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Newsline - November 16, 2006

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed at a brief Moscow meeting on November 15 that they expect to sign a bilateral agreement in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on November 19, paving the way for Russian admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russian and international media reported (see End Note and "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the session "extremely positive and friendly." Putin's aide Sergei Prikhodko said that the U.S. administration's decision shows that it has "the political will to promote trade and economic and political ties with Russia. It is a tribute to Bush and the U.S. leadership." Iran, the Middle East, and Kosova were among the other topics that the two presidents discussed. It was also announced in Moscow that Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku will visit Russia before the end of November to discuss Moscow's objections to independence for Kosova, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on November 16 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," October 24, 2006). PM

In describing the Bush-Putin talks in Moscow on November 15, the daily "Novye izvestia" wrote that "two lame ducks are meeting in Moscow." The paper suggested that Bush wanted not only to discuss the WTO, but also to brief President Putin on his plans for Iraq in the wake of the recent U.S. midterm congressional elections. The daily "Kommersant" argued on November 16 that the time has come for Putin to try to bring U.S.-Russian relations out of a tailspin, but added that this is easier said than done. The paper stressed that "Russia, like the USSR, is accustomed to dealing almost entirely with the White House administration and the State Department. These days, that's not enough at all. Effective contacts with lawmakers are necessary." "Kommersant" believes that Russia should greatly expand its cultural outreach programs in the United States, too. It also noted that Russia must make itself "attractive" if it wants to extend its influence in the other former Soviet republics. PM

In the wake of Poland's blocking of any move by the EU to launch talks on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, Russian Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeyev said in Moscow on November 15 that "Poland has become a hub of re-exports and smuggling of banned and counterfeit goods," RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 13, 14, and 15, 2006). Russia previously banned the import of Polish meat and plant products, which triggered the Polish move to block partnership talks between Moscow and Brussels. Gordeyev added, "Let the Poles ensure at least some order in their country. Polish companies' spirit of 'enterprise' has prompted many questions here." On November 16, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported from Moscow that Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who is President Putin's special envoy to the EU, said the previous day that if Poland wants the EU to impose sanctions on Russia over the food imports question, it would do well to consider whether it would like EU sanctions against Russian deliveries of oil and gas to come into effect before or after Christmas. PM

President Putin signed several decrees on November 14 making a series of top personnel changes in the Interior Ministry, and the daily "Vremya novostei" reported on November 16. The website noted that many of the new appointees are "chekists," or veterans of the KGB in which Putin himself served. The daily pointed out that the top ranks of the ministry now include more former colleagues of the president than was previously the case. PM

Vyacheslav Postavnin, who is the deputy head of the Federal Migration Service, said on November 16 that Russia should not permit the creation of "ethnic enclaves" where foreigners outnumber ethnic Russians, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. He argued that foreigners should not exceed 20 percent of the population in any district or region to avoid creating "discomfort" for the indigenous population. The Russian government has reportedly recently issued a new order strictly circumscribing the role of foreigners in Russian markets next year. PM

In conjunction with the commemoration of 40 days since the killing of "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Vitaly Yaroshevsky, who is the paper's deputy editor in chief, told RFE/RL's Russian Service in Moscow on November 14 that the paper is publishing a special issue of personal recollections of her by her colleagues. He added that "there is an official investigation under way. As you know, an investigating team has been set up. As far as I know, it consists of top professionals. The investigators are working on three main [theories], which are not being disclosed in the interest of the investigation. There is also a parallel journalistic investigation. As soon as there are results that we believe we can and must make public, we will certainly do so." The Russian authorities have been criticized for their handling of the killing of Politkovskaya and of 11 other journalists since 1998 whose killers were never found (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23 and November 3, 2006). Britain's "The Economist" reflected much of the criticism when it wrote on October 14 that "whoever killed [Politkovskaya], Putin shares the blame for having made independent journalism both rare and perilous.... It is not there yet, but Russia sometimes seems to be heading towards fascism." PM

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika told the State Duma on November 15 that existing legislation has proven "ineffective" in controlling extremism and the propagation of ethnic hatred, Russian media reported. Nurgaliyev said that "we should put up an effective barrier to the uncontrolled circulation of the ideas of [ethnic superiority], fascism, and religious radicalism, including guides published on the Internet of how to beat, set off explosions, kill, and escape responsibility. Law enforcement agencies throughout the world today are talking about the need to legally recognize the Internet as a mass medium and to apply forms of legal control to it." Chaika argued that "we believe it is necessary to introduce criminal prosecution of those who spread extremist literature and use Internet sites for publishing and distributing extremist materials, and introduce punishment for Internet service providers offering space to extremist websites and also for organizations publishing and printing [such materials], including their liquidation." PM

Gazprom announced on November 15 the dismissal of Aleksandr Ryazanov as deputy CEO and his replacement by Valery Golubev, who currently heads the investment and construction department, Russian and international media reported. Some unconfirmed media reports also suggested that Ryazanov's position as head of Gazprom Neft, formerly known as Sibneft, will go to Aleksandr Dyukov. Gazprom gave no reason for the changes. "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" commented on November 16 that "Ryazanov is the most senior executive to leave Gazprom since CEO Aleksei Miller succeeded the previous CEO in 2001. Golubev shares the St. Petersburg background of Miller and of President Putin. Like Putin, Golubev is a former KGB officer who served in the St. Petersburg mayor's office during the early 1990s." PM

In a seven-minute video posted on November 15 on the website, Amir Sayfulla, who is commander of the Kabardino-Balkar sector of the Caucasus Front, appealed to all Muslims in that republic to align themselves with the resistance or risk retribution. He said that the Muslims of the entire world are engaged in a jihad against the so-called world order of which the Russian Federation is a part, and which "seeks to destroy Islam and wean our children away from their faith." He said the Muslims of the Caucasus, the Volga region, the Urals and Tatarstan have aligned in a single Caucasus Front, of which Kabardino-Balkaria is a part. Sayfulla said all Muslims in Kabardino-Balkaria are faced with the choice between supporting the resistance or betraying their faith. He claimed that the number of persons who either openly or clandestinely support the resistance by providing money, weapons, or useful information is growing daily, and that those persons include businessmen, students, and members of the "power" agencies. He warned that in the near future, the Kabardino-Balkaria front plans to launch large-scale military actions targeting both "traitors who consider themselves Muslims," including members of the Muslim clergy who are loyal to the Kremlin, and also pro-Moscow bureaucrats. He warned that if until recently the resistance has shown clemency towards those who consider themselves Muslims but continue to show loyalty to Russia, "from now on everything will be different." He warned such persons not to look to Moscow to protect them, as the so-called law enforcement agencies cannot even protect themselves." In late September, Musa Mukozhev, a former leader of the so-called Kabardino-Balkar jamaat, issued a statement arguing that jihad against nonbelievers is the personal duty of each individual Muslim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 25, 2006). LF

The last 33 members of the Gorets (Mountaineer) battalion formerly commander by Movadi Baysarov surrendered on November 15 to the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities after having spent several months under virtual siege at their base near Grozny, Russian media reported. The press service of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov denied Russian media reports that pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov personally assured the fighters they will not be held responsible, adding that the men surrendered only after a meeting with Kadyrov, who has promised them alternative employment. A group of Kadyrov's trusted subordinates has traveled to Moscow, armed with grenade launchers, in order to apprehend Baysarov, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and November 8 and 13, 2006). LF

A group of Karabakh war veterans have released a written statement calling on Armenians to resort to civil disobedience in order to bring about a change of government, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on November 15. Arguing that "the lands that we liberated are in danger today," the Council of Commanders of the Brotherhood of Liberation Struggle, which split from the Yerkrapah Union of Veterans of the Karabakh War, call on compatriots to demonstrate their rejection of the present authorities. They further warned that " terrible things will happen" if the Armenian leadership agrees to cede currently occupied territory as part of any eventual settlement of the Karabakh conflict. LF

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was quoted by Noyan Tapan on November 15 as saying he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov made "a little progress" during their talks in Brussels the previous day under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group. He said that "progress" found expression not in concrete agreement, but in increased "flexibility" and "some similarity of approaches." He added that the talks focused on proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict put forward during his previous meetings with Mammadyarov in Moscow and Paris (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). Oskanian said that the Minsk Group co-chairmen plan to travel to Baku and Yerevan within the next week, and will propose that Presidents Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev meet to discuss the Karabakh peace process on the sidelines of the CIS summit scheduled for November 28 in Minsk. Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Tahir Tagizade said the Oskanian-Mammadyarov talks were "complicated, but constructive," reported on November 15. LF

In a statement summarized by Caucasus Press on November 15, the Georgian Foreign Ministry took issue with statements made the previous day in Moscow by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Addressing a session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Europe, Lavrov claimed that over the past two-three years, the Georgian leadership has systematically reneged on all agreements it has signed and refused to meet its own commitments, Interfax reported. Specifically, Lavrov accused Georgia of refusing to sit down at the negotiating table with the leadership of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia or to sign a document abjuring the use of force against that unrecognized republic, and of seeking to undermine the existing format of the peacekeeping operation there. The Georgian response denied that Georgia has failed to comply with its commitments or rejected direct dialogue, and reaffirmed Tbilisi's readiness to sign a pledge of nonresumption of hostilities on condition that the Russian peacekeepers guarantee that pledge. The statement further asserted that Georgia's conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia would already be history but for Moscow's obstructionist manipulation of the conflict mediation process. LF

Iranian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Ramin Mehmanparast said on November 15 in Almaty that oil swaps from Kazakhstan to his country will rise to 3 million tons by the end of 2006, a 50 percent increase on 2005 figures, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The two countries are also finalizing technical issues related to grain deliveries from Kazakhstan to Iran, with an initial amount of 1 million tons of Kazakh grain to be transported to Iran at the end of 2008, Mehmanparast added. AN

Feliks Kulov said in Bishkek on November 15 that he has no intention of stepping down, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov stressed that government officials will give progress reports to him at the end of the year, and those who fail to do their jobs satisfactorily will be held accountable. Leaders of the For Reforms opposition coalition urged Kulov a day earlier to resign to prevent a new political crisis over what they called a lack of public trust in him. AN

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office released a statement on November 15 that they have received notification from the Uzbek authorities that the investigation of five Uzbek refugees extradited from Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006) has been completed and their cases have been sent to court, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and news agency reported. The Uzbek citizens -- Jahongir Maqsudov, Odiljon Rahimov, Yoqub Toshboev, Rasuljon Pirmatov, Tayoz Tojihalilov -- whom the Uzbek authorities have accused of involvement in the killing of Andijon Prosecutor Ghani Abdurahimov, fled Uzbekistan in the wake of May 2005 unrest in Andijon and settled in a refugee camp in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz authorities detained the five men in June 2005 and deported them to Uzbekistan in August 2006, even though four of them had received UN refugee status. The Kyrgyz authorities' decision sparked an outcry among rights organizations, who called the move a violation of international law. AN

Eleven suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, have been on trial since the end of October on murder and terrorism charges in Tajikistan's Supreme Court in Dushanbe, Avesta reported on November 15. Judge Nur Norov, who is overseeing the proceedings, told the news agency that the group, two members of whom are Uzbek citizens and one of whom is the former head of a regional branch of Tajikistan's Islamic Revival Party, are charged with organizing explosions near the Tajik Ministry of Emergency Situations that killed one person and injured 10 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1 and June 14, 2005), as well as the killing of a Defense Ministry official and Interior Ministry investigator. AN

The EU Presidency issued a statement on its website ( on November 14 welcoming Western monitors' findings of some progress in Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election. However, the statement noted that the election "did not fully meet OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections." The EU also pointed to a lack of meaningful competition. Incumbent Imomali Rakhmonov was reelected with over 79 percent of the vote, although leading opposition parties either boycotted the election or chose not to field candidates to protest imperfect laws and unfair conditions. AN

Former lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets, who was recently released from prison under an amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2006), told journalists on November 15 that he will continue to engage in politics, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "I intend to resume political activities as soon as I'm quite recovered from the hunger strike," said Skrabets, who spent 18 months in prison. Skrabets also told journalists that former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, who has been on a hunger strike since October 20 in the same correctional facility from which Skrabets was released, is in a very bad physical condition. "Kazulin has lost some 17 kilograms, or more than 20 percent of his weight. Despite this, he feels good spiritually. He looks like skin and bones but keeps his head up," Skrabets said. Kazulin's wife, Iryna, visited the facility on November 15, but was not allowed to see her husband. JM

A district court in Brest, southwestern Belarus, slapped five opposition youths on November 15 with fines ranging from $300 to $730 for their participation in an unauthorized demonstration in the city in October, Belapan reported. Some 25 young people demonstrated in Brest on October 16, demanding freedom for political prisoners in Belarus. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on November 15 backed away from a motion to fire Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko and postponed its decision on the issue by two weeks, Ukrainian media reported. Earlier the same day, Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko, who were nominated for their posts by President Viktor Yushchenko, delivered reports on their work to the Verkhovna Rada and responded to accusations of poor performance and negligence in office. Tarasyuk told journalists that only the Constitutional Court can rule whether parliament has the right to dismiss ministers nominated by the president. "The constitution, which was amended hastily [in December 2004], does not stipulate how these ministers [appointed by the president] can be dismissed. There is a legal collision here, whether the Verkhovna Rada can dismiss the two ministers [Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko] without a presidential request. I don't think it can, because there is a notion of analogy in law: if the dismissal procedure is not defined while the appointment procedure is, legal analogy must apply and the same procedure should be used," Tarasyuk asserted. JM

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski pledged in Kyiv on November 15 that Warsaw will work toward extending Ukraine's Odesa-Brody oil pipeline to Plock in Poland, thus making it possible for Caspian oil to reach Poland and Europe in detour of Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 8, 2006), Ukrainian media reported. Kaczynski said there is sufficient financial support to complete the project but did not elaborate. He also declined to give a precise completion date, saying only that the pipeline link "will be a top-priority bilateral project." Kaczynski met in Kyiv with President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko. JM

Ruzica Djindjic, the widow of assassinated Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, will lead the electoral list of President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) in the elections scheduled for January 21, B92 reported on November 15, citing unidentified sources in the party. The DS list also includes 10 officials who were ministers in Djindjic's government: Bozidar Djelic, Gordana Matkovic, Aleksandar Vlahovic, and Slobodan Milosavljevic. One-third of the 250 candidates on the DS list are women and one-third represent ethnic minorities. B92 also reported that the party will contest the elections under the name: "Boris Tadic's Democratic Party." Rasim Ljajic, leader of the Sandzak Democratic Party (SDP), is also on the list. The SDP will have a total of eight candidates on the DS list and will be guaranteed three ministerial portfolios in any DS-led government. BW

Police in Novi Pazar have arrested a 29-year-old man suspected of throwing a bomb into the home of activist Mahmut Hajrovic, B92 reported on November 15. The man, identified as Fahrudin G., is suspected of throwing a bomb into Hajrovic's bedroom on the morning of November 14. Hajrovic suffered only minor injuries but his wife was hospitalized and underwent surgery as a result of the attack. Hajrovic, a member of the Democratic Action Party, told B92 that he believes the attack was politically motivated. BW

UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari said on November 15 that the mandate for an expanded EU mission in Kosova should not be any more extensive than that of the existing UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), B92, Beta, and AFP reported the same day. The EU is slated to take over the UNMIK's functions next year. "The mandate of this mission should not be greater than UNMIK's mandate," Ahtisaari said. "When determining the mandate, the greatest concern will be the ability to implement it." He warned that too extensive a mandate "could put the EU at the risk of not being able to take care of its responsibilities." The future EU mission will have an annual budget of between 145 and 150 million euros (some $180 million), Bruno Hanses of the Office for Civilian Crisis Management in the EU's General Secretariat said, according to B92. Hanses also said the mission will include 800 police officers, 150 people working in the court system, and an unspecified number of support staff. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's war crimes court on November 14 sentenced a Bosnian Serb soldier to 16 years in prison for raping, torturing, and enslaving civilians during the 1992-95 war, Reuters reported the same day. Radovan Stankovic, the first defendant sent to Bosnia for trial from the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was found guilty of running a detention camp near the town of Foca. He also was found guilty of encouraging and assisting in the capture, torture, rape, and murder of non-Serb civilians. "He set up a detention center in the Karaman House, where nine women were kept, most of them minors," presiding Judge Davorin Jukic said. "Two girls were 12 years old. One of them is still missing." BW

Republika Srpska President Milan Jelic on November 15 nominated Milorad Dodik to continue as prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic, dpa reported the same day. Both Jelic and Dodik are members of the Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), which won the October 1 elections in Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2 and 20, 2006). It will be Dodik's third term as prime minister. He served from 1998-2001 and again from February 2006 when Republika Srpska's then president, Dragan Cavic, appointed him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6, 2006). BW

Dragan Cavic resigned as president of the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) late on November 14, dpa reported the next day. Cavic stepped down after the SDS board initiated a motion of no confidence over the party's defeat in the October 1 general elections. The party was also displeased with Cavic's decision in February to dismiss the SDS-led Republika Srpska government and install Dodik as prime minister. BW

The Bosnian town of Bijeljina has announced plans to build a giant monument to cabbage to honor its most important crop, Reuters reported on November 15. "Our region is famous for cabbage. We very much appreciate this vegetable," said Goran Peric, the director of Bijeljina's tourist association. "We shall all support this idea." Peric added that the monument will be erected in time for the region's next cabbage festival, which is traditionally held in November. BW

Russia and the United States announced on November 10 that they have agreed in principle for Russia to join the 150-member trade body. Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin are due to sign a formal agreement when they meet on November 18-19 in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

The deal lifts the biggest obstacle to Russia's WTO membership, which Putin has made a cornerstone of his presidency. Daniel Griswold, the director of the Washington-based Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, says Russia's accession is now just around the corner.

"This accession agreement with the United States was far and away the biggest hurdle and now that that's behind us, it's clear sailing," Griswold says. "It's just a matter of signing on the dotted line and I think Russia is on its way to becoming a member of the WTO."

U.S. business groups welcomed the pact with Russia, the only major world economy still outside the WTO. Griswold says Russian membership will translate into safer and less politically charged trade relations with Moscow.

"I think Russia's membership in the WTO will put our trade relations on a firmer foundation. The rule of law will apply. This will prevent, for example, the United States from arbitrarily imposing quotas on Russian steel or something else. It will prevent the Russian government from banning the imports of U.S. poultry in a fit of pique or some kind of diplomatic tit-for-tat. And it will further open the Russian market," Griswold says. "They have made progress, of course, since the Soviet era -- not as much as they should have made -- and their joining the WTO will get in writing commitments from the Russian government to have a more open economy, just as it did from the Chinese."

Joining the WTO is likely to give Russia's $1 trillion economy a boost similar to the one China experienced after its accession in 2001. It would give Russia greater access to Western markets and would stimulate service industries such as banking and telecoms.

Natalya Orlova, the chief economist at Alpha Bank in Moscow, says WTO membership will also significantly enhance Russia's status within the international trade community. "For Russia, it represents a very important change in its geopolitical, political, and economic position within the international community, because by becoming a WTO member, Russia will be able to influence the drafting of trade rules and their modification in the future," Orlova says. "And this is, of course, very important."

A number of contentious issues, however, still stand in the way of Russia's WTO entry. The announced trade pact with the United States is expected to face harsh scrutiny in the U.S. Congress, which following last week's elections is now controlled by the Democratic Party.

Congress cannot block Russia's WTO accession, but it is required to grant Russia "Permanent Normal Trade Relations" status and remove a set of Cold-War-era trade restrictions known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Senator Max Baucus (Democrat, Montana), who is due to head the Senate Finance Committee, has cautioned that Russia will have to crack down on piracy of U.S. goods and lift a ban on U.S. meat imports before Congress can give its green light.

Russia also needs to sign bilateral trade deals with three other members of the "working party" on Russia's WTO accession -- Costa Rica, Georgia, and Moldova -- to wrap up the negotiation phase and free up its bid to a vote by all members of the bloc. Concerns are mounting in Russia that Georgia, which is involved in a bitter diplomatic row with Moscow, could seek to hamper its WTO bid. Both Georgia and Moldova accuse Russia of imposing a wine embargo as retribution for steering away from Moscow's political orbit.

But Konstantin Zatulin, a State Duma deputy and director of the state-sponsored Institute for CIS Studies in Moscow, is confident that Georgia will not block Russia's WTO accession. "I think the objections to Russia's entry into the WTO that Georgia has very recently expressed are ordinary attempts at using levers to upset Russia," Zatulin says. "To a large extent, Georgia's behavior is not independent. Whether it will do so or not is largely going to depend on those who controls the current Georgian leadership -- the Americans."

But Moscow's WTO negotiations with Tbilisi and Chisinau are likely to be strained. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said on November 13 that Tbilisi will give its approval for Russia's accession only when Russia cracks down on what he termed illegal trade via border crossings in the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Russia could still encounter further obstacles even after completing the negotiation phase. China, for example, waited two years after finishing talks before it was finally accepted into the WTO.

But experts are confident that once Russia is a member, the WTO will prove an effective tool for pacifying trade relations between Russia and its former Soviet neighbors.

(Claire Bigg is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague. RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher contributed to this report from Washington.)

Hamid Karzai flew to India on November 15 to attend the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference for Afghan Reconstruction in New Delhi, Reuters reported the same day. Representatives from 30 countries are scheduled to attend the conference, which will focus on both regional and Afghan issues. Karzai spokesman Khaliq Ahmad said: "Through the conference, the [Afghan] government hopes to draw investors' attention to trade, investment, and the opening of new markets. The government will also discuss import electricity and find markets for agricultural products overseas." Ahmad added that Karzai is also ready to discuss the multibillion-dollar plan to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan. CJ

The Drug Control National Strategy Committee met at the Afghan Presidential Palace on November 14, according to a release from President Karzai's office the following day. Present at the meeting were the interior, rural development, agriculture, and counternarcotics ministers, as well as officials from the U.S. and British embassies. Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi reported on the strategy to counter drug production and trafficking, and said, "The United States has pledged $140 million and the United Kingdom has pledged 50 million pounds [$94.3 million] for implementation of the development and alternative livelihood projects next year." These projects aim to provide other means for farmers to make money besides growing poppies. Karzai said the implementation of such projects is crucial to reducing poppy production, and added, "The government is firmly committed to the fight against narcotics and, with the help of the people of Afghanistan, we are trying to bring all drug traffickers to justice." CJ

Poppy cultivation is increasing in 12 districts in the southern Helmand Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on November 14. The governor of Helmand, Engineer Daud, recently told the news agency, "The growers of poppy will be dealt with as criminals and be brought to the court." The agency alleged that Afghan farmers have turned to poppy cultivation due to the drought -- as poppies require minimal water to grow -- or because the government and world community have not honored their pledges for aid. One such farmer told the news agency that farmers do not care about government warnings, saying, "We will not shun poppy cultivation until [the] government has granted us assistance." The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes' annual opium survey, released in early September, indicated a 59 percent increase in opium cultivation in the country since 2005. CJ

General Asmatullah Alizai, the newly appointed police chief for Kandahar Province, has plans to develop a professional police force to oppose the power of the Taliban, Reuters reported on November 15. "First of all, we must establish our law," Alizai said. "The Taliban are very few, so if there is law and order in Afghanistan there will be no support for them." According to Reuters, ordinary police are not currently paid well compared with some Taliban fighters. A policeman's monthly salary may be as little as 700 afghanis (about $14), whereas a Taliban member may earn several hundred dollars per month. Alizai is convinced that police who are paid properly, trained, and well-equipped will gain the support of local people, and he reasoned: "First, we should have a strong police -- then the locals will be with us and we can stop anything. The Taliban will see our work and join us." CJ

Iran's Atomic Energy Agency argued on November 15 that there is nothing new about traces of sensitive nuclear material UN inspectors found at a facility in Iran, news agencies reported. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors found traces of plutonium and enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons, and the finding reported on November 14 is in a report that will be considered at an IAEA meeting next week, AP reported. The report also notes that Iran has not been fully cooperative with inspectors, AP added. However, AP quoted an unnamed UN official as saying on November 14 that Iran has already provided explanations, and the traces could plausibly come from peaceful nuclear activities. He added that while the uranium traces had been enriched more than necessary for electricity-generation purposes, the enrichment remains below the level needed for bomb-making activities. Iran maintains its nuclear activities are strictly for generating electricity or for scientific research. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in Tehran on November 15 that Iran has "repeatedly responded" to the issues in the new report, and undertaken "all cooperation" with the IAEA pursuant to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ISNA reported. He said Iran has "in a constructive and comprehensive manner" opened its facilities to IAEA inspections, and "the spirit" of IAEA reports confirms the "transparency" of its program, ISNA reported. VS

Mohammad Khatami said in Ankara on November 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2006) that Iran is not fomenting disorder in Iraq, ISNA reported. He told a group of Iranians in Ankara that Tehran, "contrary to, wants the present crisis in Iraq to be resolved, because the crisis in Iraq is against Iran's national interests." He said it is the "intervention of foreign powers that has made the region's situation more critical." The presence of "foreign occupying forces in Iraq gives the agents of insecurity a pretext, and the target of these insecurities is Iran and Iran's friends in Iraq, including the Shi'a, who naturally feel an affinity with Iran." He said he knows nothing of the "expectations of governments from one another," referring to reports that the United States expects Turkey to participate in possible sanctions against Iran, but any such expectation is "irrational and illegitimate." The United States' "discriminatory" conduct and "double standards" have promoted "extremism, violence and insecurity, especially in the...Middle East," ISNA quoted him as saying. VS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad has appointed Amir Mansur Borqei as the new head of the Management and Planning Organization, the state economic planning and budgeting body, ISNA reported on November 15. Borqei has the rank of a vice president and replaces Farhad Rahbar, who recently protested the merging of provincial planning and budgeting offices under his authority with provincial governorates. This has effectively transferred their powers to the Interior Ministry in a move some Iranian observers have said is effectively a termination of the Management and Planning Organization as the paramount national economic planning body. Borqei is 49 years old, a graduate of the Science and Industry (Elm va Sanaat) University in Tehran, and previously was deputy energy minister for planning and economic affairs. He oversaw large projects like dam and airport constructions from 1991 to 2006, ISNA reported, though it was not clear if Borqei was a deputy minister at the time. VS

Several political prisoners were reportedly injured in Evin prison in Tehran on November 15 after a scuffle with other prisoners described as dangerous, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported. The scuffle reportedly broke out when the dissidents objected to having "dangerous criminals and louts" transferred to their wing. One of the injured was Naser Zarafshan, a prominent lawyer involved in human rights cases, Radio Farda reported. Separately, in the northeastern city of Tabriz, students, lecturers, and members of the Basij militia gathered outside the Azerbaijani Consulate to protest against a cartoon allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad that was published in the Baku newspaper "Sanaat" (Industry), Radio Farda reported. The protesters demanded that Azerbaijan formally apologize and that the Iranian Foreign Ministry summon its ambassador for an explanation, Radio Farda reported. VS

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on November 15 for the quick arrest of those behind the mass kidnapping at the Higher Education and Scientific Research Ministry in central Baghdad on November 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2006), international media reported. Al-Maliki expressed regret that Iraqi scientific professionals were targeted and referred to the perpetrators as "worse than extremists." "I do not need only the captives to be released, but I also want those who did that act," he said during a visit to Baghdad University. Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiyab al-Ajili announced that he has suspended his participation in the government to protest the government's inability to secure the release of the remaining hostages. The total number of hostages still held captive remains unclear, as Ministry spokesman Basil al-Khatib said 80 hostages still remain in captivity, while the Iraqi government said that number is only two. SS

During a televised meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki on November 14, Jalal Talabani accused Muslim Scholars Association leader Sheikh Harith Al-Dari of encouraging sectarianism and accused Arab regimes of supporting terrorists under false pretexts, Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "Under the pretext of helping Sunni Arabs, they [Arab regimes] support deviant elements, like Sheikh al-Dari, to promote sectarianism. Al-Dari's only concern is to promote sectarian sedition. Regrettably, some Arab countries are supporting efforts to sow sedition," Talibani said. Also at the meeting, al-Maliki suggested that the number of hostages taken in the November 14 mass kidnapping at the Higher Education Ministry was exaggerated by the media, and he stressed that what occurred was not terrorism. "What is happening is not against the background of terrorism, but rather against the background of differences and clashes among militias affiliated with various sides," he said. SS

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said on November 14 that Iraq's security services have been infiltrated by militiamen and criminal elements, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Hashimi noted that the dismissal of nearly 5,000 members of the security services run by the Interior Ministry was a clear indication of this. He said Iraq's current problem is not how to draw up security plans, but how to implement them. He added that intelligence services from numerous countries and with conflicting agendas are operating in Iraq. "Different intelligence services from world countries are currently operating in this miserable Iraqi scene and those countries have different agendas that are in tandem with their national security interests. Those agendas are at odds, which explains this conflict of wills in the Iraqi scene," he said. Furthermore, al-Hashimi said the current sectarian divisions plaguing Iraq are a product of the U.S.-led occupation coupled with the shortsighted policies of former Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer. SS

A reporter for the "Al-Masar" newspaper was killed on November 15 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, international media reported the same day. Local police said Fadia Muhammad Ali and her driver were killed when gunmen attacked their car in Mosul's Al-Zahra district. On November 13, an Al-Sharqiyah television cameraman was also killed in Mosul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2006). More than 100 journalists and media workers have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. SS

Specialist James Barker, one of four U.S. soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before killing her and her family, pled guilty to charges of rape and murder on November 15, Reuters reported the same day. The incident in question took place in March in the village of Al-Mahmudiyah, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, where prosecutors said Barker, Sergeant Paul Cortez, Private First Class Jesse Spielman, and Private First Class Bryan Howard raped the girl, killed her, and burned her body to conceal the crime. The four then killed the girl's father, mother, and 6-year-old sister. The alleged ringleader, former Private Steven Green, who was discharged from the U.S. Army for a "personality disorder" before the allegations became known, has been charged in a civilian court and is awaiting trial in Kentucky. Cortez and Spielman could face the death penalty if convicted, and prosecutors have yet to say if they will pursue the death penalty against Green. SS

The Iraqi Health Ministry announced that it is has begun a five-day polio-immunization campaign to protect Iraq's 4.8 million children, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on November 15. Ministry spokesman Ahmad Obaid said that the campaign was originally delayed for weeks because of the security situation, but he hopes that the goal of immunizing 100 percent of Iraq's children will be completed on time. The campaign involves more than 5,400 health workers going house-to-house to immunize every child in Iraq. In addition, the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF) is providing oral polio vaccines and transport. The World Health Organization (WHO) assisted the ministry in planning the campaign and provided training for local health staff. While polio has been eradicated in Iraq, a recent resurgence of the disease in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan has caused concern, and the estimated 250,000 children born since 2003 in Iraq have not been vaccinated. SS