News in Brief

New Council for Disabled



President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday signed a decree establishing a presidential council on the affairs of disabled people, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin will chair the council, which is charged with creating legislation aimed at improving equality of opportunity for disabled citizens, the Kremlin said.

There are some 13 million people living with disabilities in Russia, with 700,000 newly disabled citizens annually, according to figures from the Health and Social Development Ministry.

Only 40 percent of all disabled children in the country receive an education, and 200,000 have never even been to school, according to the Education and Science Ministry. (MT)




Pilots Survive Bomber Crash



A Su-24M bomber crashed on a training mission Friday, but both pilots bailed out safely, the Air Force said.

The jet crashed in the Voronezh region, and nothing was damaged on the ground, Air Force spokesman Vladimir Drik said.

He said the Air Force had grounded its Su-24Ms until an official panel determined the cause of the crash. (AP)




Russians Snatched in Nigeria



ABUJA, Nigeria -- Gunmen in speedboats attacked a housing compound and kidnapped two Russians working for United Company RusAl in the port town of Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom early Saturday, security sources said.

The two Russians were working for Nigeria's sole aluminum smelting plant, which is owned by RusAl.

RusAl confirmed its workers were kidnapped.

Gunmen in speedboats also attacked three oil services ships and kidnapped at least two Russians in separate incidents in Nigeria's Niger Delta late Friday.

Hostages in Nigeria are normally released after a ransom is paid. (Reuters)




5 Injured in Southern Blasts



ROSTOV-ON-DON -- Police said Saturday that five people, four of them police officers, have been injured in explosions set off by rebels in southern Russia.

The Interior Ministry's branch in Dagestan said three police officers were injured Friday when their vehicle hit a radio-controlled land mine laid by the rebels on the outskirts of Makhachkala.

In Chechnya, a police officer and a civilian were wounded Saturday by an explosive device left by the rebels at a construction site, said the regional branch of the Interior Ministry.

Also, in Kabardino-Balkariaya, police tracked down a suspected militant Saturday. He refused to surrender and was killed in a skirmish, said the regional office of the Interior Ministry. (AP)




Population Still Declining



A baby boom encouraged and touted by the Kremlin may be short-lived and will not reverse the country's headlong population decline, a respected demographer said.

Government goals of halting population shrinkage and sharply increasing life expectancy in less than two decades are almost certainly out of reach, Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Institute of Demography at Russia's Higher School of Economics, said Thursday.

He said the population could be expected to fall from just under 142 million today to about 110 million in 2050 -- though it could drop even lower, depending on immigration and other factors.

"We'll survive the economic crisis, as hard as it may be, but the demographic crisis we're in is dangerous," Vishnevsky said. (AP)




Azeris Back Term Limit



BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azerbaijan's parliament overwhelmingly backed scrapping presidential term limits Friday, potentially prolonging a dynasty that has led the country for most of the past four decades.

The legislature, which is dominated by allies of President Ilham Aliyev, voted 95-4 with one abstention to put the issue to Azeris in a nationwide referendum.

The referendum would also ask voters whether elections should be postponed in the event of war.

"Today's decision completely contradicts the fundamental principles of democracy and of Azerbaijan," said Isa Gambar, leader of the opposition party Musavat.

While Aliyev's ruling party has given little explanation for the move, Faizil Agamali, who heads a small pro-government party, said Aliyev has improved Azerbaijan's economy and image. "The departure of Ilham Aliyev from politics would bring nothing good for our people," he said. (AP)




BBC Back on Kyrgyz Air



BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- The BBC has resumed local language broadcasts in Kyrgyzstan two weeks after having its programming pulled off the air over a purported breach of contractual obligations, the British station said.

BBC programs started airing on the local state broadcaster again last week, the station's Kyrgyz office said.

Authorities had drawn criticism from government opponents for the recent halting of broadcasts by the BBC and U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz Service. (Reuters)




2nd Round in Turkmen Vote



ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmens will vote in a second round in two constituencies in parliamentary elections, the state-run news agency said Sunday.

Turkmens voted Dec. 14 in elections promoted by the government as a step to democracy, but criticized in the West for lack of choice.

The Turkmen Khabarlary news agency, citing the Central Election Commission, said one of the second-round votes would be on Dec. 28, between the two leading candidates after neither got more than 50 percent of the vote the first time.

In another constituency, the agency said, the winner withdrew from the race "for family reasons." A new poll will be held there on Feb. 8. (Reuters)




Armenians Go on Trial



YEREVAN, Armenia -- Former Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanyan and six other opposition figures went on trial in Yerevan on Friday on charges of seeking to overthrow the government during protests in March.

Ten people died when protests against the results of a presidential election turned violent.

More than 100 opposition supporters gathered outside the court on Friday as the trial got under way, chanting "We are with you" and "We'll free you."

The trial was adjourned until Dec. 23.

Of 140 people charged over the violence, 101 have been convicted, of whom 52 received jail sentences. (Reuters)