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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Human Rights Award

GENEVA (AP) -- A Swiss-based foundation said Friday it would award its top prize to a Russian campaigner who works to expose violations in Chechnya and protect victims of abuse.

The Martin Ennals Foundation said Lida Yusupova would receive its annual award at a ceremony in Geneva in April.

Yusupova runs the Grozny office of the human rights group Memorial.

"There is complete consensus among all human rights organizations that Lida deserves the award for her tireless efforts in a situation of war and extreme danger, with increased risk for women," said Hans Thoolen, chairman of the Martin Ennals Award jury.

Chechens Protest

MOSCOW (AP) -- About 500 Chechens protested Saturday in Grozny, accusing authorities of detaining three people without reason and demanding their immediate release.

Two local administrators from the southern Vedeno district disappeared on Nov. 29 while heading to a political conference for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, protesters said.

The men's car broke down en route, and while they were fixing it, they were allegedly seized by members of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov's security force, protesters said. It was not clear how they could know what happened. Chechen officials have said they do not know where the men are.

The protesters also called for the release of Khusai Baitimayev, 44, who was allegedly seized by soldiers in the village Belgatoi in the Nozhai-Yurt region on Nov. 11. His wife, Rosa, said he was seized along with eight other men, but they were all later released. Only her husband remains missing.

Berezovsky Probe

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) -- Georgia's chief prosecutor opened a criminal investigation Friday against officials who did not detain Boris Berezovsky during a recent visit to Tbilisi.

Berezovsky, who lives in self-exile in London, arrived in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday for an overnight visit. Russian officials have placed Berezovsky on their wanted list on fraud and theft charges and say border guards should have handed him over to Russia.

The border officials who let him go could be charged with negligence, a crime that carries up to a three-year prison term, Georgian officials said.

Missile Tested

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) -- Russia moved closer to obtaining its cheapest rocket yet for commercial satellites after successfully testing on Friday a converted nuclear missile that was decommissioned to meet disarmament treaties.

A Strela modification of an RS-18 Stiletto missile roared into space from an underground silo at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Igor Zatula said. The Stiletto was designed to carry six individually guided nuclear warheads, enough to destroy several Western cities, but may now end up providing satellites for phone networks and television broadcasters in countries it once targeted.

Fire Toll Grows to 40

MOSCOW (AP) -- The death toll in a fire that ripped through a Peoples' Friendship University dormitory has risen to 40 after the death of a 19-year-old student from Afghanistan, health officials said Friday.

The student died Thursday of injuries suffered in the Nov. 24 blaze, health official Lyubov Zhomova said. Earlier in the day Thursday, a student from Guinea-Bissau also died from his injuries.

Four of the 117 people still hospitalized remain in critical condition, Zhomova said.

Italy Smashes Gang

ROME (Reuters) -- Italian police said Friday that they have arrested 17 members of a ring of Russian criminals that forced deaf-mute people to hawk trinkets and then pocketed their takings.

Police said the mafia gang, based in the northeastern coastal city of Rimini, had brought at least 500 deaf-mute people from former Soviet republics, mainly Russia, to sell trinkets in streets, restaurants or on public transportation.

In some cases they tortured their victims to force them to take part in the scheme, worth about 1.5 million euros ($1.8 million) per year, police said.

Lukashenko Criticizes

BERLIN (AP) -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko attacked the West in an interview released Saturday for doing too little to help deal with illegal immigration, and said his country received no recognition for its efforts to stem illicit trade -- which, he asserted, had included intercepting enriched uranium.

Lukashenko told Der Spiegel that Belarus currently hosts more than 200,000 immigrants from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Vietnam, Russia and its republic of Chechnya, "because we closed our western border as we promised the Western Europeans we would."

"They don't want to come to us, but to Germany, England and France. Should we maintain these refugee enclaves here at our own cost? We don't have the money," he said. "We also intercept plenty of weapons and drug couriers. And a lot of enriched uranium." He did not elaborate.

Rally for Paksas

VILNIUS, Lithuania (Reuters) -- Thousands rallied in Vilnius on Saturday in the first public support for the country's president since a report accused him of links to Russian mobsters, paving the way for near-certain impeachment.

President Rolandas Paksas said "God and the people" would protect him from the allegations contained in a parliamentary investigation that declared him a security threat to the country.

On the streets of Vilnius, the angry crowd of at least 3,000 supporters of the president carried banners saying, "Don't Give In to the Conspiracy!" and "President, We Are With You!"