News in Brief

Tajik Man Beheaded

A Tajik man has been beheaded near Moscow in an apparent hate crime, RIA-Novosti reported Tuesday.

A group attacked two Tajik men aged 20 and 22 in the town of Zhabkino, north of Moscow, late Friday, the report said, citing investigators. The attackers fired shots, wounding one man who escaped. The decapitated body of the other man was discovered nearby a day later. The head is missing. (AP, MT)

U.S. Criticizes Raid

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that it was "deeply concerned" about a raid on the St. Petersburg office of the Memorial human rights group last week.

Uniformed men wielding clubs confiscated computer hard drives in the raid, which prosecutors said was based on suspicion that the group financed an opposition newspaper that was closed last year for inciting racial hatred.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Memorial a "respected nongovernmental organization" and urged investigators to return the seized property.

"Unfortunately, this action against Memorial is not an isolated instance of pressure against freedom of association and expression in Russia," he said in a statement. (AP)

Obama Spurs Iran Hopes

A panel of former top international officials voiced hope at a Moscow forum on Tuesday for progress in settling the Iranian nuclear standoff after President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Hans Blix, former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, said he expected the new U.S. administration to take a fresh approach to the deadlocked international talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I hope that the Obama administration in the United States will be more imaginative" on the issue than its predecessors, Blix said after a session of the Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe.

Former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also said he expected the change of administration in Washington to play a positive role in the Iranian nuclear dispute.

"The new administration coming to power in the United States could breathe a new life into the negotiation process," Ivanov told reporters. (AP)

New Coalition in Ukraine

KIEV -- Ukrainian lawmakers have forged a fragile three-party governing coalition after months of political deadlock, said Volodymyr Lytvyn, who was re-elected parliamentary speaker Tuesday evening.

The new coalition puts back together the fractured alliance of President Viktor Yushchenko and his rival Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko plus a smaller party.

A formal coalition agreement will be signed within days, Lytvyn said. (AP)

Medvedev Meets Ilya II

President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday met the head of Georgia's Orthodox church, the first high-level contact between the two countries since they fought a five-day war in August.

Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said Medvedev met Ilya II after the burial of Patriarch Alexy II. Timakova gave no details of the meeting. (Reuters)

Georgian Ministers Named

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian Prime Minister Grigol Mgaloblishvili on Tuesday nominated replacements for several of the ministers who were dismissed last week in a Cabinet shakeup.

He nominated David Sikharulidze, a former ambassador to the United States, as defense minister. Another former diplomat, Lasha Zhvania, was nominated as economy minister. (AP)