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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Diplomats Expelled

OTTAWA (Reuters) -- Canada and Russia have expelled two of each other's diplomats for allegedly engaging in activities inconsistent with their status, a term that is short-hand for spying, officials said Saturday.

Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesman Reynald Doiron said Russia had earlier in the week ordered two Canadian diplomats to leave Moscow, but he denied that they had been spying.

Moscow reacted after Ottawa decided a few weeks ago to insist on the withdrawal of two Russian diplomats who had "been involved in activities in Canada inconsistent with their diplomatic status," Doiron said.

Officer Dismissed

MOSCOW (AP) -- The commander of an elite military division had been dismissed after a brief desertion by 16 soldiers protesting abuses, a top general said.

Sixteen unarmed soldiers of the 2nd Taman Guards Motorized Rifle Division left their base Tuesday after signing a joint letter of protest against abuses by their commander.

"The guilt of the company's commander was proven" after an investigation, ground forces chief Colonel-General Nikolai Kormiltsev said Friday. He said the officer had beaten a sergeant who led the deserters, insulted other servicemen and stole their wages.

Belarus on OSCE

PORTO, Portugal (AP) -- The OSCE must give assurances of political neutrality if it wants to reopen its office in Belarus, Belarussian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov said.

Khvostov said relations between Europe's top security body and Belarussian opposition parties would be the central point of negotiations scheduled to begin this week on the reopening of the office in Minsk.

"The main question is the noninterference in the internal affairs of Belarus," Khvostov said Saturday. "The [OSCE] field mission should not be a political player" in Belarus.

Belarus announced in October it was closing the OSCE office.

Turkmen Denies Plot

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Reuters) -- Sapar Yklymov, an exiled Turkmen official, denied Friday that he was involved in an attempt to kill Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and said he was ready to travel to Turkmenistan to face trial.

"I categorically deny these charges. The court should decide if I was involved or not," said Yklymov, a former deputy agriculture minister.

Yklymov wrote Friday to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Turkmenistan is a member, asking for guarantees for his safety should he return to Turkmenistan.

Niyazov's motorcade came under fire Nov. 25.

Prostitution Ring

LOS ANGELES (LAT) -- Five immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union were arrested Friday on charges of running a prostitution ring that prosecutors say has involved as many as 50 women and earnings of up to $8 million over the past two years.

The suspected ringleaders are accused of operated a business called Russian Fortuna. Posing as travel agents, they provided limousine service and escorts, Deputy District Attorney Marcia Daniels said.

Arrested were Rimma Fetissova, 42, from Ukraine; Lev Levas, 55, and his son, Mark Levas, 38, both naturalized citizens of the United States and originally from Latvia; Yelena Piyanzina, 24, of Magnitogorsk; and Irina Kovalenko, 37, of Ukraine.

The five pleaded not guilty Friday.

Kiev Parliament Pact

KIEV (AP) -- Capping months of political turmoil, a slim pro-presidential parliamentary majority signed a cooperation agreement with Ukraine's new prime minister Saturday, shoring up embattled President Leonid Kuchma's grip on power.

Kuchma hailed the pact as a "principal change" in how Ukraine will be governed by uniting the three main branches of government, breaking a political deadlock that has paralyzed the government for months.

Opposition leaders criticized the pact as consolidating Kuchma's control of all branches of government.

Army Eyes Students

MOSCOW Reuters) -- The army may strip university students of their exemption from mandatory military service as it struggles to fill its ranks, a senior officer said Friday.

"Up to now we have conscripted only 11 percent of those who were called up this season, leaving 89 percent who were exempt because of medical or other reasons," said Colonel-General Vasily Smirnov, who is responsible for conscription. "We think that many of these exemptions need to be re-examined."

University students account for half of those who manage to avoid conscription, Smirnov said.

Gorbachev Operation

BERLIN (AP) -- Mikhail Gorbachev, 71, had surgery at a German hospital for a benign enlargement of the prostate and is recovering well, an aide said Friday.

Karen Karageziyan, a spokesman accompanying Gorbachev, said the former Soviet president was "feeling normal" after undergoing surgery Wednesday at the University Clinic in Cologne for benign prostate hyperplasia. Karageziyan said Gorbachev was expected to leave the hospital "in a few days" and fly back to Russia to continue convalescing.

Bush, Putin Chat

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin discussed the results of his visits to China and India in a telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday, the Kremlin said.

Putin, who just returned from an Asian tour, said he had engaged in "deep and constructive discussion of regional and global foreign policy issues" with the leadership of China, India and Kyrgyzstan.

Emergency Landings

MOSCOW (AP) -- Two planes carrying government officials and journalists who had accompanied President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Kyrgyzstan made emergency landings early Friday in Kazakhstan after a warning signal alerted the crews to fuel problems.

Putin's plane was not affected.

NTV television said the two Il-62 planes, together carrying more than 70 people, landed safely at Aktyubinsk airport. The crews on both planes diverted the flights after a signal in the cockpits indicated poor fuel quality. The fuel had been loaded into the planes in Bishkek. A Tu-154 sent from Moscow picked up the passengers in Kazakhstan.