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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Helicopter Probe

MOSCOW (AP) -- Prosecutors said Thursday they were investigating top military officials for alleged negligence in connection with the August crash of a transport helicopter in Chechnya that killed at least 119 people.

Chief military prosecutor Alexander Savenkov said that in addition to a general investigation into the crash, his office had opened a separate investigation into alleged violations of flight rules leading to the death of two or more people, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, Interfax reported there were 152 people on the flight to the Khankala military base instead of the 147 listed in official documents. The report, citing an unnamed source, suggested the unlisted people were most likely killed.

Censorship Plea

MOSCOW (AP) -- Prominent writer Viktor Yerofeyev called on President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to intervene and quell growing campaigns against writers by groups that claim their work is immoral.

"The persecution of writers is a scandal," Yerofeyev wrote in an open letter published in the Vremya MN newspaper. "Many competent people are not happy about those who come out against free, modern literature and through this build a political name."

Yerofeyev's letter came after complaints by a pro-Putin organization, Moving Together, prompted Moscow authorities to investigate author Vladimir Sorokin and to summon writer Kirill Vorobyov for questioning on charges of disseminating pornography.

Tolyatti Explosion

MOSCOW (AP) -- A fire and explosion Thursday at a sports complex that was undergoing renovations in the southern city of Tolyatti killed seven people and injured three others, officials said.

The fire broke out while workers were renovating a building in the complex, which belongs to the Kuibyshevazot factory, said Tatyana Andreyeva, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry in Moscow. She said the explosion came some time after the fire.

Andreyeva did not know what caused the midafternoon blaze at the sports complex. Three people were hospitalized with injuries.

Jump in Suicides

MOSCOW (MT) -- Moscow police registered a surge in suicides on Wednesday, Interfax reported Thursday.

Eight Muscovites took their own lives in 24 hours: Four hanged themselves, three jumped out of windows and one man shot himself, the report said. Most of the dead were senior citizens.

The bureau of accident registration also reported an increase in the number of people falling out of windows. Twelve Muscovites fell Wednesday, compared with the daily average of six.

Medical experts said depression levels tend to rise with the onset of the autumn, Interfax said.

Petersburg Fire

ST. PETERSBURG (AP) -- One man was killed Thursday after a fire broke out in St. Petersburg's Moskovsky Station, emergency officials said.

About 100 firefighters and rescue workers rushed to the station, where the fire had broken out on the third floor of a building. Black clouds of acrid smoke from the burning plastic floor billowed out of the windows.

All the people in the building were evacuated, but not in time to save one man who died of asphyxiation, said Mikhail Fedoryak, a duty officer for the local branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Three other people were hospitalized with burns, Interfax reported.

Lysenko Case

MOSCOW (MT) -- The Prosecutor General's Office has reopened a highly publicized criminal case against the chief of police in Vladivistok, Alexander Lysenko, Kommersant newspaper reported Thursday.

Lysenko is accused of striking a woman at a fishery workers' demonstration in the far eastern city in May and will be fired from the police service regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the paper quoted a top regional police officer as saying.

Local prosecutors had closed Lysenko's case in August, citing a lack of evidence.

Nikitin Thrown Out

MOSCOW (MT) -- The Supreme Court's office of appeals on Thursday threw out a complaint filed by environmentalist Alexander Nikitin regarding a Defense Ministry order defining state secrets.

The court said the order in question had been replaced by the time the complaint was filed.

Nikitin, who has waged a long-running legal battle against the official secrecy regulations that put him behind bars in 1999, said the ministry's Order No. 055 needs to be declassified and published.

Border Guard Killed

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) -- A border guard was killed early Thursday in a skirmish with a group of gunmen who illegally crossed the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the Federal Border Service said.

He was the second Russian border guard to be killed in fighting in Tajikistan this year.

Ship Still Burns

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East (AP) -- A trawler was burning for the third day off Sakhalin on Thursday, but authorities said the risk of its large onboard fuel reserves exploding had decreased.

The 56 crewmen of the Karat-103 were evacuated from the ship, which holds 700 metric tons of fuel. A rescue vessel has been dousing the trawler with water to cool off the hull.

6 Soldiers Desert

MOSCOW (AP) -- A total of six soldiers from two separate units deserted their posts, officials said Thursday, the latest of in series of such cases.

Two border guards who left their posts in the southern city of Stavropol returned to base without their assault rifles, and a search was continuing for the guns, said Sergei Levantsov, spokesman for the North Caucasus border guards office. They had failed to return Thursday morning after patrol duty.

In the Moscow region, four soldiers went missing Wednesday morning with their weapons -- but they contained no ammunition, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. A search was ongoing.

Putin in Sochi

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin flew to Sochi on Thursday for a vacation, a Kremlin official said on condition of anonymity. She said the vacation was open-ended.

Putin's press secretary Alexei Gromov said the president wold hold several working meetings during his break, including meetings with at least one international leader, whom he did not name, Itar-Tass reported.

At Vnukovo Airport before leaving, Putin met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who reported on his trip to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, Itar-Tass said.

Putin and Kasyanov also talked about the 2003 draft federal budget, which Putin discussed with the heads of both houses of parliament earlier in the day. The State Duma plans to begin considering the budget in late September.

Japan Visit Praised

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- President Vladimir Putin on Thursday praised Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's plan for an historic visit to North Korea, saying he hoped it would give an impetus to projects like restoring the inter-Korean railroad.

Koizumi will travel to North Korea on Sept. 17. Putin spoke with him by telephone Thursday. "The normalization of the situation in northeast Asia would … help implement large-scale projects such as the restoration of the inter-Korean railroad with its subsequent connection to the Trans-Siberian Railroad," the Kremlin said in a statement.