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Newsline - November 2, 2006

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on November 1 that his country cannot support the EU-backed UN draft resolution imposing sanctions on Iran, Russian media reported. He argued that "we cannot support those measures which in fact aim to isolate Iran from the outside world, including the isolation of the people who are charged with leading negotiations on the nuclear program. We already have set forth strong conditions, and it's negotiations that we want. There's no need to make a new resolution on the Iranian nuclear issue" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 19, and 23, and November 1, 2006). Russia opposes serious sanctions on Iran and North Korea while maintaining tough sanctions, including a blockade, on Georgia. PM

On November 1 in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin scolded Sergei Katanandov, who heads the administration in Karelia, on the grounds that Putin could not reach him by telephone during the September unrest in the Karelian town of Kondopoga, the state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on November 2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6 and 7, 2006). Putin said that it was the first time since he took office at the start of 2000 that he could not get in touch with a regional governor during an emergency. Putin publicly told a visibly embarrassed Katanandov that "this will be a good lesson for you, as well as for other leaders of your rank." Katanandov admitted "acting incorrectly" and added that he has since "drawn conclusions." But he also said in his defense that he spent an entire week in Kondopoga after the violence broke out and held about 50 discussions there. Putin has previously complained in public about not being able to reach Katanandov, who recently broke off a vacation abroad and returned to Moscow. During Putin's recent carefully orchestrated televised question-and-answer session, a woman called from Kondopoga to complain about the governor's behavior. It is an old Russian tradition for "concerned citizens" to complain to the tsar or a Soviet leader, who then publicly intervenes to "set things right" at the expense of negligent officials. PM

About 5,000 people demonstrated in Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Republic, on October 31 to protest Moscow's plans to merge the republic with neighboring Altai Krai, the daily "Kommersant" reported on November 1. The paper added that it was the biggest political gathering there "in recent years." In the republic's parliament, at least 30 of the 41 deputies approved an appeal to President Putin objecting to the merger on the grounds that it fails to take account of the republic's "national-historical traditions" and recent economic progress. From Moscow, Aleksandr Berdnikov, who heads the regional administration, appealed to the deputies in a message not to unnecessarily complicate relations with or provoke the federal authorities. Anatoly Kvashnin, who is Putin's envoy for Siberia, remains determined to promote the merger, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on November 1. The sparsely populated Altai Republic has less than one-10th the population of Altai Krai. Ethnic Russians make up the majority of the population in both regions. The indigenous Altai people form over 30 percent of the population in the Altai Republic, but their numbers are negligible in Altai Krai. PM

The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on November 1 that the latest protests in the Altai Republic threaten to disrupt the broader Kremlin-sponsored initiative to create larger administrative regions, which could presumably be more easily controlled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and June 30, 2006). The unification project contrasts sharply with Boris Yeltsin's admonition to the regions in August 1990 to "take as much sovereignty as you can digest." Some observers note that the merger plans would ultimately create a system similar to that of late tsarist times, in which centralized rule was represented by appointed regional governors. Putin signed legislation in late 2004 stipulating that the 89 regional chiefs would henceforth be appointed rather than elected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, and August 1, 2006, and "The Future of Russia's 'Ethnic Republics,'", April 21, 2006). In December 2004, he said: "It appears to me, taking into consideration the enormous size of the Russian Federation, the enormous number of peoples and ethnic groups on our territory -- with their own ways of life, with their own political traditions -- and the unfortunately significant threat of terrorism and [national] disintegration -- that, under the current conditions, [appointing regional governors] is the best decision." PM

Mayor Aleksandr Makarov of Tomsk and an unspecified number of town council members sent an open appeal to President Putin on November 1 to protest proposed federal legislation that would effectively abolish the duties of Russia's mayors and would subordinate local administration to the regional governors, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. If passed, the legislation would deny citizens the right to elect their own mayors, just as they can no longer elect their governors. The declaration called the proposed legislation "political madness." The bill that recently came before the State Duma was proposed by a group of deputies belonging to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, including Vladimir Zhidkikh, who represents Tomsk. PM

Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov announced on November 2 that deputy ministers of finance, economy, and agriculture have been "reprimanded" for delays in implementing new alcohol sales and taxation regulations, RIA Novosti reported. Sergei Shatalov, Andrei Sharonov, and Igor Rudenya, respectively, have received reprimands, as have unspecified other officials in those three ministries and in the Federal Tax Service. The delays have led to alcohol shortages on the market and ultimately to a recent spate of alcohol poisonings and deaths (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 26, and 27, 2006). PM

Aleksei Molchanov, who is a press spokesman for Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport, was quoted by Ekho Moskvy on October 31 as saying that the small SB-120 Sheremetevo airplane parts firm, whose two top officials are currently in police custody, has nothing to do with the airport, RBK TV reported. He added that the company simply uses the airport's name in its title, which "creates the false impression that the company has something to do with Sheremetevo." Federal prosecutors have charged the small parts company's General Director Aleksei Surikov and Chief Engineer Viktor Gamayunov with fraud, document forgery, and violating safety rules. The charges stem from recent airplane crashes that are believed to have been caused at least in part by the use of faulty spare parts. Both men strongly deny any guilt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2006). PM

A group of two dozen prisoners serving life sentences in Armenia's largest prison staged a collective hunger strike on November 1 to protest what they claim is a deterioration of living conditions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. According to Manuk Semerjian, a representative of the inmates, the recently appointed director of Yerevan's Nubarashen jail, Vahan Markarian, has introduced new measures that have restricted prisoners' rights, including tighter rules governing the visits of relatives and a sharp decline in the quality of food and health care provided by the prison system. Semerjian added that the penal "system has totally changed" and noted that prison officials now "force relatives of lifers to wait for seven or eight hours, and have restricted visits." The head of a Justice Ministry department running the prisons, Ashot Martirosian, rejected the claims, however, explaining that, unlike his more lenient predecessor, the new Nubarashen prison chief is simply enforcing the rules already set by the law. Martirosian warned that "we are not going to meet any illegal demand by those serving life sentences," adding that prison administrators will "let them remain on hunger strike as long as they want." RG

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met on November 1 with his Georgian counterpart, Gela Bezhuashvili, in Moscow on the sidelines of a foreign-ministerial meeting of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, according to Mediamax. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry press office, Oskanian discussed with Bezhuashvili "issues of bilateral relations, the influence of the Russian-Georgian relations on the region, and the possibilities of softening the current tension." They also discussed the upcoming signing of action plans by Armenia and Georgia within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy scheduled for November 14, adding that the implementation of the action plans will deepen cooperation between Armenia and Georgia. RG

An Armenian military delegation led by army Chief of Staff Colonel General Mikael Arutyunyan attended on November 1 a meeting of military officials of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow, Arminfo reported. The CSTO meeting discussed plans to implement a new project aimed at forging greater integration of the armed forces of the group's members over the next five years, according to Armenian Defense Ministry press spokesman Colonel Seyran Shakhsuvarian. RG

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili met on November 1 for nearly two hours with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow in the first-high level talks between the two sides since a sharp deterioration in relations between Georgia and Russia that began in September, Rustavi-2 television reported. Bezhuashvili reaffirmed that Georgia is "ready" for dialogue and "to mend relations" with Russia, but added that "of course, all this must be based on mutual respect and mutual recognition of each other's interests." He also said that one of the main goals of his visit was to discuss the possibility of arranging a meeting between the Russian and Georgian presidents. In comments upon arriving in Moscow the day before, Bezhuashvili explained that he expected a "constructive dialogue" with his Russian counterpart but urged Russia to abandon "the methods of pressure" he said it is using to pressure Georgia. The latest crisis in bilateral relations began in late September when Georgia briefly detained four Russian military officers for alleged spying and Russia responded by imposing a sweeping transport and postal blockade of Georgia and a crackdown on Georgian migrants living in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 3, 10 and 18, 2006). RG

The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) released on November 1 the preliminary findings of its investigation into the October 25 missile attack in the Kodori Gorge against a Georgian group led by Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Georgian Public Television and Rustavi-2 reported. The report stated that the incident involved the firing of three GRAD missiles launched from the village of Azhara in the Abkhaz-controlled area of the Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2006). In a statement released by Abkhaz television, rebel militia leader and a former Georgian presidential representative in the Kodori Gorge, Emzar Kvitsiani, claimed responsibility for that attack, saying that it was a "warning to the Georgian government" and vowing to "continue our resistance" against the restoration of the authority of the central Georgian government in the region, according to Interfax. RG

Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov has given law enforcement agencies one week to determine who was responsible for an October 20 brawl between Kazakh and Turkish workers at the Tengiz oil field that left some 150 injured, Khabar and AP reported on November 1. Akhmetov met on November 1 with Todd Levy, general manager of Tengizchevroil, the workers' employer. Meanwhile, the Turkish daily "Zaman," which put the number of injured Turkish workers at 176, said that most of the injured Turks do not want to return to their jobs because they "have a fear of death." DK

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered on Bishkek's central square on November 2 to demand that President Kurmanbek Bakiev implement constitutional and other reforms or step down, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Police put the number of protesters at 7,000, while independent observers say there are at least twice as many demonstrators. Addressing the crowd, opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev accused Bakiev of "lying" and reneging on preelection promises to give more powers to the parliament. Kyrgyzstan's president, parliament, and government made statements on November 1 on the eve of a planned opposition rally in Bishkek, agencies reported. The cabinet issued a statement calling on the opposition to "take a constructive approach to dialogue and reach an agreement for the sake of peace, harmony, and the further democratic development of Kyrgyzstan," reported. A group of 31 lawmakers called for the demonstration to express "unity" and asked President Bakiev to introduce a draft constitution to parliament by November 6, which Bakiev agreed to do. For his part, Bakiev told a group of businessmen that "the situation today is not what it was before March 24, 2005," Kabar reported. DK

Deputy Interior Minister Temirkan Subanov told a press conference in Bishkek on October 31 that reports of Interior Ministry units converging on the capital from the provinces are inaccurate, news agency reported. Subanov said that 6,500 police officers in Bishkek would be able to maintain order. Unconfirmed reports earlier indicated that special forces were being moved to Bishkek from the southern city of Osh. DK

Carlos Pinuera, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission in Tajikistan, met with President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on November 1, the Tajik president's website ( reported. During the meeting, Rakhmonov expressed a preference for a new cooperation program between Tajikistan and the IMF that would not involve financial assistance. An alternate version had envisioned the allocation of $50 million over the next three years. The two men noted that Tajikistan's economy posted 7.6-percent year-on-year growth in the first three quarters of 2006. DK

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on November 1 that the EU is ready to ease sanctions against Uzbekistan in return for a commitment to human rights improvements, dpa reported. Steinmeier met earlier that day in Tashkent with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who called Steinmeier's visit "a good opportunity to exchange views on issues of cooperation between Uzbekistan and Germany," the official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. Steinmeier, who is traveling with representatives of German companies, also met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov. Citing diplomatic sources, Reuters reported on October 31 that the EU lacks a unified stance on Uzbekistan, with Germany urging an end to a visa ban for 12 high-ranking current and former Uzbek officials and the United Kingdom pressing for a continuation. Marianne Heuwagen, director of Human Rights Watch in Germany, told the news agency that Uzbekistan has failed to improve its rights record in the wake of the government's violent suppression of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. She charged, "Germany is putting human rights on the back burner out of economic interests." DK

Judge Ala Bulash of Minsk's Kastrychnitski District Court sentenced Zmitser Dashkevich, a leader of the opposition group Youth Front, on November 1 to 18 months in a minimum-security correctional institution, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Dashkevich was punished under an article of the Criminal Code that prohibits running an unregistered organization. The article was added to the Criminal Code in December 2005 as part of amendments that introduced harsh penalties "for activities directed against people and public security." "The regime has made another signal that any unregistered organization has no right to conduct activities here," Anatol Lyaukovich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, told RFE/RL. "It is the natural logic of a [repressive] regime, which can only become tougher. If it shows a sign of weakness, it will collapse," he added. Some 300 young people demonstrated in front of the court during the announcement of the verdict. "It is just local support, because on the whole people don't know what's taking place in the country and how many political prisoners we have," human rights defender Lyudmila Hraznova said. JM

A forum called the Slavic Parliamentary Union convened for a session in Minsk on November 1, Belapan reported, citing official information sources. The session was reportedly attended by lawmakers from Belarus, Russia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester. The session adopted a statute of the Slavic Parliamentary Union and elected Belarusian legislator Syarhey Kastsyan as the union's chairman. "It is a historical event about which people will speak and write both today and in the future," Kastsyan told journalists. "We are going to develop cooperation through the parliaments of Slavic countries. First and foremost, it will be cooperation in legislative work and an exchange of draft bills on economic, cultural, scientific, and educational issues.... The union created today will be doing everything possible to prevent Slavic states from confronting each other in the international arena." JM

The Verkhovna Rada on November 2 passed a bill setting up an ad hoc commission to investigate alleged corruption and abuse of office in the Interior Ministry and proposing that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych suspend Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko for two months, UNIAN reported. The motion, submitted by Party of Regions lawmaker Yevhen Kushnyarov, was supported by 235 lawmakers of the 435 registered for the session. Kushnyarov told lawmakers that the reason for his motion is recent articles in the Kyiv-based "2000" newspaper charging that there have been numerous cases of corruption and abuse of office in the Lutsenko-led ministry. Our Ukraine lawmaker Vyacheslav Kyrylenko told the Verkhovna Rada that its move against Lutsenko is a "political reprisal." Lutsenko, who has no formal party affiliation, was proposed for his cabinet job by President Viktor Yushchenko following a deal with Yanukovych. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on November 1 endorsed the resignations of Justice Minister Roman Zvarych and Culture Minister Ihor Likhovyy, which were tendered last month after the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc switched to the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006), Ukrainian media reported. Prime Minister Yanukovych, who attended the parliamentary session, nominated Oleksandr Lavrynovych and Yuriy Bohutskyy to replace Zvarych and Likhovyy, respectively. The legislature immediately approved his proposals. The parliament still needs to approve the resignations of two other ministers from Our Ukraine -- Family and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko and Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko. President Yushchenko said the same day that the resignations of the four Our Ukraine ministers hamper talks between Our Ukraine and the ruling coalition, but he did not rule out a new power-sharing "compromise" between them. JM

Ygue Perne, the French ambassador to Serbia, said on November 1 that the international community is aiming to reach a decision on Kosova's final status by the end of this year, B92 reported the same day. "The stance of the international community, stated through the Contact Group, is that the Kosovo status solution needs to be made by the end of 2006," Perne said. "This has not changed and I do not have the impression that the Contact Group wants to tie the periodic framework of the Kosovo status discussions with the calendar of the elections in Serbia. Moving the discussions in accordance with the Serbian elections is in one way, getting involved in Serbia's internal affairs, and on the other hand, is an effort to postpone the process which has begun, which means that there will be no accommodations made," Perne added. BW

Also on November 1, Perne dismissed suggestions that the Kosova decision could set a precedent for other conflicts. "In our opinion, the Kosovo question has such specific parameters that we believe that it cannot be used as a precedent," he said. Russia has repeatedly suggested that Kosova's independence could serve as a precedent for so-called frozen conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Transdniester in Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1, 2005, and February 15 and July 7, 2006). "As far as I know, the zone of conflict according to our partners does not revolve around the same conditions as Kosovo. None of the territories that we mentioned, for instance, are under the direct administration of the United Nations, nor do they have that great of an international military presence of NATO troops," Perne added. BW

Serbian media reported on November 1 that President Boris Tadic's plan to hold simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections is running into stiff opposition, B92 and Beta reported the same day, citing unidentified political sources. According to the daily "Blic," parliamentary elections are likely to take place in December. But due to opposition from the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) and members of the current ruling coalition, the presidential vote is likely to take place later. The daily "Vecernje novosti," meanwhile, quoted anonymous officials as saying that Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) are discussing a compromise under which parliamentary and presidential elections would be held together -- but on January 21, 2007, rather than on December 23 as the DS is insisting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 19, 25, and November 1, 2006). BW

The Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) on November 1 said poor organization of Serbia's independence referendum was responsible for the low voter turnout, B92 and Beta reported the same day. CESID officials said the referendum represented "two steps backwards" for Serbia, adding that it was the worst organized and implemented election since the fall of former Yugoslav President's Slobodan Milosevic's regime in October 2000. CESID official Djordje Vukovic said people were allowed to vote without identification and cast ballots in the name of a family member. He also said families were seen voting together on the same side of the board. Vukovic also criticized what he called "very poor communication" between the state and the municipal commissions and polling stations. He said the way political parties distributed funds to promote the referendum was "completely illegal." CESID Program Director Marko Blagojevic said that while the 51.4 percent turnout was enough to make the vote valid, many suspicions about improprieties were overlooked. BW

UN officials removed Serbian war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj from court on November 1 after he disrupted a hearing, Reuters reported the same day. Seselj faces charges related to the persecution, extermination, murder, and torture of non-Serbs during the wars in former Yugoslavia. SRS leader Seselj was barred from representing himself in August after he disrupted a pretrial hearing. An appeals chamber restored his right to self-representation in October. Two lawyers, David Cooper and Andreas O'Shea, were assigned as standby counsel in case Seselj disrupted the trial again. "I demand that you remove these spies that are acting as my counsel from the courtroom," Seselj said, waving his fist. "You have to decide either to remove them or to remove me." Seselj interrupted proceedings each time Cooper and O'Shea tried to speak and was eventually removed from court. BW

U.S. Ambassador Douglas McElhaney said on October 31 that the United States will remain committed to Bosnia-Herzegovina after U.S. troops leave, Reuters reported the next day. In an interview with Reuters, McElhaney said the United States will withdraw its last ground troops from Bosnia in December, but that Washington is building a large new embassy in Sarajevo that symbolizes its commitment to the country. "It is not as though the United States is abandoning this region," he said. "I think in the future the United States will be there bilaterally and it is certainly not the case that our influence will be any less here." The United States has 150 soldiers left in Bosnia, down from 20,000 in 1995-96. "I would hope that people would take it as a positive sign that we feel comfortable after we look at the whole situation to say we don't need to do this any more," McElhaney said. BW

Officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina said on October 31 that Germany's plan to pull some of its troops out of the country is a positive sign, dpa reported the same day. Germany announced on October 29 that it will pull some of its 843 troops from Bosnia next year. "The fact that the German government considers withdrawal of part of its troops from Bosnia shows that it tends to recognize that the situation in the country has significantly improved," Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said. "I hope German investors will replace German soldiers soon." Defense Minister Nikola Radovanovic agreed that the planned withdrawal demonstrates that the situation in Bosnia has improved. He added, however, that he hopes the partial German withdrawal from Bosnia will be coordinated with the European Union and NATO and will not harm Bosnia's overall stability. BW

Writers and publishers in Iran complain that new guidelines on censorship are preventing them from issuing new books. They say Iran's Culture Ministry is dragging its feet or blocking new titles, and even demanding that previously published books be resubmitted for approval.

Fierce critics of the authorities' campaign to rein in authors and publishers warn that the moves could destroy Iran's book industry. Dozens of authors and publishers say they have been waiting months for their new books, novels, or political essays to be published.

Farkhondeh Hajizadeh, an Iranian writer and an award-winning publisher, said that the licensing process for new titles has become "a monster." Over the past year, she claims, many of her books have gone unpublished.

"It would be better for you to ask how many of my books have been given a license these days," Hajizadeh says when asked about the number of books she has seen held up by censors. "In the past, none of our books were granted permission without modifications. It seems the publishing industry is being devastated, or independent publishers cannot exist anymore. We specialize in art and literature -- that's exactly the area that's problematic for [officials], not physics and chemistry. Our books have been either banned, or they have faced censorship after a year, or they remain suspended."

The publication and distribution of books in the Islamic republic have always required permits from the Culture Ministry. Such permits were granted following scrutiny by officials who might also demand the removal of materials deemed anti-Islamic, immoral, or politically unacceptable.

Restrictions were eased under reformist President (1997-2005) Mohammad Khatami -- particularly under his first culture minister, Attaollah Mohajerani. Mohajerani was eventually forced out following heavy criticism from conservatives.

When President Mahmud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, he appointed a former editor of the hard-line daily "Kayhan" as his minister of culture. Minister Hussein Saffar-Harandi, a former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, has vowed to purge the country's cultural scene of "unhealthy products" and revive the values of Islamic revolution.

Saffar-Harandi dismisses the notion that Iran's publishing industry faces a crisis and notes that new titles increased by 10,000 in the Iranian year ending on March 20, 2005. Ahmadinejad too has said that his government supports books and reading.

But critics say independent authors and writers whose views are not in line with the government's are facing de facto bans. Author Hajizadeh says that publishers previously could foresee which books were likely to face official obstacles. But she says that is no longer the case.

"There was a time when one could predict that [a certain] book would not get a permit or that they would ask for some parts of it to be removed," Hajizadeh says. "But now, you see that even books by professors, or books related to religion, or books that do not oppose anyone or don't include anything erotic or political -- even very ordinary books -- cannot obtain a permit."

A Tehran-based publisher who asks not to be named told RFE/RL that those who are now in charge of censoring books lack general knowledge and expertise.

"We have always faced censorship, but before one could go and discuss it logically," Hajizadeh says. "The situation is such that one sometimes becomes desperate. For example, they have sent a book by Samad Behrangi to the Culture Ministry, [and] in one of the copies it says that 'two years ago the situation was better than now.' [Officials] have said that [such a passage] should be removed. And there is no way to explain to them that the meaning of 'two years ago' is 'two years ago, 40 years ago,' when Behrangi was still alive."

Censors are reportedly blocking the publication of a book by a giant of Iranian literature, novelist Sadegh Hedayat.

Renowned Iranian novelist Mahmud Dolatabadi said in late October that publishers should respond to the pressure by asking to be excused from publishing. He said writers should withhold their works, rather than seek publication.

Fellow novelist Ali Ashraf Darvishian says that he and many others have decided not to submit their books to the Culture Ministry for review. "I can name the titles of 4,000 books that are currently awaiting permits," he says. "Some of the writers and poets publish their books outside Iran or on websites. This has put a lot of pressure on the publishing industry; some [publishers] are facing bankruptcy or have gone bankrupt. Many booksellers have changed jobs."

Journalist Emadeddin Baghi recently complained in an open letter to Culture Minister Saffar-Harandi that about six of his books have been banned. Most of them deal with human rights issues, such as the situation inside Iranian prisons or the death penalty.

Baghi told Radio Farda that he thinks the ban is retaliation for his investigation into dissident killings in the 1990s, or his association with dissident Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri. "They have prepared a list of writers whose books should not be published -- some because they are laical and [officials] believe their books could lead to the propagation of secularism, some because of their antiestablishment stances," he says. "The truth is that I'm neither known as being laical nor have I taken antiestablishment stances. The main cause of sensitivity could be over the issue of chain killings of intellectuals, which was covered in the press; I wrote the first article about it. Another reason could be my old ties with Ayatollah Montazeri."

The publishing restrictions have coincided with what writers charge is a government crackdown on freedom of speech in Iran. Iran's writers association said earlier this week that censorship has reached a new peak in Iran. The association warned that that Iran's cultural community will not remain silent.

Darvishian says intellectuals should protest the restrictions. "I think that if the protests become more widespread in the form of a gathering or letters with many signatures, then I think there would be some results," he says. "Because a country cannot continue its life without art, without writers and poets and poetry."

(Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague. Radio Farda correspondents Bahman Bastani and Mossadegh Katouzian contributed to this report.)

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zmaray Bashari said in Kabul on November 1 that police have arrested a suspect in the murder of Safia Amajan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Amajan served as the head of Kandahar Province's women's affairs department until her killing in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2006). According to Bashari, Abdul Aziz has confessed to killing Amajan for approximately $4,000. Bashari did not speculate on who might have paid for Amajan's assassination. According to AFP on November 1, Bashari claimed the suspect is a former member of the Hizb-e Islami group led by renegade former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. On the day Amajan was killed, a website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed that "Islamic Emirate mujahedin" killed her because "under the pretext of women's rights, [she] was spying for the U.S. against the mujahedin." AT

Herat city Mayor Mohammad Rafiq Mojaddedi -- who is being investigated for corruption and embezzlement on the orders of Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet -- claims that he is innocent, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on October 31. Sabet has charged Mojaddedi with embezzling around $70 million in connection with the construction of a luxury hotel without seeking approval from cabinet members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 2006). Mojaddedi claimed that he has "documents" that show the contracts were first approved by former Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan. Current Governor Sayyed Hosayn Anwari said that Ismail Khan, who currently serves as the minister of water and energy, is responsible for the contracts, adding that the documents date from a time when Ismail Khan "was not obeying orders from the central government." Ismail Khan, the self-styled amir (ruler) of Herat, ruled the province virtually independently of Kabul from late 2001 until his appointment to the Afghan cabinet in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," January 22, 2005). AT

The European Commission has decided to provide an emergency humanitarian aid package of approximately $3.2 million to victims affected by severe drought in Afghanistan, according to a commission press release of October 31. According to the press release, an estimated 2.5 million Afghans are facing food and water shortages due to lower-than-normal snowfall and a lack of sufficient rainfall in the spring. AT

The parliament on November 1 approved a draft proposal for the provision of $2.2 billion for imported gasoline, Fars News Agency reported. Fuel rationing may be necessary, and it could impose political costs on the government, something it has tried to avoid. It had requested $3.5 billion, which would have ruled out rationing. Legislator Kamal Daneshyar said the choice is between rationing and increasing the price per liter of gasoline, which currently costs about $0.09/liter due to government subsidies. Reza Talai-Nik, a legislator from Bahar and Kabudarahang, said the subsidy is unfair because it benefits wealthy city-dwellers who own several cars, whereas villagers cannot use subsidized gasoline because so many of them do not own cars. Legislators advocated spending money on improving public transportation and national infrastructure, which would reduce fuel consumption. BS

Kazem Jalali, rapporteur for the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on November 1 that Iran is preparing another cascade of uranium centrifuges and it will continue to do so until it is self-sufficient in nuclear fuel production, ISNA reported. Regardless of the number of cascades Iran has, he continued, "they will only be used for research and development." Jalali said the parliament is waiting to approve a bill that would end cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. "The presence of inspectors in Iran was to prove to the West that we are [conducting] our nuclear activities under international regulations, but if their presence does nothing but the exit of nuclear and nonnuclear information from the country, we see no reason for their presence," he said. In London the previous day, Foreign Office official Kim Howells described Iran as "a country that is hell bent, as far as I can read it, on developing a nuclear bomb," dpa reported. Howells' responsibilities include the Middle East, Afghanistan, and South Asia, and he described President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's election as "cooked up." BS

General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), announced on November 1 that Iran will initiate military exercises in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman on November 2, state radio reported. He added that the exercises will take place in 15 of the country's provinces, too. IRGC air, ground, and naval forces will participate, as will personnel from the Basij, and "new advanced and modern weapons and equipment, which we have been able to make -- in terms of ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, shore-to-sea missiles, and surface-to-surface missiles -- will be used in these big exercises." Some 25 other countries, including the U.S., are already engaged in naval maneuvers in the gulf. The exercises were planned in January as part of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is developing methods for intercepting unconventional weapon smugglers, but they are perceived as a message to Iran. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Ali Husseini said on 29 October, "We do not consider this exercise appropriate," "The New York Times" reported. He said U.S. activities "go in the direction of more adventurism, not of stability and security." BS

Some nine months after the authorities in Qom arrested some 1,000 members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufism (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 February 2006), the court has sentenced three of the detainees, Radio Farda reported on November 1. Seyyed Ahmad Shariati-Qomi, the sheikh and leader of the Qomi Husseinieh, received the heaviest sentence. Dr. Mustafa Azmayesh, a Paris-based scholar who specializes in Sufism, told Radio Farda that Shariati-Qomi received a mandatory one-year prison sentence, must pay a 30 million-rial (about $3,400) fine in place of a flogging, and is exiled from Qom for 10 years. Dr. Gholamreza Harsini, Shariati's lawyer, must pay 3 million rials, another 30 million rials in place of a flogging, and may not practice law for five years. Mohsen Bahrami, Shariati's assistant, received a suspended 100-day jail sentence. BS

Jalal Talabani told reporters in Paris on November 2 that foreign forces should remain in Iraq for about three more years, Reuters reported. "We need time. Not 20 years, but time. I personally can say that two to three years will be enough to build up our forces and say to our American friends, 'Bye-bye with thanks,'" the president said. Talabani is in France for a weeklong visit. He is slated to meet with French President Jacques Chirac later on November 2. KR

Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, criticized Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's decision to lift checkpoints and barriers at the entrances to Baghdad's Al-Sadr City district, Iraqi media reported on November 1. Al-Hashimi said the decision will threaten security in the capital by giving terrorists more freedom of movement. "I'm afraid that by lifting the siege, the government sent the wrong message to those who stand behind terrorism in Iraq. It says the iron fist will loosen and they can move freely," al-Hashimi said. KR

Prime Minister al-Maliki's administration is currently in talks with the United States to renegotiate the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1511 on the presence of foreign forces in Iraq, "The New York Times" reported on November 2. The agreement on foreign forces is renewed yearly; it is currently set to expire on December 31. The revision of the agreement, which calls for speeding up the process of transferring control over governorates to the Iraqi government, was reportedly initiated by Shi'ite lawmakers and agreed to by a 19-member committee that included al-Maliki and President Talabani. Under the current agreement, the United States has full operational control across Iraq until the end of 2007. According to the daily, the talks were prompted by Shi'ite politicians who believe the United States is diverting much of its previous support away from the Shi'a and toward Sunnis, including former Ba'athists. KR

Danish troops stationed in southern Iraq will relocate to the Al-Basrah International Airport early next year, international media reported on November 1. The move will allow for a reduction in costs and consolidation of forces in one place. Denmark currently has about 470 troops in Iraq, based at Camp Daneyang, some 15 kilometers from the airport. "Initially, the move is not expected to result in a reduction in the size of the Danish contingent. But in time it probably means a slightly more unobtrusive role for the Danish forces," a military statement said. Danish public support for the war in Iraq has declined in recent months. Defense Minister Soren Gade warned Danes last week to lower their expectations for the establishment of a democratic Iraq, "Jyllands-Posten" reported on October 30. "It is important that it be said that when the international force in Iraq pulls out, we must not expect democratic rule of the Danish kind in Iraq," Gade said. KR