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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

1,269 Murders in '02

MOSCOW (MT) -- More than 1,200 people were murdered in Moscow last year, and the weapon of choice in most of the killings was a firearm, the police said Wednesday.

A total of 462 of the 1,269 murders were committed during quarrels between relatives and friends, deputy Moscow police chief Igor Gubanov told reporters. In all, 1,114 people were killed with a firearm, he said.

Police detained 702 suspects in the killings, he said.

Georgians Protest

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) -- About 1,000 Georgian refugees and opposition supporters rallied outside parliament Wednesday to demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the separatist region of Abkhazia and the termination of a railway link between the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi and nearby Sochi.

Many of the protesters were ethnic Georgians who were evicted from Abkhazia when separatists seized power in 1992. Others were followers of late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who have been holding regular protests demanding that President Eduard Shevardnadze step down.

A 27-year-old protester from Abkhazia, identified as Georgy Lolua, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire but others quickly extinguished the blaze. He was rushed to a hospital.

Police dispersed the protesters after some tried to erect a tent outside parliament to house hunger strikers.

Shevardnadze threatened last week not to endorse an extension of the peacekeepers' mandate until Moscow reversed decisions made last year to issue Russian passports to Abkhaz separatists and restore a rail link to the region without consulting Tbilisi. But he said Monday that the peacekeepers' withdrawal could lead to long and bloody fighting.

Iran Sees Pilot Error

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian aviation authorities on Wednesday blamed pilot error for a Ukrainian plane crash in the mountains of central Iran last month that killed all 46 people on board, the official IRNA news agency said.

"The pilot's use of an unauthorized apparatus while approaching the airport deviated [the plane] from its path and caused the crash," IRNA quoted Reza Jafarzadeh, head of public relations at the Iranian aviation organization, as saying.

The An-140 plane crashed in December near Isfahan, 415 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran, killing dozens of Ukrainian and Russian aircraft officials who were flying to Iran to test a plane of the same model that crashed.

"The analysis of data obtained from the FDP [flight data recorder] and the CVR [cockpit voice recorder] by special teams investigating the incident indicated pilot's failure to correctly perform the approach," Jafarzadeh said.

Ashgabat Convicts 7

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- The Turkmen Supreme Court convicted seven suspects in the assassination plot against President Saparmurat Niyazov, including a former foreign minister and one-time regional and security officials.

Former Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyyev, who had also served as Turkmenistan's ambassador to Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison, security officials said. Yazgeldy Gondogdyyev, the former administration chief of the northern Dashoguz region, and Orazmukhammed Berdyyev, the former deputy chair of the national security committee, received the same sentence.

Other former officials received sentences ranging from six to 18 years, while Konstantin Shikhmuradov, the brother of the alleged mastermind of the plot, was given 17 years.

Scientist Attacked

MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- A well-known academic and outspoken critic of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko was attacked near the entrance to his home by unknown assailants, his wife said.

Radzim Garecki, 74, one of the organizers of the opposition's planned Feb. 16 Congress of the Belarusian Intelligentsia, was assaulted Friday night as he returned home from a planning meeting. The unknown assailants struck Garecki in the head, and stole his identification papers and money.

Garecki's wife, Galina, said her husband's condition worsened Tuesday, and he remained hospitalized with severe traumas to the head and a broken nose.

Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation, she said.

Garecki is a member of the Belarussian National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

2 Belarus Probes End

MINSK, Belarus (Reuters) -- Belarus ended a probe into the disappearances of an opposition leader and businessman Wednesday, saying they had failed to solve the case.

Both Viktor Gonchar, an opposition leader, and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky disappeared without a trace in 1999 during an opposition-led campaign to stage alternative presidential elections.

Vladimir Chumachenko, from the Minsk prosecutor's office, said the probe into their disappearances had been closed after investigators had failed to find any clues.

Harry Pogonailo, a lawyer for the Krasovsky family, said ending the investigation was a sign the authorities did not want to discover the truth.

"They have not been investigating for a long time already," he said, adding that by closing the case the prosecutors were making sure other independent investigations would fail.

The Council of Europe said last year it was ready to begin an independent probe into the disappearances of several political figures.

Mustard Gas

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has reprocessed more than 60 tons of mustard gas in its first chemical weapons destruction facility, presidential envoy Sergei Kiriyenko said Wednesday.

Kiriyenko, who is President Vladimir Putin's representative in the Federal Volga District and chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, said the first month of operations at the Gorny plant had gone flawlessly, Interfax reported.

The Gorny plant opened last month after years of delay. Russia plans to put two other destruction plants to work in coming years -- both of them, like Gorny, located at former chemical weapons production sites.