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Newsline - May 9, 2008

An extraordinary session of the State Duma on May confirmed former Russian President Vladimir Putin as prime minister, Russian and international media reported the same day. The vote was 392 in favor, with 56 Communist Party deputies voting against. President Dmitry Medvedev personally presented his nominee to the session, saying "this candidacy needs no introduction." Medvedev said that as president, Putin had worked out the strategy of Russian development through 2020 and now he will play the key role in implementing that strategy. "I think, and no one should doubt, that our tandem will only grow stronger," Medvedev said. Putin also addressed deputies, stressing the need to advance the country's economic development and improve living standards. He said he expects Russia's gross domestic product to exceed that of the United Kingdom in 2008. He also addressed the problem of growing inflation, but was modest in his promises: "In the next few years, we must reach a single-digit figure," Putin said. Deputies also had a chance to ask Putin questions before the vote. After the vote, Putin thanked the deputies and Medvedev promised to sign the appropriate decree the same day. The two left the building without speaking with journalists. RC

Although Putin has said in recent days that he has made the basic decisions on who will be in his cabinet, no official announcements have been made, reported on May 8. Putin has until May 15 to present his proposals to President Medvedev. Rumors persist that Putin has offered an unspecified post to Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who is also rumored to be considering it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 19, 2008). Yavlinsky, who is normally outspoken with the press, has refused to comment on the speculation, despite criticism from within his own party for allegedly holding secret negotiations with the authorities. Asked by "Izvestia" about the purported proposal, Yavlinsky said, "I don't know anything yet; I don't know anything yet. If [Putin] wants, I am ready for talks." The initial rumors that surfaced in March indicated that Yavlinsky had been offered a senior economic-policy post. Later rumors have centered around speculation that he could head some new environmental agency, perhaps at the ministerial level. RC

President Medvedev will remain chairman of the board of directors of the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom until June 27, "Vremya novostei" reported on May 8. Medvedev has headed the board since 2002. A shareholders meeting in June is expected to confirm the nomination of former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to replace Medvedev. Medvedev, however, stopped attending board meetings after his election in March and will not attend any for the rest of his tenure. Gazprom CEO and deputy board chairman Aleksei Miller is reportedly performing Medvedev's duties. RC

In one of his last acts as president, Putin submitted to the Duma a bill that would weaken the independence of lawyers, reported on May 8. Under the bill, the State Registration Agency would be able to rescind a lawyer's license without a ruling of support from the Legal Chamber. The registration agency would also be able to gain access to the working files of lawyers under investigation. Human rights advocates say the new bill would make it much easier for the state to persecute lawyers who make active defenses in controversial cases. A number of defense lawyers have charged in recent months that they have been the target of such persecution (see "Prominent Lawyer Flees Country, Fearing Prosecution,", July 13, 2007). President Medvedev is a lawyer and has called repeatedly for the country to overcome its culture of "legal nihilism." Some analysts have speculated that he could build up the Association of Lawyers of Russia as an independent power base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2008). RC

A military parade was held on May 9 in Moscow and other cities to mark Victory Day, the 63rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, with tanks, missiles, and other weaponry rolling through Red Square for the first time since the Soviet Union's breakup. reported that the Red Square parade featured more than 100 pieces of military hardware, including Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, along with more than 8,000 servicemen, while 33 military planes and helicopters made flyovers above the Russian capital. In a speech on Red Square, President Medvedev said that Russia's army and navy are "gaining in strength and power, like Russia itself." According to the Kremlin's website,, Medvedev said history shows that armed conflicts are sparked by "those whose irresponsible ambitions prevail over the interests of countries and whole continents, over the interests of millions of people." In order to prevent this from recurring, it is necessary to "treat extremely seriously any attempts to sow racial or religious hatred, kindle ideological terror and extremism, plans to meddle in the affairs of other states and especially attempts to revise borders," Medvedev said. According to, parades featuring military hardware and troops were also held in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok, among other Russian cities. JB

Russia has ordered two U.S. military attaches to leave the country, the latest in a series of expulsions by both governments since November, Bloomberg reported on May 8. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the ousters followed the U.S. expulsion of one Russian diplomat in November and a second on April 22, about a week after the Russian government ejected an American. "We don't draw any particular connection among these various incidents," McCormack told reporters. "We deal with them in their own right." According to AFP, McCormack said the Russians "gave us some reasons" for the expulsions but he would not disclose them. "We believe that the expulsions were not justified," McCormack said. "But as we all know, in the world of diplomacy sometimes these things happen. As far as we're concerned, we don't intend to take any further actions. Of course, we always reserve the right, but at this point I don't see that we're going to take any further action in response." AP on May 8 quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried as telling a congressional hearing that he does not believe the expulsions signaled any deterioration in relations with Russia. "We look at these incidents as something which happens from time to time in U.S.-Russian relations," Fried told the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "It is not in our view the sign of some larger diplomatic struggle. It is not a sign of some downturn." According to AP, neither McCormack nor Fried would discuss the reasons for the expulsions but, speaking earlier, U.S. officials said that none of those involved had been declared "persona non grata" by either government and that none had been accused of specific wrongful conduct, such as espionage. Russia's Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the expulsion of the two U.S. military attaches, Interfax reported on May 8. JB

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on May 8 played down the significance of Russia's expulsion of two U.S. military attaches. "There are some intriguing developments in Moscow, but I don't read much into the attache thing other than just the usual tit for tat," AFP quoted Gates as saying. According to the news agency, Gates, who formerly headed the CIA and was a career Soviet analyst, suggested that the military parade on Red Square marking Victory Day on May 9 was a throwback to the Cold War. "I'm waiting to see if the leadership will be standing atop Lenin's tomb and see if we'll be back to Kremlinology about who's standing in what place and so on," he said. Bloomberg on May 8 quoted Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin as saying that there may be a connection between Russia's expulsion of the U.S. military attaches and Russia's political transition. "I find it really strange that such a signal comes today, as Medvedev comes into office," Rahr told the news agency. "Either it's an old story that came on the very last day of Putin's era, or maybe it's an attempt by people in Moscow to prevent Medvedev having his own, more positive course versus the U.S. from the beginning. This may be an attempt to keep him in this Cold War way of thinking and Cold War policy, with some hardliners in the Kremlin perhaps thinking that's more appropriate in Russia than a new face of cooperation." reported on May 9 that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Fried told a hearing held in Washington by the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on May 8 that the Bush administration wants to see how the powers specified in the Russian constitution are divided in practice by President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. "Time will tell," Fried told the hearing, which was entitled "U.S.-Russia Relations: Looking Ahead To The Medvedev Administration." JB

The Extraordinary Congress of the People of Kalmykia has issued a statement, posted on May 7 on, announcing its intention to collect signatures in support of a demand that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov step down from the post of president that he has held for the past 15 years. The congress launched a campaign four years ago to demand Ilyumzhinov's resignation; police reacted with force, killing one participant at a protest meeting in Elista in September 2004 and injuring dozens more, reported. The Elista municipal assembly voted no confidence in Ilyumzhinov two weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 28, 2008). On May 6, a spontaneous meeting in Elista to mark the fourth anniversary of publication of the first issue of the newspaper "Elistinskaya panorama" evolved into a spontaneous campaign to collect signatures to an appeal to new Russian President Medvedev to take measures to protect media freedom and prevent reprisals against journalists in Kalmykia, reported on May 7. LF

Chechen investigators are seeking to establish whether members of the Russian Defense Ministry's ethnically Chechen Vostok battalion were involved in the killing following their abduction in early February 2007 of Yusup and Yunus Arsamakov, brothers of Moscow-based banker Abubakar Arsamakov, and their driver, reported on May 8. On May 7, an unnamed Chechen law enforcement official said that the body discovered on May 6 on the outskirts of Gudermes was that of Vostok serviceman Vakhasolt Zakayev, who was allegedly killed by fellow servicemen on suspicion of having himself killed Djabrail Yamadayev, the brother of Vostok's commander, Sulim Yamadayev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2008). Also on May 7, investigators denied that Kazbek Tavbulatov, a police investigator killed in a traffic accident in Gudermes the previous day, was working to establish the identity of six bodies found in a common grave near Gudermes on May 4, reported. LF

The Ulyanovsk Oblast Court on May 7 upheld the rejection last month by the Dmitrovgrad City Court of a request for parole by Colonel Yury Budanov, who has served five years of a 10 year sentence for the murder in March 2000 of 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva, reported. It was Budanov's third unsuccessful application for parole (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, March 3, and July 28, 2003, August 21, 2007, and April 2, 2008). LF

All six members of an illegal armed formation have been apprehended in a series of raids in Makhachkala, Khasavyurt, Buynaksk, and in the Untsukul and Karabudakhkent districts, reported on May 8 quoting Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Mark Tolchinsky. In a separate operation in the Untsukul village of Gimri, police detained two men who are suspected of providing food supplies in 2007 to an illegal armed formation headed by Ibragim Gadjidadayev. A massive security operation was launched in December 2007 to apprehend Gadjidadayev's group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 11 and 28, 2007, and January 7 and 17, February 21 and March 27, 2008). LF

Abas Abasov, suspected of having ordered the November 2007 fatal shooting in Makhachkala of Farid Babayev, who headed the Daghestan organization of the opposition party Yabloko, has been released from detention after pledging not to leave Russia, reported on May 8. Two other persons detained three months ago on suspicion of involvement in the killing remain in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 26, 27, and 29, 2007, and March 3, 2008). LF

Half a dozen armed masked men burst into a mosque in Pliyevo, northeast of Nazran, during afternoon prayers on May 5 and detained three worshippers on the pretext that their parked cars were obstructing traffic, reported on May 6. The three car owners were questioned for several hours and then released. The mosque was closed in 2003 on the pretext that worshippers were proselytizing "wahhabism," but reopened for worship in 2005. LF

Peter Semneby, who is the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, met in Yerevan on May 7 with former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and with parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Semneby told Torosian that the EU considers it imperative that the Armenian authorities release detained Ter-Petrossian supporters and launch an independent investigation into the March 1-2 clashes in Yerevan between police and Ter-Petrossian supporters in which 10 people died. He said those moves would facilitate a dialogue between the authorities and opposition groups. Semneby was quoted as saying that he has the impression that Ter-Petrossian has modified his views on how to defuse the ongoing political crisis, but did not elaborate. A spokesman said on May 7, however, that Ter-Petrossian will not nominate a representative to the planned ad hoc parliament commission tasked with assessing international criticism of the February 19 parliamentary ballot in which Ter-Petrossian was defeated by then-Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and proposing ways of eliminating violations during future ballots, including amendments to current election legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2008). The Zharangutiun (Heritage) party, the only opposition party represented in parliament, has agreed to nominate a member to the commission. LF

In a written statement on May 8, Lieutenant General Manvel Grigorian, who was dismissed last month from the post of deputy defense minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 2, 2008), denied that he supported Ter-Petrossian in his presidential bid either during the election campaign or, as Ter-Petrossian himself claimed, during the subsequent protests at vote rigging and other violations, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2008). Grigorian further downplayed the involvement of members of the influential Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war, which he heads, in Ter-Petrossian's election campaign and in the postelection protests that culminated in the March 1-2 violence. "I declare with all responsibility that Yerkrapah has never engaged, and will not become engaged in politics," Grigorian affirmed, stressing that "thousands" of war veterans campaigned for Sarkisian in the presidential ballot. LF

The Russian Defense Ministry released a statement on May 8 saying that the recent deployment of additional peacekeeping troops to the Abkhaz conflict zone raised the total figure from 1,997 to 2,542, Interfax and reported. The statement said the Russian peacekeepers' presence "has only one goal -- to maintain peace and avoid bloodshed." Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili, however, said on May 8 that Russia "long ago" exceeded the maximum number of troops (3,000) it is permitted to deploy in Abkhazia, but did not give concrete figures, according to Caucasus Press. Also on May 8, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) released a statement implicitly denying an earlier statement by the Russian Defense Ministry the same day that cited UNOMIG's Chief Military Observer Major General Niaz Muhammad Khan Khattak as saying the "actions by the Russian side do not violate basic agreements on the conduct of the peacekeeping operation." UNOMIG stressed that it has no authority to pronounce on whether the peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia under the aegis of the CIS conforms to the guidelines for that operation agreed in August 1994. At the same time, it said that UNOMIG patrols continue to monitor the situation in the conflict zone and have not reported to date any buildup of security forces by either side. That UNOMIG statement in turn calls into question repeated Georgian assertions in recent days that the two sides "are close to war." LF

Speaking on May 8 in Batumi, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili denied that a fifth Georgian spy drone has been shot down over Abkhazia, reported. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili likewise dismissed the claim made earlier that day by de facto Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Zaitsev that Abkhaz antiaircraft forces shot down the drone over Ochamchira Raion that afternoon. "Kommersant" quoted Abkhaz Defense Minister Merab Kishmaria as claiming that wreckage from the destroyed aircraft has already been recovered in Gali Raion. One Georgian drone was shot down in mid-March, a second on April 20, and two more on May 4. LF

Georgia plans to reduce military spending over a five year period to 2012 from 5.6 percent to 2.3 percent of GDP, Caucasus Press reported on May 7, quoting the website of the Georgian Defense Ministry. Defense spending was 1.495 billion laris ($1.031 billion) in 2007 and 1.1 billion in 2008. LF

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Kazakhstan's Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Sauat Mynbaev have reached agreement on more than doubling by 2012 the throughput capacity of the export pipeline that transports Kazakh oil from the Tengiz field to Novorossiisk, Interfax reported on May 7. Formally commissioned six years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2001), the CPC pipeline, the only one crossing Russian territory that is not state-owned, currently has an annual throughput capacity of 32 million tons; this will rise to 67 million tons. Of that quantity, 17 million tons will be transported by tanker across the Black Sea to Bulgaria for onward shipment via the planned Burgas-Alexandropoulis pipeline, expected to be completed no earlier than 2010, and in which Russia's Transneft, Rosneft, and Gazprom-Neft together hold a 51 percent stake. Until one year ago, Russia opposed expansion of the CPC capacity on the grounds that it would intensify competition between Russia and Kazakhstan for the limited number of oil tankers permitted to transit the Turkish straits. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced after talks in Astana a year ago with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the two sides reached agreement on the annual capacity of 40 million tons, but "Kommersant" on May 11, 2007, quoted Putin as saying that the issue is still under discussion, and Transneft CEO Aleksei Miller as complaining that expanding throughput capacity would only further increase the consortium's $5 billion debt. In October 2007, CPC shareholders raised the transport tariff from $27 to $38 per ton. LF

The staff of the Kyrgyz radio and television company OshTV have appealed to President Kurmanbek Bakiev to amend the draft law on television and radio broadcasting passed by parliament in the first reading on April 24, the websites and reported on May 8. The journalists point to the problems inherent in complying with the articles of the law requiring that over 50 percent of broadcasting be in the state language (Kyrgyz) and at least 50 percent of programming be original. The population of Osh is estimated to be 40 percent Uzbek, and that percentage is rising as Kyrgyz leave the region to seek employment in Russia or Kazakhstan. Several local television channels are owned by Uzbeks, and the local authorities are reportedly wary of pressuring them to comply with the new law lest they trigger accusations of violating the rights of an ethnic minority. LF

The so-called Institute for the Development of Civil Society subordinate to the president's office has drafted the program and statutes of an ecological party, the website reported on May 8. Its activities will focus on conservation and providing aid to the population of regions of the country that are ecological disaster zones, especially areas bordering the Aral Sea. The party will probably be headed by Yusup Shadimetov, a former head of the Science Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. LF

Amnesty International has issued an appeal calling for support for U.S. lawyer Emanuel Zeltser kept in custody in Minsk since March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 15, 2008). "U.S. national Emanuel Zeltser was detained when he flew in to Belarus on March 12. He is held in a state security services detention facility in the capital, Minsk, where according to his lawyer he has been interrogated and beaten, and has been denied the medicine he needs urgently to treat his diabetes and arthritis," the human rights watchdog wrote in its appeal. Zeltser was reportedly arrested on charges of using forged documents. Representatives of the U.S. diplomatic mission were allowed to meet with Zeltser twice, on March 27 and April 25. After the second visit, U.S. Consul Caroline Savage reported that Zeltser's health was deteriorating, noting that he had difficulty walking and talking and that he had been beaten two or three times while in custody. JM

Oleh Dubyna, the head of the state-owned Naftohaz Ukrayiny, told journalists in Kyiv on May 7 that the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline will start pumping oil from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to Brody "by the end of the first half of 2008," Interfax-Ukraine reported. Dubyna added that "485,000 tons of light crude will be bought to use [the pipeline in] the other direction." The pipeline, built by Ukraine in 2002, was originally intended as part of a project to transport Caspian Sea crude to the Polish port of Gdansk and on to other points in Europe. But in 2004, the Ukrainian government gave permission for the Russian-British TNK-BP holding to use the Odesa-Brody pipeline to transport Russian oil in the opposite direction. Poland has repeatedly promised to help Ukraine use the pipeline according to its original intention but progress on the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk project has been extremely slow because of its estimated cost of $2 billion and doubts whether oil shipped via this route can compete with Russian oil transported to markets through pipelines without sea transport. JM

The Bulgarian government has ratified agreements on visa-free travel with Ukraine and Moldova, AP reported on May 8. The government press center said the same day that Bulgarians can now visit the two countries for up to 90 days without entry visas. The same applies to citizens of Ukraine and Moldova traveling to Bulgaria, a member of the European Union. JM

One of the leaders of Kosova's ethnic Serb minority, Marko Jaksic, said that Serbs in Kosova will form their own assembly after May 11, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported on May 8. Jaksic said this would be the only way for Serbs to continue living in Kosova. Kosova's ethnic Serbs reject its independence, which was proclaimed on 17 February and has since been recognized by some 40 countries, including the U.S., Canada, and a majority of EU states. May 11 is the day when Serbia's citizens will elect a new parliament and local assemblies, in a race widely seen as a contest between pro-Western reformers and Serbian nationalists, who reject closer ties with the EU because of the bloc's support for Kosova's independence. Jaksic is an ally of Serbia's conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is likely to be the kingmaker in parliament. The legislature is expected to be evenly split between the pro-Western Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic and the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Tomislav Nikolic. TV

The Central Election Commission of Bosnia-Herzegovina has set October 5 as the date for the country's next local elections, local and international media reported on May 8. Bosnia's parliament recently amended the election law to allow pre-war residents of the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica to choose whether to vote there or in the municipality where they currently reside, in a move aimed at preventing an election win by a majority Serb local government. Srebrenica, which today belongs to the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia's two entities, was the scene of the single worst atrocity of the 1992-95 war, when Bosnian Serb as well as Serbian forces killed thousands of Muslim men and boys. The International Court of Justice ruled in early 2007 that the event constituted an instance of genocide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, 2007). Several thousand ethnic Muslims have returned to Srebrenica since the end of the war, but an estimated 25,000 former residents live elsewhere in the country or abroad. TV

At a time when Moscow appears to be increasingly sensitive to any criticism of the Soviet or Russian past, two very different Central Asian countries -- Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan -- have taken dramatic steps to call attention to the impact of Russian and Soviet imperialism on their societies.

Last month, the Kyrgyz parliament called for "A Day of Memory of the National Uprising of the Kyrgyz People" to commemorate the events of 1916, when the Kyrgyz and other Central Asians rose in revolt after the tsarist authorities attempted to draft them for service in World War I.

That insurgency set the stage for efforts by people in that region to become independent of Russia 18 months later. The suppression of those efforts by Bolshevik troops at Kokand sparked what the Soviets called the basmachi movement, a broadly popular uprising that lasted far longer-- well into the 1930s -- than any other revolt against Moscow.

The Kyrgyz parliament statement elicited an explosion of criticism by Russian nationalist groups -- see, for example, -- and the Russian Foreign Ministry denounced it in terms so strong that the Kyrgyz legislators felt compelled to adopt a subsequent appeal to the Russian Duma and Federation Council explaining why they felt they had acted within their rights. That appeal argued that in taking this action, the parliamentarians had "in no way gone beyond the framework of Kyrgyz sovereignty and of friendly relations with Russia" and had done nothing to "politicize the fraternal relations between the peoples of the two countries" (

Moreover, it continued, Kyrgyz officials cannot understand the "position of the Russian Foreign Ministry," which said in its statement that "the preservation of the history of Kyrgyzstan and the Kyrgyz people is 'counterproductive for today's friendly relations between our countries and peoples.'"

An even more dramatic example of Central Asian interest in talking about the impact of Russian imperialism in the region occurred this week, when the office of President Islam Karimov announced that the Uzbek government has decided to add two new buildings to the complex of the country's museum of victims of the Russian colonial regime. The museum, which opened in 2002 and regularly hosts groups of students from the country's schools, is, in the words of this announcement, "devoted to the memory of the thousands of [Uzbek] compatriots who fell as victims to [Russian imperial] oppression in the colonial period" ( The additional buildings will allow the curators to show more of the museum's holdings to visitors, officials said, and to divide them between "the colonial regime" of the nineteenth century and "the Soviet period of [Uzbekistan's] history when the cruelest repressions took place."

The location of the museum in fact epitomizes that repression; according to Tashkent historians, it is situated on the site where the Soviet secret police conducted "mass shootings of 'enemies of the people' during the 1930s." And the message implicit in that location is made crystal clear by the descriptions of the exhibits. "In conducting its colonial policy," one reads, "the Russian Empire above all destroyed in the conquered country its statehood and converted it entirely into its colony. The tsarist autocracy began to steal the material and spiritual wealth of the region, suppressed national and human rights as well as the religious faith and national culture of the indigenous peoples."

Such comments, made with the full approval of the authorities, rival any that have emanated from the Baltic countries or Eastern Europe and will almost certainly elicit Russian nationalist criticism, and possibly objections from the Russian Foreign Ministry in the coming days. But regardless of whether that happens, the Uzbek action, like the Kyrgyz one, has an important message for outside observers.

The notion, widely held in the West, that the Central Asians are entirely deferential to the Russians is simply wrong, a product of the failure by those who espouse it to distinguish between the traditional politeness of the peoples of that region and their real attitudes about important issues like Russian colonial rule.

(Paul Goble is a specialist on Russian history who served as publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" from 1997-2001.)

Two adults and one child died in explosions in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, bordering Pakistan, on May 7, AFP reported. Khost deputy police chief Colonel Mohammad Yaqoub said that a roadside bomb destroyed the car of a provincial police administrator, killing him and his driver. Hours later, a bomb exploded inside a home in Khost city, apparently during the assembly of explosives for a planned car bombing, killing a child and wounding at least three others, according to Khost police spokesman Wazir Padshah. In a separate incident in Khost Province on May 7, two NATO soldiers and a civilian were killed by a bomb on a routine patrol, according to a NATO statement. Their nationalities were not reported. In Kandahar city on May 7, a Canadian soldier was killed and another wounded in a gun battle with insurgents that began during a foot patrol, the Canadian military reported. Also in Kandahar Province, U.S. Marines and British troops captured "enemy strong points and defensive positions" in Garmser district near the Pakistani border, according to a military statement. And in Laghman Province, a police officer and four civilians were killed when farmers who police said were linked to "armed opposition groups" resisted antinarcotics forces trying to destroy their illegal crops, provincial government spokesman Wakil Atak said. AT

A grandson of the late former king Mohammad Zaher has said that Afghanistan should set up a transitional government that includes members of the Taliban once President Hamid Karzai's term ends next year, Reuters reported on May 7. Prince Mostafa Zaher, 44, who lived for three decades in exile in the West, heads a department overseeing conservation issues in Karzai's government. Although the royal family is not officially involved in politics, it is often seen as a symbol of national unity. "We are in the middle of a crisis at this very second, and the situation is getting worse," Zaher told journalists, calling for decisiveness and vision in the Afghan leadership. Karzai and the royal family are Pashtuns, but Karzai's government has faced complaints that Pashtuns are underrepresented in the government. Most Taliban militants are also Pashtuns. Zaher said the transitional administration he envisages would include members of the current government, along with members of the Taliban and other insurgent groups. "We have had enough of the war and fratricide. The Taliban are also the sons of this country," said Zaher. "You do not make peace with your friends. You make peace with those who are against you. This is an intra-Afghan plan and we hope to bring on board all dissatisfied people," he said. Zaher denies having any political ambitions, but does not rule out the possibility of taking a political role if he wins the people's support. AT

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on May 8 appointed Fernando Gentilini of Italy as NATO'S senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Xinhua reported. Gentilini, 46, has had a long career in the Italian Foreign Ministry. The senior civilian representative officially represents the political leadership of NATO in Kabul and provides a direct channel of communication to the NATO headquarters in Brussels and the North Atlantic Council. He also works closely with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the United Nations, and other coordinating bodies established by the international community and the Afghan government. Gentilini replaces Daan Everts of the Netherlands who served as NATO's second senior civilian representative in Afghanistan from August 2006 to December 2007, and another Dutchman, Maurits R. Jochems, who this year has served as the acting senior civilian representative. AT

The 5+1 powers -- the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany -- may try a "face to face appeal" to persuade Iran to accept their most recent package of incentives, intended to curb its contested nuclear program, AP reported on May 7 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5, 2008). Those six countries recently upgraded their 2006 package of incentives for Iran intended to persuade it to abandon its nuclear fuel-making activities. Iran insists it has the right and the need to produce its own nuclear fuel for future power stations, and denies accusations that it would use nuclear technology to make weapons. AP quoted unnamed Western officials as saying that envoys from the 5+1 powers (but not including the United States) will deliver the proposals to Iran, either in Tehran or elsewhere, though details were not given. Iran's ambassador in London, Rasul Movahedian, told "The Guardian" on May 7 that Iran will present its own proposals on its nuclear program and "all aspects of our relationship" before the end of the next week. He said Iran insists on its right to make nuclear fuel, but hinted that Tehran may accept extensive checks of its installations by the International Atomic Energy Agency to alleviate foreign governments' concerns. Movahedian said members of the 5+1 group have received preliminary versions of Iran's proposals and responded positively. But "The Guardian's" website on May 8 quoted an unnamed Russian official, apparently familiar with the proposals, as saying that Iran is proposing to have "regional cooperation and other incentives, but carry on doing what they're doing with uranium. That's not going to fly." Iran's ambassador in Japan, Abbas Araqchi, confirmed to IRNA on May 9 that "there is no place for uranium enrichment suspension" in Iran's proposals. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini on May 8 criticized a British court ruling removing the designation "terrorist" from the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a left-wing militant group opposed to Iran's government, Radio Farda reported, citing agency reports. Hosseini said there is clear evidence of the group's "extensive activities" against Iranian officials and civilians, and that the ruling, which he called politically motivated and baseless, will "promote terrorism and violence," IRNA reported. The Court of Appeals in London ruled on May 7 that there are no "valid grounds" for overturning an earlier ruling in favor of the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran -- another name used by the MKO -- and that the group is not a terrorist organization in the context of Britain's 2000 Terrorism Act (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 17, 2007). The ruling was a setback for the Home Office, which appealed against the earlier ruling and sought to preserve the terrorist designation. The group has carried out bombings in Iran since the 1979 revolution, and engaged in some guerrilla activities against Western interests in the 1970s under Iran's Western-oriented monarchy. It is considered a terrorist group by Iran, the United States, and the EU. The Iranian Embassy in London stated on May 7 that the ruling does not absolve the British government from its duties in fighting terrorism. It added that it has discredited the United Kingdom's claims to be a peaceful state and enemy of terrorism, Radio Farda reported. One of the group's leaders, Mariam Rajavi, welcomed the ruling on May 7 in an interview with Reuters. VS

Iranian officials reported on May 7 that suspects in the April 12 bombing of a mosque in Shiraz, southern Iran, have been arrested, Radio Farda reported on May 8 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 15 and 17, 2008). The announcements contradicted earlier official conclusions that the mosque explosion was an accident. Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi said the suspected bombers were "self-styled royalists" and supporters of states "that claim to defend human rights and the rights of nations, and to fight terrorism," Radio Farda reported. Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei said the same day that six people were arrested in connection with the bombing, and the person he described as the main perpetrator was apprehended when he or she sought to leave the country and was "armed at the time of his arrest." Mohseni-Ejei said the main culprit has ties to Britain and the United States, which, he said, have failed to curb the militant's activities. He said the suspects include an agent with links to foreign powers, and that state officials found cyanide pills, weapons, ammunition and explosives during the arrests. The bombing in Shiraz killed 12 people and injured some 200. VS

The authorities at Tehran's Evin prison hanged four men convicted of murder on May 7, AFP reported the following day, citing the daily "Etemad-i Melli." The convicts' crimes, which took place as far back as 2002, arose out of financial or marital disputes, or in connection with robberies, AFP reported. The news agency reported that at least 90 executions have taken place in Iran this year, and put the number of executions in 2007 at 317, and 177 in 2006. VS

U.S. military officials on May 9 denied reports that Iraqi forces in Mosul on May 8 arrested Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the so-called minister of war for the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq. "Neither coalition forces nor Iraqi security forces detained or killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri. This guy had a similar name," U.S. military spokeswoman Peggy Kageleiry said. Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf, the director of operations at the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television on May 8 that an informant who he described as close to al-Muhajir alerted local police to al-Muhajir's whereabouts. "The house in which [al-Muhajir] was present was stormed and the criminal arrested. After the preliminary interrogation, he confessed that he is Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, commander of the Al-Qaeda organization," Khalaf said. In a May 9 interview with Al-Sharqiyah television, Ninawa Governor Durayd Kashmula said al-Muhajir was asleep in the house when it was stormed by Iraqi and U.S. forces. Kashmula added that al-Muhajir is in U.S. custody and undergoing interrogation and DNA tests to confirm his identity. KR

Al-Arabiyah television reported on May 7 that a police chief in Hadithah has revealed the identity of the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, known as Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, who replaced Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi as the organization's leader in October 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). The Hadithah police chief, who was not identified by name, told the news channel: "Through intelligence information, it was revealed that [al-Baghdadi] is Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi. He was an officer in the [former Iraqi] security agencies but was dismissed for being a hardliner. We are currently pursuing him, and he is now moving between Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk, and the Makhmur area" between Irbil and Mosul. The police chief said al-Zawi is a prominent figure from the Al-Haqlaniyah subdistrict in Al-Anbar Governorate. Al-Arabiyah reported that al-Zawi was a prayer leader at a mosque in nearby Hadithah for some time. KR

Ahmad Abu Rishah, chairman of the Al-Anbar Awakening Movement, has accused Syria of aiding gunmen who have attacked security forces in Al-Anbar Governorate, Al-Arabiyah television reported on May 7. Abu Rishah said gunmen killed two military officers and nine policemen in Al-Qa'im before fleeing across the border into Syria. "We have become impatient with these crimes that the [Syrian security] apparatus is committing. I call on the Syrian regime to reconsider the situation and to be a good neighbor," Abu Rishah told the news channel. Asked why the Syrian security services would target Iraqi security forces, he said: "Most leaders of Al-Qaeda were members of the Syrian [security] apparatus. We have enough evidence and information about their involvement. It was discovered after criminals were arrested when [Al-Anbar security] operations began against Al-Qaeda that the majority of them were Syrians." Abu Rishah said the central government is aware of this information, adding: "We have even informed them that the Syrian regime has advanced five kilometers into Iraqi territory." He accused Syria of aiding Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and playing a role in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, saying, "it is not new for Syrian intelligence to do such things in Arab countries." KR

Government forces closed down the radio station run by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on May 8, the Aswat Al-Iraq website reported. The station's manager, Abid Abu Zahra, said a U.S. and Iraqi joint security force closed down the Al-Ahad station on the orders of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. "This step made by the government is a dangerous measure that deprives people of the voice that represents their pains," he said. Abu Zahra said the station, set up in Baghdad in 2006, does not incite violence, but rather calls for peace. He also responded to apparent government claims that the station occupies state-owned property, saying that the premises were rented 10 years ago from a trade union. "The station will employ peaceful methods and will resort to the judiciary and parliament to settle the issue," Abu Zahra added. The website reported that Sadrist lawmakers held a press conference in Baghdad on May 8 to demand the station be reopened. Lawmaker Fawzi Akram called the closure an unprecedented step in pressuring media outlets, while parliamentarian Salih al-Ukayli told reporters: "The raid operation is a clear message to media personnel to silence the truth." U.S. military spokesman Abd al-Latif Rayyan denied U.S. participation in the radio station's closure. KR