News in Brief

Pirates Reduce Ransom

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A Somali pirate on a hijacked cargo ship laden with tanks reduced the ransom Tuesday to $8 million, but it was unclear if he was speaking on behalf of the pirates holding the Ukrainian vessel.

A man who identified himself as Jama Aden and spoke by satellite phone Tuesday is not the usual spokesman for the pirates. He answered the telephone of the spokesman, Sugule Ali, and said Ali was not immediately available.

"There are high hopes we will release the ship within hours if they pay us $8 million," Aden said. "The negotiations with the ship owners are going on well."

The pirates originally demanded $20 million. (AP)

Tajikistan Jails Warlord

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Tajikistan's Supreme Court has found a former rebel warlord guilty of murdering a BBC journalist in 1995 and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, a court spokesman said Tuesday.

Mukhiddin Olimpur, the BBC's chief Farsi language service correspondent in Tajikistan, was killed at the height of a civil war that pitted Tajikistan's Russian-backed government against an alliance of Islamists and liberals.

The court spokesman said Nasrullo Sharifov, who fought on the Islamists' side as a field commander during the war, had been sentenced to 15 years for killing Olimpur. (Reuters)

Lukashenko Assures Russia

ZASLAVL, Belarus -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has told Moscow that any attempts to improve relations with the West would not come at the expense of ties with Russia.

"Some people have been hinting that we have started thinking about a trade -- Russia for Europe," Lukashenko told reporters late Monday before talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "We never make such trades with anyone. We would never trade our friendship with the Russians."

Speaking alongside Lukashenko before their meeting near Minsk, Putin said Moscow was ready to bolster Belarus' financial system. (Reuters)

OSCE: Don't Isolate Belarus

MINSK -- Belarus should not be isolated, and Europe's policy toward it is changing, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Tuesday on a rare visit to the former Soviet state by a senior Western official.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb was meeting Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko a week after a parliamentary election judged by the OSCE to have fallen short of international standards. But both the OSCE and European Union noted improvements in the ballot.

"Belarus cannot and should not be isolated," Stubb told journalists on the plane taking him to Minsk. Finland holds the chairmanship of the OSCE. (Reuters)

Kyrgyz Mourn Quake Dead

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan observed an official day of mourning Tuesday as rescuers searched the rubble for signs of life after an earthquake that killed at least 74 people.

The magnitude 6.6 quake near Kyrgyzstan's borders with Tajikistan and China flattened the remote village of Nura, leaving just a handful of small houses standing in the shadow of high mountains.

At least 30 of the dead were of preschool age, and 93 children have been hospitalized with shock, physical injuries or both, Health Ministry official Toktomat Abdymomunov said. Some lost both their parents in Sunday's quake. (AP)