News in Brief

Hundreds Protest Killings



Several hundred people marched through central Moscow on Sunday, calling for an end to political killings.

The march was in memory of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova, who were gunned down on a Moscow street in January. The demonstrators held a banner saying: "A government that is not eager to solve political killings becomes a participant."

City Hall sanctioned the march, and police did not intervene. (AP)




15 Killed in House Fire



At least 15 people died and seven were injured when a three-story wooden hostel erupted in flames in the Astrakhan, local emergency officials said Sunday.

Officials said the fire, in a hostel built for local workers but inhabited by nearly 80 squatters, broke out late Saturday in the town of Molodyozhny. The cause was not immediately clear.

Media reports said the hostel was closed after an official commission found its condition dangerous for residents and electricity was switched off, but squatters reconnected it using makeshift wiring. (Reuters)




U.S. Criticized Over Bout



The Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized a push by U.S. congressmen for the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian wanted on suspicion of trying to smuggle missiles to Colombian rebels.

Bout has been jailed in Thailand since his arrest there a year ago. More than two dozen U.S. lawmakers last week called for Barack Obama's administration to ensure that he is extradited.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the congressmen's call was "bewildering" because charges against Bout in Thailand have been dropped and "his guilt on charges put forth in the United States has not been proven."

"Such activity on the part of lawmakers in a nation that purports to be a paragon of rule and law and observance of human rights looks embarrassing to say the least," the statement said. (AP)




Medvedev Writes Obama



President Dmitry Medvedev has sent a telegram to U.S. President Barack Obama offering condolences over a commuter plane crash that killed 50 people last week, the Kremlin said in a statement Friday.

Ice is suspected in the crash of the Continental Airlines plane in New York state late Thursday, killing all 49 people on the plane and one person on the ground. (MT)




From Singer to Swiss Envoy



YEREVAN, Armenia -- French singer Charles Aznavour has agreed to become ambassador to Switzerland for his ancestral homeland, Armenia.

Aznavour, 84, was born in France to Armenian parents and established an international singing career that still takes him around the globe. "At first I hesitated because I thought that this is no easy matter. But then I thought that in the end, what is important for Armenia must be important for all of us," said Aznavour, who was granted Armenian citizenship in December. (Reuters)




For the Record



The UN Security Council agreed Friday to a four-month extension of the peacekeeping mission monitoring a cease-fire between Georgia and the separatist Abkhazia region. (AP)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Jerusalem on Sunday that Moscow is planning a Middle East peace conference for the first half of this year. (AP)

Bishop Ilarion, the Russian Orthodox Church's envoy to European organizations, said Friday that a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI has always been possible, but he accused the Vatican of continuing to proselytize in countries that the Russian church considers Orthodox. (AP)