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Newsline - November 3, 2006

The Moscow authorities are determined not to let People's Unity Day on November 4 degenerate into interethnic conflict, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on November 3. Security forces are already being beefed up and will include elite OMON troops. Municipal authorities previously banned the so-called Russian March announced for November 4 by extremist groups, including the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), but organizers have said they will gather in the metro in any event (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2006). On November 2, ultranationalist State Duma Deputy and march organizer Nikolai Kuryanovich told RFE/RL's Russian Service that the rally will go ahead. He stressed that "come rain or shine, the march will take place because no Moscow authorities can forbid [it] and ignore the laws and the constitution of our country. It will be a historical watershed that will show who is with the nation and who is against it. The march will be a demonstration of our ever-growing national unity, of the rising Russian self-awareness. It will be a call to the Russian authorities to finally pay attention to the majority of the Russian people, which is suffering and being discriminated against." On November 3, State Duma Deputy Dmitry Rogozin of the Motherland (Rodina) party advised would-be demonstrators to scrap their plans to congregate in the metro and attend authorized rallies instead, Interfax reported. He urged protesters to avoid activities that could play into the hands of their enemies. He added that the Russian March has already "secured a convincing victory." Motherland is one of the forces behind the march, and described Rogozin on November 3 as one of its initiators. PM

The list continues to grow of cities and towns across the Russian Federation that have banned the Russian March, Ekho Moskvy radio and reported on November 3. The most recent additions are Vladivostok and Blagoveshchensk in the Far East. In Vladivostok, the authorities plan to have extra security forces on duty on November 4. Aleksandr Buksman, who is a federal deputy prosecutor-general, was quoted in "Moskovsky komsomolets" of November 3 as saying, "may God forbid that anyone act outside the law" on People's Unity Day. But Moscow City Duma Deputy Ivan Novitsky, who represents the small liberal Yabloko party, told RFE/RL 's Russian Service on November 2 that "in past months, [xenophobic] tendencies have emerged not only in Moscow but also in other Russian regions, and this has been widely discussed. I think that in places where government authorities are failing to formulate an official stance, we must counteract by making our own proposal to eliminate the fascist threat in Russia." In Volgograd, local organizers of the Russian March said on November 3 that they will "carry Orthodox icons and banners with slogans reading 'The Russians Are Coming!' [in order] to draw everybody's attention to the fate of [ethnic] Russians in the region," Interfax reported. But in Kazan, Tatar activists are planning a march under slogans such as "Yes To The Federation, No To Authoritarianism" and "[Murdered Journalist Anna] Politkovskaya -- The Most Recent Victim Of Russian [State] Terrorism," reported on November 3. PM

President Vladimir Putin told his visiting Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, on November 2 that Egypt should join Russia, the United States, the EU, and the UN as part of the international group of peace mediators for the Middle East, known as the Quartet, Russian media reported. Putin argued that "the work of the Quartet would only benefit if influential regional forces were involved in it, and we believe that Egypt is undoubtedly one of those [forces]. We believe that the Egyptian leadership in particular could play a major role in establishing contacts between the Palestinians and the Israelis and in achieving accord within the ranks of Palestinians, which is much needed right now." Mubarak, who in interviews before his arrival in Russia called for a third presidential term for Putin, continued to heap praise upon the Russian leader, the daily "Izvestia" reported on November 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2006). Mubarak, who underwent military training in the Soviet Union over 40 years ago, remarked that "one feels fortunate [to have the opportunity] to travel to Moscow and meet with the president of Russia." He added that "Russia has resumed its role in the Middle East." In the course of the visit, Russian officials announced that they will tender for contracts to build nuclear power stations in Egypt, which is reviving a nuclear program it shut down 20 years ago, the BBC reported on November 3. The daily "Vremya novostei" noted on November 2 that the Egyptian delegation also includes military and security officials, and added that the "Russian and Egyptian secret services have always maintained mutually beneficial contacts." PM

General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian armed forces General Staff, told reporters in Moscow on November 2 that "according to our information, today Iran has no technological or technical capabilities to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM]," Russian news agencies reported. On October 31, Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said that "we do not have information that would suggest Iran is carrying out a nonpeaceful [nuclear] program" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1 and 2, 2006). PM

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 2 that it has "taken note of the interview U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza gave to the 'Financial Times Deutschland' on October 30, in which he threatens German readers over the prospect of the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline (NEPG)," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24 and 30, 2006). The ministry added that "supposedly the NEPG would deepen Germany's dependence on Russian gas and 'if you live in Germany, you do not want to go through what happened last winter with Ukraine.' We shall not speak of how correct it is for a U.S. official to take upon himself the responsibility of explaining to Germany how it should build its cooperation with Russia in such an important field as gas supplies." The ministry argued that "unfortunately, one gets the impression that what really stands behind the United States' [NEPG] is not its concern about the energy security of Europe, but the principle being professed by certain American officials that good gas pipelines are only those bypassing Russia." It was a central objective of Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War to wean Western Europe in general and West Germany in particular away from the United States and develop close economic and political links with them. PM

Konstantin Pulikovsky, who heads the government watchdog agency Rostekhnadzor, said in a statement on November 2 that most Russian pipelines are prone to corrosion and other damage because they were built in the 1960s and 1970s, Reuters reported. He added that over 40 percent of Russia's trunk pipelines are over 30 years old. He stressed that "Russia's pipeline transport is in an unsatisfactory state. Environmental damage caused by oil and gas pipelines is inexcusable." Critics charge that, despite the rush of new oil and gas wealth to President Putin's Russia and his regime's hubris in pursuing the role of an energy superpower, the country's energy infrastructure is outdated. Moreover, Russia will need extensive foreign assistance to develop the often remote fields needed to enable it to meet its export and domestic commitments in the long term. PM

Vahram Baghdasarian, who is a leading member of the recently formed Association for Armenia (MHH), told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on November 2 that the party might not, after all, participate in the parliamentary elections due in May 2007. Baghdasarian said that no party can hope to win an election without engaging in massive vote buying, adding that "we have spoiled our people, our voters." The MHH is affiliated with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian's Nig-Aparan NGO; following its founding in May, its leaders pledged to make "a strong showing" in the 2007 parliamentary ballot (see "RFE/RL Armenia Report," May 10, 2006). LF

Several dozen members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) congregated in central Baku on November 2 in the hope of staging a picket in the vicinity of the presidential palace, and reported the following day. Police twice intervened to force the demonstrators to move to a different location and temporarily detained a dozen of them. The participants sought to protest the ongoing official crackdown on the media, in particular a move to evict the editorial staff of the newspaper "Azadlyq" from its offices. LF

Baku's Nasimi District Court rejected on November 2 a suit brought by Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the AHCP, against the local prosecutor's office, and reported on November 3. Kerimli sought the closure of a criminal case brought against him by the Nasimi district prosecutor's office in 1994, and which was recently adduced as grounds for refusing to issue him a passport to travel abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1 and 16, 2006). Kerimli's lawyer, Tofik Quliyev, said he will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, reported. LF

Azerbaijan's Appeals Court rejected on November 2 an appeal by former Health Minister Ali Insanov against the Nasimi District Court's decision to extend his pretrial detention for a further six months, reported. Insanov was arrested in October 2005 on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership; he has suffered repeated serious health problems while in pretrial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 21 and 24, 2005 and January 5, 7, and 30, February 8 and 28, and March 15, 2006). LF

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Moscow on November 2 that there is a political dimension to Gazprom's decision to raise the price of the natural gas it supplies to Georgia from $110 to $230 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is close to the price Russia charges Central European consumers, RFE/RL reported. Bezhuashvili added that he considers it a "positive sign" that Moscow has pledged not to cut gas and electricity supplies to Georgia. Georgian International Gas Corporation President David Ingorokva for his part said in Tbilisi the same day that talks with Russia on the gas price are still continuing, and "there is no reason to panic," Caucasus Press reported. Caucasus Press on November 3 cited the Standard and Poor's international rating agency as predicting that the anticipated doubling of the Russian gas price will not have a major impart on the Georgian economy. It estimated that Georgia will have to pay $391 million for the 1.7 billion cubic meters of gas it expects to import from Russia, $204 million more than originally planned. LF

In a joint statement released on November 2 after talks in Sukhum, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh and his South Ossetian counterpart Eduard Kokoity said they will accept Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's invitation to face-to-face talks only after Georgia complies with agreements it signed previously and withdraws the troops it deployed in July to the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Also on November 2, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia released a statement accusing the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) of violating the January 2000 protocol on investigating cease-fire violations by excluding Abkhaz representation in its probe of the October 25 rocket attack on the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2006). LF

Kyrgyzstan's political opposition launched a protest that attracted thousands of people to Bishkek's Alatoo Square on November 2, RFE/RL,, and other media reported. The rally is aimed at forcing President Kurmanbek Bakiev's hand over stalled constitutional reforms, and organizers say it will continue indefinitely until reforms are put forward or Bakiev and his team step down. The opposition has called for reforms that include a reduction in presidential powers in favor of the parliament. Bakiev addressed lawmakers on the morning of November 2 and pledged to "personally" deliver a draft constitution by November 6. Kyrgyz authorities said some 7, 000 protesters were gathered in the square, which abuts the government headquarters, while opposition sources claimed 40,000 people turned up, Reuters news agency reported. Sales of firearms to Bishkek residents dramatically increased in the days leading up to the demonstration, reported on November 2. Many stores, shopping malls, and universities were closed, with memories of the looting and other minor violence that accompanied the March 2005 ouster of President Askar Akaev's administration fresh in the public's mind. AN

Addressing the public on national television on the evening of November 2, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov said he will not be bullied into stepping down by the protests. "Even if I wanted to resign, I would never do it at a rally. I don't need cheap popularity," Kulov said in remarks broadcast on Russian state television. "I would first ensure that the situation in the country is stable, so that there are no provocations. I would honestly fulfill my duty. And only then would I be able to leave in peace." He also warned that any attempts to destabilize the country during the protests would be met with harsh measures. The opposition has also called for Kulov's resignation and the creation of new coalition government. Opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva, who served briefly as foreign minister in Bakiev's government, accused both Kulov and Bakiev of failing to live up to their promises to curb corruption and ensure stability. AN

Visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the Turkmen government for its human rights record on November 2, dpa reported. Steinmeier met in Ashgabat with President Saparmurat Niyazov. Dpa quoted Steinmeier as saying that Niyazov's government is "too hesitant" in implementing political reforms in the country. U.S.-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Steinmeier prior to the start of his Central Asian trip to use the opportunity to raise the issue of human rights in Turkmenistan. In a letter sent on October 26, HRW urged Steinmeier to call on the Turkmen authorities to begin reforms "as a precondition for any deepening of EU enlargement with the Turkmen government." Germany takes over the rotating EU Presidency in January. AN

Fourteen people, mostly activists of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (BSDP), have recently gone on hunger strike to express solidarity with imprisoned opposition activist Alyaksandr Kazulin, who has been fasting since October 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2006), Belapan reported on November 2. "We want as many activists of our party and its supporters as possible to take part in the hunger strike. We recommend that everyone who joins our strike should refuse food for one to five days, which won't cause damage to their health, which will make it possible to continue active political work," BSDP activist Ihar Maslawski told journalists. In another protest action, Alena Zakhozhaya, an independent trade union activist in Babruysk, has been fasting for a month, despite being hospitalized on October 31. Zakhozhaya is protesting what she sees as discrimination against fellow union members by the state petrochemical concern Belnaftakhim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2006). Meanwhile, the hunger strike begun by a small Protestant community in Minsk over eviction from its prayer house ended on October 28, after the Supreme Economic Court contested the eviction order (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2006). JM

The Verkhovna Rada on November 3 passed a resolution demanding that Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko deliver reports on November 15 on their performance, Ukrainian media reported. Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko were appointed to their posts in the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych by President Viktor Yushchenko. Lawmaker Yevhen Kushnyarov from the Party of Regions told journalists that Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko may be sacked on November 15, suggesting that the two ministers form "a fifth column" in the cabinet and do not implement the policies of the ruling coalition led by the Party of Regions. On November 2, Yanukovych said Tarasyuk cannot continue to work in his cabinet because of his "being in opposition" to it. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on November 2 passed a package of seven bills paving the way for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ukrainian media reported. The package, which was supported by no fewer than 390 deputies from all caucuses apart from the Communist Party, included bills on banking and foreign investment. Presidential aide Arseniy Yatsenyuk predicted that the legislature will also endorse the remaining 15 WTO-related bills "in the same constructive atmosphere." JM

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko said in a television interview on November 2 that the parliamentary vote earlier the same day recommending that Prime Minister Yanukovych suspend him for two months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2006) will have no consequences, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. According to Lutsenko, Ukraine's legislation does not provide for suspension of a cabinet minister. "They [lawmakers] can sack me but cannot suspend me. If my opponents want to obey the law, they will have to submit a motion to dismiss me and to pass it. But as long as such an act is nonexistent, I will work as a full-fledged minister," Lutsenko said. "From a political point of view, [the suspension vote] was an act of revenge from those who cannot sleep peacefully at night because of their pricks of conscience and problems with the law," he added. JM

In an interview with the French weekly "Paris Match," the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, claimed that international officials knew in advance of plans for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, B92 and Beta reported on November 2. "Officials of the international community knew this, talked about it, and did nothing to stop it. That is the unquestionable and main evidence," Del Ponte said, adding that she has the names of the officials in question, though she did not identify them. Del Ponte said she wants the information included in former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's indictment, but it was not accepted as evidence in the procedure. BW

Law-enforcement authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina said on November 2 that they have arrested a suspect accused of war crimes against Serbs, Reuters reported the same day. The atrocities were allegedly committed by Croatian and Muslim Bosnian Army troops against Serbian refugees during the July 1995 Operation Storm offensive. "One person was arrested and handed over to the prosecution on the suspicion that he committed a war crime against prisoners of war," the State Investigation and Protection Agency said in a statement. The agency would not confirm Bosnian media reports that the suspect was Bosnian Muslim Sefik Alic, a wartime army commander. Amateur video footage broadcast on Serbian television in August showed ethnic Serbs from Croatia being harassed by Croatian and Bosnian troops while fleeing Operation Storm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 9, and 11, 2006). BW

Mladjan Dinkic, the leader of the liberal party G17 Plus party, said on November 2 that he supports simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, B92 and Beta reported the same day. Other G17 Plus officials earlier came out against simultaneous elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 26, 2006). Dinkic added, however, that if parliamentary and presidential elections are held concurrently, then democratic parties must support a unified candidate for president. "If that is not possible at this moment, it is better to only hold parliamentary elections in order to form a democratically unified government, and then hold presidential elections in a year or year and a half," he said. BW

Police will replace the armed forces in guarding Serbia's borders by the end of 2006, UPI reported on November 1. Police have already replaced the army along the borders with Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. On October 30, they took over responsibility for guarding Serbia's 250-kilometer frontier with Croatia. Later this year, officials say police will also begin controlling Serbia's borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. General Zdravko Ponos, the chief of the Serbian General Staff, said that since there are no longer military threats on Serbia's frontiers, border police will combat organized crime, smuggling, and human trafficking. The European Union has made replacing the army with border police a key condition for easing visa requirements for Serbian citizens. BW

Police in Montenegro said on November 1 that they have arrested three people accused of smuggling two Siberian tigers from neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, AP reported the same day. Police arrested the three men -- two of whom are from Serbia and one from Montenegro -- on October 31 as they tried to cross into Montenegro illegally near the town of Vucji Do with the tigers in a van. When questioned by police, they said the tigers were a gift for a zoo. The three will be charged with illegal border crossing and smuggling of protected species, according to an investigative judge. The tigers were put under government protection. BW

The Albanian parliament on October 30 passed a resolution condemning the crimes of the former communist regime and asked that the secret police files on all public figures be opened, international news agencies reported the next day. The resolution was approved by 76 lawmakers in the 140-seat legislature. The opposition Socialists, the successor to the Communist Party, boycotted the session. "Albania's People's Assembly is convinced that making known and denouncing the crimes of the communist dictatorship serves to avoid repetition of similar crimes in the future," AP quoted the resolution as saying. "Punishment of the crimes and the real reconsideration of history plays an important role in educating new generations." Lawmakers also called for the files of the Sigurimi, the communist-era secret police, to be opened to determine if the present leadership includes any former collaborators. BW

Moldovan Chief Sanitary Doctor Ion Bahnarel said on November 2 that in light of recent alcohol poisonings in Russia, Chisinau will take measures to assure imports from Russia are safe, Moldpres reported the same day. "The Moldovan experts and medical community estimates the proportion of intoxications by alcohol occurred in Russia with deep compassion and grief," Bahnarel said. "Although, such social epidemics have not been registered in Moldova, we are undertaking additional measures to check all beverages containing alcohol that entered Moldova's market from Russia," he added. More than 100 people have died and up to 2,000 have been hospitalized in Russia in recent weeks for alcohol poisoning related to drinking wood alcohol and bootleg vodka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 27, 2006). BW

Also on November 2, Bahnarel criticized Russian Chief Sanitary Inspector Gennady Onishchenko for suggesting that the wave of alcohol poisonings in Russia was related to Moldovan wine, Moldpres reported the same day. "We are bewildered at Onishchenko's hidden accusations that the misfortune that hit the Russian citizens is a consequence of the consumption of Moldovan wines, or of certain actions organized by Moldova," he said. "I would like to say to Onishchenko as a doctor to another doctor that it is unusual that public deductions be made in such a dramatic situation. One needs to be calm, cool-blooded and...not discredit the country which entrusted to you its medical security. It is necessary to seek the real reasons of the tragedy fairly and in a professional manner," he added. In a move widely seen as politically motivated retribution for Chisinau's pro-Western orientation, Russia banned the import of Moldovan wines in March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). BW

Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election does not have the makings of a nail-biter. Incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov faces four opponents who have outdone each other in praising his accomplishments, most opposition parties are boycotting, state-controlled media are sending a stay-the-course message, and reports of revolutionary sentiment among the populace are conspicuously absent.

With the exception of Kyrgyzstan, where fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2005 sparked unrest that eventually toppled President Askar Akaev, Central Asian countries have established a grimly familiar pattern for elections, be they presidential or parliamentary.

The incumbent, or party of power, enjoys overwhelming advantages in the form of positive coverage in state-controlled media, tacit support from election commissions, and energetic ensure-the-correct-vote efforts from local authorities. Dirty tricks trip up real (and sometimes imagined) opposition even as some oppositional window-dressing lends plausibility to claims of a competitive ballot. Western observers point to deficiencies, while noting some signs of progress. The opposition cries foul. The incumbent, or party of power, celebrates victory.

With the election only three days away (election is November 6), Tajikistan has not deviated significantly from this basic script. Nevertheless, there are three good reasons for keeping an eye on Dushanbe even if a continuation of the Rakhmonov presidency seems assured.

First, what has come to be called managed democracy, in which ruling elites dutifully hold elections even as they do their best to predetermine their outcome, remains the system of choice in the post-Soviet world, and elections provide numerous insights into how it functions.

Second, perceptions matter -- with Tajikistan increasingly pursuing a multivector foreign policy, Western perceptions of the election may have geopolitical implications. And finally, reality matters -- what the nature of the election suggests about governance in Tajikistan has a direct bearing on the country's future.

Managed democracy involves a wide variety of techniques that break down into two broad categories -- strengthening the powers-that-be, and weakening alternatives. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's emergence from obscurity in 1999 and election to the presidency in 2000 was a textbook example of the first category. The lead-up to Tajikistan's presidential election has neatly illustrated the second.

Recent years have witnessed the imprisonment of a number of potentially independent powerbrokers, most notably Ghaffor Mirzoev, former commander of the Presidential Guard and head of the Drug Control Agency; and Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, leader of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan. Mirzoev, who was arrested in August 2004, was sentenced in August 2006 to life in prison for a coup attempt, abuse of office, and murder. Iskandarov was convicted on terrorism and corruption charges and sentenced to a 23-year prison term in October 2005.

Meanwhile, splits have hobbled two opposition parties. After one wing of the Socialist Party held a conference in June 2004, rivals within the party charged that the authorities had masterminded a split.

The split has persisted with Abduhalim Ghafforov, a former official, representing the party in the presidential election while the faction that remains of the original party was denied registration by the Justice Ministry. Similarly, in April 2006, a faction of the Democratic Party split from the original party, still led by the imprisoned Mahmadruzi Iskandarov. In September, the Justice Ministry officially recognized Masud Sobirov, head of the rival wing, as the party's legitimate leader.

Perceptions of Tajikistan's presidential election are unlikely to play a major role in the country's relations with the outside world. Nevertheless, they are a factor for the West in light of stated commitments to democratic reform in Central Asia. With U.S.-based AES Corp. pursuing what could be a $1 billion project to export Tajik electricity to Afghanistan, Russia's Rusal in an apparent conflict with the Tajik government over a $1 billion project to finish construction of the Roghun hydroelectric plant, and Iran and China increasingly funding their own energy and construction initiatives in Tajikistan, the country is the focus of growing interest from outside powers.

The conclusions of election observers respected in the West, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), could shape Western policy and thus subtly affect the competitive calculus of foreign involvement in Tajikistan.

Finally, elections remain a reflection of governance. Tajikistan has posted impressive macroeconomic growth in recent years, a fact noted in testimony before the U.S. Helsinki Commission on October 26 by Dennis de Tray, who was the World Bank's country director for Central Asia until January.

But significant problems remain. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks continue to seek a better fortune abroad as migrant workers, and their remittances are a major source of economic growth, as De Tray noted in his testimony. Poverty afflicts over half of the population, and an October 30 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report noted that undernourishment is worsening in Tajikistan, afflicting 60 percent of the population from 2001-2003. The report described Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as countries that "have both seen a serious worsening of food security and currently experience very high levels of undernourishment."

Long-term solutions to these problems are highly unlikely in the absence of good governance, and a lack of resource revenues means that few funds are available for short-term solutions. Managed democracy has proved relatively effective at ensuring the continuation of a dubious status quo, but not at ensuring good government.

The Afghan government has extended an invitation to "pro-Kabul" tribal leaders in Pakistan to participate in a tribal council aimed at countering the insurgency in Afghanistan, Lahore's "Daily Times" reported on November 2. Jamir Khan Shinwari, who spent 20 years in jail for espousing a separate state for Pashtuns in Pakistan, said that "Kabul has invited certain tribal elders, and I am one of them." According to Shinwari, the elders would "negotiate a cease-fire between warring sides" as a "prerequisite" to the council meeting. Shinwari said he does not see negotiating a deal with the Taliban as a difficult task. "The Taliban are our brothers, who are being misled by some invisible force," he added. Shinwari expects "[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, the Americans, and the Taliban" to give a "guarantee to honor the jirga's [council] decisions." Shinwari did not reveal when the meeting will take place, but the report speculated that it will be held in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad sometime in December. AT

An editorial in the independent daily "Cheragh" on November 1 accused President Karzai of circumventing parliament through his plan to convene tribal councils of representatives from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border to tackle obstacles to security. "Cheragh" said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf initially presented the idea and Karzai is now following suit despite his initial rejection of it. The increased role for tribal councils undermines that of Afghanistan's year-old National Assembly, "Cheragh" argued. The editorial argued that Afghanistan has a "parliament whose members were chosen by the people through free and fair elections," adding that "consequently, [members of parliament] can be regarded as representatives of the people" who are "legally authorized to be consulted" by the government. "Cheragh" wrote that while Pakistan's parliament is "elected under the influence of a military government," it nevertheless has "stronger public support than imaginary tribal leaders." The editorial urged Karzai to "act legally" and "involve" the people's elected representatives in the decision-making process, as the old "tribal system" no longer exists after three decades of conflict in Afghanistan and "Taliban infiltration." AT

Adraskan district police chief Mohammad Sediq and his patrol came under an attack by suspected Taliban militants in Herat Province on November 2, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Ali Khan, deputy security commander for the western zone, said that Mohammad Sediq and six of his subordinates are missing and three police officers sustained injuries. Ali Khan did not confirm reports received by AIP suggesting that the police chief was killed. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed the same day that the Adraskan district police chief and nine of his guards were killed in an attack carried out by the "Islamic Emirate mujahedin," who also made off with the weapons of their victims. AT

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' 10-day, Great Prophet war games began near the city of Qom on November 2, Radio Farda and Iranian news agencies reported, with the launching of Shihab-3 and other types of missiles. The exercises are taking place in Iran's southern waters, too, and they coincide with Persian Gulf exercises involving U.S. and allied naval forces. Mohammad Reza Djalili, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, told Radio Farda that this development has a symbolic meaning, because Iran is demonstrating that it is a regional power with military potential. Djalili went on to say that much of the equipment Iran is using is antiquated, but some newer pieces have been purchased from Russia, China, and North Korea. In Paris on November 2, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie described the Shihab-3 test as "worrying," AFP reported. BS

An Islamic Revolution Guards Corps spokesman said on November 2 on Iranian state television that the launching of so many missiles sent several messages. These messages included national unity and a willingness to defend the country, and the launches also demonstrated the country's limitless missile capabilities. He added that a large number of missiles are produced on a daily basis, and the new and improved warheads include ones that carry 100 bomblets. He mentioned new fueling capabilities that results in improved transportability. BS

The White House said in a November 1 announcement that it is "concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hizballah, and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically elected government led by Prime Minister [Fuad] Siniora," according to Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's said the previous day that the political alliance he leads should have 30 percent of Lebanon's cabinet seats, "The Washington Post" reported on November 2. This would mean eight seats, rather than the current five, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. Nasrallah threatened to organize protests if his demands are rejected, and Hizballah spokesman Hussein Rahal denounced the White House statement as "just one more [instance of] American interference in Lebanese affairs." BS

Iranian and Syrian officials discussed security affairs in Damascus on November 2, when the chief of the Iranian national police, General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, met with Syrian Interior Minister General Bassam Abd al-Majid. The two men discussed shared efforts in counternarcotics and the extradition of prisoners, among other areas, SANA reported. IRNA reported that all Iranians imprisoned in Syria will be extradited soon. Other topics of discussion, according to the Syrian news agency, were the establishment of joint companies for the production of glass, trucks, and milk products. BS

Sources close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have said that he is planning a major reshuffle of his 39-member cabinet, AP reported on November 2. Details of the restructuring remained vague, but Ali al-Adib, a member of al-Maliki's Al-Da'wah Party, said as many as one-third of cabinet posts could change hands. He indicated that several ministers were given cabinet positions without sufficient screening of their qualifications and experience. In addition, al-Adib said that one of the cabinet positions included in the reshuffle carries a security portfolio, possibly a reference to the Interior Ministry, which controls the police. It has been widely reported that Shi'ite militiamen linked to death squads have infiltrated the Iraqi police force and carried out sectarian killings. On October 17, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani removed three top police commanders accused of links to Shi'ite death squads and reassigned them to administrative positions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2006). Hasan al-Sunayd, another lawmaker from the Al-Da'wah Party, said he expects the reshuffle to occur within a month. SS

The U.S. military announced on November 2 that it has killed an Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader in an air strike in the western city of Al-Ramadi, international media reported the same day. "Rafa Abd al-Salam Hamud al-Ithawi, also known as Abu Taha, was known as the emir of Al-Shamiyyah," a U.S. military statement said. "He frequently harbored foreign fighters who entered Iraq illegally in order to kill innocent Iraqis and coalition forces." Al-Ithawi and his driver were killed instantly when a laser-guided bomb destroyed their car. The statement added that Al-Qaeda is starting to weaken in Iraq. On October 18, armed gunmen from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council marched through Al-Ramadi, declaring the city part of an Islamic state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). SS

During an interview with Al-Jazeera television on November 2, Adnan al-Dulaymi, the head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, accused Prime Minister al-Maliki's governmentof of pursuing double standards and not defending the Sunni Arab population, while steadfastly protecting the Shi'a. He said the government silently watches as death squads are allowed to commit the most heinous crimes against the Sunni people. "We hear daily about a new crisis and a new tragedy that befalls our Sunni brethren throughout Iraq. The Iraqi government behaves as if it were not a government for all Iraqis; it behaves as if it were a government for a single party," he said. SS

A Kirkuk police source said on November 1 that a senior member of the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army was arrested in the Pride neighborhood of Kirkuk, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website announced on November 2. Nahiz Ahmad Bakir was arrested in a raid carried out jointly by the Iraqi Army and multinational forces. Sources added that Bakir is accused of carrying out terrorist operations, including an attack on the Al-Mashru checkpoint in the Al-Rashad district of the Kirkuk Governorate. A cache of weapons and ammunition was also seized in the raid. SS