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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

St. Pete Grenade Blast

The Associated Press

Six people were wounded in St. Petersburg when a quarrel spiraled out of control and one of the men involved threw three grenades, Itar-Tass reported Sunday.

The argument broke out Saturday night at a restaurant, the news agency said, citing local police. One of the participants vowed revenge, left the building, and returned with a cluster of grenades. He threw them when the others were trying to leave the restaurant, and two exploded.

Two of the injured were in serious condition, while the others were just lightly wounded. A 46-year-old man was detained along with one of the injured, a 19-year-old man suspected of being an accomplice, Itar-Tass said. No other details were available, and St. Petersburg police duty officers could not confirm the report.

Solar Sail Delay

The Associated Press

A U.S.-Russian experiment to demonstrate the unfolding of a solar sail in space has been postponed by a glitch during ground tests in Russia, but the malfunction shouldn't jeopardize the futuristic project, a space official said.

The Russian-built spacecraft was scheduled for launch on April 26 atop a converted ballistic missile from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea. The mission is to test how a packed sail would unfold in space.

But the launch had to be put off until early June due to the unspecified problem, said Konstantin Pichkhadze, head of the Babakin Space Research Center just outside Moscow that built the spacecraft.

"We are sure that nothing terrible has happened," Pichkhadze said Friday, according to Itar-Tass. "The system in which the malfunction occurred has already flown to space and shown itself well."

The experiment is coordinated by the Pasadena, California-based Planetary Society. Cosmos Studios, a company founded by Ann Druyan, widow of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, and Joe Firmage, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is sponsoring the project.

Solar sails, first proposed in the 1920s, should be able to use the subtle but steady pressure of particles coming from the sun to propel a spacecraft. While slow to accelerate, a solar-driven craft could theoretically reach useful speeds to cross great distances.

Afghan Sanctions

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — Russia says it has handed a UN committee information on alleged violations of UN sanctions against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban — including activities in Pakistan, which has been the Islamic militia's staunchest ally.

The Pakistani government has vehemently denied breaking sanctions.

Russia and the United States, former superpower rivals over Afghanistan, sponsored the Security Council resolution that led to new sanctions in January aimed at pressuring the Taliban to hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The council imposed an arms embargo against the Taliban, which controls about 95 percent of the country, but not against their northern-based opposition, led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani. It also banned international travel by Taliban leaders, froze their assets abroad, clamped further restrictions on the national airline, Ariana, and ordered Taliban diplomatic missions to be reduced and other Taliban offices to be closed.

Russia's Deputy UN Ambassador Gennady Gatilov said Moscow has been collecting information about sanctions violations and has turned over some material to the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban. The information includes activities in Pakistan but "I don't want to specify what kind," he said.

"The purpose is to ensure that sanctions can work and the resolution will be implemented," he said earlier this week.

U.S. Grants Asylum

The Associated Press

KIEV — The United States granted political asylum to a fugitive Ukrainian security officer who accused President Leonid Kuchma of involvement in the killing of journalist Georgy Gongadze, and to the journalist's wife, the Foreign Ministry said.

A ministry statement said the asylum for Major Mykola Melnichenko amounted to sheltering a man suspected of causing significant damage to national security.

"The U.S. side's decision … is viewed by Ukraine as failing to correspond to the spirit of Ukrainian-American partnership and as creating obstacles in the way of a criminal investigation," said the ministry.

The U.S. State Department declined comment on the asylum.

Melnichenko resigned from the president's bodyguard service last year and went into hiding abroad. He then released tapes that he said were made by a recorder hidden in Kuchma's office.

In the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma's is heard discussing steps to silence Gongadze, an outspoken critic of the government who disappeared Sept. 16, after the tapes allegedly were made. His beheaded body was later found near Kiev.

Kuchma has strongly denied involvement.

Also granted asylum was Gongadze's wife, Myroslava, 28, who had helped Gongadze in various projects and served as a spokeswoman for an opposition party. The Kievskie Vedomosti daily said Saturday that she left Ukraine earlier in the week along with the couple's twin girls.

Melnichenko's intention to seek political asylum had not been known.

Tough U.S. Talks Seen


Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday he expected tough talks on issues including U.S. plans for a missile defense shield when he visits Washington in May.

"We understand very well that this discussion will be difficult. We have serious differences in our positions and negotiations will be tough," he told a parliamentary committee, news agencies reported.

Moscow's position in relations would be "principled but non-confrontational," he said during a meeting of the foreign relations committee of the State Duma.

Ivanov agreed to a May Washington visit during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Paris on Thursday. They also agreed President Vladimir Putin and U.S. leader George W. Bush would meet as soon as possible for the first time, and no later than a Genoa summit of the Group of Eight on July 22-24.