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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

73 Soldiers Desert

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Seventy-three soldiers fled their barracks overnight and police were still hunting some of them Thursday, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

After the latest incident reflecting poor discipline and low morale in the army, 62 unarmed men from the 589th motorized division had already been picked up on the edge of the southern city of Samara and returned to their base, he said.

But 11 were still on the run after the mass desertion, which a representative of the military prosecutor told Interfax had resulted from a dispute between local servicemen and troops from Dagestan.

2 Shot in Kaliningrad

MOSCOW (AP) — Two servicemen were shot and killed while on watch at a naval base in the western enclave of Kaliningrad, officials said Thursday.

The two guards were killed Wednesday night and their weapons and ammunition were stolen, said a duty officer at the Baltic Fleet military prosecutor’s office. No further information was available. Russian media reported that an investigation was under way.

In May, raiders killed a guard at a navy ammunition depot in the Kaliningrad region and fled with his weapon and ammunition.

Russia on Mideast

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russia’s Middle East envoy called on Israel on Thursday to end its blockade of Palestinian areas, saying force could not resolve a nearly 11-month-old Palestinian uprising, Interfax reported.

Vasily Sredin, speaking ahead of a visit to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in early September, said both sides should seek a way out of the crisis, which has cost the lives of almost 700 people.

Israel should "not use force, lift the blockade of [the Palestinian] territories and withdraw its troops," Interfax quoted Sredin as saying.

Israel says blockades of Palestinian areas are needed to prevent attacks inside the Jewish state. Palestinians call the measure collective punishment for the uprising that flared last September against Israeli occupation after peace talks stalled.

Sredin said a halt to Israeli settler activity could help improve the situation. The international community regards Israeli settlements built in the occupied territories as illegal. Israel disputes this.

Sredin said Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority should also seek a way out of the crisis.

"The Palestinians should rule out any violence and firmly clamp down on terrorism," he said.

The Russian thanked Israel for its support for Moscow’s "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya but dismissed Israeli attempts to draw a parallel with the Palestinian territories as "unwarranted and misplaced."

Mine Toll Hits 39

KIEV (AP) — Two coal workers severely burned in a Ukrainian mine explosion died in a hospital Thursday, bringing the death toll in the weekend blast to 39, emergency officials said.

In addition, 10 miners who remain missing are assumed dead. Rescue workers struggling to put out the four-day blaze at the Zasiadko mine in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk held out little hope of finding survivors.

Two hospitalized miners died before dawn Thursday, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Natalia Tsushko said. A total of 36 miners remained hospitalized Thursday, 15 of whom were in serious condition, she said.

Rescuers were focusing on trying to diminish the area on fire and control the temperature and gas and dust levels at the disaster site, 1,300 meters underground, she said. Emergency officials have said it could take several more days to extinguish the fire.

Officials said a combination of self-igniting coal and high levels of methane gas caused the blast, Ukraine’s deadliest mine disaster this year, and the third at the Zasiadko mine in 10 years.

More than 3,640 miners have died on the job since 1991 in Ukraine, according to the Independent Miners’ Union. At least 151 workers have died so far this year.

General Flies Bomber

MOSCOW (AP) — A senior U.S. air force general flew on a Russian strategic bomber Wednesday after training on Russian flight simulators during a visit aimed at boosting military cooperation between the countries.

Lieutenant General Thomas Keck took off in a Tu-22MZ bomber from an air base in Ryazan in southern Russia, Russian television reported. Footage showed him climbing into the cockpit and drinking a ritual shot of vodka to the accompaniment of Russian folk songs.

A U.S. Air Force delegation led by Keck arrived in Russia on Monday, and began training sessions to fly Russian combat planes Tuesday.

The group also reportedly planned to meet with the head of the air force, General Anatoly Kornukov.

Rainbow Blessing

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s epic railroad tour of Russia baffled the outside world, but back home nature apparently signaled its approval with rainbows and a giant mushrooming waterspout.

The official Korea Central News Agency said a series of "natural wonders" took place in the communist country during Kim’s three-week, 20,000-kilometer railroad tour across Russia and back.

On Aug. 4, a 20-meter-high waterspout rose, mushroom-like, in the center of a North Korean lake. The freak fountain, some 40 meters in diameter, was visible for 10 minutes, KCNA said.

Two days later, a rainbow appeared over one of the many monuments to the ruling Kim family "as if congratulating Kim Jong-il on his outstanding revolutionary activities to glorify President Kim Il-Sung’s revolutionary cause," it said.

The Pyongyang rainbow followed an "unprecedented" appearance on July 31 of a double rainbow three times in 30 minutes over the northwestern city of Shinuiji, the official agency said.

State media often invoke natural phenomena as evidence of divine support for Kim Jong-il.