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Newsline - April 12, 2007

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on April 11 that she is determined that Russia be "brought into" discussions with NATO on the planned U.S. missile-defense system through meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on April 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 22, 28, 29, and 30, and April 5 and 11, 2007). She also wants her coalition government to be united on the issue and is determined to avoid any political "splits" or divisions in Europe. In late March, Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush discussed in a video conference the importance of "involving" Russia in the missile-defense debate, the daily reported. Bush subsequently made the same point to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone conversation. In recent weeks, Russia has sought to use the missile-defense project to split NATO and the EU. Some of Merkel's coalition partners in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have tried to improve their sagging poll ratings by appealing to anti-American sentiments over missile defense. U.S. officials have been at pains to encourage a factual and nonpolitical discussion about missile defense. PM

In the latest installment of the energy row between Russia and some of its neighbors, the Industry Ministry said in a statement on April 12 that it wants to build a new branch oil pipeline from Unecha near the Belarusian border via Velikie Luki to Primorsk near the Finnish border, which would then be extended to Germany and beyond via the Baltic seabed as part of the Baltic Pipeline System, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6 and April 3, 2007). Semyon Vainshtok, who heads the pipeline monopoly Transneft, said recently that his company is prepared to start construction in April. The proposed pipeline will have an annual throughput capacity of at least 50 million metric tons and would cost up to $2.5 million. It is not clear how long it will take to build the extension of the Baltic Pipeline System, which will be about 1,000 kilometers long. PM

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on April 12 that the Estonian parliament is considering a proposal to extend that country's territorial waters from the current 5 kilometers to 20 kilometers, which is the maximum allowed under international law. The daily noted that the purpose of the measure is to complicate Russo-German plans to construct the Nord Stream gas pipeline linking those two countries via the Baltic seabed. The Russian official daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" recently described the bill as an "Estonian gas attack." Poland and the Baltic states regard Nord Stream as stemming from a unilateral decision made without concern for Moscow's or Berlin's neighbors. The 2005 agreement between former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who now is a top official of the pipeline project, and President Putin has been dubbed in Estonia "the Schroeder-Putin Pact" in an allusion to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on the eve of World War II, the daily noted. PM

Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), said in Tokyo on April 12 that Iran lacks the technological ability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, as Tehran recently claimed that it is doing, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 16 and April 11, 2007). He argued that "we do not think that Iran can start commercial uranium enrichment. It is not enough to build a centrifuge; it is also necessary to launch it. This is a complicated technological process." On April 11, the daily "Kommersant" noted that Russia has responded "more nervously than the United States" to recent developments in the Iranian nuclear program. PM

State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Krutov of the Motherland (Rodina) party said in Kyiv on April 11 that the Russian legislature's April 6 statement supporting the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada and denouncing President Viktor Yushchenko's decree dissolving it and calling early parliamentary elections does not constitute interference in Ukrainian politics, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 4, and 5, 2007). He argued that the declaration "is not interference in [Ukraine's] internal affairs. It is an assessment of the Ukrainian president's decree. Anybody, any organization, any country may give their assessment to any legal act in any country. The State Duma has given its own assessment and it is fully entitled to do so." He added that "the [Ukrainian] Constitutional Court, which each side counts on, must say its word. The Constitutional Court judges should not shift responsibility to the street, but they should make their wise decision in accordance with Ukrainian law." PM

An unnamed Russian "military source" told Interfax in Moscow on April 11 that India and Russia have signed a $700 million contract for Russia to replace 18 of India's long-haul Sukhoi-30 fighter jets with a new version of the same plane. It is not clear if this deal is linked to previously announced Indian plans to buy 40 new Sukhois as part of a major upgrade of its air force, which is one of the largest in the world. India was a reliable political, economic, and military partner of the Soviet Union during the Cold War but has since expanded its networks of partners and contacts. India's "The Hindu" of January 25 quoted Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, as suggesting that Russia might sell additional arms to Pakistan if India moves away from Russia as its main arms supplier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 25, and 26, 2007). PM

The Krasnoyarsk Krai Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation on April 11 into charges that the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) is buying votes for the local legislative elections, which are slated for April 15, Interfax reported. The prosecutors said in a statement that vote-buying "undermines citizens' constitutional right to free and equitable voting." On April 12, the SPS said in a statement that the police raided the party's office that day, detained an unspecified number of party leaders and activists, and confiscated their briefcases and personal effects including women's cosmetics, reported. Police officials declined to comment on the report, but SPS leader Nikita Belykh confirmed it in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that the authorities are hounding the SPS in hopes of ensuring a majority for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in the upcoming vote. Russia's March 11 regional elections were a clean sweep for pro-Kremlin parties, but the SPS succeeded in surmounting the 7 percent barrier to win representation in the legislatures of the Komi Republic, Stavropol Krai, and Leningrad, Samara, and Tomsk oblasts, and polled close to 7 percent of the vote in Moscow and Oryol oblasts (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2007). PM

The Russian Federation Prosecutor-General's Office has named Yury Turygin to succeed Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov as Ingushetia's prosecutor, and reported on April 11 and 12 respectively. Turygin entered the procuracy in 1976, working his way up from a district official in the then Chechen-Ingush ASSR to a senior position within the republican prosecutor's office. In 1990, he was transferred to Sverdlovsk Oblast, where he has worked since then. Kalimatov resigned last month, reportedly to protest high-level corruption condoned by Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2007). On April 12, quoted another senior Ingush official, deputy presidential administration head Movlat-Girey Dzagiyev, as saying he submitted his resignation two days earlier to protest Zyazikov's tolerance of high-level corruption, his inaction in the face of a spate of unresolved murders and abductions of young Ingush by police and security forces, and his seeming inability to reverse catastrophic economic decline. LF

Sergei Ivanov completed on April 11 a two-day visit to Yerevan that was devoted primarily to the discussion of bilateral economic ties, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on April 11. Speaking on April 11 at a joint press conference, Ivanov said he has good professional and personal relations with Armenia's new prime minister, Serzh Sarkisian. Ivanov also noted the steady growth in bilateral trade, which Sarkisian predicted will increase at an even faster rate following the inauguration on April 10 of a rail ferry service linking Russian and Georgian Black Sea ports. LF

Robert Kocharian signed a decree on April 11 reappointing to their previous posts the members of the outgoing cabinet that resigned in late March following the sudden death of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Noyan Tapan and reported. Kocharian subsequently named outgoing Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian to succeed Markarian as premier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2007), and First Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Mikael Harutiunian to succeed Sarkisian as defense minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). LF

Isa Qamber and Ali Kerimli, who are chairmen respectively of the Musavat party and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, called on April 10 and 11 respectively for the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch an investigation into the April 10 allegation by former Health Minister Ali Insanov that President Ilham Aliyev usurped power in the summer of 2003 during the final illness of his father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev, and then falsified the outcome of the November 2003 presidential election, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2007). National Unity Movement head Lale Sovket-Haciyeva for her part argued that in light of Insanov's allegations, the West should reconsider its support for the present Azerbaijani leadership. Also on April 11, presidential administration department head Ali Hasanov questioned why Insanov did not go public with his allegations at the time of Ilham Aliyev's appointment as prime minister in 2003, reported. Hasanov claimed that Insanov greeted that appointment "more enthusiastically than anyone else." LF

The Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office rejected on April 11 an appeal by Kyamandar Nasibli, a lawyer for arrested parliament deputy Huseyn Abdullayev, to drop the charges of assault brought against Abdullayev following his brawl in the parliament chamber on March 16 with Fazail Agamali, head of the small pro-government Ana Vaten party, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 19 and 20, 2007). The Prosecutor-General's Office also rejected Abdullayev's demand to bring charges against Agamali, who Abdullayev claims struck the first blow. LF

Eduard Kokoity, who is president of the unrecognized breakaway republic of South Ossetia, accused the United States on April 11 of seeking to provoke an armed confrontation between Georgia and South Ossetia by backing Tbilisi's efforts to establish an alternative, pro-Georgian administration in the region, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). Also on April 11, Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko termed President Mikheil Saakashvili's plans to establish an alternative government in South Ossetia a step in the wrong direction, and one that risks triggering "a new wave of confrontation," Caucasus Press reported. In Moscow, Andrei Kokoshin, who heads the Russian State Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs, similarly told journalists on April 12 that Saakashvili's initiative is "counterproductive, to put it mildly," reported. Kokoshin suggested that if Washington is truly interested in strengthening security and stability in the South Caucasus, it should encourage Tbilisi to respond positively to what Kokoshin termed Kokoity's "constructive" proposals for resolving the conflict. Meanwhile, South Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiyev met in Tskhinvali on April 11 with Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the OSCE Mission in Tbilisi, to discuss the possible resumption of talks under the aegis of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Kristian Bzhania, spokesman for Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, rejected on April 11 as "the product of a sick imagination" speculation in the Georgian media that Bagapsh's recent heart problems were the result of an attempt to poison him, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). Bzhania said Bagapsh, who was hospitalized in Sukhum(i) on April 9 and then flown to Moscow the following day for further medical treatment, succumbed to the pressure of stress and overwork, but now "feels fine." In a clear allusion to the deaths in still unclear circumstances of deposed Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in December 1993 and of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in February 2005, Bzhania declared that "In our country it is not the custom to praise presidents to the heavens and then kill them and bury them with honors, or to poison prime ministers and other senior officials with gas and other chemical substances." Also on April 11, de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba denied that he withdrew his application for a U.S. visa to enable him to attend the April 10 UN Security Council discussion of the situation in Abkhazia, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2007). Russian officials have criticized Washington for allegedly refusing to grant Shamba a visa; U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told journalists on April 10 that Shamba withdrew his visa application. LF

In comments during a news conference in Astana on April 10, Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov welcomed possible military ties with Spain as "promising," Interfax reported. The statement followed a meeting with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos during which bilateral military cooperation was discussed. Akhmetov added that the two countries are "now considering the issues of interaction of an integrated system of management of and control over Kazakhstan's air space, as well as the possibility of supplying radio electronic warfare systems to Kazakhstan's armed forces." An official press release issued by the Kazakh Defense Ministry also explained that Kazakhstan is "interested in Spain's experience in building the navy and training military personnel." RG

More than 10,000 opposition demonstrators in Bishkek called on April 11 for the resignation of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. Recently appointed Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev was unable to finish an address to the crowd and hurriedly left the rally after demonstrators shouted him down. The protests, which began on April 9, are organized by the opposition United Front For A Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan and the For Reforms movement. Those two movements are demanding Bakiev's resignation and the formation of a coalition government that would rule until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10 and 11, 2007). Although the rally was closely monitored by a nearby force of over 4,000 police and security personnel, Bakiev ordered them to deploy without arms, hoping to avert any direct confrontation. Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, the head of the opposition United Front, said another demonstration was scheduled for April 12, according to AKIpress. RG

An unnamed official of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency announced on April 11 that a new drug-control office will be established in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif by the end of April, according to Asia-Plus. The decision to open the office in Afghanistan stems from a recent agreement forged during a meeting last week between Tajik Drug Control Agency Director Lieutenant General Rustam Nazarov and Afghan officials. The announcement follows the opening of two other offices in Afghanistan in mid-2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 19, 2005). Tajikistan remains seriously concerned over a significant increase in drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan and due to reports of dozens of heroin-producing facilities operating in the Tajik-Afghan border areas (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," August 29, 2003, and "RFE/RL Newsline," December 13, 2004). RG

Belarusian authorities released United Civic Party activist Dzyanis Dzyanisau on bail on April 11 from a detention center in Vitsyebsk, Belapan reported, quoting Andrey Kim of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC). Bail was 15,500,000 rubles ($7,260). Kim said that the family and friends of Dzyanisau collected the bail money over the course of three weeks and paid it on April 9. Dzyanisau, who played an active part in a three-day protest against Alyaksandr Lukashenka's reelection as president in March 2006, was arrested in Homyel on February 16 on a charge of attempting to organize mass riots. The charge is believed to stem from Dzyanisau's arrest in Vitsyebsk last summer, when police detained him for passing out leaflets titled "Bunt" (Riot) during an open-air concert. Kim said that BHC is demanding that the charge against Dzyanisau be dropped on the grounds that it is unfounded and politically motivated. AM

Supporters of the Ukrainian opposition and supporters of the ruling coalition held rival rallies in Kyiv on April 11, Interfax reported. Pavlo Zhebrivskyy of the Our Ukraine Party, who addressed the opposition rally on European Square, described current developments in Ukraine as "treachery for 30 pieces of silver." Another Our Ukraine deputy, Ksenya Lyapina said that "the president has dissolved a Verkhovna Rada that was based on treachery." "The president has dissolved it because it has violated the constitution. The president dissolved it legally and constitutionally," she added. Several thousand supporters of Prime Minister Viktor Yanykovych gathered on Independence Square. "Supporters of the coalition have gathered on central squares throughout demonstrate to our notorious opposition that...all want a stable Ukraine and do not want any confrontation between the east and west of the country," Transportation and Communications Minister Mykola Rudkovsky told the rally. Communist Party caucus leader Petro Symonenko said that the ruling coalition set the main task of unifying Ukraine "via patriotism and purging government from its 'Orange' intoxication." "The 'Orange' forces want to force us to live not in compliance with the law, or even with our beliefs, but to follow instructions from abroad," he said. Symonenko also reiterated his demand for the abolition of the office of president. AM

Prime Minister Yanukovych said while addressing supporters of the ruling coalition at the April 11 rally in Kyiv that early parliamentary elections in Ukraine are possible if they are held simultaneously with early presidential elections, Interfax reported. "If elections are held, they should be held simultaneously -- both parliamentary and presidential -- and they should be held within the framework of law," Yanukovych said. He also warned his supporters that early elections could result in the previous government returning to power. Yanukovych later told journalists that President Yushchenko should not enforce his decree dissolving parliament until the Constitutional Court rules on its compliance with the constitution. AM

President Yushchenko offered Prime Minister Yanukovych during their meeting on April 10 a 15-point action plan to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine, Interfax reported on April 11. Yushchenko and Yanukovych agreed not to publish details of the plan before a decision by Yanukovych supporters on how to proceed. Yushchenko said that one part of the plan concerns accurately assessing the steps that led to the crisis. "The second part is substantial. This is the essence of the compromises we should take in the context of effects of the decree on the Verkhovna Rada's dissolution to rebalance the system of power," Yushchenko said. "The third part is dedicated to systematic consultations, which should be resumed between the political forces in the parliament," he added. AM

Bosnia-Herzegovina's government on April 11 confirmed that it has stripped 367 foreign-born Bosnians of their Bosnian passports, local and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2007). Among those affected are many foreigners who gained citizenship after fighting as volunteers alongside Bosnian Muslims in the 1992-95 war. Justice Minister Barisa Colak told a news conference that most of those stripped of Bosnian citizenship came from Algeria, Egypt, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. Figures given on public radio suggest 224 came from these countries, with the largest number (72) coming from Turkey. It is unclear whether they all served as volunteers during the war. Colak said a state commission concluded they were granted citizenship illegally, but he gave no indication that they were suspected of links to Islamic extremists. Earlier reports suggested at least 51 others were born in other Middle Eastern or Muslim countries. All those stripped of their citizenship now face deportation, though they have 60 days to appeal. In the intervening years, many have married and settled in Bosnia, local media say. Reuters quoted Serif Patkovic, a former army commander, as saying that the decision was political, and the move is widely seen as part of an antiterrorism drive requested by Bosnia's ally, the United States, which has been calling for their deportation since the late 1990s. The review commission was established following accusations that some of the former volunteer fighters have links to terrorists. In all, the cases of 716 naturalized Bosnians were reviewed; earlier reports indicated as many as 1,500 cases were reopened. The newspaper "Oslobodjenje" reported on March 24 that the commission concluded that legal differences caused by the war, the arrival of volunteer fighters, and the presence of humanitarian and other organizations affected the ease with which Bosnian citizenship and documents were obtained. AG

In an interview with Reuters on April 11, Bosnian Prime Minister Nikola Spiric said that "Serbs should in no way link their status to the resolution of the Kosovo question." Spiric, himself a Bosnian Serb, said, "that would be nonsense." He said Serbs "primarily have to be dedicated to Bosnia and to solving problems in Bosnia, taking care that this wave [Kosova] does not splash against our shore," a reference to fears of general instability and possible violence across the region following a UN vote on the future of the UN-administered province. A number of Bosnian Serb politicians have in the past suggested that if Kosova gains independence from Serbia, Serbia should be compensated by being given the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serbs' autonomous region. The region's prime minister, Milorad Dodik, has in the past called for Bosnian Serbs to be allowed a referendum on independence and, in late January, he declared, "I will ask the international community to explain why one rule applies to Kosovo and another to the Republika Srpska" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19 and 20, 2006, and January 5 and 26, 2007). However, Dodik has repeatedly said there will be "no revolution" by Bosnian Serbs, a message he reiterated in a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried on April 5, during which Dodik said the Bosnian Serb authorities will do "everything to preserve peace and stability in Republika Srpska's territory, no matter what decision on Kosovo is made." Dodik and Spiric are members of the same party. The future of the Republika Srpska is uncertain even if it were to remain part of Bosnia. Following a ruling in February by the UN's top court that an "act of genocide" was committed at Srebrenica in 1995, Bosnian Muslim leaders have been pressing for the dissolution of the Republika Srpska, which, they argue, is the product of genocide. Spiric described "this autistic message from Sarajevo that the Republika Srpska is unwanted" as the main problem currently facing Serbs. AG

Macedonia's government announced on April 11 that it will repay $137 million of the country's foreign debt earlier than planned, AP reported the same day. Early repayment will save the country interest charges, savings that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said will be spent on development projects. The sum is a little over 10 percent of the total foreign debt, which is around 1 billion euros ($1.34 billion). The money will pay off Macedonia's debts to the World Bank and the European Investment Bank. Gruevski added that Macedonia will soon make early repayments to other international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, and to other governments. Macedonia's foreign-currency reserves currently exceed $2.4 billion. AG

In a gesture to one of the least likely candidates for EU membership, Brussels on April 10 reached an agreement that will make it easier for Albanians to enter the EU, the Albanian news agency ATA reported the same day. A statement by the EU's representative office in Tirana said that, for all Albanians, visas will cost less and be processed faster. "Document requirements" for some types of travelers -- such as businesspeople, students, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations -- will be simplified. The agreements still need to be approved by EU member governments and authorities in Brussels. AG

Serbia and the European Commission have failed at the last moment to reach an agreement that would reduce visa restrictions on Serbs, Serbian and Macedonian media reported on April 11. Reports by the Macedonian news agency MakFax and Serbian television suggest the chief stumbling block related to the entry from Serbia of third-country-passport holders. A specific point of dispute is over whether the EU should automatically send to Serbia an illegal immigrant with a Serbian visa in his passport. "Additional consultations are necessary on this issue, both in Belgrade and in Brussels," Tanja Mishcevic, the head of the Serbian government's EU Accession Office, was quoted by MakFax as saying. Mishcevic said she hopes a solution can be reached this month. The agreement was due to come into force in January 2008. Serbian television said that date should not be affected by the delay. AG

The car of a leading Albanian newspaper editor was damaged in an explosion on April 9, UPI reported the following day. The owner of the car, Erjon Brace, was unhurt. Brace, who edits the opposition newspaper "Zeri i Popullit" and is also a member of parliament for the opposition Socialist Party, was quoted as saying he does not know of anyone who would wish to hurt him. There has been no indication since from the police of the exact cause of the explosion or why Brace might have been the target of an attack. AG

Prime Minister Sali Berisha on April 10 repeated recent promises to rid the country's media of links to the mafia, saying that "the mafia has a strong media and it even uses it as dagger." According to the ATA news agency, Berisha said the mafia "has used the media in the past to buy a minister, to win a tender, to buy a chief prosecutor or prosecutor, to press a button and other things." He added, however, that "that time is over, it will not come back again," promising that "any effort to buy the media, at a time when in Albanian politics there are persons that exercise terror and politics on the media, that dictate editorials, news stories and everything, has been and will be punished." During his premiership, Berisha has set up a national broadcasting regulator, but it has been accused of inaction and corruption. The media have responded to Berisha's comments with sharp criticism. "Zeri i Popullit" said the prime minister's "offensive" is "Berisha's reaction to the results of the recent local government elections, which his experts are interpreting as having been brought about by parts of the media that did not support his party in the country's largest cities" and to allegations of corruption in the government. The Socialists emerged ahead of Berisha's Democratic Party in February's elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21 and March 13, 2007). In an article published on March 30, "Gazeta Shqiptare" accused Berisha of linking the media to the mafia "without concrete evidence," while "the facts brought up by the free media speak against Prime Minister Berisha -- he is the one who favors media that support him, and he is the one who attacks and blackmails his opponents." AG


An Italian aid group, Emergency, withdrew its international staff from Afghanistan on April 11 in response to the recent arrest of one of its Afghan employees, Reuters reported. The organization, which helped secure the release of kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in March, said its 38 international staff -- mostly Italians -- are temporarily in Dubai. "There they will decide what to do next," an Emergency spokesman said in Milan, according to Reuters. Rahamtullah Hanefi, who runs one of the charity's Afghan hospitals and acted as a go-between with the Taliban during Mastrogiacomo's captivity, was reportedly detained by local security forces on March 20 on suspicion that he played a part in the kidnapping. Afghan intelligence chief Anrullah Saleh accused Hanefi of helping the Taliban kidnap the Italian along, with his Afghan driver and translator. Both of the Afghan hostages -- driver Sayyed Agha and journalist and translator Ajmal Naqshbandi -- were killed by the Taliban kidnappers. RR

A suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan on April 11, wounding seven civilians, while a U.S.-led coalition air strike killed 13 suspected militants, AP reported. No NATO troops were injured and one vehicle in the convoy was damaged, Canadian military spokesman Alex Watson said. In neighboring Helmand Province, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops clashed with suspected Taliban militants on April 10 and called in air strikes on a compound, leaving 13 militants dead, a coalition statement said; the statement added that there were no civilian casualties. RR

U.S. citizen Jonathan Idema, who has been imprisoned since 2004 for running a "private war on terror" in Afghanistan, was scheduled for imminent release, AP reported on April 11. Idema had claimed at his trial that his actions were part of an antiterrorism effort coordinated with U.S. and Afghan officials, a claim officials in both countries denied. Idema's attorneys filed a lawsuit in Washington in 2005 challenging his detention. The U.S. State Department and the FBI faced an April 10 deadline to answer allegations that they ordered his torture and manipulated the Afghan judicial system, AP reported. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said on March 21 that he is "deeply troubled" by the allegations and gave the U.S. government until April 10 to respond. Instead, U.S. government attorneys asked that the case be thrown out because they say the Afghan government granted Idema amnesty and commuted his sentence. "As of the time of this filing, it is our understanding that Mr. Idema's release is imminent," government attorneys wrote on April 5, according to AP. Idema's lawyer, John E. Tiffany, said the U.S. government coordinated Idema's amnesty to avoid having to respond to the allegations of torture and government misconduct. An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said Idema remains in Kabul's Pol-e Charki prison, according to AP. RR

A U.S. military commander has determined that marines accused of killing civilians after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan used excessive force, and he has forwarded the case for possible criminal inquiry, AP reported on April 11. The investigation of the March 4 incident, in which as many as 12 Afghan civilians were reported killed, concluded that the U.S. troops' response was "out of proportion to the threat that was immediately there," a senior defense official reportedly told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because the probe's results have not been released. Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the initial military investigation concluded that there is "reasonable suspicion" that the marines violated rules on the use of deadly force and committed crimes, possibly including homicide, after their convoy was struck by a car bomb. RR

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said in Tehran on April 11 that this is a good time for Western states to resume unconditional talks with Iran over its atomic dossier, if such talks are to be "constructive" and "with the correct bases and a particular discourse," ISNA reported. Western states suspicious of the aims of Iran's nuclear program have asked it to halt sensitive fuel-making and related activities first, then resume talks. Larijani said that "determining a precondition means they wish to know the results of talks beforehand." Iran says it has a right and needs to make fuel for an expanding nuclear program. Larijani was speaking after meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta. He dismissed doubts that some foreign observers have expressed about Iranian declarations that it has begun industrial-scale uranium-enrichment activities, which could lead to mass production of nuclear fuel. "If they doubt we have reached this stage, why are they pressuring us?" he asked. Larijani said Tehran is "seeking regional adventures" in neither its foreign policy nor its atomic program. "We have declared we are ready to reach an agreement" through "correct talks," he said. Larijani told ISNA that the presence of cameras -- presumably at a nuclear facility at Natanz -- and routine checks by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are enough to verify Iran's industrial fuel-making activities. He said there is no need for closer checks pursuant to the additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to show which "stage of work" Iran has reached. VS

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told German radio on April 10 or 11 that Iran has a right to have nuclear installations, but its activities must respect nonproliferation rules and be transparent, Radio Farda reported on April 11, citing DPA. Fleming said there is still time for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program, but added that she cannot understand why Iran is restricting IAEA inspections. She suggested that Iran has illegally obtained some of the material for its program. UPI reported on April 11 that IAEA inspectors who arrived in Iran on April 10 will press for the installation of cameras at Natanz. The report did not elaborate, although comments by Iranian officials indicate that Natanz already has IAEA cameras. Presumably inspectors want cameras fixed in the immediate vicinity of the centrifuges reportedly installed in Natanz as part of Iran's expanding enrichment program. VS

Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei warned a gathering of officials in Qazvin, west of Tehran, on April 10 that the "enemy's new policy" for Iran is to train feminists and student activists to subvert Iran's political system, "Kargozaran" daily reported on April 11. "They took some groups to other countries for training on soft subversion," Mohseni-Ejei said. Iranian officials have repeatedly accused foreign powers of trying to set off a "velvet revolution" in Iran, reminiscent of the nonviolent collapse of some European communist states in the late 1980s. Mohseni-Ejei said Western states have sought through economic pressure and publicity to "alienate" Iranians from the government, present the Islamic republic as ineffective, and "deprive the mass of the people of hope." Iranian Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told a press conference separately on April 10 that two feminists arrested on April 2 while gathering signatures for a campaign to change discriminatory laws in Iran may be released conditionally, ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3 and 5, 2007). Jamshidi said the interrogator handling the cases of Nahid Keshavarz and Mahbubeh Hosseinzadeh has decided to allow their release if a legal guarantor or guardian (kafil) is named, ISNA reported. The guarantor would presumably assure their availability for subsequent inquiries and a trial. VS

Lawyer Manijeh Mohammadi told ISNA on April 11 that three teachers were detained and sent to Evin prison in Tehran on April 10 when they went to the Tehran Revolutionary Court for questioning regarding recent wage protests by teachers. She said her clients Mohammad Taqi Fallahi, Mahmud Baqeri, and another teacher identified as Montajabi were detained, apparently to allow their continued interrogation, and were later transferred from the court building to Evin. Mohammadi said the three had attended one or several teachers' protests in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7 and 9, 2007) to report on them for a daily called "Qalam-i Moallem" (Teacher's Pen). ILNA separately quoted the deputy governor of the Hamedan Province for political and security affairs, Akbar Abedi, as saying on April 11 that teachers recently arrested in Hamedan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2007) were detained in their union offices in the provincial capital Hamedan after police found "about 5,000" pamphlets there urging teachers to go on strike. "We are not opposed to union activities, but if these demands follow the goals of the enemies of the revolution, there will be a very firm response," he warned. VS

An apparent suicide bomber exploded his vest inside the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament building on April 12, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. RFI correspondent Layla Ahmad, who was exiting the building at the time of the blast, said dozens of parliamentarians were lunching in the cafeteria when she left it minutes earlier. Initial reports indicated that dozens of people were wounded in the explosion and two parliamentarians, one a Sunni Arab and one a Kurd, were killed. Reuters reported that the explosion took place near the cash register. Parliament was in session on April 12 and, according to Ahmad, many parliamentarians complained in the session about stricter security measures that have been imposed recently. In order to enter the parliament building, people must pass through at least five checkpoints. Ahmad reported that the first checkpoint was manned today by U.S. and Iraqi forces, four others by Georgian troops, and a final gate by Iraqi National Guardsmen. People wishing to enter the cafeteria area must possess a separate, special-access card. The U.S. military recently found two suicide vests inside the so-called Green Zone, which also houses the parliament. In an earlier attack on April 12, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden truck on Al-Sarafiyah Bridge, a main east-west artery, killing at least eight and sending several cars into the Tigris River. KR

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on April 11 moved to ease tensions with Turkey after Kurdistan region President Mas'ud Barzani warned Ankara that interference in northern Iraq would lead to retaliatory action by Iraqi Kurds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10 and 11, 2007), international media reported the same day. Al-Maliki's office issued a statement stressing that Iraqi foreign policy is conducted solely by the Baghdad government and is based on mutual respect of its neighbors. "Iraqi foreign policy is represented by the commitment to build the best of relations with its neighbors and noninterference in their internal affairs and by not allowing these countries to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs," al-Maliki said. However, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul insisted that his country has a right to take action if Iraq refuses to move against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels hiding in northern Iraq. "We're not making threats or indulging in bravado," Gul said. "We are simply making clear that events have come to a very dangerous point." Barzani's remarks caused outrage in Turkey, where more than 37,000 people have been killed in fighting between Turkish security forces and PKK fighters since 1984. SS

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc issued a statement on April 11 threatening to withdraw from the Iraqi government after Prime Minister al-Maliki opposed any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. "The al-Sadr trend strongly rejects the statement by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who adheres to the occupation forces remaining despite the will of the Iraqi people," the statement read. The statement also criticized "the unjust application" of the Baghdad security plan. On April 9, thousands of Iraqis heeded al-Sadr's call and descended on the holy city of Al-Najaf to demand an end to the U.S.-led occupation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). Al-Sadr's political bloc boycotted the government from November 29 until mid-January to protest a meeting between al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush in Jordan. His political movement currently has 30 deputies in parliament, in addition to six ministry posts, including the health, transportation, tourism, and agriculture portfolios. SS

Heavy fighting in the Al-Fadl and Sheikh Umar neighborhoods of Baghdad continued for a second day, international media reported on April 11. U.S. military sources said the fighting started on April 10 when a joint U.S.-Iraqi detachment came under fire during a routine patrol. The U.S. military said approximately 20 suspected fighters were killed and 30 others arrested, while four Iraqi soldiers were killed and 16 U.S. soldiers were wounded. A U.S. attack helicopter was damaged by small-arms fire, but managed to return to its base. However, the Muslim Scholars Association issued a differing account of the events. In a statement posted on its website on April 10, the group claimed that fighting erupted after Iraqi troops entered a Sunni mosque and killed two young boys. The group said that more than 30 civilians have so far been killed and described what is happening as a "massacre." "The residents of the neighborhood call on the free people in the world and humanitarian organizations to intervene in favor of halting this massacre committed against them without discrimination between a man and a woman or between and elderly and a young person," the statement said. SS

President Jalal Talabani announced on April 11 that negotiations with five armed groups are entering the final stages, and that they will abandon violence and join the political process, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. He declined to name the groups, fearing they may be singled out and targeted by groups connected to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Talabani also stressed that a dialogue should be opened with all groups that reject terrorism. "We should be ready to deal with the groups that have distinguished themselves from terrorists," he said. "There are two trenches: the trench of Iraqi people and the trench of terrorism. We cannot be in the two trenches." Talabani singled out the Iraqi Islamic Party as being one of the groups that has rejected terrorism and as a result should be given the full support of the government and people. SS

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement on April 11 warning that after four years of violence in Iraq, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate and Iraqi civilians are paying a heavy price, international media reported the same day. "The suffering that Iraqi men, women, and children are enduring today is unbearable and unacceptable. Their lives and dignity are continuously under threat," said the ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl. He said the worsening security situation is causing "overlapping effects" of hardship for the civilian population, with medical care deteriorating as doctors flee the country. The Iraqi Health Ministry believes that half of the country's physicians have already fled. With regard to the recent Baghdad security operation, Kraehenbuehl said it has yet to achieve any noticeable improvements for Iraqi civilians. "We're certainly not seeing an immediate effect in terms of stabilization for the civilians currently," he said. His remarks were made in conjunction with the release of an ICRC report titled "Civilians Without Protection -- The Ever-Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq," which highlights the plight of Iraqi civilians four years after the fall of Baghdad. SS

Masked gunmen assassinated Abd al-Abbas Hashim, the director-general of projects at the Electricity Ministry, in central Baghdad on April 11, KUNA reported the same day. Local police sources said unidentified gunmen ambushed Hashim's vehicle in the Iraqi capital's Al-Qanat neighborhood, shot him and his bodyguard, and then quickly fled. Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen attacked the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the Al-Nur district of Mosul, Al-Sharqiyah reported on April 11. Sources said local police eventually repelled the attackers, wounding two gunmen and seizing several weapons, including five machine guns and a rocket launcher. SS