Forced move puts central Asian library’s rare collection at risk 6 March One of the most prestigious libraries in Central Asia has been forced to move, potentially endangering some of its ancient and rare documents, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports. The buildings housing the Alisher Navoi Library in Tashkent -- which with 10 million books in 75 different languages is among the region's largest -- were demolished on March 4. The library also has some of Central Asia's most important historical documents. In 2003, the library lost its original building in downtown Tashkent, which was demolished to make room for a new building for the Senate, the upper chamber of the Uzbek parliament. Officials had since moved the library to buildings vacated by the Tashkent city administration and the Committee of State Security. Library director Malika Matmurodova told RFE/RL that the books, historical documents, and manuscripts are currently being transported to various different government buildings around the Uzbek capital. Farida Nosirova, the chief of the library's preservation department, told RFE/RL that all the books -- especially manuscripts that are centuries old -- need to be kept under special conditions that do not exist at present. She said there are many ancient manuscripts written in Farsi and Arabic that need extremely urgent care or they could be damaged beyond repair. The Alisher Navoi Library was established in Tashkent in 1870 but has not functioned normally since it was moved in 2003. (RFE/RL)
Russia says Islamist rebel leader killed
Russia's Federal Security Service chief on Saturday confirmed the death of a prominent Islamist rebel who he accused of plotting a bomb attack on a Moscow-to-St Petersburg train that killed 26 people last year. Alexander Tikhomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky, was among eight rebels killed in a two-day raid in the volatile Caucasus region of Ingushetia in early March, FSB head Alexander Bortnikov told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"Material evidence was found on the scene of the special operation directly connected to the train blast organised by this group of bandits in November last year," Bortnikov said in comments broadcast on the Russian TV channel Rossiya 24. Islamic militants from Russia's North Caucasus claimed responsibility for the attack on the Nevsky Express and vowed further "acts of sabotage." No major attacks have followed. But Buryatsky himself had never claimed responsibility for the bombing, and Bortnikov's comments were the first time he had been directly linked to the attack. Buryatsky's death is a major victory for the Kremlin in its battle against an Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus, which analysts have said appears to be mutating from a grassroots separatist movement toward global jihad. Violence in the North Caucasus region in the form of shootings and suicide bombs, particularly in the Muslim-majority republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, has escalated over the last year. Russia's most wanted guerrilla, Chechen-born Doku Umarov, has vowed on Islamist websites to spread his attacks from the region to other parts of Russia. Tikhomirov renamed himself Said Buryatsky after his native Buryatia region in eastern Siberia. He became a cleric and spent several years in Egypt, where he learned fluent Arabic, political analysts say.
Last August he claimed responsibility for organizing the deadliest attack in the North Caucasus in the last four years, when a suicide bomber killed at least 20 and injured 138 at a police headquarters in Ingushetia.
Ingushetia's leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, also confirmed reports that Buryatsky had been killed in a gun battle near Nazran, Ingushetia's largest town. (Reuters)
Genocide label threatens U.S.-Turkish ties 8 March A U.S. Congress panel's decision to label the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide has damaged relations with Turkey, a key ally linking the West and the Middle East. The resolution labels the 1915-23 killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians genocide and calls on U.S. President Barack Obama to use the word in his yearly statement on the issue. After the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee passed the nonbinding resolution last week, opening the door for a vote in full House, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Washington. Turkish leaders over the weekend slammed the resolution, saying it would hurt U.S.-Turkish relations if passed. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a comedy. "Let me say quite clearly that this resolution will not harm us," he said in remarks on Turkish television. "But it will damage bilateral relations between countries, their interests and their visions for the future." The Turkish Embassy said in a statement that the resolution, if adopted, would "impede the efforts for the normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations." Observers say the vote threatens an already stalled peace process that hit its high last October when Turkey and Armenia after decades of conflict signed two documents to re-establish ties and reopen the countries' mutual border. Washington has tried everything to contain the damage. "The Obama administration strongly opposes the resolution that was passed by only one vote in the House committee and will work very hard to make sure it does not go to the House floor," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday. A similar resolution was introduced in 2007 but failed to make it to the House floor because it was blocked by President George W. Bush. (UPI)
Ahmadinejad arrives in Afghanistan: govt
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew into Kabul on Wednesday for summit talks on a visit overlapping with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in Afghanistan to review a US troop surge. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office confirmed Ahmadinejad's arrival as Gates toured a training centre for Afghan army officers and non-commissioned officers at Camp Blackhorse outside the Afghan capital. "They will discuss bilateral relations between the two countries and expansion of economic relations between the two countries," Karzai spokesman Siamak Hirawi told AFP. They were scheduled to discuss economic projects such as a railway line from Tajikistan through Afghanistan to Iran, Hirawi said. The two leaders were scheduled to hold a news conference later Wednesday after their first meeting since their controversial re-elections in 2009. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan, on Iran's eastern border, while US officials have long accused Iran of maintaining links to Islamist insurgents in the country. Speaking at a brief press conference at the military training centre, Gates said the United States wanted Afghanistan to have "good relations" with all its neighbours. Despite their rivalry, Washington and Tehran are both sworn enemies of the extremist Sunni Muslim militia which ruled in Kabul from 1996, before being overthrown in the 2001 US-led invasion. Washington has made a number of efforts to involve all of Afghanistan's neighbours, including Iran, in restoring stability to the country. But they have been complicated by the lack of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington, and the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme. Wednesday's overlapping visits came as Washington struggled to rally international support for fresh sanctions over the Iranian nuclear drive, with China and Russia still apparently reluctant to sign on. Israel's UN ambassador on Tuesday said prospects for crippling UN sanctions against Iran were "grim" because Russia and China want to use diplomacy to persuade Iran to scale back its nuclear ambitions. Shiite Iran, which has close ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan, has long suffered from the effects of opium production in its neighbour, with easily available heroin fuelling a big rise in drug use at home. Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the world's heroin. (AFP)
USA won’t have military base in southern Kyrgyzstan – embassy
The United States does not plan to have a military base in southern Kyrgyzstan, a source at the U.S. embassy in Bishkek told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. The regional media said earlier that the Pentagon was contemplating possible deployment of a military base in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The United States will build a training camp for Kyrgyz servicemen and members of anti-terrorist units in southern Kyrgyzstan in keeping with intergovernmental agreements. The project will cost $5.5 million. The construction of the training camp will begin next year. The camp will train Kyrgyz servicemen only. The United States has opened a training center for specialized units of the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry in Tokmak and a military hospital. A U.S. Air Force base was deployed in Kyrgyzstan in December 2001. The base was renamed into a transit center last summer. It provides support to the NATO anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan. (Trend News)
Tajikistan court sentences 56 Islamists to jail and fines
Tajikistan's Supreme Court has sentenced 56 people to jail terms or heavy fines for belonging to the banned Tablighi Jamaat Islamist movement, the Interfax news agency reported Wednesday. Tablighi Jamaat (Society for Spreading Faith) is an international spiritual movement - legal in many other countries - with millions of followers, mainly in South Asia, DPA reported. The court sentenced and convicted all of the individuals of publicly calling for violent measures to overthrow the country's authorities, and sentenced 23 to between three and six years in prison. The remaining 33 were ordered to pay fines of up to 16,000 dollars. The average yearly salary in the impoverished Central Asia republic is around 1,000 dollars. The authoritarian government in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, fears a revival of Islamism. In the 1990s Islamist rebels fought a bloody civil war against government troops. (Trend News)
Cutback in military budget of Azerbaijan to be a part of settlement process of Karabakh conflict
Cutback in the military budget of Azerbaijan has become a part of the settlement process of the Karabakh conflict. Special representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly for Nagorno Karabakh conflict and Georgia, Goran Lenmarker, said on March 11 at the seminar of NATO Parliamentary Assembly Rose-Rot, the agency reports citing News of Armenia - NEWS.am. According to G. Lenmarker, the more the settlement process of the Karabakh conflict is prolonged, the more the economies of Armenia and Azerbaijan will suffer. Therefore, we need to find fast solution to the Karabakh conflict. (Kazakhstan Today)
Date of Kazakh president's visit to Uzbekistan announced
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's visit to Uzbekistan will take place on March 16-17, a government source reported. It is expected that presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev and Islam Karimov will review the current condition and prospects of bilateral cooperation, as well as discuss issues of regional policy. During the visit, there are plans to sign a joint declaration of presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, an inter-governmental agreement on mutual provision of land plots for construction of buildings for diplomatic missions, the program of cooperation between the Foreign Ministries for 2010-2011 and several other documents. It is expected that the visit would bring bilateral relations to a higher, qualitatively new level and give new impetus to further strengthenning the mutually beneficial relations. According to State Statistics Committee of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan ranks the fifth among the largest foreign trade partners of Uzbekistan, which accounted for up to 6.2 percent of country's turnover in 2009. (Trend News)
Four militants killed in police operation in Chechnya - Kadyrov
Four militants were killed in a special police operation in the mountainous south of Chechnya, in Russia's North Caucasus, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said on Thursday. "The operation was conducted near the village of Nokhtch-Keloi in the Shatoi district of Chechnya... Four militants were killed in the operation," Kadyrov told journalists. Three of the killed militants have been already identified, he said, adding that no police or law-enforcement personnel were injured in the operation, which was still ongoing in the area. Moscow announced an end to its decade-long antiterrorism campaign against separatists in Chechnya in April 2009, but has since had to step up the fight against militants as skirmishes and attacks on police and other officials have continued. (RIA Novosti)
Total of 14 coaches set off track by bombing of railway in Dagestan
A total of fourteen coaches of an empty freight train were set off the track and the drive engine received insignificant damage when a bomb planted in the railway’s groundwork went off in Makhachkala, the capital of the North Caucasian region of Dagestan, a source at the transport police department of the North Caucasus branch or Russian Railways said. “A crater of about 30 centimeters deep emerged at the epicenter of the explosion, which also knocked out several sleepers and damaged a small section of a rail,” the source said. Earlier, sources indicated that the empty train was en route to Makhachkala from the town of Derbent. They also indicated that no one was killed or injured in the incident, which occurred at around 21:40. At the time of reporting, demolition experts were examining the track to see if more explosives devices might have been planted there. After the examination is over, repair teams will get down to work. In the meantime, the incident may cause delays of passenger trains. Transport police officials said two passenger trains, Baku-Tyumen and Tyumen-Baku, are to pass the affected section of the line overnight to Friday and the delay looks indefinite for the time being. (Itar-Tass)
Turkish-Swedish row over genocide label 12 March Turkey recalled its ambassador to Sweden and canceled bilateral meetings after lawmakers in Stockholm called the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman-era Turks genocide, a few days after rowing with Washington over the same issue. Ankara also canceled a March 17 summit between the nations and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's corresponding visit to Sweden. The diplomatic crisis comes a week after Ankara recalled its ambassador to the United States because a congressional committee approved a similar resolution. Erdogan's office strongly condemned the Swedish resolution, which labels the 1915-23 killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians genocide, saying in a statement it was "unsubstantiated," and "replete with immense errors." It added the resolution was adopted to please domestic voters ahead of the September national elections in Sweden. "This resolution adopted with domestic political motives does not befit Turkey-Sweden relations and the close cooperation and friendship between our peoples," the statement reads. "Those who believe that historical facts and Turkey's opinion regarding its own history will be changed by decisions adopted by foreign Parliaments for political gains are gravely mistaken." The Swedish government also criticized the resolution, which passed by one vote. "Historical events should not be judged at a political level but should be left to the parties concerned to discuss on the basis of current research," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a statement posted on a Swedish government Web site. "The decision will not help the debate in Turkey, which has become increasingly open and tolerant as Turkey has developed closer relations with the European Union and made the democratic reforms these entail." Observers say Turkey's recent conflicts with Washington and Stockholm over the genocide label threatens an already stalled peace process that hit its high last October when Turkey and Armenia, after decades of conflict, signed documents to re-establish ties and reopen the countries' mutual border. The "genocide" label is important to Armenians scattered around the world. An estimated 5.7 million Armenians live abroad, including 1.4 million in the United States, significantly outnumbering the 3.2 million living in the small, landlocked country itself. (UPI)
Kazakh town destroyed after dams burst, 35 dead 13 March At least 35 people have been killed and thousands evacuated from the southeastern Kazakh town of Qyzylaghash and nearby villages after floodwaters destroyed two dams in the area, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports. Ilyas Biyakhmetov, a spokesman for the Almaty Oblast governor, said that 70 percent of Qyzylaghash is completely destroyed. Melting snow and days of heavy rain in the area burst a dam in a district north of Almaty -- Kazakhstan's largest city -- while the other dam broke in the Karatal district. Rescue operations to the affected area are being hindered by damage to the main highway connecting the area with Taldy-Qorghan and Almaty. President Nursultan Nazarbaev said at a government meeting today that the owner of the privately owned dam whose rupture destroyed Qyzylaghash, a village of 3,000 people, could face prosecution for failing to take adequate safety measures against annual spring flooding. One of the evacuated residents of Qyzylaghash, Razbek Alyqqan, told RFE/RL that relatives who live close to one of the dams warned him that the water level was reaching a critical point and urged him to flee the town with his family. "We left everything, including our livestock. Everything is destroyed, but thank God we are alive," Alyqqan said. Kazakh officials expect the death toll to increase. A woman who managed to escape the area told RFE/RL in Taldy-Qorghan that many people are missing and presumed dead. Hundreds of Qyzylaghash residents are at the Taldy-Qorghan morgue trying to obtain information about or to identify missing relatives. (RFE/RL)
Four militants have been destroyed in a special operation in Dagestan.
Four militants have been destroyed in a special operation in the settlement of Zubutli-Miatli of Dagestan’s Kizilyurtovsky region. As ITAR-TASS learnt at the press service of the Russian Federal Security Service Department for Dagestan, “three of the destroyed militants were identified as active members of the Khasavyurt terrorist group, all of them are natives of the settlement of Toturbi-Kala of the Khasavyurt region.” According to the press service, two of them are brothers Rustam and Biisultan Dzamalov, as well as Abdulbek Dzabrailov. The militants were blocked in one of private house holdings on Saturday morning. They were offered to surrender, however, they opened fire.” The destroyed militants had with them three submachine-guns, magazines for them and other ammunition. There are no losses among commandos and officers of the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry. (Itar-Tass)
Vulnerable Kandahar reels after blasts 14 March The beleaguered southern Afghan city of Kandahar is in mourning after a series of bombings that killed at least 30 and wounded 50 more. Among the dead in the March 13 blasts were 10 women and children who were attending a wedding celebration in a hall next to a targeted police station. In the wake of the bombings, Kandahar's Governor, Turyalai Wesa, demanded more security assistance from Kabul. Speaking to journalists on March 14, Wesa asked for more troops to protect Kandahar and urged grater coordination between NATO and Afghan forces to improve security. Analysts say the bombings highlighted Kandahar's weak security as NATO and Afghan forces build up their numbers before confronting the insurgents in a fresh offensive. The new campaign is expected to build on operation Moshtarak -- NATO's largest offensive to date that reclaimed Marja -- a major insurgent stronghold in neighboring Helmand Province. In a statement released on March 14, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the bombings show the insurgents are still able to operate despite the buildup of international troops in the south in preparation for a push into Kandahar province. Kandahar is the second-largest city in the country. It is the birthplace of the Taliban movement in mid-1990s and a major battleground for their insurgency during the past few years. Wesa said that attacks targeted a newly fortified prison and police headquarters and confirmed that at least six police officers were among the dead. (RFE/RL)
Kazakhstan Drafts Bill for Islamic Financing, Zhamishev Says
March 15 -- Kazakhstan has drafted a bill to borrow via Islamic financing, Finance Minister Bolat Zhamishev said in the capital Astana today. The funds will be used to cut the budget deficit, he told a conference. (Bloomberg)
Caspian littoral countries agreed on main principles of safety cooperation in Caspian Sea
The near-Caspian countries agreed on the main principles of safety cooperation in the Caspian Sea, the agency reports citing the news agency Trend News. "We managed to reach arrangements on all main principles of cooperation in safety issues in the Caspian sea and within the limits of the third session, over which we will be working within the next one-two months, we intend to define the list of structures, which will be involved in this cooperation, Halaf Halafov, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, said at a briefing on Friday, following the results of the 23rd session of Vice Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the near-Caspian countries taken place on March 11 - 12 in Baku. He said, "The near-Caspian countries are ready to cooperate in the field of safety." According to Trend News, the Baku session participants discussed the questions of coordination of the draft agreement of boundary customs services cooperation and Internal Affairs Departments in safety area in the Caspian Sea. (Kazakhstan Today)
Georgian’s opposition leader’s relative dismissed from diplomatic post 15 March Georgia's ambassador to the Netherlands says she was dismissed because she is a relative of opposition leader Irakli Alasania, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports. Maya Panjikidze, who is the sister of Alasania's wife, has been a member of the Georgian diplomatic corps for 16 years. She has served as ambassador in The Hague since 2007 and her posting was not due to expire until 2011. Panjikidze told RFE/RL that she was not officially informed why she has been recalled from Holland nor has she been offered another diplomatic post. She said was told that her term as ambassador in The Hague ended on March 14. But she said she was told unofficially that she was dismissed in the wake of an incident in which a senior Georgian official and his wife were suspected of shoplifting on a visit to the Netherlands but were subsequently exonerated. The official reportedly felt Panjikidze did not provide adequate support and assistance to him and his wife. She added that she suspects that she was fired because of her family ties to Alasania. Panjikidze told RFE/RL she has always considered herself a representative of the Georgian people, not of the government. She said all aspects of Georgia's foreign policy are acceptable to her. Panjikidze says she has no intention of going into politics. She said she may seek work in a local school as a German language teacher. Her previous diplomatic posting was as ambassador in Berlin from 2004-07. Alasania, chairman of the Alliance for Georiga, is Georgia's former ambassador to the UN and a prospective opposition candidate in the Tbilisi mayoral elections in May. He is also being tipped as a potential presidential candidate. (RFE/RL)
UN chief to visit Soviet nuclear testing ground in Kazakhstan
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon plans to visit the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk nuclear test facility during his visit to Kazakhstan next month, the United Nations Development Program said on Tuesday. "During his visit the UN secretary general... will visit the Semipalatinsk region and especially the territory of the former nuclear testing ground," the UNDP's Kazakhstan office said in a statement. Ban is due to visit the vast Central Asian country on April 6-7. The Semipalatinsk testing facility in northeastern Kazakhstan was the main location for Soviet nuclear tests for four decades and the area is highly polluted by radiation. The first Soviet nuclear test took place there in 1949 and by the time the site was closed in 1989 at least 468 nuclear tests had been carried out, including 55 airborne or above ground explosions. An estimated 1.6 million people were subjected to radiation during this period due to Soviet authorities' failure to take the necessary measures to protect the population. (RIA Novosti)
Afghanistan confirms blanket pardon for pre-2001 war crimes 16 March Afghanistan today confirmed for the first time publicly that it had enacted into law a blanket pardon for war crimes and human rights abuse carried out before 2001. Human rights groups have expressed dismay that the law appeared to have been enacted quietly, granting blanket immunity to members of all armed factions for acts committed during decades of war before the fall of the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai had promised not to sign the National Stability and Reconciliation Law when it was passed by parliament in 2007. Human rights groups say they learned only this year that the bill had been published in the official gazette, making it law. Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omer, today said that the bill had become law because it was passed by two-thirds of the parliament and therefore did not require Karzai's signature. Parliament is made up largely of lawmakers from former armed groups, some of whom are accused of war crimes by rights groups and ordinary Afghans. "This law was passed with a two-thirds majority in our parliament, and according to our constitution, when a law is passed with a two-thirds majority, it does not require the president to sign it," Omer told a briefing. It was the first time the palace had confirmed that the measure had become law. Brad Adams, Asia director for watchdog Human Rights Watch, said there was still mystery surrounding the process, and why it apparently took more than two years for news of the law's enactment to be made public. "This law is absolute disgrace. It's a slap in the face to all the Afghans who suffered for years and years of war crimes and warlordism," Adams told Reuters. He called on the international community and the United States to apply pressure on Afghanistan to repeal the law. "The U.S. needs to decide whether they're with the victims or the perpetrators, and make their views known publicly," he said. During Karzai's eight years in power, he has consistently included former commanders of armed factions in his government and inner circle, including many accused by the West of war crimes and other abuses. Both of Karzai's two vice presidents are former leaders of armed groups whose factions squabbled for control of Kabul in the 1990s, when thousands of civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands fled their homes. Supporters of the amnesty say prosecuting old allegations would risk restarting years of civil war. But critics say providing a blanket pardon for former warlords allows them to retain their grip over the economy and public life. (Reuters)
Kazakhstan flood death toll rises to 37
The number of victims of last week's flood that destroyed a village near Kazakh financial hub Almaty has risen to 37, a deputy prime minister said Tuesday. "According to the preliminary data of the Emergencies Ministry, 37 bodies have been recovered already," Aset Isekeshev told a government meeting. The previous toll was 34.
Eager to show decisive leadership at a time of economic hardship, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ordered the government to investigate the rupture Friday of a dam, and bring to justice those responsible. In a statement issued after Nazarbayev's order, the interior ministry said it had detained five officials including the mayor of Kyzyl-Agash, a village which was completely destroyed when the nearby dam burst, flooding hilly pastures north of Almaty. Spring flooding is a frequent occurrence in Central Asia but a sudden rise in temperatures following weeks of heavy snow storms has exacerbated the problem this year. (Reuters)
Imedi head denies informing officials of fake report beforehand
The head of the Georgian TV channel, which created nationwide panic by a bogus TV news report of a Russian invasion, denied that the country's top officials were informed about the program beforehand. The Imedi TV channel sparked panic in Georgia on Saturday with a broadcast that said Russian tanks had invaded the capital and the country's president was dead. The broadcast by Imedi TV, which used the channel's normal news graphics, began on Saturday with a warning that the program showed a sequence of possible events that could occur "if Georgian society is not brought together against Russia's plans." Those viewers who missed the program's introduction took what was shown for real, thinking a new Russia-Georgia war erupted. On Monday some Georgian media made public a record of a phone conversation, in which a person whose voice is similar to Imedi head Georgy Arveladze, talks with a woman, who seems to be the TV host of the disputed program, Eka Tsamalashvili. "[The Georgian law] says that we might lose our [broadcasting] license for creating groundless panic in the society... You should take notice of it. You'd rather write everywhere that this is a fictitious report... Otherwise, we might face the consequences," the woman on the record says. The man answers that he informed "Misha" (apparently the country's president, Mikheil Saakashvili) about the program the day before and the latter advised him against a warning, saying that the program will otherwise "lose its zest." Georgy Arveladze said no such talk ever took place, saying that the record was a compilation of several recorded conversations."All phrases were taken from various dialogs. It is easy to compile my conversation with whoever and on whatever subject that way," Arveladze was broadcasted as saying by the Maestro TV channel. He also dismissed allegations that Saakashvili was informed about the broadcast beforehand and said that "no state officials took part in preparing the program." "We consulted only with some political experts. Experts could only see the script, not the program itself. Of course, the broadcast was based on the script," Arveladze said. He said earlier on Monday that the special report was a warning against possible danger. "Our objective was not to scare society but to show the dangers facing our country," he said. He added that he assumed full responsibility for the report and apologized for its negative consequences. Georgia's National Media Commission ordered Imedi to apologize to the public for the report and examine complaints from all "victims" – people who had reportedly suffered heart attacks and experienced other health problems over the report. (RIA Novosti)
Georgia could sign visa deal in June, EU president says
Georgia could sign in June an agreement that would give its citizens easier visa access to the European Union, the bloc's president Herman Van Rompuy said on Tuesday, dpa reported. The deal, to be accompanied by a parallel agreement on repatriation of Georgians caught staying illegally on EU territory, would speed up procedures and drop visa prices from 60 to 35 euros (48 dollars). "We hope that we can soon fix a date for signature, possibly early June," Van Rompuy said in Brussels after meeting with Georgia's Prime Minister Nika Gilauri. Van Rompuy also said "it should be soon possible" for Georgia and the EU to start negotiations on an Association Agreement, which would include setting up a free-trade area. But in the short-term, the visa deal is likely to matter most to Tblisi's rulers, as it would end the de-facto preferential treatment of people living in territories that have broken away from Georgia with Russian backing, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Their population currently enjoys easier access to the EU by using passports issued by Russia, which has already signed visa-facilitation deals with Brussels. That creates resentment in Tblisi, since Abkhazia and South Ossetia have no international recognition, except from Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru, a tiny island nation in Micronesia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been de-facto independent since the early 1990s, but their isolation from Georgia proper increased in the wake of the 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict, which led Moscow to set up military bases in the two territories. Van Rompuy said the EU continued "to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia" and urged Russia "to fulfil all (the) commitments" dictated by an EU-mediated cease-fire agreement, which include an obligation not to expand its military presence. (Trend News)
Afghan President to visit Iran
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay an official visit to Iran on his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's invitation, Fars news agency reported. One of the spokesmen of the Afghan President's office Siyamak Heravi said that the exact date of the visit is not scheduled, but approximately it will take place in the next two weeks.
Fars News Agency reported that Presidents of Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan will meet in Tehran March 26. (Trend News)