News in Brief

EU Frets Over Abkhazia

BRUSSELS -- Russia may be preparing to recognize Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, weeks after Kosovo's Western-backed secession from Serbia, a senior EU official said Monday.

Russia dropped formal trade restrictions against the rebel region Thursday, prompting the pro-Western Georgian government to accuse Moscow of trying to destabilize the Caucasus region.

"There is a growing preoccupation and anxiety that Russia may be paving the way for recognition of Abkhazia," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said while reaffirming EU support for Georgia's borders.

She said two EU states, Sweden and Poland, had written to the EU to call for the bloc to do more to stabilize Georgia ahead of the country's parliamentary election in May. (Reuters)

Armenia Eases Restrictions

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Armenia's president on Monday lifted some of the restrictions imposed after police cracked down on protests following last month's presidential election.

President Robert Kocharyan's order allows political parties to resume activities and stops the expulsion of nonresidents from the capital, Yerevan.

Other restrictions remain in place, including harsh controls on the Armenian media.

The government declared a 20-day state of emergency on March 1, when clashes between opposition supporters and police left eight people dead and dozens injured.

On Saturday, the Constitutional Court rejected opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan's appeal of the election results. Officials say it was won by the candidate Kocharyan endorsed -- Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. (AP)

Suicide After UN Crash

KATMANDU, Nepal -- A Russian helicopter engineer committed suicide in Nepal's capital days after his colleagues died in a United Nations chopper crash in the Himalayan country's mountainous east, officials said Monday.

The 50-year-old Russian citizen was identified as Yevgeny Alexandrov and was found dead Sunday in his rented apartment in Katmandu with two suicide notes, police official Bikash Khanal said.

The notes were written in Russian, Khanal said. Police have opened an investigatinon into the death.

Khanal said the helicopter's three-member Russian and Belarussian crew, who died in the crash, were Alexandrov's colleagues and had been sharing the same apartment.

Alexandrov was involved in maintaining the aircraft. (AP)

4 Dead in Karabakh

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces exchanged more gunfire near the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh over the weekend, killing two civilians and at least two soldiers, officials said Monday.

There has been an alarming spike in shootings that Azeri officials say has killed seven soldiers and civilians this month alone. The violence has raised new fears that full-scale fighting could break out again between both sides.

Armenian officials confirmed the weekend shooting, but denied there were fatalities on either side. (AP)

Police Official Killed

NAZRAN, Ingushetia -- Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a senior police officer and wounded two other policemen in a separate attack in North Ossetia, officials and news reports said.

Mark Metsayev, the head of the police department combating organized crime in North Ossetia, was shot dead in the republic's capital, Vladikavkaz, when several assailants ambushed his vehicle Friday and sprayed it with automatic gunfire, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, gunmen fired on a military truck Sunday in neighboring Ingushetia, killing one soldier, officials said.

The attack occurred near the Ingush village of Troitskaya, the regional branch of the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The unidentified assailants fled. (AP)

Mi-8 Goes Down, One Dead

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- A helicopter crashed in Tajikistan's Pamir mountains, killing its pilot and injuring two passengers, officials said.

The Mi-8 helicopter owned by state carrier TajikAir went down Saturday in the mountains near the city of Khorog, some 250 kilometers southeast of the capital, Dushanbe, the Interior Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

The helicopter was carrying a three-member crew and 11 mountain climbers from several countries who were returning from a trip to the area, the ministry said.

The injured were climbers -- one French, the other Russian -- but their names were not immediately available. They were hospitalized in stable condition, authorities said. (AP)

Thousands Rally in Tbilisi

TBILISI, Georgia -- Thousands of opposition protesters rallied in the Georgian capital on Sunday and Monday to put pressure on President Mikheil Saakashvili in the run-up to parliamentary elections in May.

The demonstrators, gathering in front of the parliament building, accused Saakashvili of stealing the Jan. 5 presidential election in which he won a second term with 53 percent of the vote.

They also denounced what opposition leaders described as government control over media and demanded fair access to television.

The opposition claims that Saakashvili surpassed the 50 percent threshold needed for outright victory only by fraud and want him to face a runoff against opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze, who officially won about 25 percent of the vote. (AP)

755 Fishermen Rescued

Helicopters and boats rescued 755 fishermen who were trapped on an ice floe that had broken away from the coast of Sakhalin island, emergency officials said.

The anglers, who were fishing off the southeastern part of Sakhalin, had ignored continuous official warnings about the safety of the ice, officials said.

Authorities mounted a quick rescue effort Sunday in the Sea of Okhotsk involving two helicopters and a dozen rescue boats, said Olga Shekhovtseva, a spokeswoman for the regional branch of Emergency Situations Ministry.

She said crews rescued all those stranded in Sakhalin's Mordvinov Bay. Several dozen salvage workers participated in the rescue effort, Shekhovtseva said by telephone. (AP)