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Newsline - October 13, 2006

The Georgian Foreign Ministry announced on October 12 that it opposes further meetings dealing with Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the result of which is that such meetings are now postponed indefinitely, Russian and international media reported. Georgia said that it seeks to protest Russia's "unjustifiable trade restrictive measures" regarding imports of Georgian products, especially wine, mineral water, and agricultural produce (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 4, 10, and 11, 2006). The Georgian ministry added that it has not received a response from Russia to its requests for bilateral talks to resolve the issues. In related news, Russia is continuing talks with the United States in Geneva on October 13 aimed at eliminating U.S. objections to Russian WTO membership. The Kremlin has repeatedly blamed the United States for holding up its accession to WTO membership and stressed that Russia will accept only terms that meet its interests. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov opposes membership outright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 31, and August 18, 2006, and "Russia: WTO Becomes Long-Term Issue For Relations With U.S.,", July 24, 2006). But also on October 13, German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said in Moscow that Russia and the United States "should reach final agreements in the next two weeks" regarding Russian WTO accession, Interfax reported. PM

Meeting in Luxembourg on October 12, EU transportation ministers called on Russia to phase out the fees it charges airlines to fly over Siberia if it wants to join the WTO, Reuters reported. European airlines together pay over $300 million annually in such fees. Russia has said it will drop the charges by the end of 2013, but the EU wants action well before then. Transportation Minister Susanna Huovinen of Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said that "we want this to happen before they...can be a member of the WTO." PM

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Paris after meeting with President Jacques Chirac on October 12 that she told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Dresden recently that she opposes a greater role for Russia in EADS, German media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11 and 12, 2006). She added that she made it clear to Putin that "an institutional stake [for Russia in the aerospace company] is not on the agenda." The Kremlin reportedly aspires to a board seat with blocking rights at a time when it is increasingly denying foreign firms a role in developing Russian "strategic" energy resources and has effectively gone back on some major agreements already in force. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on October 13 that the Kremlin's recent behavior toward Georgia and Ukraine, along with negative trends in Russia regarding democracy, press freedom, and racial equality, show that Russia is not yet qualified to become a "strategic partner" for Germany and the West. PM

In Paris on October 12, Chancellor Merkel and President Chirac again called on Russia to ratify the Energy Charter, which Moscow signed with the EU in 1994 and which would require it to open up access to its pipelines, German media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and 18, and September 5 and 25, 2006). The Kremlin has repeatedly said that the pact must be renegotiated first. Elsewhere, officials of the French company Total said that they are not interested in helping develop the huge Shtokman natural gas field as contractors following Russia's recent decision to develop Shtokman without foreign partners, including Total, "The Moscow Times" reported on October 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 11, 2006). The Kremlin has also decided to ship Shtokman gas to Germany and the EU rather than as liquefied natural gas to the United States in an apparent move to play Europe off against the United States. PM

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseyev said on October 13 that Russia will work to avoid a "confrontational scenario" in the Far East following the recent North Korean nuclear test, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 11, 2006). He argued that "despite the acute situation, we believe that one should demonstrate composure and moderation." Alekseyev added that "one should persist with efforts enabling the return of the situation to the framework of negotiations and try to find a wise way to overcome a complicated situation." He noted that "many of Russia's partners, including China, share this approach." PM

Russian human rights activist Lidia Yusupova, who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, has received death threats recently, dpa reported from Oslo, citing the daily "Aftenposten." An anonymous male caller reportedly said: "So you are a candidate for the Peace Prize? In order to accept it, you have to be alive." Yusupova has won prizes for her efforts aimed at drawing attention to human rights violations in Chechnya. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was recently gunned down in her Moscow apartment building, also wrote extensively on abuses in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 11, and 12, 2006). PM

The Ryazan Garrison Military Court convicted Captain Vyacheslav Nikiforov, a former company commander in a Railway Troops unit, on October 12 for kicking to death a soldier, Dmitry Panteleyev, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11 and 16, 2006). Nikiforov was sentenced to 12 years in a maximum security prison on charges that could have brought him a sentence of up to 25 years. The issue of hazing in the military has been in the forefront of media attention in 2006, following a particularly gruesome incident at the start of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 22, and 29, and August 4, 2006). PM

The daily "Vremya novostei" reported on October 12 that police are holding three Ukrainian citizens as suspects in the September slaying of Central Bank executive Andrei Kozlov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 18, 2006). The three allegedly turned themselves in, saying that they fear that those who hired them to kill Kozlov might now seek to have them eliminated, too. The suspects added that they had been approached by strangers who offered them $20,000 to kill "a crook who cheats good people" but decided to turn themselves in once they realized whom they had killed and who his enemies might be. Kozlov was known for seeking to clean up the banking system and rid it of criminals and money-laundering. Viktor Patapov, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, declined to comment on the report because of the ongoing investigation. As part of that effort, police have staged a live mock-up of the killing where it took place in an effort to clarify what might have happened, reported. PM

"Novaya gazeta" published in its October 12 edition an incomplete article that journalist Anna Politkovskaya was working on before she was shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on October 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 2006). The article quotes from a first-hand account by a young Chechen man, Beslan Gadayev, of how he was extradited from Ukraine to Grozny on suspicion of "banditry" and subjected to torture to extract a confession to murder. "Novaya gazeta" also published a purported transcript of video footage showing Chechen security officials torturing two young men. Politkovskaya told RFE/RL's Russian Service on October 5 she was writing an article about the participation of security forces loyal to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in the abduction, torture, and murder of Chechen civilians. Kadyrov has personally denied ordering her murder, affirming that "Chechens don't fight with women and Politkovskaya did not pose any threat to me," according to on October 11. LF

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights on October 12 pronounced Russia responsible for the killings in a Grozny suburb in February 2000 of five members of the Estamirov family, according to as reposted on The five were gunned down during a search operation by the Russian military. LF

In a statement released on October 12 and posted on, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian described the passage earlier that day by the French National Assembly of a bill that would make it a crime to deny that the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide as the "natural continuation of France's principled and consistent defense of human and historic rights and values" and as "a natural reaction to the intensive, aggressive, and official denialism of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish state." Oskanian stressed that "adopting such a decision is the French parliament's sovereign right," adding that Ankara has "undertaken a premeditated, planned assault on the truth." LF

In Baku, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry released a statement on October 12 accusing the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora worldwide of "playing a destructive role," reported. It expressed the hope that the French Senate (the upper parliament chamber) will reject the bill in the interests of promoting stability and mutual trust in the region. Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told journalists the bill "contradicts fundamental human rights and freedoms, and could violate and restrict freedom of thought." Nizami Bakhmanov, leader of the Azerbaijani community that fled Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s and early 1990s, argued that in the event that the French Senate too approves the bill, France should be stripped of its co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, reported. LF

At its inaugural session on October 12, the Tbilisi municipal council elected one week earlier elected as city mayor Gigi Ugulava, who held that post from 2005, Caucasus Press reported. It was the first time that the mayor has been elected by municipal council members rather than appointed by the country's president. Ugulava is a member of the United National Movement that won 34 of the total 37 council seats. Shalva Natelashvili of the opposition Labor Party withdrew his candidacy after his party won only one seat on the council, and has sent his mandate to U.S. President George W. Bush. LF

The pro-government television station Rustavi-2 aired on October 12 footage that shows Koba Davitashvili, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, accepting $20,000 from businessman Alladin Mirzoyan after having promised to include him in the first three candidates on the party's list for the 2006 local elections in return for a total payment of $150,000. Davitashvili is quoted as saying he wants to go down in history as a man who did much good for Georgia. The footage was provided by Akaki Kapanadze, the head of a regional branch of the Conservative Party, who was quoted as saying Mirzoyan threatened him, demanding the money be returned. Davitashvili convened a press conference later on October 12 at which he admitted accepting $20,000 from Mirzoyan in May 2006, but he said the money was a donation to his party. He denied having promised Mirzoyan a place on the party's election list, noting that in May 2006 no date had been set for the local elections. LF

Addressing a session of the parliament of the Republic of North Ossetia on October 12, Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia argued that the hostilities between his republic and the central Georgian government were not an inter-ethnic conflict but an act of genocide by Georgians against Ossetians, and should be condemned as such, reported. Kokoity further criticized the OSCE for allegedly "fully" supporting Georgia against South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30, 2006), and the international community of "double standards." The North Ossetian parliamentarians decided to draft an appeal to the Russian State Duma to recognize the genocide of the Ossetian people. Also on October 12, a two-day meeting opened in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, reported. South Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiyev told journalists prior to the opening of those talks that he hopes the Georgian delegation will agree to unspecified compromise solutions that will not be directed at destroying previous agreements. LF

The Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office released a list on October 12 of 12 international terrorist organizations banned in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The organizations are: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Party of East Turkestan, the People's Congress of Kurdistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Usbat al-Ansar, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Boz Gurd, the Mujahidin Group of Central Asia, Lashkar-i-Toiba, and the Social Reform Society. The statement also noted that a court in Astana has banned Hizb ut-Tahrir as an extremist organization. DK

A civic forum that took place in Bishkek on October 12 with help from the opposition For Reforms movement has presented President Kurmanbek Bakiev with a list of nine demands, reported. The demands are: Bakiev must present the draft constitution developed by the Constitutional Council to parliament within 10 days; Bakiev must carry out parliament's resolution on the formation of a national unity government; Bakiev must retract his veto of a law calling for the transformation of state television into public television; the president and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov must ensure that the independent television station Piramida resumes broadcasting within 10 days; Bakiev must ensure the representation of minorities in the national government; Bakiev must remove his relatives from government posts and declare his family's earnings; prosecutors must identify the guilty parties in the recent scandal involving former speaker of parliament Omurbek Tekebaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006); Kyrgyzstan must not participate in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries debt-reduction initiative; and the resolution of the September 17 Aksy gathering must be implemented. DK

President Bakiev, who ignored an invitation to attend the forum on October 12, plans to hold a roundtable discussion with political party leaders, civil-society representatives, and nongovernmental groups to discuss the situation in the country, reported. Bakiev was the target of critical remarks at the forum, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, now co-chairwoman of the Asaba Party, said that Bakiev is no different from former President Askar Akaev. "Bakiev has taken all power into his own hands," Otunbaeva said. "He has appointed his relatives to [official] positions." Prime Minister Kulov, who attended the forum, commented, "If we really want changes and we don't want to take to the streets just to yell, 'Down with something,' then propose the system you want and see that it is implemented," reported. The news agency noted that forum participants were sharply critical of Kulov's statement. DK

Two separate editions of the newspaper "Adolat," published by Tajikistan's Democratic Party, appeared in Dushanbe on October 12, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. One version, edited by Rajab Mirzo, was published by the wing of the Democratic Party headed by the imprisoned Muhammadruzi Iskandarov. The other was published by the Democratic Party headed by Masud Sobirov, who was recently recognized by the Justice Ministry as the party's official leader. The publishers of both editions denounced each other's publications as illegal. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov has appointed Tumar Mammedov to chair Turkmenistan's state-run commerce bank Daihanbank, reported on October 12. Daihanbank, which services the country's agricultural sector, was previously headed by Batyr Sakhedov, who was removed for purportedly "serious lapses in his work." DK

Uzbek President Islam Karimov issued a decree on October 12 raising salaries for state workers, pensions, and social assistance by 20 percent starting November 1, official news agency UzA reported. The new minimal wage, pension, and payments units will be: 12,420 soms ($12) per month for the salaries of state workers and 24,600 soms per month for pensions. DK

Russia's Transneft has reduced pressure at the Belarusian section of the Druzhba (Friendship) oil pipeline to examine some 600 defects it detected there, Belapan reported on October 12, quoting Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigorev. "[The pressure reduction] will of course reduce the pipeline's capacity and slightly lower the amount of oil supplies, but the company plans to deliver oil to customers on their request," Grigorev said. Meanwhile, "Kommersant" wrote the same day that Transneft will reduce oil supplies to Belarus in the fourth quarter of 2006 by 30 percent, or some 1 million tons. The newspaper cited unidentified experts as saying that in this way Russia intends to pressurize Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the ongoing negotiations on gas prices for Belarus in 2007. The Druzhba pipeline begins in Samara in Russia, where it collects oil from western Siberia, the Urals, and the Caspian Sea. It subsequently runs to Mazyr in Belarus, where it splits into a northern and southern branch. The southern branch runs to Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The northern branch crosses the remainder of Belarus to reach Poland and Germany. JM

The leaders of major opposition parties and organizations -- including the Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Party of Communists, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and the Youth Front -- have agreed to coordinate their activities in the run-up to local elections scheduled for January 14, 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2007), Belapan reported on October 12. Opposition forces are expected to field some 850 candidates for the polls in which more than 22,000 seats on local councils will be contested. JM

Roman Bezsmertnyy, head of the parliamentary caucus of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc of six parties, said on October 12 that Our Ukraine will continue to support President Viktor Yushchenko and will press for the execution of the program with which Yushchenko won the presidential election in 2004, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Bezsmertnyy reiterated that his caucus' decision to join the opposition and recall its four ministers from Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet was irreversible (see "RFE/RL's Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," October 12, 2007). JM

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on October 12 that postponing a decision on the final status of Kosova could be dangerous, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. "We support the efforts of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari for finding a sustainable solution for Kosova by the end of the year," Rehn said. "The process of solving the status cannot be hindered, and an unnecessary postponement of the process would be dangerous for the stability of Kosova and the entire region," he added. Ahtisaari said on October 3 that the possibility of Serbian parliamentary elections in December could delay a decision on Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). Rehn also said the EU will soon take on a larger role in Kosova. "Kosova will not be the 51st state of the United States, [but] rather, a future territory of the European Union," Rehn said. "Therefore, the European Union must have a strategy of success," he added. BW

Top Kosova officials are concerned that the increasing likelihood that a decision on the region's final status will be delayed could lead to instability, B92 and FoNet reported on October 12. Kosova Prime Minister Agim Ceku said the delay "will cause us many problems." Likewise, Bljerim Shalja, a member of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team at the final-status talks, said a delay would cause frustration in the Albanian community. "Serbs would welcome the unrest of course, because they would then be able to say: 'Alright, enough is enough, we will now have to separate the communities,'" Shalja said. BW

Belgrade's District Court filed charges against an aide to the fugitive war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic on October 11, AP reported the same day. Prosecutors allege that Blagoje Govedarica, who was Mladic's driver during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, helped him evade capture and extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Deputy Public Prosecutor Branko Stamenkovic said that Govedarica, who was arrested in May, will join 10 other alleged Mladic aides in a trial that opened in Belgrade last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25 and September 22, 2006). Meanwhile, Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said on October 12 that he is convinced that Mladic will be arrested in "a matter of days," B92 and Beta reported the same day. "We have located the network of helpers," Vukcevic said. "I must say that there truly exists a political will to have Mladic and all other Hague fugitives located, arrested, and handed over to the tribunal," he added. BW

Prosecutors in Bosnia-Herzegovina have indicted Niset Ramic, a member of the country's wartime military, for atrocities committed against Serbian civilians during the 1992-95 war, B92, Beta, and AFP reported on October 12. It is the first indictment against a member of Bosnia's Muslim-led wartime army. Ramic is accused of killing four Serbian civilians and wounding one in June 1992, AFP reported, citing an unidentified official. The official said that Ramic is already being serving a sentence for a separate crime committed during the war in Bosnia. BW

In a unanimous vote, the Transdniester parliament on October 11 appealed to legislatures in Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics to recognize its independence, Reuters reported the same day. In a referendum last month, voters in Transdniester supported independence and eventual unification with Russia by more than 97 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). "Deputies voted unanimously in favor of the appeal, which asks for the view of the Transdniestrian people, as expressed in the referendum, to be taken into consideration," the parliament's press secretary, Natalya Butko, told Reuters. BW

All of the parties involved in Afghanistan's stabilization process since the fall of the Taliban nearly five years ago tend to agree that security and reconstruction are two sides of the same coin. Indeed, as security has deteriorated to its worst levels since the new political order arose, the rebuilding effort has not fared much better. But while a lack of security is hampering reconstruction, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan, policies might also be to blame for the lack of sustained progress.

A stark and urgent reminder that there is still much work to be done in post-Taliban Afghanistan was provided on October 8 by the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), when he warned that, without visible improvements in the daily lives of ordinary Afghans in the next six months, up to 70 percent of Afghans could shift their allegiance to the Taliban-led insurgency.

British Lieutenant General David Richards' comments led to defensive posturing by the Afghan government rather than turning its attention to a retooling of reconstruction plans.

NATO tried to defuse the tension through an ISAF statement on October 11 that said ISAF's commander meant that "the next six months have to be used for effective reconstruction and development to ensure" the continuing support that the Afghan government enjoys among citizens. But Richards added ominously that he knows that the "ISAF cannot take the support of ordinary Afghans for granted." Richards pledged that having "shown [its] skill and power in combat," NATO is "now putting equal effort into supporting the reconstruction and development that will improve [Afghans'] lives and offer a real future to all."

Richards' warning is a very real one for Afghanistan. Arguably, the crux of the matter is not whether Afghans will support the resurgent neo-Taliban, but whether -- in the absence of a genuine improvement in their daily lives -- they care to support the current system. The operative word is "genuine."

Donors are rightfully proud that billions of dollars have been poured into Afghanistan. But little of that international aid has filtered down to the average Afghan. In a vicious cycle, security is blamed for slow reconstruction and the failure to rebuild is said to lead to deteriorating security.

A reevaluation of the reconstruction projects implemented in Afghanistan in the last five years would undoubtedly reveal mistakes. Many shortcomings might be related to a focus on shorter-term projects that the donors and Afghan government alike have tried to use to demonstrate progress to their respective constituencies -- or even to each other. In other words, the emphasis thus far has not been on infrastructure but on Potemkin projects. But, despite its lack of immediate political benefits, the infrastructure work is necessary in pursuit of long-term, state-building strategies.

Another, and more crucial, shortcoming has been a heavy reliance on foreign contractors to rebuild Afghanistan. Foreign contractors continue to boast of multimillion-dollar reconstruction projects while the average Afghan worker remains untrained and unemployed.

Involving Afghans in all aspects of reconstruction would do more than simply employ the countless people who otherwise might find work in the booming narcotics industry. It might also counter the type of frustration to which commander Richards alluded and that prompts some to join the armed opposition.

It is true that there is a serious shortage of skilled laborers in Afghanistan. Foreign expertise is necessary to train Afghans. But allowing Afghans to rebuild their own houses, schools, and roads would give them more than just ownership and pride -- it would also provide them with legal incomes.

"Afghanizing" reconstruction projects would likely slow down some work. It might also prove more challenging to adapt to the many demands of international donors and Kabul, possibly preventing them from signing off projects as due dates arise. But as one UN official put it recently, Afghan-built schools have somehow proven to be fireproof. He meant to suggest that those reconstruction projects built by Afghans seem to be targeted less by the insurgents.

If the nation is sufficiently involved in rebuilding the Afghan state, then the massive project that began with the ousting of the Taliban in 2001 might be steered toward the formation of a fully functioning nation-state. Otherwise, in six months' time, General Richards might regret having toned down his warning.

Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, the head of the Afghan National Assembly's upper house -- the Meshrano Jirga (Council of Elders) -- resigned from his post on October 12 to protest what he described as the presence of "undesirable people" in senior government posts, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The administration of President Hamid Karzai "did not listen to what I said," he told a news conference in Kabul, adding, "I have decided to resign from the membership of the senate and the presidency of the upper house." Mojaddedi named Esmati, the head of Anticorruption Commission, as an example of "corrupt officials," Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on October 12, alleging: "This Mr. Esmati was a key Parchami [a member of Parcham, one of the two major communist parties that ruled Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s]. He may have repented for what he did, but he is an incompetent manager." Karzai's "government would have fallen without my support," Mojaddedi claimed. According to an October 12 report by the official Bakhtar News Agency, Mojaddedi warned the government that he would resign if his advice was not heeded. Mojaddedi told RFE/RL that he will continue in his function as head of the reconciliation program aimed at encouraging former Taliban members to cooperate with the government. During the struggle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Karzai worked for Mojaddedi's Peshawar-based National Liberation Front of Afghanistan. A number of Mojaddedi's family members were killed under the communist leadership. AT

Kabul international airport's police chief, General Aminullah Amarkhayl, has been suspended from his position by Attorney-General Abdul Jabar Sabet for what has been described as defying the law, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 12. Amarkhayl has countered that he was removed from his post, "not suspended," in a conspiracy stemming from his removal of several officials on suspicion that they had links to narcotics traffickers. Amarkhayl claimed that the "drugs mafia" has placed a bounty on his head and prize money for "those who help" ensure his dismissal. Sabet told Pajhwak that Amarkhayl has been "suspended for his defiance of the country's law," without explaining further. Interior Ministry spokesman Zmaray Bashiri meanwhile said that Amarkhayl was dismissed. Amarkhayl's boss, General Harun Shah Asefi, called the sacked officer "an honest and disciplined man." Kabul's criminal-branch police chief, Ali Shah Paktiyawal, criticized Sabet's decision to remove Amarkhayl, saying, "Whoever works with honesty in this government, his fate will be similar to Amarkhayl." AT

Attorney-General Sabet has issued an arrest warrant for Herat Mayor Mojaddedi, Herat-based Sada-ye Jawan Radio reported on October 12. Sabet has charged Mojaddedi (one name; not to be confused with Meshrano Jirga speaker Sebghatullah Mojaddedi) with embezzling around $70 million. Mojaddedi "signed two separate contracts for the construction of a five-star hotel without asking for the approval of cabinet members," Sabet said. Speaking from Kabul, Mojaddedi rejected the charges, saying that he has all the necessary legal documents related to the hotel venture. Sabet's office recently issued arrest warrants against a number of officials in Herat Province for alleged embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5 and 6, 2006). AT

Twenty-two people, including three members of the Afghan National Army, were injured in Khost Province on October 12, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Eyewitnesses suggested both attacks were carried out, an hour apart, by suicide bombers; but a press official from the Interior Ministry said one of the attacks was carried out by a suicide bomber while the other was the result of an improvised explosive device. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on October 12 that a "heroic mujahed of the Islamic Emirate" named Mohammad Musa carried out a suicide attack against coalition "occupation" forces in which two main battle tanks were destroyed, killing 12 soldiers. In a second attack, the group said, Mohammad Nasim carried out a suicide attack, killing 13 Afghan policemen. The Taliban frequently exaggerate casualty figures when claiming responsibility for attacks. AT

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad met with Palestinian Interior Minister Said Siyam in Tehran on October 12 and said "there are no limits" to the transfer of Iran's "experiences and achievements in all areas to the popular Hamas government," Mehr news agency reported. Ahmadinejad urged the Hamas government to maintain its "principled and revolutionary positions" to attain the "Palestinian ideal," and he said Palestine is the front line in the fight between Muslims and "forceful powers." Siyam said his government is willing to use Iran's experience in government and home administration. He met separately with Iranian Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi, Iranian news agencies reported. Pur-Mohammadi called for the expansion of formal ties between Iran and the Palestinian government and said Palestine has evident needs in terms of domestic security and administration, areas he said "are subject to an intense attack by the occupying regime of Israel," ISNA reported. VS

Iran's ambassador in Paris, Ali Ahani, defended Iran's positions on Middle East politics and its nuclear dossier at an October 11 news conference in Paris, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and Guysen Israel News, an Israeli news agency, reported. Ahani spoke in the Maison de Radio France at the invitation of the Club de la Presse Arabe. He ignored an Israeli journalist who asked whether "your atomic bomb" is intended one day to be used against Israel in the event of a U.S. strike on Iran, reported. The journalist and three others walked out in protest. Ahani said Iran's refusal to recognize Israel does not mean Iran is "against Jews. It respects them. We have many in Iran. They have their representatives and are at ease in Iran." He said Iran does not arm Lebanon's Hizballah but it does support it as a movement defending Lebanon's "freedom" against Israeli occupation. He said Iran's nuclear program is legal but that the United States, for political reasons, is set on referring Iran to the UN Security Council for the alleged violation of nonproliferation principles. "Iran is negotiating for a suitable solution. It needs neither confrontation nor war," Ahani said. If its dossier is taken to the Security Council, he added, it "will be obliged to suspend the implementation" of the UN protocol it has signed to allow close checks of its installations, reported. VS

The office of the governor of the northwestern East Azerbaijan Province announced on October 12 that Afghan migrants cannot remain in the province and must within days present themselves to authorities and "clarify their situation," Fars reported. Muhammad Memarzadeh is the provincial governor. His office issued a statement warning that "the residency or housing of" Afghans is forbidden in the province from September 23, adding that the migrants have until October 22 to present themselves to local authorities so "their identification documents can be examined and necessary legal decisions taken about them." Failure to do so will render them illegal aliens to be dealt with by the law, Fars reported the statement as saying. VS

Fars quoted the Iranian supreme leader's representative in the East Azerbaijan Province, Ayatollah Mohsen Mujtahid-Shabestari, as telling a congregation in the town of Tasuj on October 12 that any possible unity between Azeri speakers in Iran and those of Azerbaijan, across Iran's northern border, can take but one form: Azerbaijan's incorporation into Iran. He was responding to unspecified nationalist seminars held recently in Baku. Azeri nationalists have intermittently urged that Iran's Azeri provinces be detached to form a larger Azeri state. Persia ruled the lands of present-day Azerbaijan until the early decades of the 19th century, when they were taken by imperial Russia. "If there is to be any union, they should join Iran, and it would be better not to speak of southern and northern Azerbaijan, but of southern and northern Iran," Fars quoted Shabestari as saying. He is also the congregational prayer leader in Tabriz, the provincial capital. "There is [a] smell of plots," he said of the seminars. "While some people tried [earlier] this year to carry out their plots, the people [in northwest Iran] gave them a teeth-shattering response," he said, referring to unrest in May among Iranian Azeri-speakers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 29, 2006). "The identity of Iranians will never be undermined, and we obey an Iranian-Islamic center," he said. VS

An Iraqi jihadist leader identified as Abu Usamah al-Iraqi pleaded with Osama bin Laden in an October 12 Internet video to intervene and replace the leadership of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council, saying the council has deviated from bin Laden's principles. "Ever since you accepted the pledge of allegiance of the group's amir [commander]...we have been experiencing a nightmare," said al-Iraqi. He said the council has ignored the guidance of Al-Qaeda leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi as well of bin Laden himself. The group then began to liquidate scholars, and attacked schools, houses, and hospitals "without any consideration for their importance" to society. It seized salaries of Sunnis living in the areas of Al-Anbar, and terrorized worshippers, "fought them in their mosques, killing scores of imams and preachers, and threatening hundreds others to the extent that mosques are now empty." KR

In his October 12 message to Osama bin Laden, al-Iraqi also accused the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council of terrorizing and liquidating other jihadist fighters and said the council eliminated whole insurgent movements and stole their weapons. The council is being led "by society's most despicable members" now that its leadership either fled or was martyred, he added. Al-Iraqi called on bin Laden to either disown the council or appoint an Iraqi to lead it, saying if bin Laden chooses to remain silent on the issue, jihadist groups will take up arms against the council. "We shall make them our harvest and we shall humiliate" their leaders, al-Iraqi said. KR

Six policemen wfere killed and 12 wounded when a bomb planted inside a police station in Al-Hillah detonated on October 13, Iraqi media reported. Colonel Salam al-Ma'muri, commander of the Scorpion unit was among the dead. The unit is tasked with hunting down insurgent groups and dismantling their networks south of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2, 2006). KR

The U.S.-appointed mediator in talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), retired General Joseph Ralston, reportedly told reporters at an October 12 press briefing in Ankara that force might be used against PKK fighters in Iraq if negotiations fail, Anatolia news agency reported the same day. Speaking alongside Turkey's counterterrorism coordinator, retired General Edip Baser, Ralston told reporters: "We are in full cooperation with Turkey to resolve the problem of terror." Asked about the ceasefire declared by the PKK in early October, Ralston said: "The ceasefire pleased us initially, but it is not enough for a comprehensive solution." He called recent meetings with Iraq's Kurdish leadership "comprehensive" but did not elaborate. Baser told reporters that he, Ralston, and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul discussed "concrete steps to be taken against terror." Baser also said the "military option is on the table" for the Turkish government. KR

An upcoming conference organized by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Saudi Arabia will focus on a document condemning violence against co-religionists, London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on October 12. Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Salih al-Haydari told the daily that a panel of Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite clerics drafted the document during preparatory meetings for the conference. "The document is not to establish reconciliation between Sunni and Shi'ite clerics but to let the people, especially those involved in the killing operations, feel that any differences are minor and do not spoil the relationship between the two sides," said al-Haydari. The document "highlights the organic relationship between Shi'ites and Sunnis, removes the illusion among some who believe that Shi'ites are infidels, and underscores the very close relationship between them," he added. Abd al-Salam al-Kubaysi, a Sunni imam and spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, called the document "practical" but said it will not work unless multinational forces pull out of Iraq and sectarian quotas set by the Iraqi government are eliminated. No political leaders are expected to take part in the conference, which is slated for October 19 and 20. KR