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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Putin Writes to Jiang

MOSCOW (AP) -- In a message to Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, President Vladimir Putin expressed hope that his upcoming trip to Beijing would further the two nations' rapprochement.

Putin is set to travel to China on Sunday for a three-day visit. Russia's ambassador to Beijing, Igor Rogachyov, said Wednesday that Putin's agenda would include discussions of economic contacts, weapons deals and regional cooperation, Itar-Tass reported.

He said terrorism would also dominate the talks, because the two countries "have many common problems in this field and there is a chance to share their experience."

In his message, which the Kremlin press service released Wednesday, Putin congratulated Jiang on the recent Chinese Communist Party congress, which elected Hu Jintao its new general secretary.

Half of Inmates Ill

MOSCOW (AP) -- More than half of Russia's prison population is ill, with convicts suffering from a wide variety of diseases including tuberculosis, psychiatric disorders and AIDS, media reported Wednesday.

Some 500,000 prisoners are ill, Itar-Tass and Interfax reported, quoting Deputy Justice Minister Yury Kalinin.

Kalinin said the most acute problem among prisoners is the growing number of prisoners with AIDS. About 36,000 people with the HIV virus are currently in jail.

Some 90,000 prisoners suffer from tuberculosis despite significant funds allocated to combat the disease. Up to 300,000 suffer from mental problems, 102,000 are drug addicts and about 72,000 are alcoholics.

Kalinin said that under the 2003 budget, a prisoner's daily ration was to cost 25 rubles.

A total of 891,000 people are currently in jail.

Russia Too Big for EU

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (Reuters) -- Former Soviet republics such as Ukraine have no place in an enlarged European Union, and Russia is just too big to join, European Commission President Romano Prodi said in an interview published Wednesday.

Ten mostly former communist countries are due to wrap up accession talks with the EU next month and to join in May 2004.

"It is important that we now ask ourselves what will happen after this big expansion. Where does Europe end? The Balkan countries will join, they belong. Turkey is officially a candidate, that is clear. But Morocco or Ukraine or Moldova? I see no reason for that," Prodi told the Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

"We need to talk about our criteria. The fact Ukrainians or Armenians feel European means nothing to me, because New Zealanders feel European too," he said.

Prodi said President Vladimir Putin had asked him about potential Russian membership of the union.

"I told him straight away clearly: 'No, you are too big,'" Prodi said.

Interpreter Removed

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- The interpreter for Akhmed Zakayev, a senior Chechen envoy being held in a Danish custody while authorities decide whether to extradite him to Russia, was removed from his job Wednesday after media reported he is married to a Russian Embassy employee.

Ever since Zakayev, a top aide of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, was arrested Oct. 30, he has been helped by an interpreter in his confidential conversations with his defense lawyers and in court. Zakayev does not speak Danish.

On Wednesday, the Politiken newspaper said the interpreter, who was not named in keeping with Danish privacy rules, was married to a woman employed by a Russian cultural center that is financed by the Russian Embassy in Copenhagen.

The police that appointed the interpreter decided to remove him after a meeting Wednesday with Zakayev's lawyers and the prosecutor.

"Everyone has been satisfied with the interpreter, no one has criticized him," said Kurt Jensen of the Copenhagen police.

Putin's Rating Soars

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- President Vladimir Putin's rating got a fresh boost from his handling of last month's hostage crisis in Moscow, an opinion poll showed Wednesday.

"We found that 83 percent of Russians support our president, up 6 percent from a month earlier," said Irina Palilova, spokeswoman for the VTsIOM agency, which polled 1,600 people for its regular monthly survey.

The poll showed 52 percent of Russians trusted Putin.

Rakhmonov to U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov will discuss the war on terrorism and economic reform at the White House on Dec. 9, the White House announced Tuesday.

Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tajikistan had "contributed significantly" to the anti-terror campaign and the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan.

Ukraine Shakeup

KIEV (AP) -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma named the head of the country's tax service as deputy prime minister and finance minister Tuesday, as part of a continuing government shakeup designed to shore up his leadership.

The promotion of Mykola Azarov, 55, head the tax administration, comes just over a week after Kuchma fired his entire government and named Donetsk Governor Viktor Yanukovych as his new prime minister. Yanukovych was narrowly approved by parliament last week.

Azarov's dual role as deputy prime minister and finance minister will strengthen Kuchma's hold over the country's finances, said Volodymyr Sidenko, an economist at the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies.

Artifacts Returned

ROME (AP) -- Italian police recovered dozens of stolen Russian Orthodox artifacts and handed them to Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi on Tuesday, who said the value of the 17th-century icons was "immeasurable."

Italian authorities found about 50 Russian religious icons in February 2001 during a routine truck check near the Swiss border. Police searched the driver's home near Como, Italy, and found more works.

In total, they recovered 58 Russian Orthodox icon paintings and 26 sacred objects such as antique crosses that had been stolen from monasteries in Russia at the end of 2000. The icons as well as crosses and ornamental angels are worth an estimated $500,000, police said.