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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

'Secrets' Struck Down

MOSCOW (AP) ? The Supreme Court struck down parts of a Defense Ministry decree that has been used to prosecute researchers for espionage, a court spokesman said Thursday.

A group of human rights advocates had challenged the secret 1996 decree, which defines military secrets, saying it violates the Constitution and a law on state secrets. They said the list of classified data must be determined by lawmakers and made open to the public.

Supreme Court spokesman Nikolai Gastello said "some clauses" of the decree had been struck down Wednesday, but refused to elaborate. He said the hearing had been closed to the public because of the nature of the issue, and since the court was expecting an appeal from the Defense Ministry, he could not give details about the decision.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said the ministry had no comment.

France, Russia Talks

MOSCOW (AP) ? The fight against international terrorism was to top the agenda Thursday during talks between the French and Russian foreign ministers in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine would discuss "ways of combating international terrorism and other new threats and challenges" in the meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, according to the ministry. Other topics for discussion included the Balkans and the Middle East, and preparations for a Russia-European Union summit scheduled for Oct. 3.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin is to visit Russia at the end of October, the Foreign Ministry said.

Anti-Taliban Meeting

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (Reuters) ? Senior diplomats from Russia, India, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan met representatives of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban alliance in Dushanbe on Thursday.

"They discussed the possibility of rendering military, technical and humanitarian assistance to the anti-Taliban coalition," a source in Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry said after the meeting.

Tajikistan shares a border with Afghanistan and its frontier is still patrolled by Russian troops.

The fate of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban alliance has received new international attention, with talk of possible retaliation against the Taliban for hosting militant Osama bin Laden, linked by U.S. officials to Tuesday's attacks on the United States.

Crash Kills Instructor

MOSCOW (AP) ? A small training plane crashed during a test flight outside Moscow, killing a flight instructor and injuring a second man aboard, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Thursday.

The crash occurred Wednesday afternoon at the Ramenskoye airfield, a ministry spokeswoman said. The second man ejected from the Gzhel M-101 plane but was injured and taken to a hospital, she said.

The cause of the crash was unknown. An investigation has begun, Interfax reported.

Plastic Card Plan

MOSCOW (MT) ? City Hall is to start distributing plastic cards to pensioners, war veterans, invalids and other needy people in a pilot program to create a unified concession card system.

About 80,000 residents of southern Moscow are to receive plastic cards from Sept. 18, Interfax reported.

Cardholders will be eligible for free metro travel and discounts for medical services, rail travel and for purchases in specialized shops for the underprivileged. Pension and welfare payments may be credited onto the cards.

The transit authority responsible for the Moscow metro has been charged with implementing the project, and other participants include the Moscow Fund for Obligatory Medical Insurance, the Moscow Railroad and the city departments for customer services and for social protection.

By the end of the year, 3 million Muscovites are to receive the cards, bearing the holder's photograph, an individual digital code and an information chip.

The cost of the project was not revealed.

Lukashenko Staff Swap

MINSK, Belarus (AP) ? Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko replaced several key aides following his re-election earlier this week, Belarussian media reported Thursday.

Ural Latypov, who had served as the secretary of the presidential security council since late 2000, was named Lukashenko's chief of staff. Latypov replaced Mikhail Myasnikovich, who had headed the president's administration for most of his first term and was named a special aide to Lukashenko. Myasnikovich's two top aides were also replaced "in connection with their transfer to other work" ? usually a formula for demotion.

Government officials refused to comment on the changes.

Belarus Jails Italian

MINSK, Belarus (Reuters) ? A court in Belarus has convicted an Italian citizen, Antonio Angelo Piu, on espionage charges and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison, the KGB said Thursday.

KGB spokesman Fyodor Kotov said the court also convicted a Belarussian woman, Irina Ushak, on treason charges and sentenced her to four years' imprisonment after a trial behind closed doors in the Belarussian capital.

Kotov said the two could have received sentences of up to 15 years but the court took into account the fact that the KGB arrested Piu, 50, and Ushak, 26, quickly and prevented any significant harm to national security. The two also openly repented.

Piu, who headed a foreign company in Belarus, a former Soviet republic and one of Europe's most authoritarian countries, was arrested in April.

The KGB said officials caught the two red-handed during an exchange of documents containing material of a military nature.

Pakistan Offers Help

KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) ? Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban, on Thursday offered "full cooperation" to Washington as it attempts to track down the perpetrators of the devastating terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, responded unequivocally Thursday to a U.S. request for support, promising full cooperation. "All countries must join hands in this common cause," he said in a statement and on national television. "I wish to assure President Bush and the U.S. government of our fullest cooperation in the fight against terrorism."

Significantly, in 1998, Pakistan's then-government refused the United States permission to overfly its airspace as Washington sought revenge for deadly bomb attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for which Osama bin Laden was also blamed.

Afghan Opposition

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) ? Afghan opposition forces fighting the ruling Taliban have named a temporary new military leader to replace Ahmed Shah Massood, an opposition spokesman said Thursday.

The nomination of the new interim leader, General Muhammad Fahim, was made on Massood's recommendation and approved by the group's political leader, ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, according to the military attach? of the Afghan Embassy in Moscow, Muhamad Salekh Registani.

Confusion has surrounded Massood's fate since a suicide bombing attack Sunday. Registani told reporters in the Tajik capital Dushanbe that Massood's health had improved, but he is still in need of "intensive treatment."

"Doctors do not recommend that he actively participate in political life," said Registani.

Fahim, 44, has been an active opposition leader since 1973 and was appointed Afghan security minister in 1992.

Israel Attacks Again

JERICHO, West Bank (AP) ? Israeli tanks shelled buildings and exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Jericho early Thursday, leaving three Palestinians dead and 21 wounded.

The Israeli army said the latest incursions into Palestinian territory, which lasted several hours, were intended to "root out terror." Palestinians accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government of exploiting the world's preoccupation with terror attacks in the United States to escalate its military strikes.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called for Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Wednesday to talk.

Powell requested, and Arafat agreed to meet soon with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Meanwhile, Peres said there was tentative agreement on a meeting for truce talks, but details were not yet finalized.

Arafat donated blood on Wednesday for the victims of the terror attacks in New York and Washington while other Palestinians held a vigil in Jerusalem in sympathy with the United States.