April Fools' Pranks See White Kremlin, Joke Bill

Roman Abramovich will carry the Olympic torch through London, the Kremlin walls are being painted white and the State Duma is considering a bill that would outlaw jokes about politicians.

These were some of the tall tales that Russian newspapers told their readers on Tuesday to celebrate April Fools' Day.

Meanwhile, several major media outlet fell victim to an April Fools' joke when Unified Energy System put a fake news release on its web site.

UES said its subsidiary RusHydro had won a $783 million bid to build the first-ever geothermal power plant in Africa, based at the Cape of Good Hope, where it would use the temperature differential between the Indian and Atlantic oceans to generate electricity.

The announcement was taken seriously by Bloomberg, Interfax and the Russian business news agencies AK&M and Finmarket.

"It was an April Fools' Day joke," RusHydro spokeswoman Yelena Vishnyakova said Tuesday. "UES produces funny fake news releases on April 1 almost every year."

In another holiday tradition, Russian newspapers and web sites ran a variety of stories designed to dupe unsuspecting readers.

Komsomolskaya Pravda even printed an eight-page pull-out section filled with fake news, an impossible Sudoku number puzzle and a weather report promising tropical heat throughout the Moscow region on Wednesday.

Moskovsky Komsomolets ran a front-page story revealing a government plan to paint the Kremlin white, restoring its original 14th-century color. The article cited a history professor describing how the repainting would correct a historical injustice.

The daily newspaper Gazeta also led with a fake story, which announced a proposal by the Federal Prison Service to fill juries with prison inmates.

The newspaper's inside pages were peppered with about 10 more joke stories, including one about the Russian military's successful test of a nonlethal hallucinogen bomb in Sakhalin.

Purportedly tested on 46 volunteers who were paid 100,000 rubles each to participate, the weapon was said to be a Russian answer to the Pentagon's legendary "gay bomb," which changes the sexual orientation of its victims.

The hallucinogen bomb is more humane than other nonlethal weapons because "far from making the enemy suffer from heat or hiccups, it even creates a pleasurable sensation for him," one military analyst was quoted as saying.

One of the more high-minded April Fools' jokes appeared in Noviye Izvestia, which reported that the Duma was considering a bill that would strictly regulate practical jokes and outlaw offensive humor.

Jokes about political leaders would be forbidden, as would jokes about ethnic groups such as Jews and Chukchi, the newspaper said. The imaginary bill would also require citizens who targeted people with practical jokes to inform their victims immediately that they had been joking.

Noviye Izvestia's scoop was picked up by the opposition web site Mediactivist.ru, which apparently did not bother to check the fact that the bill's sponsor was a fictional Duma deputy named after a minor character in the 19th-century novel "Oblomov."

RBC reported that Abramovich, the billionaire owner of the Chelsea football club, would carry the Olympic torch through London on its way to Beijing this summer. The web site's source was an imaginary British newspaper called Gloomy Morning.

The Moscow Times reported that the government was considering a proposal to dig a tunnel between the Kremlin and the White House.