News in Brief

Bush Coming Next Week



WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush is accepting President Vladimir Putin's invitation to meet next week in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The meeting between the two leaders will take place April 6, as Bush wraps up a trip to Ukraine, Croatia and the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

Bush said that he and Putin would discuss a dispute between the United States and Russia over a proposed new U.S. missile defense system to be based in Central Europe. (AP)




Chekalin Let Go



First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin has been relieved of his duties, the Kremlin announced on Wednesday morning.

President Vladimir Putin announced the decision in an executive order, which was released by the Kremlin press service, Interfax reported. The Interior Ministry is the government body responsible for the police and various other law enforcement and investigative organs.

No reason was given for Chekalin's dismissal from the post. (MT)




Ministry Says No One Quit



The Defense Ministry took the unusual step Wednesday of denying media reports that General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the General Staff and some of his aides had tendered their resignations in a dispute with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

Citing unnamed military sources, national media reported this week they had offered to resign in protest over planned staff cuts.

"No top-level offers of resignation exist," the ministry press office said in a statement. (Reuters, MT)




Flying Cats Near Belorussky



Gusts of wind lifted a pack of street cats into the air for several minutes in central Moscow, Interfax reported Wednesday

The cats meowed wildly as the wind carried them along late Tuesday night on Gruzinsky Val, near the Belorussky Station in central Moscow, Interfax reported.

In the morning, the cats all appeared to be unharmed, the report said.

The Moscow and Moscow Region Meteorological Bureau issued a warning of strong winds Tuesday evening. (MT)




Belarus Protesters Sentenced



MINSK -- Courts in Belarus on Wednesday began sentencing dozens of protesters detained in an illegal protest denouncing President Alexander Lukashenko.

The political opposition said the police roundup of demonstrators at an evening rally Tuesday could signal an end to Lukashenko's drive to improve relations with the West.

The Interior Ministry said 70 protesters faced public disorder charges. (Reuters)




Friendly Fire Downs Jet



An Air Force combat jet that exploded in midair last week, killing its pilot, was accidentally shot down by another plane, according to news reports Wednesday.

News agencies quoted unnamed investigators as saying a wingman from another plane accidentally fired a missile that hit an Su-25 jet during a training flight March 20 near the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

The Defense Ministry did not immediately comment on the reports. (AP)




Bombers Get NATO Escort



NATO forces sent jets to escort two Russian long-range Air Force bombers patrolling neutral skies near Alaska on Wednesday, news agencies quoted the Defense Ministry as saying.

The military has resumed its Cold War practice of flying regular patrols far beyond its borders and has sent aircraft over U.S. naval aircraft carriers.

Accompanied by two Il-78 refueling tankers, the two Tu-95 bombers flew for 15 hours over the Arctic and Pacific oceans, ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said, Interfax reported. (Reuters)