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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Putin Meets Kuchma

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed at a Kremlin meeting on Thursday to lift restrictions on trade in certain products, and also announced progress on a planned gas consortium with Germany.

The trade agreement mainly concerns lifting restrictions on supplies of Ukrainian pipes to Russia, and also "on a wide range of Russian products" to Ukraine, Putin said, according to Interfax. The move is a step in averting a potential trade war in a dispute that escalated over the summer with threats of retaliatory tariffs on goods ranging from cars to cement and steel.

Kuchma said an agreement between the two countries on a gas consortium with Germany would likely be ready for signing at an Oct. 7 summit in Moldova, media reported. Kuchma's visit to Russia continues Friday, his 64th birthday.

Colonel Found Dead

TBILISI, Georgia (Reuters) -- Police in the Georgian capital said Thursday they had found the body of a Russian colonel missing since late July, an episode likely to cast a cloud over already tense relations between the neighbors.

The blackened body of Igor Zaitsev, an officer with Russia's general staff in the Caucasus, was identified by relatives after it was found on the outskirts of Tbilisi, officials said.

"An examination of the body has revealed that he was hit on the head with a heavy object," said forensic expert Zaza Okruashvili. Georgian investigators have declined to comment on who may be behind the killing. Shortly after the 52-year-old officer disappeared July 27, Russian media reported he could have been kidnapped by Chechen rebels hoping to exchange him for prisoners taken by troops in Chechnya.

Caspian Maneuvers

MOSCOW (AP) -- Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov traveled to the Caspian Sea on Thursday to observe large-scale naval maneuvers, news agencies reported.

Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan also plan to participate in the maneuvers, which are to last from Aug. 8-15. Turkmenistan, which proclaims neutrality, and Iran declined to take part.

The maneuvers are to include exercises to protect civilian ships from terrorist attacks, and will culminate in an assault on a barren coast to destroy a large militant group trapped by the sea, Itar-Tass reported.

Ukraine Flight Ban

KIEV (Reuters) -- Ukraine said Thursday it had lifted a ban on most military flights, imposed after an aircraft plowed into spectators almost two weeks ago, killing 85 people in the world's worst air show disaster.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said during the 10-day ban on all but essential military flights, Air Force pilots had studied safety measures while maintenance was done on aircraft.

Officials leading the investigation into the crash of the Sukhoi Su-27 have blamed the two pilots for ignoring orders and executing a dangerous maneuver.

In Lviv, Interfax-Ukraine news agency said a military court had detained the assistant organizer of flights at the air show on suspicion of violating regulations and that two top air force officials had been released after being held for 10 days on suspicion of negligence.

On Wednesday the Emergency Situations Ministry said 75 people, including 22 children, were still being treated in hospitals and that 11 people were in critical condition.

Massive Cross Falls

ST. PETERSBURG (AP) -- A 7-meter-tall Orthodox cross plunged to the ground while being mounted with a helicopter on a church cupola near St. Petersburg, but no one was injured, officials said Thursday.

The cross, weighing 20 metric tons, was being placed on the 100 meter-tall Kronstadt Navy Cathedral, located 30 kilometers northwest of St. Petersburg. A cable snapped, sending it falling to the ground Wednesday evening, local officials said.

It was already the second cross made to top the cathedral, but another one made six years ago wasn't completed because no funding was found for its gilding. The church -- built in 1901 and dedicated to fallen Russian sailors -- is being reconstructed after years of disuse.

Niyazov for Life

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- Turkmenistan's authoritarian president, Saparmurat Niyazov, was poised to further entrench his grasp on power Thursday after a hand-picked assembly of top officials called for him to be named president for life.

Some 2,000 members of the People's Council said Niyazov should remain in office until his death. Niyazov, who attended the council, initially rejected the offer, but relented after extended applause.

On Thursday, Niyazov called on the People's Council to rename the months of the year and days of the week. He said January should be named Turkmenbashi, in his honor. Other months should be named after famous Turkmen from history and one after his mother, he said.

Secret Sahara River

MOSCOW (MT) -- Russian scientists have discovered an underground river in the Sahara desert estimated to hold enough water to supply the 50,000 people of the nearby city of Atar, Mauritania, with drinking water for several decades, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.

Scientists from the Research Center for the Analysis of Geo-Information found the underground river, likely to belong to the Sahara artesian basin, with the help of a satellite imagery technique, said Vladimir Polivanov, who conducted the project at the request of the Mauritanian government, the newspaper reported.

Polivanov said Africa is likely to hold other fresh water sources deep underground, which could turn the continent into a major supplier of fresh water in the future.

For the Record

The Federal Security Service has sent Igor Sutyagin, a scholar from the Moscow-based U.S.A. and Canada Institute, a final version of the charges against him, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday, citing Interfax. Sutyagin's lawyer Vladimir Vasiltsov was quoted as saying Sutyagin is charged with "high treason in the form of espionage for the United States." (MT)

German authorities have agreed to pay compensation to Ukrainian forced laborers who worked under the Nazis in the Baltics during World War II, Raisa Budko, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation Fund, said Thursday. (AP)