News in Brief

Kasyanov Aides Detained

The campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Mikhail Kasyanov accused the security services on Saturday of illegally detaining six staff members and trying to force them to admit to engaging in illegal activities on the election campaign, Interfax reported.

Kasyanov's deputy campaign manager, Alexander Polovinkin, told reporters that security service officers detained the head of the campaign office in Yoshkar-Ola, Mari-El, on Friday evening as he was boarding a train for Moscow and took him to the prosecutor's office.

Around the same time, officers searched the campaign office and detained five female staff members, he said. The six were held at the prosecutor's office until early Saturday and asked to sign confessions about illegal campaign activities, he said.

Kasyanov's team, meanwhile, said Sunday that they had collected the 2 million signatures needed to register his candidacy with the Central Elections Commission, Interfax reported. (MT)

Veshnyakov Named Envoy

President Vladimir Putin has appointed Alexander Veshnyakov, former chairman of the Central Elections Commission, as ambassador to Latvia, Interfax reported Friday.

In his new capacity, Veshnyakov, 55, replaces Viktor Kalyuzhny, whom Putin has dismissed as ambassador to Latvia, the report said, citing the Kremlin.

Veshnyakov, an outspoken President Boris Yeltsin-era appointee to the Central Elections Commission, was dismissed last March and replaced by an ally of Putin. (MT)

Yushchenko's Poisoning

Russian law enforcement agencies have told Ukrainian investigators that the dioxin discovered in President Viktor Yushchenko's body was not produced in Russia, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko said Saturday.

"We have received an answer from Russia. The Russian side has said that the dioxin ... was not produced there," Medvedko said, Interfax reported.

Yushchenko fell severely ill during his 2004 presidential election campaign, and after treatment in Austria was diagnosed as having suffered massive dioxin poisoning. No arrests have been made in the case. (MT)

Oil Spill Threatens to Spread

Volunteers on Friday scooped dead ducks out of a river near Moscow polluted by an oil spill from a fuel depot at a factory, a leak that is threatening to spread and contaminate drinking water.

Some 500 tons of oil leaked into the Dulov River earlier in the week, the World Wildlife Fund said.

The WWF, which accused the authorities of playing down its size and being slow to respond, said ice was preventing the oil from reaching the Klyazma River, the main water source for thousands of people living to the east of Moscow.

Oleg Lomakin, a senior official from Moscow's emergencies department, said the spill had been controlled. (Reuters)

Senior Police Officer Killed

Unidentified assailants have killed Anatoly Kyarov, the police official leading the fight against organized crime in Kabardino-Balkaria, Itar-Tass reported Sunday.

Another police officer was also killed and a third was wounded when the armed assailants attacked the car they were traveling in late Saturday in Nalchik. (Reuters)

Emergency Landing

A UTAir twin-turboprop was forced to return to Moscow's Vnukovo Airport after departing for Tyumen when it lost cabin pressure, Interfax reported Sunday.

"A cabin pressure failure signal went off as the plane was gaining altitude. The crew turned the plane back to Moscow and landed safely," a Vnukovo Airport official told Interfax.

UTAir officials had no immediate comment.

An investigation has been opened into the incident. (MT)

Envoy Hopeful on Kosovo

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko insisted in comments published Friday that there was still a chance for a negotiated solution to Kosovo's dispute with Serbia, despite indications that the breakaway province will declare independence from Serbia within weeks.

Russia has backed traditional ally Serbia's opposition to independence for Kosovo and called for more talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

"We are firmly convinced that the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Kosovo issue remains," Yakovenko said in an interview with the state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. (AP)

Russian Orthodox Fears

CHISINAU, Moldova -- The head of one of the Moldovan Orthodox Churches accused authorities Friday of harassing priests and believers, after four priests and a nun were expelled from Moldova and banned from returning.

Bishop Petru Paduraru, who heads the Autonomous Bessarabian Metropolitan, an Orthodox Church, sent a letter to the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In it, he detailed what he said were abuses committed by authorities in an effort to make priests leave the church, to which 20 percent of Moldova's Orthodox believers belong.

"Starting in December, most of the priests were visited at home or in their churches by police and secret police," Paduraru wrote. "They were interrogated about why they would not pledge allegiance to the Russian Orthodox Church and prefer to stay in the Bessarabian Orthodox Church," which they said was "an illegal schism." (AP)

For the Record

Washington needs to provide more security for Poland if it wants Warsaw to host a U.S. missile defense base, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said in remarks published Saturday. Klich will go to the United States on Tuesday for talks on the program with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. (AP)

Slain reporter Anna Politkovskaya made the shortlist Saturday for the 34rd annual National Book Critics Circle prize for her book ''Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption and Death in Putin's Russia." Winners will be announced March 6 in New York. (AP)