News in Brief

4 Die in Night Club Fire



A fire that tore through a Siberian night club has killed four people, emergency officials said.

Two men and two women died in the blaze, which engulfed the two-story Golden Rock club in the western Siberian city of Omsk early Saturday morning, a local Emergency Situations Ministry official said. The building was heavily damaged, and its second floor collapsed.

A natural gas explosion could have been the cause, the official said.

Russia records nearly 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the rate per capita in Western countries. (AP)




Hunger Strike in Belarus



MINSK -- A jailed opposition leader in Belarus began a hunger strike after prison authorities refused to let him out of prison for his wife's funeral, his lawyer said.

Prison authorities denied a request to release Alexander Kozulin temporarily to bury his wife, Irina, who died overnight after a struggle with cancer, attorney Igor Rynkevich said.

Kozulin was arrested during an opposition protest after challenging authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in the former Soviet republic's 2006 presidential election. He was found guilty of organizing mass protests and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in a high-security prison.

Kozulin began his hunger strike Sunday. (AP)




Journalist Released in Minsk



MINSK -- Belarussian authorities have released an independent journalist from prison, his lawyer said, a decision that appeared to be part of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's efforts to improve ties with the West.

Alexander Sdvizhkov, a former deputy editor of the Zgoda newspaper, had been convicted in January of inciting religious hatred by publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and sentenced to three years in jail.

Belarus' Supreme Court mitigated Sdvizhkov's sentence Friday, reducing it to three months, which he has already served, said his lawyer, Maya Alexandrova.

Several opposition figures have been released since the start of the year in what the president has called "an unprecedented step of goodwill" toward the United States and the European Union. (AP)




Patarkatsishvili to Go Home



The body of Badri Patarkatsishvili, a Georgian business partner of Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, will be repatriated from Britain, where he died Feb. 12, and buried in Tbilisi.

Patarkatsishvili's funeral will take place on Feb. 28, the businessman's family said in an e-mailed statement Sunday. An investigation into his death is "ongoing," the statement said. The cause of his death at age 52 in the county of Surrey is suspected to be linked to a severe heart condition.

Patarkatsishvili ran against Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the former Soviet republic's presidential election last month. (Bloomberg)




St. Pete University Reopens



The European University in St. Petersburg will resume classes on Tuesday after local lawmakers and international scholars rallied to its defense when a city court ordered it to shut down.

The university, founded in 1994 and supported by foreign foundations, private donors and the city, will hold classes in a building provided by another institution under a rental agreement that extends until July 1, Nikolai Vakhtin, dean of the university, said Friday in an e-mailed statement.

A local court ordered the university to shut down earlier this month after inspectors found fire-safety violations in its 19th-century building in central St. Petersburg. (Bloomberg)




Amber Room Unlikely



The Amber Room, an 18th-century Russian palace chamber, is unlikely to have lasted after being stolen by Nazis during World War II, Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency head Mikhail Shvydkoi said.

"I don't believe the Amber Room has survived, since amber tends to perish when it's kept in a dark place for a long time,'' Shvydkoi told reporters Friday, Interfax reported.

Der Spiegel Online magazine reported that treasure hunters near Germany's border with the Czech Republic may have found the room. (Bloomberg)