satellite broadcasts.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration is hardly an innovator in trying to limit Iranians' access to information. During predecessor Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's eight years in office, more than 100 press outlets were shut down; there were frequent complaints regarding the hard-line preferences of broadcast media; and, in 2003, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) used powerful transmitters in the capital to block shortwave signals. Events at that time were mostly connected with factional domestic disputes.

But these most recent developments could be part of an effort to direct reporting on the nuclear controversy and influence upcoming elections to the Assembly of Experts and municipal councils, scheduled for December 15.

Press closures and official persecution of journalists occur in the outlying provinces as well as in the capital, Tehran. Cases affecting minorities are a particular concern for the administration, which in the past year has seen increasing unrest in regions inhabited by ethnic Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds, and others. Tehran often blames such incidents on foreign agitators, rather than trying to determine whether protesters have genuine grievances.

A September 13 statement by Intelligence and Security Minister Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei is typical, in which he refers to enemy plots in the provinces.

In the northwestern city of Sanandaj in October 2005, the cases of three Iranian-Kurdish journalists -- Ejlal Qavami, Said Saedi, and Roya Tolui -- were referred to the Revolutionary Court on the charges of acting against national security. The three were arrested after criticizing violent state suppression of unrest that summer. Tolui, who was released on bail in early 2006, said she was tortured into confessing while in jail. She escaped to the United States in early 2006.

More recently, Mohammad Sadeq Kabudvand, managing editor of the banned weekly "Payam-i Mardom," was summoned in mid-September to begin a jail term after being charged with "publishing lies and articles aimed at creating racial and tribal tension and discord." Published in Kurdish and Persian, "Payam-i Mardom" was distributed in the Kurdish regions of Ilam, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and West Azerbaijan provinces.

In southwestern Khuzestan Province, which is home to many members of the ethnic Arab minority, the daily "Hamsayeha" was banned in February on the grounds that it contributed to ethnic discord and encouraged acts that were potentially harmful to the government.

A more recent incident occurred in the southwestern Bushehr Province. The weekly "Nasir-i Bushehr" reported on August 20 that the provincial governor-general banned its correspondents from his office. The weekly accused political hard-liners of using any means at their disposable to criticize former President Khatami's pro-reform administration but being unable nowadays to "even tolerate a simple criticism made by their own party." The weekly accused the current administration of using "security, judicial, and media institutions" to block reforms.

Six journalists were arrested in northwestern Iran in late May following demonstrations by ethnic Azeris. Those arrested include "Ava-yi Ardabil" Editor Vahid Daragahi, and Ali Hamed Iman, who was writing for local publications and was managing editor of the now-banned "Shams-i Tabriz" newspaper. Also detained were Ali Nazari and Reza Kazemi, editor and managing editor, respectively, of the weekly "Araz."

In a recent report for the Century Foundation, a public-policy research group that focuses on challenges facing the United States, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner asserts that unrest involving Iranian minorities should be seen in the context of U.S. military plans. The author -- who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College and elsewhere -- writes that the United States is "trying to establish contacts with ethnic minorities" in Iran. He takes at face value an Iranian ambassador's claim that militants captured in the southeast confessed to working with the United States. The author also suggests that "the United States is...directly involved in supporting groups inside the Kurdish area of Iran," although he does not source that allegation, and he repeats Tehran's claim that the United States shot down Iranian military aircraft on two separate occasions in 2006.

Recent statements by Iranian Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Hussein Safar-Harandi suggested that the Iranian government harbors similar fears -- and could exploit them to justify repressive measures against minorities, according to "Kayhan" on September 4. Safar-Harandi claimed that Iran's enemies "have on their agenda the creation of tension and introduction of ethnic issues." He argued that "the ballyhoo on ethnic issues" was "partly supported by foreign intelligence service." Safar-Harandi concluded that the press "would follow the enemy's plans unwontedly" if it was "not alert."

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting has 27 provincial television networks. Minority groups occasionally decry both the quality of the programs, which sometimes use disparaging ethnic stereotypes, and their quantity, saying there is insufficient use of minority languages.

In an apparent effort to address such criticism, Khuzestan provincial television announced in mid-July that it would increase its Arabic-language programming. The station's managing director said programs were under review and audience reaction would be gauged, provincial television reported on July 15.

In August, the director-general of state broadcasting's provincial news and information department vowed that reporting from the provinces would be improved, Khuzestan provincial television reported on August 24. He said there should be greater commentary and reporting from provincial news centers.

Television has significant reach in Iran. In a recent poll, more than 90 percent of the population said it watched television the previous day -- that compared with just 30 percent who listened to radio and 31 percent who read a newspaper. More than 90 percent identified local television stations as one of their top three news sources.

There is no private television in Iran. State television has seven channels that broadcast domestically, and Network 3, the Youth Network, is believed to be the most popular because it provides sports and light entertainment.

To get more entertainment and access something other than the official news, many Iranians enjoy watching satellite broadcasts -- although possession of the equipment has been illegal since the mid-1990s.

Iran's legislature began consideration of a new bill on satellite-reception equipment in the spring. The draft would make producing, importing, or distributing such equipment illegal. It would also authorize the police and the IRGC's Basij to confiscate the equipment, and allow the creation of a domestic cable network that would rebroadcast satellite programs that do not contravene what authorities regard as "the values and principles of the Islamic and national culture."

Confiscation of dishes in Tehran got under way in August, and there were reports of confiscations in provincial cities -- including Isfahan, Rasht, Sanandaj, and Shiraz -- in July. On September 7 in the southern city of Abadan, police announced that they had confiscated more than 100 sets of satellite-receiving equipment, Fars News Agency reported.

In conjunction with these steps, the Iranian government has made it illegal to cooperate with any Persian-language satellite channel. The Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry announced that ban in late August -- proscribing interviews, advertisements, or any other form of participation and warning that violators will be prosecuted.

Paktika Province Governor Mohammad Akram Khepelwak said that a Taliban attack on a border checkpoint in southeastern Afghanistan on October 2 left three policemen and at least 10 militants dead, AFP reported. Akram Khepelwak was quoted as telling AFP that a one-hour gun battle followed the attack, which took place in the Gomal district of Paktika, and he suggested that some of the attackers managed to escape. AFP reported that three police officers were reported wounded in the Gomal incident, while Pajhwak news agency suggested eight policemen were injured. Pajhwak quoted Akram Khepelwak as saying 15 Taliban fighters were wounded in the border battle. Pajhwak also quoted officials saying two local Taliban commanders had been killed in fighting in separate incidents in the Ghazni and Zabol provinces. AH

Two U.S. troops and an Afghan soldier were killed and three U.S. soldiers were wounded in "fighting with enemy combatants" in eastern Afghanistan's Konar Province late on October 2, RFE/RL reported, citing international news agencies. The U.S. deaths bring to around 140 the number of foreign soldiers who have been killed during operations in Afghanistan, according to RFE/RL. Also on October 2, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in downtown Kabul, wounding three NATO soldiers and three passersby. The bomber struck near a military convoy on a crowded road that is frequently used by international troops, RFE/RL reported. AH

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in an October 1 speech at Tehran University that not only will Iran not forego uranium enrichment, as requested by the international community, but it intends to expand its enrichment capacity, Fars News Agency reported the next day. Ahmadinejad also dismissed concerns that Iran is interested in having atomic weapons, saying, "Allegations or charges by the United States that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons are a big lie." The president also said Iran hopes to install up to 100,000 centrifuges. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, D.C., told Radio Farda in February it would take 10-20 years to install even half that many centrifuges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," February 22, 2006). "They don't even know how to put 100 together and operate them successfully, let alone build that number," Albright added. BS

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said on October 2 in Tehran that Iran will not agree to holding discussions on its nuclear program if the talks are based on its suspension of uranium enrichment, Fars News Agency reported. Several days earlier, on September 29, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said it would not be logical for Iran to suspend its nuclear activities, state television reported. "The foreigners have realized that the language of threat and the referral to the UN Security Council does not work with Iran and that there is no other option than holding talks at present," he said. Mottaki said there is no legal basis for a suspension. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted in Ireland on October 2 that there is no sign that Iran intends to suspend its enrichment activities, Radio Farda reported on October 2. Rice said the nuclear program could be the subject of talks in Europe this week. BS

Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov is in Tehran on October 3 to hold talks with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larijani, RIA Novosti reported. The talks are part of regular consultations through the security councils of Russia and Iran, the agency said. The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, recently held talks with Larijani in an attempt to persuade Tehran to accept a package of incentives offered by countries mediating the issue and to suspend uranium enrichment, but no deal has yet been reached. FF

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, who served as president from 1997-2005, said in an October 2 speech that the country's officials should employ tact when discussing the nuclear issue, IRNA reported. He added, "We should negotiate Iran's nuclear issue, and if certain parties say they [the foreigners] cannot be trusted, this will become evident during the negotiation." Khatami and several other senior officials, such as former Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, have decried the Ahmadinejad administration's foreign policy as excessively confrontational and ultimately unproductive. BS

The legislature on October 2 approved the withdrawal of $3.5 billion from the country's foreign-exchange reserve to fund gasoline imports, IRNA reported. The bill was passed with a vote of 136 in favor, 57 against, and 13 abstentions, and it must win approval from the Guardians Council. Parliamentary talks on gasoline imports grew heated on September 5, "Kayhan" reported the next day. Legislators objected that gasoline is used excessively because it is sold very cheaply at subsidized prices, and Management and Planning Organization Director Farhad Rahbar said consumption would be limited through the distribution of smart cards. Out of 202 legislators who were present in the chamber, only 94 voted that the bill is urgent, which would have moved it to the head of the queue. BS

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has suspended Iran's weightlifting federation for two years because it has not paid a $400,000 fine for doping, Reuters reported. Last week in the Dominican Republic, nine out of 11 Iranian lifters tested positive when tested for drugs before the world championships, and the team was forced to withdraw. One of the athletes, Mohsen Davudi, is banned permanently due to repeated failures of drug tests, as has Bulgarian coach Georgy Ivanov. The IWF says Ivanov is the person mostly responsible for the athletes' drug abuse. BS

Iraqi political leaders signed a pledge to work to stop bloodshed on October 2, international media reported the same day. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made the announcement at a press briefing in Baghdad, flanked by Sunni Arab leaders Adnan al-Dulaymi and Tariq al-Hashimi. Al-Dulaymi's bodyguard was arrested on September 30 after the U.S. military uncovered a bomb-making factory outside the politician's office inside Baghdad's Green Zone. The pledge includes a four-point plan that calls for the establishment of security committees in each district of the capital that will be manned by religious, tribal, and military leaders representing all major factions to monitor the security situation. A central committee for peace and security will also be established to monitor police activities in the capital. The plan also calls for the establishment of a new commission to monitor the activities of the media, and monthly reviews to monitor the progress of the initiative. KR

Iraq's Council of Representatives voted on October 2 to extend the state of emergency for another month, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The extension was agreed upon despite objections by Sunni politicians who argued that the directive gives cover to Shi'ite militias working under the cover of Iraqi security forces. The parliament failed, however, to have a planned second reading of the draft law on the establishment of federal regions. Al-Sharqiyah television quoted members of parliament as saying that some parliamentarians are avoiding council sessions in order to prevent a quorum being formed, thereby bringing the review process to a halt and delaying the timetable for implementation as outlined in the constitution. KR

According to Al-Sharqiyah television on October 3, 1,980 eighty civilians were killed in Baghdad in September, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. Reuters reported on October 1 that partial statistics compiled by the Health Ministry and released by the Interior Ministry indicated a 42 percent rise in the civilian death toll from August to September. According to that report, some 1,089 civilians died in September, compared to 769 in August and 1,065 in July. The number apparently does not include the number of unidentified bodies that pass through the Baghdad morgue in a given month. A morgue official told Reuters that the number of bodies fell by 17 percent in August; September figures were not available, and officials said they have been ordered not to release data on deaths. KR

Iraq's Interior Ministry announced on October 2 that 67 bodies were found in the capital in the preceding 30 hours, Iraqi media reported the same day. More than a dozen bodies were found on October 2 in addition to the 50 bodies found on October 1. Many of the bodies bore signs of torture and most were killed by gunfire. The Iraqi Islamic Party announced on October 2 that 26 Iraqis kidnapped from a meat factory in Baghdad a day earlier were found dead in southern Baghdad. KR