News in Brief

Holiday Fires Kill Dozens

Twenty-six people died in fires in Moscow during the long New Years holidays, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Sunday.

The holidays also saw an increase in fires, many of them caused by drunken residents smoking in bed. On New Years Eve, firemen were called to 697 fires in Moscow, 442 of them in apartments, the ministry said, RIA-Novosti reported.

There was a drop in the number of Muscovites who sought medical assistance for injuries linked to fireworks. From Dec. 31 to Jan. 10, 34 Muscovites, including six children, were taken to hospitals with burns from fireworks, the ministry said.

That figure is down from 65 during the same period last year, RIA-Novosti reported. (MT)

Drunk Worker Starts Fire

A drunk electrician started a fire at the world-famous Tretyakov Gallery after he fell asleep while smoking a cigarette, a police source told RIA-Novosti on Sunday.

The blaze at the gallery started in an engineering building next to the main gallery on Saturday and damaged technical equipment but not any of the museums valuable artworks.

A 49-year-old electrician caused the fire, the source said.

He is now in a hospital intensive care unit, and it is not yet possible to take a testimony on the accident, the source said.

A museum spokeswoman, however, said it was too early to say what started the blaze.(MT)

4 Suspected Militants Killed

Four suspected militants were killed in a clash with security forces in Ingushetia, Interior Ministry officials said Sunday.

The fighters were hiding in a house in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya, the officials said. One civilian and three policemen were wounded in the fighting Sunday.

The ethnic Chechen gunmen were wanted on criminal charges in Ingushetia and Chechnya, the ministry said. (AP)

Ex-Vladikavkaz Mayor Dead

Kazbek Pagiyev, former mayor of North Ossetias capital, Vladikavkaz, was shot dead near his home in the southern republic, Kommersant reported Sunday.

Pagiyev, who resigned as deputy prime minister of the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia in December, was killed on Dec. 31 by two unidentified gunmen while he was sitting in his car. Pagiyevs driver was also killed in the attack.

Investigators believe that Pagiyevs murder is linked to the assassination of Vladikavkaz Mayor Vitaly Karayev a month earlier.

Five people have been arrested in connection with Karayevs Nov. 26 slaying, though the suspected killer remains at large. (MT)

General Killed in Dagestan

A senior Interior Ministry official was shot dead in Dagestan in an attack for which a radical Islamic group in the southern republic claimed responsibility.

Valery Lipinsky, first deputy head of the Interior Ministry troops in the North Caucasus, was shot dead in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, on Dec. 29, the ministry said on its web site. He was 52.

A radical Islamic group in Dagestan, Jamaat Sharia, claimed responsibility for Lipinskys murder, according to a statement attributed to the group and posted on the Chechen rebel web site of Kavkaz Center on Jan. 5.

Dagestani officials claim to have wiped out Jamaat Sharia, a group notorious for deadly attacks against policemen in the republic, after killing its leader, Rasul Makasharipov, in 2005. (MT, Bloomberg)

Strasbourg Backs Chechens

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay a record 680,000 euros ($910,000) to the families of 10 Chechens detained by the military who were subsequently killed or went missing during the 2000-2002 military campaign in the republic, Interfax reported Sunday.

The Strasbourg-based court said in the ruling that Russian officials had failed to present proper justification for the militarys decision to resort to deadly violence against the Chechen detainees.

The government was also ordered to pay 41,000 euros to cover the court expenses, Interfax said. (MT)

Aleksanyan Released on Bail

Former Yukos executive Vasily Aleksanyan, who is suffering from lymphatic cancer, tuberculosis and AIDS, has been released from custody after posting bail of 50 million rubles ($1.78 million), Kommersant reported.

Aleksanyan, who has been charged with embezzlement and tax evasion, posted the bail on Dec. 30, after which guards outside his local hospital room were removed from duty, Aleksanyans lawyer, Yelena Lvova, told Kommersant.

On Dec. 22, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia had violated Aleksanyans rights by failing to provide relevant and sufficient reasons to justify his detention.

The court also called for other reasonable and less-stringent measures of restraint, saying Aleksanyans continuing pretrial detention has lost any meaningful purpose. (MT)

Convicted Blogger Appeals

A Komi blogger convicted of disseminating hate rhetoric in an Internet posting has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, RIA-Novosti reported Saturday.

Savva Terentyev, who received a one-year suspended sentence last year for suggesting on a blog that police officers be publicly burned like in Auschwitz, is demanding 3,500 euros ($4,700) in damages for what he calls violations of his rights during his trial, his attorney, Ernest Mezak, said. (MT)

Nationalist Leader on Trial

Leading ultranationalist activist Alexander Belov went on trial Sunday in Moscow on charges of inciting ethnic hatred during a speech to supporters on the National Unity Day holiday in November.

Belov appeared in the Dorogomilovsky District Court on charges that he stoked ethnic hatred with the Nov. 4 speech, in which he reportedly drew negative parallels between the authorities and Jews and insulted natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia by calling them hordes of occupants.

Belov, whose real last name is Potkin, was to appear in court last month, but the hearing was postponed after he was attacked on the street and suffered a fractured skull, among other injuries. (MT)