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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Niyazov Slammed

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A former Turkmen deputy prime minister has slammed President Saparmurat Niyazov from exile in Russia for opposing economic reforms and pursuing a one-man dictatorship.

Khudaiberdy Orazov told the daily Vremya Novostei he had been imprisoned for speaking out against strongman Niyazov, who has ruled Turkmenistan since 1985.

Orazov is the third senior Turkmen official in the last four months to flee Turkmenistan, saying he left the country as soon as he got the chance.

"By the end of the 1990s we were convinced that Niyazov did not want any reforms," Orazov told Wednesday's edition of the newspaper. "Not only because he did not understand the essence of them, but also because he feared losing his authority over his people, who might find independence from state dictatorship within a market economy."

Tajikistan Aid Heist

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) -- Robbers broke into the office of a French humanitarian agency overnight and carried away a safe containing tens of thousands of dollars, Tajik police and officials of the agency said Thursday.

Three masked men beat the night guard and made off with the nongovernmental organization's safe, the Tajik Interior Ministry press service said. The safe contained more than $50,000, according to employees of the NGO, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development.

The agency is organizing humanitarian aid shipments to Afghanistan and helping Afghan refugees camped out on islands on the Pyandzh River, which forms the Tajik-Afghan border.

The Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into the robbery, which occurred just 50 meters from the main police department in Dushanbe.

Karimov and Bush

BEIJING (Reuters) -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov will meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on March 12, the White House said Thursday.

Karimov has allowed U.S. forces to be based in his country to help prosecute the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

In a statement released in Beijing, where Bush was nearing the end of a six-day Asian trip, the White House said Bush's talks with Karimov would reflect the "new relationship" between the two countries since Sept. 11.

Population Shrinks

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's population continued its steady post-Soviet decline last year, dropping by 864,600 people to 144 million total, the State Statistics Committee reported Thursday.

The 0.6 percent drop was up from the 0.5 percent drop in 2000, the committee said, Interfax reported.

The committee attributed the steeper decline last year to a decrease in immigration, which offset only 7.7 percent of the natural population loss.

Russia has seen one of the world's sharpest peacetime population drops since the 1991 Soviet collapse, losing half a million people every year.

400 Fishermen Rescued

MOSCOW (AP) -- Rescuers working for hours plucked more than 400 fishermen from a huge ice floe that broke off the shore in the Gulf of Finland on Wednesday.

A few dozen anglers remained stranded as night fell, and several of those rescued had to leave their cars behind on the floating ice platform at rescuers' insistence, NTV television and Itar-Tass reported.

About 500 fishermen were reported trapped when the ice floe broke off near the coast of St. Petersburg. Some of the fishermen called emergency officials from cellphones seeking help.

A total of 415 were retrieved by Wednesday evening by rescue teams on a helicopter making several trips and three tugboats, Emergencies Ministry officials were quoted as saying.

Death Penalty

MOSCOW (AP) --President Vladimir Putin has no plans to lift a moratorium on the death penalty, despite a parliamentary appeal to resume executions because of soaring crime, a presidential spokesman said Wednesday.

Putin has repeatedly said he does not intend to end the moratorium that Russia imposed in 1996 to gain entrance into Europe's leading human rights body, the Council of Europe.

The president's position has not changed, spokesman Alexei Gromov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

It was the first public comment from the president's office since the State Duma appealed to him last Friday to resurrect the death penalty, saying the country's high murder rate is undermining confidence in the government.

Midair Fist Fight

HELSINKI, Finland (Reuters) -- Musicians of the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater got into a fist fight after sampling tax-free liquor on a flight from Helsinki to New York, an airline official said Thursday.

"As they drank from their own bottles, a few of the group members got into some sort of dispute among themselves. We've had similar problems with this particular group before," said Finnair flight safety officer Sami Sieva.

The five musicians involved in Sunday's brawl, somewhere over the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland, belong to an 80-member ensemble that is due to return via the same route next week, Sieva said.

He said he would be aboard to help ensure a pleasant flight.