News in Brief

NATO Offered a Deal

Russia's ambassador to NATO said Thursday that Moscow could help NATO resupply its forces in Afghanistan if the alliance restores contacts with Russia that were put on hold over the war with Georgia.

Ambassadors from the alliance's 26 members and Russia will meet in a joint council on Monday for the first time since NATO suspended the sessions in protest at what it called Russia's "disproportionate" use of force against Georgia last August.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, for the first time made an explicit link between the restoration of ties and giving the alliance transit routes across Russia and neighboring countries to ship supplies into Afghanistan. "If our joint business in this council goes well, and after its informal session we agree on the resumption of the council's activities, I do not exclude that this transit will start working at full capacity," Rogozin said, Interfax reported. (Reuters)

Putin to Visit Prague

PRAGUE -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to visit Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, the Czech government, which holds the European Union presidency, said Thursday.

The date of the visit has not yet been set, it said in a statement. As part of their EU presidency, the Czechs are expected to host an EU-Russia summit in June. (Reuters)

7 Held in Police Scam

A police officer and six accomplices posing as police killed seven people in a series of armed robberies targeting small businesses, prosecutors said Thursday.

The men have been charged with murder for attacks that took place in and around Moscow from 2003 to 2007, the Prosecutor General's Office said. Six of the victims were merchants or other entrepreneurs, and one was a police officer who tried to stop an attack.

The suspects wore police uniforms and carried fake police documents as well as guns and handcuffs. (AP)

Water Shortage Warning

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Some Central Asian countries could be hit by severe water shortages this year because power-starved Tajikistan has been draining its reservoirs to generate electricity, Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi said.

To compensate for a shortfall caused by the suspension of electricity from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan is taking unusually high volumes of water from its main reservoirs to generate hydropower, Zarifi said. The reservoir supplies Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. (AP)

Turkmen Cabinet Shuffled

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan's president has dismissed the defense minister and other top officials, continuing a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle, government media reported Thursday.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov dismissed Agageldy Mammetgeldiyev from the defense minister's job reportedly for health reasons. His ministry was subjected to sharp criticism in September for mishandling a gunbattle in the capital.

Other officials dismissed this week include the heads of the border service and migration department. (AP)

Satellite Sheds Fragments

Fragments have broken off a Soviet-era nuclear-powered satellite but do not pose a threat to the Earth's surface or the international space station, a senior military official said.

The Kosmos-1818 military satellite, which was decommissioned shortly after its launch in 1987, shed "insignificant" fragments into space on July 4, 2008, Space Forces deputy head Alexander Yakushin said in a statement Wednesday.

"There is no risk of radioactive contamination of the Earth's surface," he said.

The international space station is not at risk as the satellite has a much higher orbit, he said. (Reuters)