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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

39 Bodies Identified

MOSCOW (AP) ? Investigators have identified 39 of the 52 bodies pulled from the mangled carcass of the Kursk nuclear submarine, officials said Wednesday.

The delicate task of removing the submarine?s 22 powerful cruise missiles is proving more difficult, a Northern Fleet spokesman said.

Eight of the Granit missiles have already been retrieved, but investigators warned that the remainder are located in a damaged area, which may complicate their recovery.

The Kursk?s entire 118-person crew died when explosions sent the submarine plunging to the Barents Sea floor during military exercises on Aug. 12, 2000. Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, who is charge of the investigation, said Tuesday that forensic experts were working to retrieve several more bodies they had spotted in the Kursk?s third to fifth compartments.

Chemical Arms Vote

MOSCOW (AP) ? The State Duma on Wednesday passed an amendment allowing for chemical weapons to be transported from their storage sites to other regions for destruction.

The vote of 342-0 would allow the government to practically halve the planned cost of its chemical weapons destruction program, because it would not be required to build destruction facilities at all seven sites where the arsenals are stored.

The legislation has to be approved by the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, to go into effect.

However, the amendment could result in obstacles to the destruction program, since it requires the agreement of local and regional leaders to the transport of any chemical weapons through their territory.

Straw in Town

MOSCOW (AP) ? British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw conferred with Russian officials Wednesday on joint efforts to uproot the terrorist network in Afghanistan and help build a stable government there.

Straw?s visit is "part of intensive political dialogue reflecting the high level of bilateral relations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said President Vladimir Putin has accepted British Prime Minister Tony Blair?s invitation to visit Britain, with the exact dates to be set later.

Arafat-Ivanov Meet

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) ? Norway said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would meet Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov at Oslo?s Gardermoen airport late Wednesday to discuss Middle East issues.

"Ivanov is landing in Oslo on his way to a United Nations General Assembly meeting and will continue to New York tonight," Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Gry Haaheim said.

"Ivanov and Arafat will have discussions on the situation in the Middle East," she said.

Arafat landed in Oslo late Tuesday to meet new Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and other ministers of a new center-right government.

Haaheim said Ivanov would also have talks with Petersen.

Space Crew Lands

KARAGANDA, Kazakhstan (AP) ? Two Russian cosmonauts and a French researcher returned to Earth on Wednesday after 10 days in space, looking tired but happy, and space officials said all three felt well.

The trio?s Soyuz TM-32 spaceship landed in the remote steppes of Kazakhstan, about 400 kilometers southwest of the city of Karaganda. They were put in a helicopter for the trip to Karaganda, from where a plane was to carry them to Star City near Moscow.

The French crewmember, Claudie Haignere, was met by her husband, Jean-Pierre.

The ship had undocked from the International Space Station at 4:38 a.m. Moscow time and soft-landed in the steppes at 7:59 a.m. Moscow time, Mission Control reported.

"Everything went very well," reported Vera Medvedkova, spokes-woman at Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow.

The crew, which also included Russians Viktor Afanasyev and Konstantin Kozeyev, blasted off Oct. 21.

Lebanese PM Visits

MOSCOW (AP) ? Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri arrived in Russia on Wednesday for three days of talks expected to focus on the war in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism.

Hariri, who said he would be meeting with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, is accompanied by the ministers of economy, energy and culture.

On the economic front, Hariri?s team will be looking into the possibility of setting up partnerships with Russian companies in the field of construction including dams, bridges and gas pipelines, electricity production, agricultural technology and other areas, Hariri?s office said. During the visit, the sides are scheduled to sign an agreement on cultural and scientific cooperation, it added.

JW Case Reopens

MOSCOW (AP) ? The Jehovah?s Witnesses returned to court Tuesday as a retrial opened into efforts to shut down their activities in Moscow.

The court agreed at the opening session to hear testimony from a Russian Orthodox Church official, prompting protests from defense lawyer Galina Krylova, the Jehovah?s Witnesses said in a statement. She objected to the court hearing representatives of other faiths, saying "We are not here to discuss religious beliefs."

Prosecutors claim the Jehovah?s Witnesses community destroys families and fosters hatred and should be outlawed under a provision that allows courts to ban religious groups considered to incite hatred or intolerant behavior.

After a high-profile, two-year legal battle, a local court in February threw out prosecutors? attempts to ban the group, in a ruling widely hailed as a sign of increased religious tolerance. But another court in June ordered a new hearing in the case. Prosecutors contended that some arguments weren?t properly heard by the previous court.

Defense lawyers have protested the retrial, and have filed appeals with the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.