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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Helicopter Missing

MOSCOW (AP) -- A helicopter carrying 22 people on a geological expedition to the Russian Arctic has gone missing in rough weather, and defense and emergency officials sent planes and rescuers to search for it Thursday.

Radio contact with the Mi-6 helicopter, with nine crew members and 13 passengers aboard, disappeared off the Taimyr Peninsula on Wednesday, said Vitaly Tropynin, duty officer with the Siberian regional emergencies department.

The helicopter had left the city of Norilsk for Cape Eclipse on the Kara Sea but did not arrive as scheduled.

Rain and snow were hampering search efforts, and temperatures were around freezing, Itar-Tass reported.

Rescuers took off Thursday on board an Il-76 plane and an An-74 plane from the Emergency Situations Ministry and an An-26 plane of the Defense Ministry to search the area around Dixon Island, a small island off the northwest coast of the Taimyr Peninsula, where the helicopter was last in contact.

Wahhabis Sentenced

MOSCOW (MT) -- A court in the southern town of Pyatigorsk found 16 Wahhabis guilty of attempting to overthrow the authorities in two regions, Interfax reported Thursday.

They were sentenced to four to 15 years in prison.

After a two-month trial -- which was closed to the public -- the court found the defendants guilty of participating in illegal armed formations, illegal possession of arms and organizing a criminal group aiming to topple the governments of the southern republics of Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko said Thursday the defendants had received training in terrorist skills in camps in Chechnya run by warlords Khattab and Shamil Basayev. According to prosecutors, the suspects purchased arms, ammunition and radio equipment, transported arms and built hidden bases in the caves in mountainous parts of Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

None of the defendants admitted guilt in their final statements Thursday, Interfax reported.

Lukashenko Softens

MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko appeared to significantly soften his anti-Western stance Wednesday when he said his country would consider boosting ties with NATO.

Lukashenko said that in the face of Russia's new agreement with the alliance, which brings the former Cold War foes closer, as well as Ukraine's bid to join NATO, officials should begin "modification of certain parts of the country's foreign policy."

Speaking at a meeting of Belarus' Security Council, Lukashenko said it was time "to evaluate the role of Belarus in the conditions of military-political and Euro-Atlantic integration and to determine its basic approaches to further cooperation with NATO."

However, he said that Belarus had not changed its basic opposition to NATO expansion.

Gorbachev on Iraq

LONDON (Reuters) -- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appealed to Britain and the United States on Thursday not to go to war in Iraq, warning that any unilateral action could destroy the international coalition against terror.

"I strongly hope the U.S. and Britain will not be fighting a war in the Middle East," he told the Daily Mirror newspaper. "They should be using political means, not military."

Speculation the United States will attack Iraq to oust President Saddam Hussein has intensified since talks aimed at putting UN weapons inspectors back in the country broke down last week.

"Iraq is an important country and both that nation and the world should not be put at risk without really trying all the other various measures and approaches available," Gorbachev said.

Artillery Depot Fire

MOSCOW (AP) -- A lightning strike ignited a fire at an artillery depot in the central region of Samara on Wednesday, sparking explosions and forcing the evacuation of nearby residents, an official said.

The fire, near the town of Syzran in southern Samara, destroyed a warehouse full of flare rockets, said Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry.

At least 11 people were injured, and flying glass from explosions rained down on nearby homes, Beltsov said. Officials began to evacuate local residents as a precautionary measure.

Firefighters had the blaze under control, but the evacuations were continuing, Beltsov said.

Pornography Charges

MOSCOW (AP) -- Moscow police are investigating iconoclastic writer Vladimir Sorokin on pornography charges over a novel that includes a scene of sexual contact between former Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, officials said Thursday.

The criminal probe was launched after prosecutors found that parts of Sorokin's 1999 book "Goluboye Salo" -- which can be translated as "Gay Lard" or "Blue Lard" -- are pornographic, said Svetlana Petrenko, an aide to the chief Moscow prosecutor.

Arrest for Bomb

MOSCOW (MT) -- Kaliningrad police arrested a suspect Thursday in connection with a booby-trapped sign that exploded a day earlier, killing one.

A police official said the suspect was born in 1979, Interfax reported. He did not elaborate.

The bomb, which was hidden behind a sign with offensive words directed at local resident Sergei Kovalenko, killed retired colonel Yury Antipenko and severely injured passer-by Elina Guseva.

Police believe the bomb was part of a criminal dispute, Interfax reported.

Lightning Kills 2

KIEV (Reuters) -- Lightning killed two amateur soccer players and injured four in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday night in a freak accident that shocked spectators at the non-league game.

"Lightning struck a group of seven soccer players. Two were killed on the spot, and four were injured. Two of those four were taken to a hospital for treatment," said a spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry in Kiev.

He said the accident in the town of Pavlograd was the first of its kind he had heard of in Ukraine.