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Newsline - September 4, 2007

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told students and faculty of the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) on September 3 that Russia is firmly opposed to the planned U.S. missile-defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic and to any proposal on the final status of Kosova that does not meet with Serbia's approval, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 22, and 24, 2007, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). He called those issues "red lines" in Russian policy, adding that "Russia does not bargain [on matters involving its vital interest], and our international partners must understand this." Lavrov criticized Britain for making a "propaganda show" of its demands for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the 2006 London poisoning death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko. Lavrov selectively quoted several prominent Western political figures as well as President Vladimir Putin in support of his points. In classic Soviet style, he suggested that Russia is an aggrieved party whose trust others must seek to win. Lavrov stressed that the world is multipolar and called on others to overcome their patterns of "zero-sum" thinking left over from the Cold War. PM

Russian media reported on September 3-4 that President Putin will leave soon for Indonesia, the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Australia, and the United Arab Emirates. It will be Putin's first official visit to the three countries and the first-ever visit by a Soviet or Russian leader to Australia. According to the daily "Vedomosti" of September 3, Putin will seek to "lay the foundations of [Far Eastern] policy for his successor." "The Moscow Times" observed on September 4 that Putin's one-day trip to Indonesia, which begins on September 6, could "open the way for billions of dollars of Russian investment in the country's oil and aluminum industries.... Discussions during the visit, which follows a trip to Moscow by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in December, could generate deals worth as much as $10 billion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 4, 2006). On September 4, senior presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko was quoted by Interfax as saying that Putin will hold a bilateral meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the APEC summit in Sidney on September 8-9. Prikhodko said that this is likely to be the last meeting between the two men before Putin leaves office after the March 2008 presidential election. Prikhodko suggested that missile defense, Kosova, and Iraq will be high on their agenda, as well as Russia's proposed membership in the World Trade Organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2007). He added that Russia does not expect a breakthrough on missile defense at the talks, but has "answers to the Americans' questions...and has nothing to fear." During the APEC summit, Putin also expects to meet bilaterally with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, and perhaps other regional leaders. Australian media reported on September 4 that Moscow and Canberra are "close" to reaching an agreement on Australian uranium sales to Russia, which both governments strongly support. Some Australian and Russian opposition leaders have warned Canberra against selling uranium to Moscow, which lacks transparency and democratic controls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 17 and 22, 2007). PM

Twelve long-range, propeller-driven Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear) strategic bombers began a two-day exercise over the Arctic on September 3, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2007). The news agency quoted an air force spokesman as saying that the exercise includes midair refueling and firing cruise missiles. Britain's "Daily Telegraph" noted on September 4 that the Bears are "packed with antiquated technology dating from over 50 years ago." President Putin said on August 17 during military exercises in the Ural Mountains that Russian strategic bombers resumed regular long-range flights after a hiatus of about 15 years. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Kemerovo on August 23 that the primary reason for the flights is "so that Russian pilots can acquire professional experience. There is nothing to worry about." PM

Lithuania's Genocide and Resistance Research Center announced in Vilnius on September 3 that it has launched a website ( intended to shed light on the role of the KGB in the Baltic states in 1940-41 and 1943-91, news agencies reported. The site includes scanned Russian-language reports from KGB departments in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. PM

An opinion survey carried out in 46 Russian regions in late August by VTsIOM, a polling agency close to the government, suggests that 21 percent of Russians consider China to be their country's best friend, followed by Germany and Belarus, reported on August 30. In 2006, a similar survey placed China in third place together with France, but also in second place in a list of Russia's most likely enemies. In 2007, the United States again tops the list of putative foes, but with 26 percent of respondents taking that view, compared to 45 percent in 2006. Second place in that list goes to Georgia, named by 19 percent of respondents, up from 7 percent the previous year. PM

President Vladimir Putin on September 2 signed a presidential decree on the conduct of the December 2 elections for the State Duma, Russian media reported. The decree takes effect as soon as it is published in the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta," which failed to do so on September 3 or 4. The Duma elections will be held for the first time under the modified law on elections. Under current legislation, all 450 deputies will be elected from party lists according to a proportional-representation system, electoral blocs are banned, parties must receive at least 7 percent of the vote in order to gain seats, there is no minimal voter turnout required to validate the poll, and the option of voting "against all" candidates has been eliminated. In order to participate in the elections, parties must either submit 200,000 valid signatures in support of their list of candidates or pay a deposit of 60 million rubles ($2.34 million). Deposits are returned after the poll to all parties that garner at least 4 percent of the vote. Parties with seats in the current Duma -- Unified Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and A Just Russia/Rodina -- are exempt from collecting signatures or paying the deposit. The official campaign season lasts from November 3 until November 30. RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on September 3 that the government has allocated 4.3 billion rubles to pay for the elections. RC

The failure of the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" to publish the presidential decree on elections could benefit the dominant pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, "Vedomosti" reported on September 4. The Kremlin has explained the delay as due to "technical reasons," but unidentified "experts" questioned by "Vedomosti" speculated that the delay is intended to give Unified Russia more time to prepare its documents. By law, the decree must be published within five days of being signed. Under the decree, parties must submit their lists of candidates within 30 days of the decree's publication. Unified Russia is scheduled to hold its party congress, at which its list will be approved, on October 3, which would give it a very short period in which to prepare the hundreds of documents that must be submitted to the Central Election Commission. According to the daily, just the list of necessary documents is five pages long. Commentator Aleksandr Kynev told the daily that it is to the advantage of parties to hold their congresses as late as possible, because once the party lists are official, campaign-spending limitations come into effect. According to an August public-opinion poll by the Levada Center, 59 percent of respondents say they will vote for Unified Russia, which would give it 285 Duma seats. Eighteen percent support the Communist Party, giving it 87 seats; 9 percent favor A Just Russia, giving it 44 seats; and 7 percent say they will vote for the LDPR, translating into 34 seats. Yabloko, the Agrarian Party, and the Union of Rightist Forces would fail to gain seats. RC

The current State Duma returned from summer vacation and began its final session on September 3, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported. "It is clear that the session has an election character," Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told journalists. "Many deputies will be working in the regions. Therefore we have decided to create conditions for those deputies and two weeks of each month will be 'regional weeks.'" Gryzlov emphasized, however, that the Duma will continue the "constructive and effective" work it carried out in earlier sessions. RosBalt reported on September 4 that the current Duma so far has considered 2,492 bills and has passed 975 of them. The current Duma session is expected to take up measures including limitations on foreign investment in strategic sectors, the construction of nuclear power stations, and bills related to holding the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, ITAR-TASS reported. RC

Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has removed Sergei Ivanov, the head of the Prosecutor-General's Office department charged with investigating particularly serious cases, from heading the investigation into the October 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Russian media reported on September 4. Chaika named Ivanov's deputy, Andrei Maiorov, to head the probe, according to unconfirmed reports. Chaika also removed prosecutor Pyotr Garibyan from the case, Interfax reported. The Moscow District Military Court on September 3 nullified the arrest of Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov, who is being held under kidnapping charges, as well as in connection with the Politkovskaya case. The Moscow court did not order Ryaguzov's release. Chaika on August 27 told journalists that the Politkovskaya case has been solved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007), but his version was met with skepticism and the case has run into difficulties since (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). "Vremya novostei" on September 4 compared the Politkovskaya investigation to the case of Dmitry Kholodov, a "Moskovsky komsomolets" journalist who was murdered in 1994. After several trials, all those charged in the Kholodov case were acquitted and the murder remains unsolved. RC

Residents of the city of Kondopoga, in the Republic of Karelia, on September 3 marked the first anniversary of rioting there that left two locals dead, "Kommersant" and other Russian media reported on September 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 2006). The violence has been attributed to business conflicts between local residents and newcomers from the Caucasus region. Fewer than 100 residents gathered on September 3 to mark the tragedy, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. About 150 people gathered in Moscow at an event organized by the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, "Kavkazkii uzel" reported. In March, a local court convicted Sergei Mozgalev and Yury Pliev of hooliganism; Mozgalev was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, while Pliev received an eight-month term. Six natives of the North Caucasus are on trial in connection with the two killings. Aleksei Malashenko, a political scientist with the Moscow Carnegie Center, told RFE/RL that ethnic conflicts are inevitable in Russia, although the authorities can take measures to minimize them. "Much depends on what is done locally," he said. "Because these conflicts erupt not always because there are a lot of Caucasians, a lot of other ethnic groups. They erupt because of the way the authorities treat [these groups], because of the way [the authorities] take advantage of their presence, and because the migrants are not able to fit into the surrounding environment. And this is the fault, but also the misfortune of the people. It takes a long time to educate them." RC

In a September 3 statement posted on, the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded the immediate release of two members of the Joint Peacekeeping Force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone whom Georgian police detained on August 29. A Georgian district court sentenced Vitaly Valiyev and Tariel Khachirov on August 30 to two months' pretrial detention on charges of having abducted three people on August 26 and four Georgian television journalists on August 27; all seven were released on August 27. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement termed the arrest a "gross violation" of the 1994 protocol on the deployment of the Joint Peacekeeping Force; that protocol reportedly stipulates that in the event of wrongdoing, those servicemen fall under the jurisdiction of their own country. On August 31, the website quoted Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze as saying Georgia was justified in arresting the two men, who he claimed were permanent residents of the breakaway republic of South Ossetia serving illegally in the North Ossetian peacekeeping contingent. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Valiyev and Khachirov both hold Russian passports. LF

Relatives of those killed during the September 2004 school hostage-taking in Beslan met on September 1 in Moscow with State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, reported on September 2. Susanna Dudiyeva, who heads the Beslan Mothers Committee, said that they again raised questions left unanswered by the official investigation, including who authorized the use of flamethrowers and the reason for the two-hour delay before fire trucks reached the blazing school building. The official investigation concluded that the hostage takers were to blame for the explosion that triggered the September 3 assault on the school during which most of the fatalities occurred (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2005). Dudiyeva said the Beslan Mothers protested the rejection by the Prosecutor-General's Office of their joint demand to bring criminal charges of dereliction of duty against officials who failed to prevent the storm of the school. Also on September 1, lawyer Taimuraz Chedjemov announced that after receiving a death threat last month, he will no longer represent the Beslan Mothers in their attempt to bring such charges and to overturn the amnesty granted in May to three Ossetian police officers charged with negligence for not having prevented the seizure of the school by armed Chechen militants. Gryzlov, who visited North Ossetia to participate in a remembrance ceremony to mark the third anniversary of the hostage taking, said on September 1 that a special committee within the Prosecutor-General's Office will take up the investigation "within the next few days." LF

Over 140 residents of Ingushetia's Karabulak Raion addressed an open letter on September 3 to republican Prosecutor Yury Turygin protesting his statement that Apti Dolakov, a 21-year-old man gunned down on the street by Interior Ministry troops the previous day, was a "wahhabi" and belonged to a "terrorist group," the website reported. Police subsequently claimed Dolakov had a grenade in his possession; quoted one of several eyewitnesses who said the grenade was planted on his body after he was killed. Turygin also said that Dolakov was killed during a "special operation" to apprehend militants, and denied reports of a shoot-out involving police and security personnel. Interfax on September 3 quoted an unidentified Interior Ministry official as saying that Interior Ministry troops called on Dolakov to stand still and raise his hands, and shot him when he tried to flee; quoted an eyewitness as saying Dolakov was shot first in the leg, then in the stomach, after which an FSB official killed him with a shot in the head. LF

Also in the town of Karabulak, gunmen forced their way during the night of August 30-31 into the home of Russian teacher Vera Draganchuk and shot dead her husband and two sons, reported. Draganchuk managed to escape. The website on August 31 quoted an official from the Ingushetian prosecutor's office as saying that the killings were committed by the same persons who shot another Russian teacher, Lyudmila Terekhina, and two of her children in July; Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov was quoted last week, however, as saying that Terekhina's killers have been apprehended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19 and August 30, 2007). In a statement posted on September 3 on the resistance website, the Ingushetian jamaat denied responsibility for killing the Terekhina family and affirmed that "if people live peacefully, whether they are Russians, Chechens, Koreans, or representatives of other nationalities, we have no grudge against them provided they do not participate in the struggle against Islam." On August 31, a powerful car bomb exploded outside a cultural center in Nazran, killing four police officers and injuring a fifth, Russian media reported. LF

The local prosecutor in Daghestan's Kazbekov Raion opened a criminal case on August 30 in connection with a brawl the previous day in the village of Kalinin-Aul between some 60-100 Laks and Chechens, reported. Eight people were injured in that fight, including two police officers and a 25-year-old woman. The arrest of some 15 participants in the fight triggered a mass demonstration outside the local police headquarters; the protesters dispersed only after the arrival on August 30 of Gadji Makhachev, leader of the Lak national movement, who also represents Daghestan in the Russian State Duma, Umar Djabrailov, who represents Chechnya in the Federation Council, and Chechen Interior Ministry representatives. Other government officials, including deputy ministers for interethnic relations from both republics, and Islamic clergymen traveled to Kalinin-Aul to meet with villagers on September 1, reported. Makhachev urged local residents to "move on and forget all past grievances," meaning the resettlement of Laks in what are now the Kazbekov and Novolak Raions of Daghestan following the deportation of the Chechen population in 1944, the subsequent abolition of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR as a separate territorial-administrative unit, the transfer of Chechnya's Aukh Raion to the Daghestan ASSR, and the Chechens' postrepatriation campaign to induce the Laks to leave and resettle elsewhere (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," February 10, 2006). LF

Unidentified gunmen shot Gimbat Musayev late on September 2 as he was returning with his wife to home in Makhachkala, reported on September 3. Musayev, 35, was director of the Daghestan subsidiary of St. Petersburg-based Promstroibank, a member of the Vneshtorgbank group. LF

The Supreme Court of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) annulled on August 17 the results of the March 11 mayoral election in Karachayevsk, the republic's second-largest town, reported with a two-week delay on September 3. According to incomplete official returns, the election was won by opposition candidate Magomet Botashev, a political ally of then KChR Supreme Court judge Islam Burlakov, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2003 presidential election against Mustafa Batdyev. Burlakov's term as Supreme Court chairman has not been extended. Incumbent mayor Sapar Laipanov is a Batdyev ally. The Russian Supreme Court in July overturned an earlier ruling by the KChR Supreme Court that the election was valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2007). No date has yet been set for a repeat election. LF

Acting on a request from Armenia's National Security Service, a Yerevan district court on August 31 remanded former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian in pre-trial detention for a further two months, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Arzumanian was taken into custody four months ago and charged with money-laundering in connection with a large sum found during a search of his apartment that he allegedly received from a Moscow-based Armenian businessman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7 and 11, June 21, and July 9, 2007). Arzumanian, who heads a small opposition group that campaigns for peaceful regime change, rejects that charge as politically motivated. His lawyer Hovik Arsenian on August 31 branded "illegal and pathetic" the argument adduced by the National Security Service that, if released on bail, Arzumanian could "obstruct" the ongoing investigation or possibly flee the country. On September 3, Arsenian formally appealed the extension of his client's pretrial detention, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

Commenting on August 31 on a bill submitted to parliament by opposition Zharangutiun party leader Raffi Hovannisian, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian said that while achieving international recognition of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as an independent state has and will remain a top foreign-policy priority, the time has not yet come for Armenia to do so, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He added that Yerevan should wait until recognition would prove "maximally effective." Armenia has consistently said it will recognize the NKR as soon as another state sets the precedent for doing so; Hovannisian argued that Armenia should abandon that policy and become the first country to recognize the NKR, but members of the majority Republican Party of Armenia countered that doing so would jeopardize the ongoing search for a political solution to the Karabakh conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007). Hovannisian, however, rejected that argument, insisting that formal recognition of the NKR "would in no way instigate another war," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on September 3. He also dismissed as prompted by "personal jealousy" insinuations by some parliament deputies that his initiative was launched primarily to boost his own personal standing. In Baku, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibragim told a press conference on September 3 that he hopes the Armenian leadership will finally acknowledge that the most opportune moment to recognize Karabakh's independence will never come, as doing so would be tantamount to "suicide," the daily reported on September 4. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met in Brussels on September 3 on the sidelines of a meeting of mostly foreign ministers of countries participating in the EU's European Neighborhood Policy with the French and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, reported. LF

Elcin Shikhlinsky, who is editor in chief of the daily "Ayna/Zerkalo," and two journalists from that paper, Ibragim Bayandurlu and Rauf Mirkadyrov, were summoned on August 30 to the National Security Ministry and questioned for several hours in connection with an article in that day's issue of the paper by Bayandurlu and Mirkadyrov suggesting that the collapse two days earlier of a multistory building under construction in Baku may have been caused by an act of terrorism, reported on August 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 30, and 31, 2007). That article repeated the hypothesis advanced by the owner of the construction firm in question that the collapse was caused by a terrorist act. It further quoted the owner of a store in the vicinity who claimed that a young man of Slavic appearance spent over an hour photographing the construction site from all angles two days before it collapsed. In that context, the authors referred to the concept of "latent terror," and implied that it could be in Russia's interest to destabilize the political situation in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the presidential ballot due in October 2008. The NGO Institute for the Rights of the Media commented on August 31 that the security ministry officials violated the law on the media by insisting that the two journalists reveal their sources, reported on August 31. Speaking at a press conference on August 30, Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Vasily Istratov condemned the "Ayna/Zerkalo" article as violating journalistic ethics and intended to damage Russian-Azerbaijani relations, reported. LF

Speaking on August 30 in Tamarasheni, Mikheil Saakashvili described the new government appointments of the previous two days as part of a permanent process of renovation and infusion of new blood, Caucasus Press reported. He said that the Georgian government differs from those of other countries by virtue of being "a stable team, an organic whole that conducts a single policy." On August 31, State Minister for Reform Coordination Kakha Bendukidze predicted that the cabinet reshuffle will not result in serious policy changes as "we have a long-term program that has been approved by the cabinet," but he did not rule out unspecified amendments to that program. The daily "Rezonansi" on August 31 quoted analyst Gia Khukhashvili as saying the reshuffle strengthens the position of Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, several of whose proteges have been promoted. Opposition Tavisupleba (Liberty) party leader Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, son of deceased former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, predicted that the personnel changes will have no positive impact, Caucasus Press reported on August 30. "It is a matter for regret that ministers in Georgia are appointed on the basis of their party affiliation, rather than their professional skills," Gamsakhurdia was quoted as saying. Opposition Conservative Party Chairman Zviad Dzidziguri for his part branded the new government program, which is to be put to a vote on September 7, as "a collection of toasts," Caucasus Press reported on September 3. He added that "only idiots could adopt such a document," and vowed that his party's faction in parliament will vote against the program and the new appointments. LF

In a ceremony in Astana, President Nursultan Nazarbaev presided on September 2 over the first joint session of the Mazhilis and extended his personal congratulations to deputies before giving a speech in which he enumerated the challenges facing the new legislature, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Asia-Plus reported. Nazarbaev called for a 50 percent increase in per capita gross domestic product (GDP), to reach $13,000 by 2012, and pledged to create one of the most advanced health-care systems, suggesting that another 150 new hospitals and 300 health centers be built in rural areas, and calling for improvements in the salaries of medical workers and the quality of medical services. Nazarbaev also stressed that "for the first time, the people voted not for individual candidates, but for parties' programs," referring to the fact that last month's elections were held exclusively under the proportional system, and warned that the deputies should therefore "be focused on parties' positions." The ruling Nur Otan (Light of the Fatherland) party, which Nazarbaev leads, is the only party represented in the new parliament, after it garnered 88 percent of the vote, winning all 98 contested seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2007). Claiming the recent elections herald a new period of democratic development, Nazarbaev also hailed the "constitutional changes adopted recently," which endowed the Mazhilis with significantly more authority, including the selection of the prime minister, but also abolished all presidential term limits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). RG

Deputies participating in the first meeting of the new Mazhilis unanimously voted on September 2 to elect former Deputy Prime Minister Aslan Musin as the new parliament speaker, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan. The deputies also chose Sergei Dyachenko and Bakytzhan Zhumagulov as the new deputy speakers, prior to selecting the chairmen of committees in the lower house. The newly elected parliamentarians formally took the oath of office in a ceremony presided over by President Nazarbaev, promising to honestly serve the Kazakh people. The Mazhilis also voted in support of a measure extending "confidence" in the government of Prime Minister Karim Masimov, thereby giving him a renewed mandate to form a new cabinet. RG

A Kazakh district court in Almaty ruled on September 3 that the authorities must immediately release imprisoned Nurbank official Abilmazhin Gilimov and ordered the arrest of officials who ordered his imprisonment, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Gilimov's defense attorney, Marat Murzin, recently announced that prosecutors have dropped all criminal charges against his client, the former chairman of Nurbank, who was charged along with several unnamed police officers in connection with an "attack" on the Nurbank offices earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). The bank was then controlled by Rakhat Aliev, the former son-in-law of President Nazarbaev, and the "attack" on the bank and a related kidnapping was reportedly an attempt by Aliev to force the executives to sell their interests in a building in Almaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, and 13, 2007). Aliev, until recently the Kazakh ambassador to Austria, remains in Austria after a Kazakh extradition request was rejected by an Austrian court on the grounds that Aliev cannot expect to receive a fair trial in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline" August 9, 2007). RG

Addressing members of the Kyrgyz parliament in Bishkek on September 3, Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev rejected reports that the authorities intend to dissolve the parliament, noting that the deputies and the government are "actively and effectively cooperating," according to the website. Pointedly reiterating that "no one is going to dissolve the Kyrgyz parliament," Atambaev added that "five months have already passed since the formation of our government" and "we have always" enjoyed the parliament's support. He further pledged that the parliament and government will continue to "work together to maintain stability, tolerance and forbearance in the country." RG

Following Prime Minister Atambaev's call to "work together to maintain stability," parliamentarian Kamchybek Tashiev sharply criticized the government on September 3, calling on the senior leadership to resign over a recent increase in the price of basic foodstuffs, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and In a speech to the first session of parliament since the summer recess, Tashiev accused the government of failing to adopt preventive measures against price hikes in food staples, particularly flour and bread. He further rejected the government's defense that the price rises were the result of an increase in inflation, criticizing their lack of response by saying that "no action is seen on the part of our government." Two other deputies, Temir Saryev and Asamiddin Maripov, also joined in the criticism, proposing that the government provide immediate financial aid and raise wages to help the people weather the price rises. For his part, Atambaev rejected the criticism and refused to resign, saying that doing so would only "weaken stability in the country." He also noted that the price rises were linked to inflationary pressure stemming from increases in grain prices in neighboring Kazakhstan. RG

In a speech marking Uzbekistan's Independence Day, President Islam Karimov presented on September 3 an overview of "important and pressing tasks" facing the country, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. He stressed that the strategy to realize his stated priority of improving living standards will comprise economic growth, the "implementation of strong social policies, supporting young families, increasing wages, services, pensions, social benefits, and stipends by two to 2 1/2 times over the course of the next three years." The detailed speech was viewed as a hint that Karimov plans to remain in office even after the scheduled December presidential election. Although Karimov is currently serving his second and last term as president, a limit imposed by the constitution, he has previously extended his term in office twice, by holding national referendums in 1995 and 2002. The constitution, which set December 23 as the date of the presidential election, also stipulates that the election must be formally announced three months before, meaning September 23. No one has yet announced their candidacy for the presidency. RG

Several dozen local residents in the Oltiaryq district of eastern Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley staged demonstrations on September 3 protesting the recent price increases for a number of basic foodstuffs, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The protest was triggered after a sharp rise in the prices for staple foodstuffs, and meat, flour, and vegetable oil in particular. The latest price for a kilogram of flour was 1,200 Uzbek soms (just less than $1) while the official minimum monthly salary is only $12. Local human-rights activist Abdusalom Ergashev said that local officials met with the protesters after dozens of residents marched from the Yangi-arab village to the Oltiaryq district administration building and on to the Ferghana regional government building. Other reports said that similar protests were held in various other towns and cities in the Ferghana Valley, including Andijon, the site of a violent confrontation between residents and police in May 2005, according to the Uzmetronom website. RG

While visiting a farm in Minsk Oblast on September 1, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reiterated his earlier warning that the government will scale down aid to the agricultural sector, and will subsidize only profitable farms, Belapan reported. Lukashenka elaborated by saying that subsidies will be given only for specific agricultural projects expected to yield a profit. "We will probably issue interest-free loans or even donate money" for such projects, he said. "We need an economy of the future. That's why we will be giving money only to those directors who are able to guarantee that the project will live up to their promises." The same day, Lukashenka also inaugurated a newly built school in Minsk Oblast, where he spoke about the education sector. Some Belarusian independent media reported that in Lukashenka's speeches, he notably failed to comment on a suggestion made last week by Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Surikov that Russia might consider deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28 and 29, 2007). Surikov's pronouncement made headlines in the world media. JM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 3 that Russia does not plan to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, Belapan reported. "We don't have such plans; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already spoken about this. Belarus has its [nuclear-weapons-free] status, which is specified in its constitution. I believe the issue is closed," Lavrov noted. JM

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that the increased price of Russian gas for Belarus, along with unfavorable new terms of trade in crude oil and petroleum products, may result in losses estimated at 10-15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2012, Belapan reported on August 31. "Belarus now pays Russia twice as much for gas supplies as in 2006, and one-fifth more as a share of world market prices for crude oil. This results in an estimated loss of 5 1/2 percent of GDP in 2007, of which about 1 1/2 percentage points could be offset by higher export prices and lower energy intensity of production. Subsequent losses will be smaller, particularly if additional declines in energy intensity occur, but cumulative losses through 2012 may reach 10-15 percent of GDP," the IMF said in a note published after the end of consultations with Belarus last week. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on September 4 opened a session with the participation of 269 deputies from the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, Ukrainian media reported. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz said the session is being held in accordance with the Ukrainian Constitution. "Various individuals are surely aware that they are doing wrong, but they maniacally continue to distort the constitution, laws, and other normative acts, trying to ruin the constitutional order in the country and create chaos in governance," Moroz said. "It is sad that this drive against the constitution has been headed by President Viktor Yushchenko, who, because of his office, should take the opposite stance and become a guarantor of the constitution." The one-day parliamentary session is reportedly intended to address the issue of stripping lawmakers and senior officials of their immunity from prosecution and other privileges. Since parliamentary immunity is a constitutional provision, its cancellation requires at least 300 votes. JM

President Yushchenko said in a televised address to the nation on September 3 that the parliamentary session planned for September 4 is a "provocation" intended to derail the early parliamentary elections on September 30. Yushchenko reiterated his position that the Verkhovna Rada is illegitimate, adding that any potential resolution will have "no practical force of law or political effect." "I want to say calmly and firmly: esteemed deputies, calm down, do not abuse the people's patience, do not make the Verkhovna Rada a circus, a laughing-stock," Yushchenko added. The proposal to strip parliamentarians of immunity from prosecution was raised by Yushchenko and the propresidential Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and Our-Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc during the ongoing election campaign. The propresidential camp believes, however, that this issue should be tackled by a newly elected legislature. JM

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on September 3 described Kosova as one of Russia's two "red line" issues in Europe "where our national security or the world order is threatened." The other is opposition to U.S. plans to build a missile-defense system in Central Europe. On these issues, Lavrov told a university audience in Moscow, "we cannot fail to react and we must stick to our position to the end." Russia has so far insisted that the only acceptable resolution of Kosova's status is one acceptable to Serbia, a position that prompted the United States and Europe to withdraw a resolution on Kosova's future from the UN Security Council in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 23, 2007). "Russia does not horse-trade and our international partners must understand that," Lavrov said. AG

Russia would accept the division of Kosova if that were agreed by Belgrade and Prishtina, Reuters quoted Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov as saying on August 31. Asked if Russia would agree to partition, Lavrov said Russia, the European Union, and the United States will accept "whatever" agreement the two sides reach on the future of Kosova. The EU's mediator in negotiations on Kosova's future, Wolfgang Ischinger, made a similar statement on August 12, triggering a surge in discussion about the possibility of partition. Kosovar Albanian media on September 3 quoted the U.S. envoy, Frank Wisner, as saying that "all ideas are on the table" and are "a matter of agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina," but he added that "it is too early to talk about alternative solutions." The possibility of partition was not brought up at talks held in Vienna on August 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). While a willingness to accept partition is in line with the stated purpose of the talks -- to achieve an agreement between the two sides -- the issue raises questions about outside powers' perceptions of the security situation in the region. Serbia and Kosova officially reject the concept of partition on the basis of principle, and have not discussed the security implications of partition. The United States has argued that the status quo is more dangerous than independence, while Russia is phlegmatic in its views of the current security situation but has warned that a decision imposed on Serbia could jeopardize security in the Balkans and set a dangerous precedent in Europe and the former Soviet Union. Individual European leaders have warned about the destabilizing impact of a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosova, and, according to the Kosovar Albanian media on August 30 and 31, German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung said during a visit to Prishtina that partition would be the "wrong step." However, European leaders have not commented on the security implications of partition. AG

Serbian officials have warned that Serbia would retaliate if Kosova were to declare independence unilaterally. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on August 30, according to Serbian public television, that "if someone inflicts damage on you, then you, bearing in mind the situation and the circumstances, have to inflict some damage in return. That way one preserves one's integrity, as well as the dignity of the state and its citizens." Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told local and international media on August 31 that "Serbia would have no choice but to respond to acts that would jeopardize its sovereignty and territorial integrity." Neither indicated what form Serbia's retaliation might take, and Jeremic reiterated that Serbia would not allow itself to return to the international isolation it experienced in the 1990s. According to Serbian television, Jeremic said there are many possible responses that Serbian politicians and diplomats could choose from. While Kostunica said on August 31 that it is too early to say what retaliatory measures would be taken, his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said in a statement released on September 2 that "one of the possible responses that we yet have to discuss is that the Serbian parliament adopt a decision that our country cannot become a member of NATO." Many in the DSS leadership have already accused the United States of seeking to transform Kosova into a "NATO puppet state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 20, 21, and 24, 2007). Kostunica warned both before and after the Vienna talks that Kosova might well declare independence unilaterally by the end of the year. Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku fanned Kostunica's concerns on August 30 when he said that, if he remains prime minister, Kosova would not accept further talks on the future of Kosova. According to AP on August 31, he also said that after December 10 "we have to declare [independence], and we are going to ask the international community to recognize us" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). However, Ceku maintained that the Kosovar leadership's position that it will not act without the support of the United States and Europe, AP reported. AG

Boris Tadic announced on September 1 that he will run for a second term as Serbia's president, local media reported. Tadic heads the largest governing party and the second-largest parliamentary party, the Democrats (DS). One coalition party, G17 Plus, already said on August 26 it will back a second term for Tadic. The new president will be chosen in direct elections; the two parties won a combined 29.6 percent of the popular vote in parliamentary elections in January 2007. The date of the elections remains uncertain, with the DS calling for elections to be held this year and its chief coalition partner, the DSS, arguing on September 3 for the vote to be delayed until the future of Kosova is settled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). No other politician has announced his or her candidacy. Tadic said he will soon present a manifesto for national development. Tadic underlined his position as the country's most powerful proponent of EU accession, saying the Democrats "will never give up the European pathway of Serbia, and Serbia should be a member of the EU at the end of that road." Serbia's EU ambitions are currently being eclipsed politically by the debate about the future of Kosova, with some politicians warning that the EU's stated position in support of independence for Kosova could significantly undermine public support for Serbia to join the EU. AG

Kosovars will vote in local and parliamentary elections on November 17, the head of the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), Joachim Ruecker, said on August 31. The initial decision to hold elections was made in mid-August. Ruecker reiterated, however, that he might abort the elections depending on the situation in talks on the future of Kosova and "especially if [the elections] are used as an excuse for [the] postponement" of a resolution, the daily "Express" quoted him as saying. Kosovar Serbs are split on whether to take part in the elections or whether, as they did in 2004, to boycott the polls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9 and 20, 2007). Ethnic Serbs and other minorities are guaranteed 20 seats in the 120-member parliament. The other 100 seats will be decided in direct elections based on proportional representation; the threshold for a party to enter parliament is 5 percent of the popular vote. The elections will be run under a system of proportional representation. Four of the 12 posts in the Central Election Commission will be held by ethnic minorities, including one Serb. Mayors will need to win the support of 50 percent of the electorate, if need be in a runoff. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reportedly estimates that 1.5 million people will be eligible to vote, an increase of 100,000 since the last elections, in 2003. AG

The director of Serbia's Security and Information Agency (BIA), Rade Bulatovic, said on August 30 that one of the two men most wanted by war-crimes prosecutors, Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic, was probably in hiding in Serbia until 2005. Mladic has been on the run from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) since 1995. In its most recent comments on Mladic's whereabouts, in June 2007, the ICTY maintained that Mladic remains in Serbia and the Serbian authorities in recent months have carried out two raids that are known to have targeted Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10 and 18, June 19, 28, and 31, 2007). Bulatovic told the daily "Danas" that the "BIA did not keep an eye" on Mladic and that the information that Mladic was in Serbia until 2005 was "not fully confirmed." Bulatovic did not give any indication where Mladic might now be. Bulatovic has come in for criticism for contacts with Milorad "Legija" Ulemek-Lukovic, who has since been jailed for his role in the murders of Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and the attempted murder of Vuk Draskovic, an opposition leader at the time and subsequently Serbia's foreign minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2007). Bulatovic told "Danas" that it was "normal" for the head of a security agency to meet with what he described as the "most wanted fugitive in Serbia" of the day. AG

Serbia's top war-crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, indicated on August 25 that Serbian police have evidence that Mladic remains in Serbia. Vukcevic told the daily "Danas" that "we have no reliable information" that Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, is in Serbia, "so our activities are directed at the other three" fugitives: Mladic, Goran Hadzic, and Stojan Zupljanin. He did not elaborate on his claim that he has "reliable information" that Mladic is in Serbia, but said that the arrest of another fugitive, Zdravko Tolimir, in May "has considerably decapitated" the networks helping the fugitives "and we are definitely making progress to the ultimate goal" of capturing those wanted by ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). Vukcevic said that "far more democratic winds" are now blowing in Serbia's security services, and that the stance of Serbia's new justice minister, Dusan Petrovic, is "encouraging," and he predicted that parliament will "soon" adopt a proposal that would help war-crimes prosecutors close down the war-crimes indictees' support networks. However, he also mentioned continuing problems that prosecutors face, including understaffing in the police force and the continued presence of "many policemen" who "violated moral, social, and humanitarian laws" in Kosova. Vukcevic added that, for prosecutors, anonymous threats are less worrying than "public calls" in parliament for the "lynching" of judges and prosecutors. AG

The Bosnian Serbs' most powerful politician, Milorad Dodik, on August 31 joined the country's leading Bosnian Muslim politicians in rejecting a new plan for police reform drafted by the international community's new representative in the country, Miroslav Lajcak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). "This proposal cannot have our support as it absolutely does not aim to support our stance, nor is it an attempt at a compromise," Dodik told journalists. Dodik, who heads the government of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated autonomous region, said he received the proposal that morning. Dodik did not elaborate on his reasons for rejecting Lajcak's proposals, which remain confidential. Dodik has consistently refused to countenance any suggestion that the Republika Srpska might lose its autonomy or any of its powers. The EU and the United States have both expressed disappointment at Bosnian politicians' decision to reject Lajcak's plan. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned in a statement issued on August 31 that rejection of the plan "has set back Bosnia-Herzegovina's chances of concluding a Stabilization and Association Agreement," a first step toward full EU membership, and that Bosnia "now risks falling farther behind its neighbors and ending up last on the road to Europe." AG

The president of the Republika Srpska, Milan Jelic, and Bosnian Serbs in the country's state-level parliament on August 30 said they will ask the Republika Srpska's Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the transfer of some powers from the autonomous region to the state. The move already has the backing of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik and Nikola Spiric, a Bosnian Serb who heads the federal government, the Council of Ministers. Jelic and Spiric are both members of a party headed by Dodik, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). "Many transferred authorities did not produce results," Dodik said on August 27. "We will not destabilize institutions but will ask for our rights in these institutions -- and constitutional courts are here for that," he said. Sulejman Tihic, the leader of the largest Bosnian Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), on August 29 called the Bosnian Serb initiative "an attempt to divert attention from more important issues that should be decided now, primarily police reform. There are no political or formal conditions for such a decision [on the transfer of powers], as this requires the consent of both entities and the state." Tihic is one of the leaders to have already rejected High Representative Lajcak's plans for police reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). Bosnia-Herzegovina TV1 on August 29 aired conflicting views by constitutional experts on the legality of a return of powers. AG

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dodik on August 30 voiced support for the creation of an autonomous region for Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croatian population. The country is currently divided into two autonomous entities, one dominated by ethnic Serbs and the other principally populated by Muslims and Croats. Dodik made his comment during a meeting with the Catholic archbishop of Sarajevo, Cardinal Vinko Puljic. Dodik urged ethnic Croats displaced by the 1992-95 war to return to the Republika Srpska, offering them security guarantees and promising "help that would stimulate the idea of...a sustainable return," the daily "Nezavisne novine" reported on August 31. The possibility of a separate ethnically distinctive Croatian entity has yet to be advocated by the country's largest Croatian parties, and runs counter to the vision promoted by some Bosnian Muslim leaders and Bosnia's most senior Croatian politician, Zeljko Komsic, who want the entities to be abandoned and replaced by multiethnic regions. In an interview published by the daily "Vecernji list" on August 24, Komsic was highly critical of Dodik, saying that Dodik is "actively working on the destruction" of a Bosnian national identity on behalf of and in coordination with Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica. But, Komsic continued, Dodik "cannot make me sick of my country. My message to him is that I can swallow as many Milorad Dodiks as it takes. We fought and beat 'the big fish' such as [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic, and this too will pass." AG

The Bosnian Serbs' pending move to recoup powers ceded to state-level institutions is being accompanied by continuing strong rhetoric. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik has not repeated comments in which he said, "it would suit [Bosnian Serbs] if Kosovo declared independence," seemingly threatening secession, and which prompted the international community's high representative, Miroslav Lajcak, to threaten him with sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2007). However, Dodik on August 27 likened Bosnian Muslim leaders to Milosevic, the Serbian leader viewed by many as the prime mover in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. They "are doing the same thing Slobodan Milosevic was doing in the 1990s, saying that no one is good except themselves, which brought about the collapse of the former Yugoslavia," the news agency SRNA quoted Dodik as saying. "If the politicians in Sarajevo continue along these lines, they will dissolve Bosnia-Herzegovina," he continued. His comments were part of a speech in which he sought to portray the insistence by some Bosnian Muslim politicians that the Republika Srpska should be disbanded as the chief source of instability in the country. "We will respect others as much as they respect us; we are asking for nothing more than that," Dodik said, while insisting that Bosnian Muslims are seeking to humiliate Serbs. "Since we are constantly being belittled by the leaders in Sarajevo and told that we cannot exist, we say to them that they cannot either," he said. Two days later, on August 29 Dodik described Bosnia as an "obstruction to the Republika Srpska's development," Bosnian Serb radio reported. "We want to be partners in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but, if you do not respect us as partners, why should we respect your love for Bosnia-Herzegovina?" he said. He then appeared to make an unspecific threat, saying, "either we are partners in everything or do not expect anything from us." Dodik also courted controversy in an interview published by "Dnevni avaz" on August 27 in which he called Bosnian Muslim politicians "obedient sycophants" of Bosnia's grand mufti, Reis-ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric, whom he accused of wanting to drive Serbs from areas dominated by Muslims. He also accused Lajcak's deputy, Raffi Gregorian, of portraying Ceric as "an ayatollah, endowed with both secular and religious powers," adding, "It is clear that a part of the international community is always ready to make concessions to [Bosnian Muslims] to the detriment of Serbs and the Republika Srpska." Dodik has downplayed Lajcak's warning, saying on various occasions since then that Lajcak has been misinformed by members of his team and that he is "absolutely not" afraid of Lajcak's threat. AG

A total of 17,882 people are still missing from conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Paul Henri Arni, head of the International Red Cross in Belgrade, said on August 30. The vast majority, 13,500, disappeared during the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 28 and August 29, 2007). The 1991-95 war in Croatia left 2,386 people missing and the 1998-99 conflict in Kosova left 2,047 people unaccounted for. The findings were released to mark the International Day of the Disappeared. Official estimates suggest that the Balkan wars left around 200,000 people dead. AG

At long last, its neighborhood is coming back into focus for the European Union. But the constitutional crisis, provoked by the enlargement of 2004 and now seemingly resolved, has left the EU a different place -- and, consequently, the neighborhood, too. The first-ever all-EU and all-neighborhood conference in Brussels on September 3 bore eloquent witness to this (see "EU: Neighborhood Policy Focuses On Economics, Not Membership,", September 3, 2007).

Before 2004, the predominant perception of the incipient European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) was as an extension of enlargement, inspired by it and possibly leading to another wave of accessions in an, admittedly, far-off future. Unveiling the first ENP blueprint, then-European Commission President Romano Prodi said in 2002 that the offer to the neighbors would extend to "everything, but [participation in] EU institutions."

Last week, the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told RFE/RL that view had been "too simplistic." Pragmatic economic integration, she said, has turned out to be much more essential than grand political vistas.

The EU now abhors any reference to enlargement in the same breath with the prospects of the neighborhood. Officially, the ENP takes no stand on the issue of accession prospects. But the reality of the EU's focus increasingly belies that interpretation.

Nowhere is this clearer than the increasing lumping of all the 16 neighbors together and avoiding any regional differentiation. This has been one of the key messages of the Brussels conference, which contained no regional workshops or speaker lists.

At one level, the rationale for this appears perfectly plausible. Differentiation would only provoke an unseemly scramble among the neighbors for patronage and money. It would also pit the "special interests" of the different EU member states against one another, warned European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on September 3.

But the scramble for the money has already taken place -- and was resolved in the favor of the Mediterranean neighbors. In 2007-13, they get nearly two-thirds of the 12 billion euros ($16 billion) available for the neighborhood.

More importantly from an eastern perspective, identification with the south automatically undermines the membership credentials of such hopefuls in the east as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The Mediterranean countries were to all practical intents and purposes disqualified from EU membership when Morocco's 1987 application was rejected by the bloc on the grounds that the country is "not European."

Regional differentiation could offer the eastern neighbors some comfort, but the larger truth is that today's one-size-fits-all approach accurately mirrors the weight of the consensus among the 27 member states. Further enlargement is anathema for their publics and cannot therefore be pursued.

This has translated itself into a transformation of priorities. The emphasis on common values, democratic reforms, and human-rights standards has given way to a focus on pragmatic cooperation. The bargain is no longer trade and access from the EU for reforms from the neighbors, as before 2004, but EU trade and visa concessions for neighborhood energy and legislative adaptations to ease economic cooperation.

In reality, the eastern neighbors have their patrons in the EU just as the Mediterranean countries do. But the patrons of the east are currently on the losing side, their credibility tainted by the fact that most of them are part of the 2004 intake themselves. Their natural leader, Poland, has frittered away most of its influence in internal EU squabbles with Germany.

And then there is of course the elephant in the corner, Russia. It is not part of the ENP, preferring to look for a special "strategic partnership" with the EU more in keeping with its size and perceived importance. But its shadow on the ENP is long and in some respects eclipses the EU's belief in its own abilities. Russia was not represented at the September 3 conference, but, tellingly, of the two non-EU languages into which the proceedings were translated at the Brussels conference one was Russian (the other being Arabic).

(Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.)

Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani on September 2 urged the Afghan government to talk directly with the Taliban and work toward integrating the rebel group into the government as part of an overall strategy to stop growing violence in Afghanistan, reported. Addressing participants at a three-day event in Peshawar focused on improving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Rabbani accused the United States and other countries of sending troops to Afghanistan to serve their own "vested interests" rather than those of the Afghan people. He encouraged neighboring countries to resolve their problems without foreign intervention, and urged the Afghan government to engage in peace talks with onetime Prime Minister and rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as well as with Taliban militants. The event, hosted by the Forum for Area Studies and Information Center, was attended by Afghan warlord Ahmed Shah Ahmedzai, who also spoke out against Western military forces deployed in Afghanistan. According to the "Pakistan Daily Times," Ahmedzai referred to the United States as an enemy of the Islamic world, and urged the West to "stop creating problems for Muslims in the name of [fighting] Al-Qaeda or the Taliban." JC

Afghan officials on September 2 said they have detained four Pakistani bomb makers suspected of aiding insurgents, AFP reported. Intelligence official Abdul Qayoum Katawazi said the alleged militants, described as experts in constructing suicide-bomber vests and remote-controlled bombs, were seized on August 31 in the city of Kandahar following a tip. No further details were provided, as the investigation is still under way. In the latest violence, a bomb blast killed three Afghan soldiers on September 1 while they were on patrol in the Zhari district of southern Kandahar Province, according to a Defense Ministry statement. Two soldiers were injured in the blast. In a separate attack on September 1, around 10 Afghan civilians were wounded when a remote-controlled bomb attached to a bicycle exploded in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, according to police official Abdul Rauf Taj. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Similar attacks have been blamed on Taliban rebels, who have increasingly been employing roadside bombs and suicide bombings like those used in Iraq. JC

The World Bank on September 2 signed a contract granting $10 million to Afghanistan's Public Health Ministry to support efforts to prevent the spread of the HIV virus, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The World Bank country director for Afghanistan, Alastair McKechnie, signed the agreement in Kabul with Afghan Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi. The grant had been announced on July 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2007). Afghan Public Health Minister Syed Mohammad Amin Fatemi acknowledged the World Bank as the primary source helping to finance the Afghanistan National HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework, a program aimed at bolstering preventative measures against HIV at a cost of $38 million between 2006 and 2010. A study recently released by the University of California, San Diego, warned that alarmingly high rates of intravenous drug use and risky sexual behavior in Afghanistan may lead to an HIV epidemic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 30, 2007). McKechnie said there is currently no accurate count of HIV-infected people in Afghanistan. He praised the ministry's efforts to fight the spread of the virus despite minimal funds. JC

Pakistan's Interior Ministry has postponed by approximately six months the closure of the country's largest refugee camp, just days after the August 31 deadline passed to shut it down, the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on September 3. Shojauddin Shoja, an adviser to Afghanistan's Ministry of Refugees and Returnees, told IRIN that Pakistan has ensured that the Jalozai Camp in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province will remain open until March 2008, in what he described as an effort "to avert a possible humanitarian tragedy in the upcoming winter." The camp is thought to house over 100,000 displaced Afghans. Faridullah Khan of the Afghan Refugees' Commission, a Pakistani body handling refugee affairs in Northwest Frontier Province, said a formalized agreement on the six-month extension will be signed "in the very near future." Jalozai was one of four camps slated to be closed by the year's end under an agreement signed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UN refugee agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 2007). The majority of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan refuse to return to Afghanistan due to the lack of security, lack of shelter, and limited work opportunities there. JC

The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on September 2 expressed concern over the conditions of women's prisons in Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. At a daylong conference, Shukria Nuri, an official with the UNODC, said that the conditions in women's prisons in Afghanistan violate international human rights, noting that children are imprisoned along with their mothers in insufficient space, and that the prisons lack educational programs. Nuri specifically cited the poor conditions in Afghanistan's largest prison, the Pul-i-Charkha Jail east of Kabul, where approximately 20 female prisoners and their children share a single room. Supreme Court Judge Bahauddin Baha confirmed that Afghanistan's female prisoners live in inadequate conditions, and proposed constructing separate facilities for them with work programs aimed at developing a variety of vocational skills. The UNODC began building a women's prison two years ago in Kabul, but it remains under construction. JC

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told students in Tehran on September 2 that Iran has "more than 3,000 centrifuges" working in its Natanz plant now and "every week a new group is installed," Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian news agencies. Ahmadinejad was apparently contradicting a recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's fuel-making activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007), which informed IAEA board members that Iran has fewer than 3,000 centrifuges. These spin to enrich uranium-hexafluoride gas as part of the nuclear fuel-making process. The West has demanded Iran stop fuel making, because of its potential military applications. Ahmadinejad said Iran has become a nuclear power in recent years "without us making any concessions" and by discarding the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which "some had signed against the laws." Radio Farda described this as a reference to the nuclear negotiating team led until 2005 by Hasan Rohani. Ahmadinejad said that "more than Western pressures, we were pressured by cowardly elements inside the country...who were counseling collaboration," ISNA reported. He said one of these "presumptuous" people included "someone who officially gave foreigners information and encouraged them to issue harsher resolutions. This person is a member of a government group whose papers are now swearing" at his government, and who travels to Persian Gulf states, "and speaks badly of the government and asks them not to cooperate with Iran." He said if he named those he said urged caution with the West, "you would be surprised and say, 'this one too?' And I would have to say, 'yes, him too.'" He said he told the purported collaborationists at an undated meeting that he calculated "for hours" and concluded that enemy states cannot "cause Iran any problems," "Etemad-i Melli" reported. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the press in Tehran on September 2 that Iran may ratify the NPT's Additional Protocol on closer UN checks of its installations as the IAEA has asked, if parliament approves. He said the recent report issued by IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei showed Iran's dossier is not inherently complex and questions could be resolved within a "technical" framework. He said more UN Security Council sanctions on Iran would jeopardize its current cooperation with the IAEA. He also rejected recent warnings by U.S. President George W. Bush that Iran is placing the Middle East in the "shadow" of a nuclear holocaust with its nuclear program. He said that "America did this in Hiroshima and Nagasaki" in 1945, and stressed Iran is no aggressor, but was itself attacked by Iraq in 1980 "with America's support," "Etemad-i Melli" reported on September 3. VS

The daily "Le Monde" observed on August 31 that France is prepared to consider sanctions on Iran outside the framework of the UN Security Council, though it added that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has not made public announcements on this. It noted the contrast between this position and the rejection of any punitive measures on Iran outside the UN framework by France's previous president, Jacques Chirac. French diplomats have reportedly "intensified" consultations with U.S. and European colleagues on "additional coercive measures against Iran, outside the UN," reported. It added that Sarkozy informed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in late June that France is open to such measures. "Le Monde" cited two factors as prompting this change in French policy: Iran's refusal to halt fuel-making activities despite UN requests, and the possible difficulties of obtaining a consensus among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council on a third set of sanctions against Iran due to Iran's recent accord on an inspection program with the IAEA. Sarkozy recently expressed his support for incremental sanctions on Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2007). VS

Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima, who had been prevented from leaving Iran for the past seven months, has been given permission to leave the country, Radio Farda reported on September 4. Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi told Radio Farda that she is glad the authorities have allowed Azima and fellow Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari to leave Iran. Ebadi described the cases against both as a violation of Iranian laws. Esfandiari left Tehran on September 3 after having been released from jail in August on bail. Azima collected her passport from authorities on September 4 and told Radio Farda that she will leave Iran in the near future. Iranian officials charged Azima with spreading propaganda against the Iranian state. Two more Iranian-Americans remain in jail in Iran: Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, and peace activist Ali Shakeri. Tajbakhsh, along with Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, were both shown on Iranian television in July "confessing" to accusations of working against Iran's national security. The broadcast was condemned by the United States, as well as by human-rights groups and prominent activists. GE

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told top-grade students and young innovators in Tehran on September 3 that science is a "precondition of power" and Iran is trying to make up for 100 years of scientific backwardness left by Iran's royal dynasties, ISNA reported. He said, "the bullying of some countries, including the American regime" was made possible by their scientific capabilities. These states, he added, are now telling Iran not to make scientific progress, notably in the nuclear field, "because [they] say, 'we do not trust you,'" when "during 20 years they started two world wars and used their [armies] where they could, and their crimes in Hiroshima, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Kosovo are examples of their conduct." He said Iran has not started any war in the past 28 years, but would not "give into force in the nuclear issue or any other issue." He rejected what he termed the "detestable, aggressive, and arrogant" comments of U.S. President Bush on Iran's nuclear program and alleged support for terrorists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31, 2007). Khamenei said the "idiotic...arrogance of America and certain Western states" will provoke their downfalls. VS

Amir Hussein Ruhafza, who was convicted of murdering Judge Javad Jafarpur in Qorchak in Tehran Province, was hanged on September 2 on the purported spot where the crime occurred, "Kayhan" reported the next day. Iran's Supreme Court confirmed the sentence and the victim's family refused to forgive the killer. A crowd watched the execution. "Kayhan" reported that many at the scene "expressed satisfaction at the judiciary's resolve to implement the execution sentence and punish the murderer." VS

President George W. Bush made an unannounced visit to Iraq on September 3 in a bid to garner support for his strategy in Iraq, international media reported the same day. Bush arrived at the Al-Asad Air Base in the western Al-Anbar Governorate, accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley. He was scheduled to hold talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and top U.S. military officials in Iraq. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, "This is the last big gathering of the president's military advisers and the Iraqi leadership before the president decides on the way forward." General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker are to present a report to Congress next week assessing the success of the current strategy in Iraq. That report, along with a progress report the White House must present to U.S. lawmakers by September 15, is expected to determine the next phase of U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Bush made his surprise visit on his way to Australia to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Conference summit. SS

Prime Minister al-Maliki announced on September 2 that he has ordered a probe into the intra-Shi'ite clashes that occurred during a religious festival in the holy city of Karbala on August 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2007), Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Maliki blamed the violence on "outlawed armed criminal gangs from the remnants of the buried Saddamist regime," and said a neutral commission will be formed to carry out an investigation. "The investigation will go its own way, and that is why a neutral commission was formed to run the inquiry and uncover all the details, the background, who took part and who fired and killed and wounded this number of people," al-Maliki said. "We will wait until the committee has finished its detailed inquiry, and we will announce the results at that point." Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has repeated calls for an impartial inquiry into the events that led to the clashes. Sheikh Salah al-Ubaydi, a spokesman for al-Sadr, warned on September 2 that the movement will "be obliged to take unspecified measures" if the government fails to open up a legitimate and impartial investigation. SS

The British military announced on September 3 that it has withdrawn from the last base in Al-Basrah city and handed it over to Iraqi security forces, international media reported the same day. "All British forces moved early this morning from the Basra Palace base to the airport, as part of the process to hand over the palaces to Iraqi control," the British military said in a statement. "There were no clashes or attacks on British forces during the operation." The British Ministry of Defense stressed that U.K. forces operating at the airport will continue to "retain security responsibility for Basra until we hand over to provincial Iraqi control, which we anticipate in the autumn." The city has witnessed violent clashes between rival Shi'ite militia factions, and there is a fear that a complete withdrawal of British forces from the governorate may lead to a sharp increase in violence. In June, the International Crisis Group released a report warning that rival militia elements were destabilizing Al-Basrah, and residents believe British forces are being driven out. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denied that troops are retreating under fire. "This is a preplanned and...organized move from Basra Palace to Basra air station," Brown told the BBC on September 3. SS

Unidentified armed men on August 31 assassinated Muslim al-Battat, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's representative in the southern city of Al-Basrah, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on September 1. Local police sources said al-Battat, who was also the imam of the Al-Urwah Mosque in the city's central Al-Farsi neighborhood, was gunned down after performing evening prayers. Al-Battat's assassination was seen as an indication of the continuing tensions between two rival Shi'ite factions, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), who claim allegiance to al-Sistani, and the followers of radical Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr. It was the fourth assassination in the last three months of a figure associated with al-Sistani. SS

Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi issued a statement on September 2 saying that his group is open to the possibility of a dialogue with the United States, the independent Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. "The Muslim Scholars Association...does not mind having this dialogue, provided that Washington would show genuine intentions about leaving Iraq through a serious and clear timetable," al-Faydi said. "We are in favor of the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, but first of all the current security agencies, which proved a failure and perpetrated heinous crimes against the Iraqi people, have to be dismantled," he added. In addition, the group issued a statement on September 1 condemning comments made by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on August 28 that Iran is ready to fill a power vacuum in Iraq once U.S. forces withdraw. "These statements would not be understood by the Iraqi people as a form of help. Iran's interference in Iraq since the [U.S.-led] invasion was negative and not in line with good neighborliness," the statement said. SS

A Syrian official announced on September 3 that Damascus will begin to impose strict requirements for Iraqis wanting to enter Syria, in an attempt to stem the flow of Iraqi refugees into the country, international media reported the same day. Starting on September 10, Syria will only grant visas to Iraqis involved in the economic, commercial, and scientific sectors, thereby only allowing in a small proportion of the thousands of Iraqis currently entering Syria every month. According to UN estimates, nearly 30,000 Iraqis cross the border into Syria every month. "Syria has already received more than 1.5 million refugees and there could be no end in sight to what the Americans unleashed there. We simply can't cope any more," an unnamed Syrian official was quoted as saying. In addition, the new documents will only be single-entry visas valid for three months and qualified Iraqis must obtain them from a Syrian embassy abroad. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced the same day that Syria has asked for Iraqi cooperation in implementing the new visa system. SS