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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Aeroflot Engine Failure

BERLIN (AP) -- An Aeroflot Airbus A-310 jet made an emergency landing Sunday at Berlin's Sch?nefeld airport after one of its engines failed, an airport spokesman said.

The aircraft, which was flying from Moscow to London, had 210 passengers on board, spokesman Eberhard Elie said. It landed "without problems" at 10:44 a.m. at Sch?nefeld, southeast of Berlin, where the passengers awaited onward transport.

New Caucasus General

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Southern Russia (AP) -- Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Sunday ushered in the new general responsible for military operations in Chechnya and thanked his fired predecessor for his service.

During an hourlong ceremony at the North Caucasus military headquarters, Ivanov introduced the new commander, Colonel General Vladimir Boldyrev, who previously headed the Siberian military district.

Boldyrev replaced Colonel General Gennady Troshev, who was fired by President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. The day before he was fired, Troshev revealed to the press that he had been offered the post of Siberian commander but was not interested in leaving Chechnya. Russian media speculated that the outspoken but popular general was fired for his public defiance.

Ivanov thanked Troshev for his contributions and promised that "we will find a suitable place for him in the military if he, of course, agrees to remain in the army," Itar-Tass reported.

Lithuanians Go to Polls

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) -- Lithuanians began voting Sunday in presidential and municipal elections that many observers expected to give President Valdas Adamkus, who guided the country into the European Union and NATO, a second term.

"I have no doubt who has to run this country for the next five years" said Rima Sirvinskiene, a 45-year-old teacher in Vilnius who voted early Sunday morning. "Adamkus is what Lithuania needs now."

Buoyed by a strong economy and the achievement of several key foreign policy goals, the Baltic state is expected to give Adamkus a second five-year term.

A pre-election poll of 1,100 voters by Baltic Surveys, conducted Dec. 7-12, put Adamkus ahead with 30.3 percent, more than double his nearest rival, former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas' 12.4 percent. Parliament Speaker Arturas Paulauskas, who lost the 1998 runoff to Adamkus, had 12 percent. The other 14 candidates combined had just 6 percent.

Adamkus, a 76-year-old former U.S. citizen, took a wait-and-see attitude about the race. "Logically thinking, there will be a run-off. There are just too many candidates," he said after casting his ballot. Preliminary results were expected Monday.

Smuggled Russians

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- A gun battle between Egyptian police and a Bedouin gang trying to smuggle people into Israel on Saturday left one Bedouin dead and two Russian women in police custody, security officials said.

The incident happened as three Bedouins were trying to sneak a group of foreigners across the Egyptian-Israeli border near the Egyptian town of Rafah, the officials said.

The official said Egyptian border police fired shots into the air in a bid to stop the group, but they were fired upon by the Bedouins. A gun battle broke out, killing a 22-year-old Bedouin.

Two other Bedouins fled the scene in four wheel-drives with a group of foreigners. Police later arrested two Russian women and ordered them detained for 15 days.

It was not immediately clear why the people were trying to enter Israel, but police said Bedouins have been known to smuggle women from the former Soviet Union through the Sinai Peninsula into Israel to work as sex slaves.

Apartment Blast

MOSCOW (AP) -- A natural gas explosion destroyed part of an apartment house in the Ural Mountains, killing three people, an official said Saturday.

The explosion occurred Friday night in the town of Lebyazhye, in the Kurgansk region, a duty officer at the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Twelve apartments were destroyed and three people were killed. The remaining residents were evacuated.

The explosion was caused by a natural gas leak, the emergency officer said. The building's gas supply had been switched off for eight months in a dispute over unpaid debts but was restored Friday just hours before the blast, Rossia television reported.

Troops Shift to Armenia

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) -- Russian troops have begun arriving in Armenia as part of their withdrawal from Georgia, an official said Saturday, a move that has raised concern among some countries in the conflict-scarred region that it could raise tensions.

The first units began arriving Friday at a Russian military base in Armenia, and the entire battalion will complete the move by the end of the month, an Armenian government official said on condition of anonymity. The head of the Armenian General Staff, Colonel General Mikhail Arutyunian, has said the Russians will help improve the facilities at their base.

Russia has been moving weapons and ammunition from Georgia to Armenia as it resumes talks with Georgian officials on pulling out of former Soviet bases on Georgian territory.

5 Servicemen Held

MOSCOW (AP) -- Military authorities on Friday detained five servicemen accused of abuse by 13 other soldiers who deserted their unit near the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, the Defense Ministry said.

Three of the 13 soldiers, who left their unit 30 kilometers from Yekaterinburg on Thursday without weapons or ammunition, went to the regional military prosecutor's office to present complaints about problems in their unit.

The three told prosecutors where the other 10 deserters were, and authorities found them and brought them to the prosecutor's office, a Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

He said five servicemen accused by the others of abuse were detained and an investigation was under way.

Mustard Gas Destroyed

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has destroyed close to a ton of mustard gas in a new facility built to help eliminate the country's huge arsenal of chemical weapons, the Russian Munitions Agency said Friday.

It was the first consignment of chemical weapons to be destroyed at the facility in Gorny in the Saratov region, which began operating earlier in the week.

Munitions agency spokesman Dmitry Timashkov said 832 kilograms of the gas had been destroyed at the plant Thursday night. The operation was monitored by international inspectors.

The Gorny plant is on the site of one of the country's seven former chemical weapons production facilities. It holds 2.9 percent of Russia's chemical weapons stocks, according to Interfax, and is to work out destruction techniques that can be applied at other plants.

Conservatory Repairs

MOSCOW (AP) -- The government will spend 5 million rubles ($157,000) to repair the Moscow State Conservatory, which was damaged by a fire last week, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said.

Shvydkoi said Friday that the repairs would take place next year. He added that speculation about major damage to the 19th-century building was "exaggerated," Itar-Tass reported.

Officials have blamed an electrical short circuit for Tuesday's fire, which damaged several classrooms and more than a dozen grand pianos but left the conservatory's main recital hall and vast library collection unscathed.

The conservatory, Moscow's premier music school, has trained Russian classical musicians since 1866 and hosts competitions featuring top performers from around the world.

Ashgabat Expels Envoy

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- Turkmenistan on Saturday said it was expelling the Uzbek ambassador over his alleged role in last month's assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Turkmen authorities have accused Uzbek Ambassador Abdurashid Kadyrov of helping the alleged mastermind of the assassination attempt, Boris Shikhmuradov, to illegally cross the border the day before the Nov. 25 attack.

They say the ambassador also allowed Shikhmuradov to hide at his diplomatic residence following the assassination attempt, in which gunmen opened fire on Niyazov's motorcade in Ashgabat.

Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry on Saturday declared Kadyrov persona non grata for activities incompatible with his status as a diplomat and gave him 24 hours to leave the country.

"Kadyrov provided all possible assistance to Shikhmuradov, granting him shelter, a car with diplomatic license plates in which he arrived at the residence, housing and food," the ministry said in a statement.

Uzbek authorities have denied helping Shikhmuradov cross the border and strongly protested Turkmen police raids last week on the ambassador's residence and the homes of other embassy staff.

Tajik Warning Pulled

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States said Friday that it had withdrawn its advisory to citizens against visiting Tajikistan but said "terrorist" groups linked to al-Qaida in the country still posed risks to U.S. travelers.

"The overall security situation in Tajikistan has improved. Nevertheless, the presence of terrorist groups allied with al-Qaida and limitations on the embassy's ability to provide consular services still pose risks to travelers," the State Department said in a travel warning to U.S. citizens.

The warning replaced a Sept. 25, 2001, statement that advised U.S. citizens "to defer all travel to Tajikistan."

Greetings to the Vatican

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II sent Christmas greetings Sunday to Pope John Paul II, calling for the two to "resume our brotherly contacts."

Relations between the groups have been strained over Orthodox allegations that the Vatican is pursuing an "expansionist tragedy" in traditionally Orthodox countries, to which the Roman Catholic Church has responded with criticism of what it sees as attempts to weaken its congregations. Five foreign-born Catholic priests have been expelled from Russia, and the pope has been unable to fulfill his wish of visiting the country because of Orthodox pressure.

"Illuminated by the gracious rays of the light of Christ, let us resume our brotherly contacts and send joyful praise to the newborn Divine Child, who has come to Earth for our sake," the patriarch wrote in the message to John Paul, Interfax reported.

Alexy also promised to make a special prayer during Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on Jan. 7, for God to grant the pope "a life of peace and numerous gifts" during the year.

New Latvia Holiday?

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- Latvia's president has prompted legislators to make Russian Orthodox Christmas an official holiday, a move that could help mend relations with the country's large Russian population.

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is the first prominent political figure to suggest Russian Orthodox Christmas, celebrated Jan. 7, become a state holiday. She first made the suggestion to the Russian-language newspaper Chas on Thursday.

"She believes it would show respect to a big part of Latvia's population," her spokeswoman, Aiva Rozenberga, said Friday.

About 40 percent of the population of 2.5 million are ethnic Russians who adhere to the Russian Orthodox faith.

Latvia's 100-member Saeima parliament would have to approve legislation making the day an official holiday.