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Newsline - August 27, 2007

Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on August 27 that "10 people have been arrested in connection" with the October 2006 slaying of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Interfax reported. Chaika added that they "will literally in the very near future be charged with committing this grave crime." He did not elaborate. His office announced a press conference for later on August 27. Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, was quoted by Reuters as saying that "the murders of journalists in the past 14 years have been so poorly investigated that it's hard to have any faith in this. I suspect [Chaika's announcement] is connected with the fact that the first anniversary of [her] death is coming up. People will ask, 'Where are the killers?' and this way they can say that the case is closed and suspects have been detained." On May 28, the French daily "Liberation" quoted former Russian Army Major Vyacheslav Ismailov, who now writes for Politkovskaya's former paper "Novaya gazeta," as claiming that her killing was ordered by two senior Chechen officials whose identity is known to pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). PM/LF

Britain's "Financial Times" reported on August 25 that "Russia has made significant cuts to oil supplies sent to German refineries recently, rekindling concerns in Germany over the reliability of Russian energy supplies. LUKoil, Russia's second-largest oil producer, on [August 24] acknowledged that supplies to Germany had been reduced by about one-third in July and August but refused to explain why the reduction had occurred." The paper added that "analysts said LUKoil's decision not to provide previously contracted quantities of oil could be aimed at extracting higher prices from German refineries or be part of LUKoil's efforts to acquire stakes in German and European refineries." The daily noted that "oil traders said a dispute between LUKoil and Sunimex, Germany's biggest oil importer, might account for the supply cut, but the aggressive Russian strategy to acquire European refining assets could also play a role." Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on August 25 that an unnamed LUKoil official said that the company found it more profitable to ship its oil "in other directions" because of increased transit fees in Belarus. The daily also noted, however, that "Russia itself drastically raised export duties on oil in June and in August." The paper reported that the German government confirmed on August 24 that oil deliveries from Russia dropped recently, adding that "this is not the first time that this has happened." On August 27, Interfax reported from Moscow that "the volume of LUKoil oil supplies to Germany in August will return to the levels seen in January-May 2007 following a disruption in deliveries over the summer, [according to an unidentified] source at the oil company." PM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that unnamed Russian opposition figures knowingly harm their country's image abroad, and Interfax reported on August 27, citing the daily "Trud." He added that Moscow closely monitors "the writings and thoughts" about Russia available abroad. He argued that some unnamed Western media outlets often portray Russia in a bad light because the worldwide "rivalry for resources is becoming more intense," and because some people are unwilling to come to terms with the existence of today's "dynamically developing Russia." Kamynin said that "a great deal of the harsh criticism of Russia derives from our opposition, which does not hesitate to neglect elementary ethical norms in the pursuit of its political goals. Where does this strange and shameful wish to sacrifice the interests of one's home country for personal gain come from?" PM

On August 27, President Putin "accepted the resignation" of Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, who has held that post since 1991, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Putin appointed AvtoVAZ Group head Vladimir Artyakov as acting governor. The daily "Vedomosti" commented on August 10 that the Kremlin has begun asserting pressure on many regional governors or ousting some outright in the run-up to the December parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13 and 17, 2007). The daily suggested that Titov and some other long-serving governors were singled out for removal, along with other governors whom the Unified Russia party considers ineffectual. The paper reported that Titov strongly resisted pressure on him to go quietly. According to his website,, Titov's "analytical mind enables him to make a detailed analysis of national and regional economic processes in the changing environment. It is thorough scientific research and careful examination into a problem that is characteristic of his work before he makes any managerial decision. Being a supporter of free-market economy...Titov has promoted regional economic reform." PM

The initiative group Justice and Dignity has begin collecting signatures in support of a collective legal action against Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, whom they accuse of deliberately misinforming the media and Russian President Putin about the true economic situation in the republic, reported on August 27. The group published an open letter to the republic's population four months ago calling for coordinated protests and legal action to expedite Zyazikov's replacement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, 2007). Coordinator Bers Gadziyev told that young people are the driving force behind the initiative. Between August 21-27, 685 people responded to a questionnaire posted on the website, of whom 483, or 76 percent, expressed their readiness to sign a collective action against Zyazikov on the grounds that "his lies can no longer be tolerated." LF

Albert Ghazarian, prosecutor of Armenia's northern Lori region, was gunned down while walking home from his office in Vanadzor, the regional capital, early on August 25, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The killer reportedly managed to escape. Ghazarian, who was 56, was named Lori prosecutor in March 2006. Armenian President Robert Kocharian called for a special investigation into the shooting, which he described as directed against Armenia's entire legal system. LF

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told RFE/RL on August 25 that "warning shots" were fired at an aircraft that entered Georgian airspace over the upper Kodori Gorge on August 21. He said the ministry has dispatched investigators to the gorge to check out eyewitness reports by residents of a subsequent explosion, possibly when the aircraft crashed. Utiashvili was earlier quoted by AP as saying the incident occurred on August 22 and that the plane in question was Russian. Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, was quoted by Interfax on August 25 as saying no evidence has been found that any plane crashed on Abkhaz territory; the Abkhaz authorities control the lower reaches of the Kodori Gorge. Abkhaz armed forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Anatoly Zaitsev was quoted by as saying that an aircraft crashed in the Kodori Gorge on August 22 after entering Abkhaz airspace from the southwest, but he ruled out the possibility that it was downed by Georgian fire, and denied having identified it earlier as a U.S. reconnaissance plane. The website on August 27 quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as having told RIA Novosti that the incident took place on August 22 and that the Abkhaz authorities assume that the aircraft in question was Georgian. Shamba said eyewitnesses "heard a crash and a subsequent explosion," but he did not say that the aircraft was fired on. On August 24, quoted Russian Air Force spokesman Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevsky as denying earlier Georgian allegations that a Russian aircraft violated Georgian airspace on August 22 and was shot down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23 and 24, 2007). LF

The Tbilisi City Court on August 24 passed sentence on 12 people allied with fugitive former security-service head Igor Giorgadze who were arrested one year ago and charged with plotting to overthrow the Georgian leadership, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). Maia Topuria, a relative of Giorgadze who heads the Georgian Anti-Soros movement, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years' imprisonment; Kakha Kantaria to eight years; Monarchist Party Chairman Temur Zhorzholiani and Ramiz Samnidze to seven years; Guram Papukashvili, Vakhtang Talakadze, Gia Akhobadze, Koka Kvinikadze, Revaz Bulia, Zaza Davitaya, and Giorgi Metreveli to 4 1/2 years; and Gia Galdava to three years. Gennadi Archvadze, whose whereabouts remain unknown, was sentenced in absentia to seven years' imprisonment. All 11 defendants, who claim the charges against them were unsubstantiated and politically motivated, boycotted the August 24 court session. U.S. defense lawyer Melinda Sarafa said in court on August 24 that the prosecution's case was "weak," and that the decision to hold the trial behind closed doors on the grounds that national security interests were involved proved untenable. LF

Saparbek Nurpeisov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office, announced on August 24 that an international arrest warrant has been issued for General Alnur Musaev, the former chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee, RFE/RL reported. Nurpeisov explained that Musaev is wanted in connection with the kidnapping and suspected murder of Zholdas Timraliev and Abilmazhen Gilimov, officials of the private Nurbank, which was controlled by Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, until the authorities recently seized it along with several of his other business interests. Musaev is a former close associate of Aliev, who himself faces criminal charges ranging from kidnapping and murder to corruption and money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, 13, and 19, 2007). Musaev's whereabouts are unknown, while Aliev remains in self-imposed exile in Vienna, where he once served as the Kazakh ambassador. Nazarbaev dismissed Musaev as National Security Council secretary in 2001, but named him to head the presidential bodyguard service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2001). RG

A delegation led by Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov met on August 24 in Astana with Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov and other senior officials to discuss issues of bilateral cooperation in preparation for Kazakh President Nazarbaev's state visit to Tajikistan set for sometime next month, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Masimov said that one of the key issues of the talks was the sharing of water resources, as Tajikistan controls about 60 percent of the region's freshwater resources. Oqilov added that the expansion of bilateral relations will also include a greater role for Tajikistan as a major provider of electricity, noting that "when the Sangtuda hydroelectric power plant is put into operation, we will able to export to Kazakhstan up to 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity during the summer period." The Kazakh officials also agreed to increase wheat and sugar exports to Tajikistan and pledged to open up markets to a wider rage of Tajik agricultural products. RG

A Bishkek district court imposed on August 24 prison sentences for two Kyrgyz opposition supporters who participated in an opposition rally in April following their conviction for "causing public disorder," according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress. The two protesters, Erkin Aknazarov and Joldoshbek Abdiev, were sentenced to 4 1/2 and four years in prison, respectively. Although the two men participated in a series of daily rallies led by the opposition United Front For A Worthy Future and the For Reforms movement in Bishkek throughout April, they were arrested after police clashed with about 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside the government building in Bishkek on April 19, the ninth day of rallies demanding the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the introduction of constitutional reforms. After a small group of demonstrators began to throw stones at the building, nearby detachments of riot police moved in to disperse the protesters using tear gas and percussion grenades and wielding batons, although opposition leaders reject the official version of events, arguing that the protesters only reacted to the unprovoked use of tear gas by the police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). RG

In a joint statement released in Bishkek, an international and a local human-rights group expressed alarm on August 23 over reports alleging the routine use of deadly torture tactics by law-enforcement officers in northern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Both the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Kyrgyz human-rights group Kylym Shamy (Torch of the Century) charged that police in the northern city of Naryn appear to have recently tortured at least three detainees to death. The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights also expressed concern about those deaths. The Kyrgyz parliament adopted a resolution in April criticizing the authorities in Naryn for their "illegal" detention of opposition activist Bektemir Akunov who, after his arrest by local police upon his return from opposition demonstrations in Bishkek, was found hanged in his cell in what officials labeled a suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16, 2007). Angrily reacting to the death of Akunov, a crowd of more than 400 people attempted to storm the provincial administration building following his burial on April 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2007). RG

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed into law on August 23 a set of legislative amendments to the media law that criminalizes libel and other forms of defamation on the Internet, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The new measures, which intensify the existing strict penalties for defamatory statements in print and broadcast media, would allow courts to jail journalists for up to two years if they are found guilty of libel or insults in their reporting. Several leading media-rights groups in Tajikistan, including the National Association of Independent Journalists of Tajikistan, urged the president not to sign the new media law, warning that it violates international media standards and norms, and they called on the Tajik authorities to "stop prosecuting journalists for their professional activity" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 13, 2007). RG

President Rahmon participated on August 26 in a ceremony with Afghan President Hamid Karzai marking the establishment of a new bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and ITAR-TASS reported. Rahmon hailed the 700-meter bridge, which spans the Pyanj River and was largely financed by the United States, as a "bridge of friendship," but stressed that the Tajik and Afghan authorities must "prevent all kinds of inadmissible activities such as human, drug, and weapons trafficking" over the bridge. Tajikistan and Afghanistan have also agreed to create "free economic zones" on both sides of the bridge and have pledged to ease customs and visa regimes to promote greater bilateral trade. The ceremony was also attended by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who noted that the bridge will serve as the "widest connection" between Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. He added that the bridge "will be open 24 hours a day with customs and border facilities on both sides, and the capacity to handle 1,000 vehicles every day." The completion of the new $37 million bridge replaces the intermittent ferry service that was the only previous link over the river. RG

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov issued on August 25 a presidential decree establishing a new interagency state commission empowered to "implement international obligations" for the protection of human rights, ITAR-TASS reported. The presidential press service also announced that the decree was followed by a decision to establish a UN-affiliated "regional center for preventive diplomacy" in Ashgabat, to be opened with an international conference in December organized by Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov to coincide with the national holiday celebrating Turkmenistan's neutrality. RG

In a ceremony held in the southern Derbent railway station, Uzbek President Islam Karimov inaugurated on August 25 a new rail line linking central and southern Uzbekistan, according to Interfax. Construction of the new 223-kilometer line, which mostly transits the country's mountainous southern terrain, was completed with Japanese assistance in just 33 months, well ahead of schedule. Karimov hailed the new rail link as a key to increasing the country's "export and transit potential." RG

Belarus's Justice Ministry has denied registration to the Vyasna (Spring) human-rights group, Belapan reported on August 24. The ministry explained in a statement published on its website that the charter of Vyasna does not meet the requirements specified in a law on nongovernmental organizations. In particular, the ministry said the charter "contains vague purposes and implies the opportunity for this nongovernmental organization to act for achieving purposes that are not stated in the charter." The ministry also pointed out that 20 of the 69 founders of Vyasna "have convictions for committing various administrative offenses, with some having five convictions." "This testifies to the fact that the authorities are not ready for dialogue and cooperation with independent civic groups, with human-rights defenders in Belarus," Ales Byalyatski, vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, told the "Nasha Niva" website ( "It was difficult to expect some other outcome [of the registration bid] while there are political trials in the country." JM

The Justice Ministry has issued official warnings to six political parties, saying they failed to comply with a legal requirement for the number of registered chapters, Belapan reported on August 24. The ministry cited the provision of the law governing political parties that requires them to have a Minsk city chapter and regional-level chapters in at least four oblasts. The parties targeted by the warnings, which may lead to their suspension or closure, are the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), the Belarusian Social Sports Party, the Belarusian Party of Greens, the Republican Party, and the Social Democratic Party of People's Concord. Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, told Belapan that his party has the required number of chapters, but they have no legal addresses. Vyachorka added that many chapters of political parties were closed after the authorities required them to move from residential buildings to offices. He stressed that it is extremely difficult to lease an office for a political party. According to Vyachorka, the warnings are "the authorities' way of preparing for the 2008 parliamentary election," Reuters reported. JM

Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on 1+1 television on August 26 that Kyiv is not going to revise the terms of deployment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. "All lease documents have been signed. We should fulfill them regardless of whether one likes them or not. We do not demand that the fleet be withdrawn, since we are a European country and since the signed documents provide that the fleet is to stay in Ukraine until 2017," Yatsenyuk said. Yatsenyuk's words seem to be in response to last week's pronouncement by Russian diplomat Vladimir Lysenko in Ukraine, who reportedly said that if Kyiv increases pressure on the Russian Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol, Russia might initiate a revision of the 1997 Russian-Ukrainian Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 2007). Lysenko also said that Russia rejects statements by Ukrainian politicians suggesting that Russia's rent for the Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea be increased. Under the terms of the 1997 treaty, Russia pays $97 million annually for its naval base in Sevastopol. JM

The EU's envoy at talks on the future of Kosova, Wolfgang Ischinger, on August 24 ended a two-day trip to Prishtina during which, according to unnamed sources cited by local media, he told Kosovar leaders that he does not expect a decision on the disputed region's future this year. However, Ischinger said nothing to reporters during the visit, which was intended as a means of learning more about Prishtina's position ahead of direct talks. Statements by Kosovar leaders suggest that, in their meetings with Ischinger, they emphasized that Kosova is not prepared to make "further" compromises and pressed the EU to recognize Kosova as an independent state in December. Ischinger is due to visit Belgrade early in September, most probably on September 3, the Serbian daily "Blic" reported on August 24. Prior to that, the troika of diplomats heading efforts to find a solution -- Ischinger, and envoys from the United States and Russia -- will on August 30 hold separate meetings in Vienna with delegations from Prishtina and Belgrade. "Vecernje novosti" reported on August 24 that Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will not attend the talks. "Since the troika envisages separate meetings, it is clear that the presence of the Serbian prime minister is not needed for this format of talks," an adviser to Kostunica, Aleksandar Simic, explained. During his visit to Kosova, Ischinger visited a primary school rebuilt after the 1998-99 war with money raised by his late son. AG

Bosnia-Herzegovina's War Crimes Chamber on August 24 sentenced a Bosnian Serb Nenad Tanaskovic to 12 years in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-95 civil war, local media reported. Tanaskovic, who was a reservist in the local police force, was convicted for taking part in attacks on Bosnian Muslim villages near the eastern town of Visegrad between April and June 1992, during which ethnic Serbs torched local homes and killed and displaced thousands of Muslims. Tanaskovic was also found guilty of abetting the rape of Muslim women. Survivors criticized the sentence as being too lenient, with a representative of the Women Victims of War saying that Tanaskovic probably committed even graver crimes. The start of the trial of Tanaskovic, who was arrested in July 2006, was delayed until February 2007 after he joined a hunger strike by indictees demanding to be tried under Yugoslav law rather than the Bosnian Criminal Code. Bosnia's War Crimes Chamber was established in March 2005 as part of a broader transfer of cases to regional courts from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. AG

The Interior Ministry of the Republika Srpska declared on August 23 that no recent murder in the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity had an ethnic, religious or political motive, the news agency SRNA reported. The ministry's statement followed a review of 60 murders committed between 2005 and mid-2007, which the ministry said it commissioned "in order to inform the public correctly" because "certain individuals and media were causing public alarm with claims that [some] offenses were ethnically motivated." Police in the Republika Srpska have solved 95 percent of the murders committed in the region over the past 10 years, the ministry said. Five of those murdered over the past 2 1/2 years were Bosnian Muslims who returned to the area after the war. AG

The Swiss government has appointed Carla Del Ponte to become its ambassador to Argentina when she leaves her post as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the end of the year, news agencies reported on August 23. Del Ponte had originally intended to step down in September, but was asked by the UN to remain in her position until the end of the year while the UN searched for a successor. An ICTY spokeswoman, Olga Kavran, confirmed that it remains unclear who will succeed Del Ponte. "The New York Times" reported on June 28 that unnamed UN officials expect the post to be filled by Serge Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor currently heading a UN investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Brammertz is due to leave that post at the end of December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28, 2007). The ICTY is due to start its last prosecutions in 2008 and to close its doors in 2010. AG

Albania's prime minister, Sali Berisha, announced on August 23 the creation of the a new institution to oversee the country's efforts to join NATO and integrate its military forces with the alliance, local media reported. Berisha said he will personally supervises its work. Albania hopes NATO will in April 2008 invite it to join the alliance. Croatia and Macedonia are expected to become members of NATO at the same time as Albania. AG

Albania's Prince Leka began work on August 21 as an adviser to the Foreign Ministry. The ministry has not made it clear what specific role the 25-year-old prince will play, but in comments made to Albanian television on August 21, the prince indicated that he sees the post principally as an opportunity "to gain as much information as possible in a specific direction in a state institution." "The fact that I am the minister's adviser will enable me to gain as much information as possible about the existing situation in and outside Albania," he said, adding that "I believe that this will allow me to do even more in this area in the future." Leka, whose education includes a stint at Britain's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, told reporters on his first day in the job that "I will use the friendships of my family in the interest of the Albanian nation." Leka made his last high-profile public statement in March, when he backed independence for neighboring Kosova, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2007). He indicated on August 21 that Kosova will continue to be a major interest, saying, according to Albanian television, that "as adviser and heir of the royal family, I will always be close to Kosova. I will work, within my possibilities, for the good of Kosova. I believe that the Kosova issue is presently at a historic stage and I hope that I will be in a position to do more about it." The prince's father, King Leka Zog, once worked as an adviser to the Saudi government, and "Gazeta Shqiptare" suggested on August 18 that the prince's appointment came at the king's instigation. The Albanian royal family was removed from power by Italian forces in 1939 and subsequently settled in South Africa, where Leka was brought up. Leka Zog reentered Albanian politics in the 1990s, but was charged with sedition after questioning the results of a 1997 referendum that rejected a motion to reinstate the monarchy. He withdrew from party politics in February 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7, 2007). AG


More than 50 people were killed in a wave of suicide attacks and gun battles across Afghanistan on August 25, AP reported. Twelve Taliban fighters died in an artillery battle near the Pakistani-Afghan border following an insurgent attack involving rockets and mortars, a coalition statement said. In southern Kandahar Province, eight police officers were killed and one was missing after insurgents assaulted a police patrol with a bomb, then opened fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, police officer Umar Khan said. In eastern Ghazni Province, police killed 24 militants, thought to be Arabs, between August 25 and August 26, local police chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said. Police in Badghis Province killed five insurgents, according to a police official there. In Helmand Province, a center of Taliban activity and poppy production, Afghan soldiers shot and killed two suspected militants who were planting a roadside bomb, police said. JC

The United States has expressed concern over weakening European commitments to the coalition mission in Afghanistan, as violence soars and support for the mission in allied countries erodes, AFP reported on August 26. The news agency quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying Italy, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands are all debating whether to keep troops in the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan as planned votes approach on their military, reconstruction, and training operations there. The official described public opinion in Italy ahead of a referendum on the country's military presence in Afghanistan as reflecting interest in not so much in aiding Afghanistan, but in how closely the country wants to be associated with the United States, indicating falling public support for the mission. The United States is also concerned about the potential for the withdrawal of military support to spill over into other areas, such as reconstruction. JC

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran on August 26 that there has been no "reduction, cessation, or retreat from" Iran's "peaceful nuclear activities...and these activities are continuing," Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian news agencies. Hosseini said he hopes a report on Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be given to IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei and will influence the next report he issues to the IAEA governing board, probably in September. Iran has recently held talks with IAEA envoys on how to clarify some lingering questions on its nuclear program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 2007). Hosseini also expressed hope that Iran's cooperation will positively influence talks between Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani and Javier Solana, his EU interlocutor. VS

Government spokesman Gholamhussein Elham said in Tehran on August 26 that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has accepted the resignation of the head of the Central Bank, Ibrahim Sheibani, Radio Farda reported, citing news agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007). He added that the appointment of Tahmasb Mazaheri, the head of the Exports Development Bank and former finance minister, to replace Sheibani is "in its last stages, and the president will issue his [appointment] writ after the Central Bank general assembly is convened" on August 28. The change is seen as part of Ahmadinejad's plans to give the executive branch firmer control over the economy, Radio Farda observed. It added that Sheibani was opposed to Ahmadinejad's recent decision to lower and fix bank interest and lending rates for state and private banks, at a level many consider below the effective inflation rate in Iran. According to the Fars news agency, Mazaheri was a deputy governor of Kohgiluyeh va Boyrahmad Province in 1979-82, a deputy head of the Planning and Budget Organization in the Persian year ending in March 1986, the head of the Oppressed and Injured Veterans' Foundation -- a multifaceted state-sector financial and economic concern -- in the year ending March 1992, and later finance minister in 2001-04 in the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami, a deputy finance minister for some months in 2005-06, and head of the state-affiliated Exports Development Bank since the summer of 2006. VS

Radio Farda, citing Iranian news agencies, also reported the imminent appointment of Alireza Afshar, a deputy head of the Iranian armed forces joint headquarters, as the new deputy interior minister for political affairs and head of the ministry's election headquarters. Afshar, a former head of the Basij militia, would replace Mujtaba Samareh-Hashemi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007), and be in charge of organizing the parliamentary elections set for March 2008. Radio Farda noted that Samareh-Hashemi has not confirmed or denied his change of position, though his situation is to be clarified in the coming days. Samareh-Hashemi is considered a close ally of President Ahmadinejad, Radio Farda observed. VS

Vali Azarvash, a member of the Iranian parliament's Construction Committee, said in Tehran on August 26 that "there have been many accidents in our country with Tupolev planes" and it would not be in Iran's interests to buy more of them, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on August 27. He was reacting to reports that Iran plans to buy Tu-204 passenger planes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007). He said, "we are forced due to problems and sanctions and insufficient number of planes in the domestic...fleet to buy and lease a number of airplanes, but countries like Russia and China are not dependable parties in such transactions." "We have repeatedly told the government not to bring into the air fleet planes that are unsuited to the country's climate conditions or are too old," he added. "Regarding Russia, we urge officials to deal with that country with greater caution, especially in buying planes of the Tupolev type, because this type of plane has caused us many problems." Another legislator and member of the parliamentary Industries and Mines Committee, Ismail Gerami-Moqaddam, said on August 26 that Iran has no choice but to buy Russian planes, "with the current sanctions," though he said that new Tupolev models are updated and suited to Iran's climate and "their purchase should not cause...problems." He said previous accidents in Iran were not so much due to the mechanics of Tupolev planes as their age and excessive use, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told reporters at an August 26 press conference that Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish leaders have reached agreement on some key outstanding issues after several weeks of talks, Iraqi media reported. Flanked by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani, Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, and Shi'ite Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi, Talabani said the leaders "agreed on very important foundations," adding that more work needs to be done to resolve other outstanding issues. Iraqi Accordance Front spokesman Salim al-Juburi told Reuters on August 27 that the agreement does not mean that Sunni Arabs are ready to end their boycott of the cabinet. "We are not boycotting political dialogue, but this does not mean that we are returning to the government," he said. Al-Juburi said Sunni Arabs are waiting to see "action on the ground" before they end their boycott. A man identified as Abu al-Muhib al-Baghdadi, a spokesman for the deposed Ba'ath Party, told Al-Jazeera television in an August 26 interview from Damascus that the agreement is a trap and not binding because it was not endorsed by parliament. He added that the Ba'ath Party will not negotiate with U.S. and Iraqi forces until there is full withdrawal of coalition troops, all post-Hussein laws are revoked, and Iraqi and Arab detainees are released from prison. KR

The parties said in a written statement distributed to the media that they agreed to take steps to consolidate participation in the decision-making process and to improve on government performance. They agreed to form a joint parliamentary committee comprised of the heads of political blocs to follow up on core issues. The also agreed to approve "a proposal calling for the release of persons being detained without judicial evidence and the issuance of a special pardon" for some detainees, and to set up special committees on detainees. The parties also have approved the draft law on a higher national commission for accountability and justice to replace the de-Ba'athification law. Also "approved" was the draft law on governorates not belonging to a regional framework. The agreement also called on the preparatory committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007) working on outstanding issues to continue to study proposed constitutional amendments; the oil and gas law; the financial resources law; the formation of committees to work toward securing a national balance in state institutions; and activating the role of the Political Council for National Security and regulating its work, the statement noted. KR

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Al-Sharqiyah television on August 26 that outside criticism of Prime Minister al-Maliki has little impact on events inside Iraq. "Criticism coming from abroad does not represent any legitimacy, as al-Maliki is elected by the parliament," al-Dabbagh said. "In its turn, the elected parliament is the side that has the authority to retain or replace al-Maliki. This is an Iraqi issue. Therefore, any statements coming from abroad by people from faraway places who want to make decisions on behalf of Iraqis are of no value," he added. Al-Maliki has come under harsh criticism in recent days from several members of the U.S. Congress, who have called for his replacement. KR

The Kurdistan region's health minister, Ziryan Uthman, announced on August 26 that five people have died from cholera in the cities of Al-Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported. Saying there have been a few cases of diarrhea in Kirkuk, he added, "There have also been about 2,000 cases of severe diarrhea in Al-Sulaymaniyah, and medical examinations showed that three of [the deaths] in Al-Sulaymaniyah were [due to] cholera." Uthman said those infected were all elderly persons already battling other diseases, suggesting that the victims may have had impaired immune systems. Uthman added that there are currently 150 to 200 known cholera cases in Al-Sulaymaniyah. "We have requested assistance from the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and the Ministry of Health in Baghdad," he noted. KR