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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Tbilisi on Spy Planes

TBILISI, Georgia (Reuters) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Monday that U.S. spy planes were flying regularly over Georgian territory, confirming Russia's claims of such flights near its border.

"American planes, operating at our request, are carrying out reconnaissance of our territory to help us fight terrorism," Shevardnadze said in a national radio address.

Russia, whose relations with the United States have deteriorated over the Iraq crisis, accused Washington of adopting Cold War practices after Russian air defenses detected a U.S. spy plane flying near the border with Georgia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it was the third time since late February that such flights had been detected.

Monument Defiled

ST. PETERSBURG (AP) -- Vandals in St. Petersburg defiled a monument to victims of political repression under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, a human rights group said Monday.

The Memorial human rights group said the vandals wrote "Long live the great Stalin!" on the monument.

It was the fourth act of vandalism on the monument since the fall.

"This indicates the general condition of society, which has lost the culture of memory and understanding of its own past," said Irina Flige, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Memorial.

Book Attacks Jews

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Moscow court ruled Monday that there was nothing illegal in a government-endorsed textbook that describes Jews as power-hungry and greedy, a rights group said.

The Moscow-based Movement for Human Rights had asked the Meshchansky district court to force prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into the textbook, "The Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture."

The book, endorsed by the Education Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church for use in public schools, says the Jews forced Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus because "they thought only about power over other peoples and earthly wealth."

In addition to attacking Jews, the textbook accuses Russia's non-Orthodox "guests" of "not always behaving nobly in the traditionally Orthodox state."

The Movement for Human Rights appealed to the Prosecutor General's Office to open a criminal case in June on the grounds that the book incites ethnic hatred, a crime under Russian law. Federal prosecutors passed the issue on to local Moscow prosecutors, who refused to open a case.

In December, the Meshchansky district court ruled that the prosecutors' refusal was illegal. The prosecutors then issued a second refusal, which was upheld by the court Monday.

Lukashenko Eyes U.S.

MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Monday called for improved ties with the United States, one of the Western countries that has shunned him for his human rights policies.

"We could quickly set right relations with the United States, joining ranks with other nations," Lukashenko said at a ceremony presenting Belarus' newly appointed foreign minister, Siargei Martynau.

He said former Foreign Minister Mikhail Khastou, whom he named ambassador to the United States and Mexico on Friday, would play a "key role" in normalizing Belarussian-U.S. ties.

Despite his newfound desire to improve ties, Lukashenko said the United States had committed "a grave sin for the huge number of victims in the war against Iraq.

"However, we are realists, and we understand that the United States is a superpower that defines world political and economic processes."

Analysts see Lukashenko's contradictory statements as evidence that he is trying to preserve Belarus' economic interests, including $320 million worth of contracts in Iraq pending United Nations approval.

Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the opposition United Civil Party, said the war in Iraq had left Lukashenko "extremely confused and frightened. ... He thinks he might be next."

Conviction Upheld

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) -- A Kyrgyz appeals court upheld a 25-year prison sentence against a former member of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, justice officials said Monday.

The Batken regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan last week turned down Sherali Akbotoyev's appeal against his Feb. 4 conviction. He had demanded that the charges of terrorism, hostage-taking and organizing a criminal group against him be dropped.

Akbotoyev, 41, was found guilty of terrorism as a member of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist group that has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Akbotoyev was detained in an unspecified foreign country and extradited in May 2002 to Kyrgyzstan.

4 Miners Killed

KIEV (AP) -- Mine shafts collapsed at two coal mines in eastern Ukraine, killing three miners, and a fourth miner died after falling into a coal chute, an official said Monday.

Two miners were working about 750 meters underground at the Zhovtnevyi Rudnyk mine in the Donetsk region Sunday when the shaft collapsed and killed them, said Ihor Krol of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Another miner was killed early Monday when the roof caved in a shaft at the 50 Years of the Soviet Union mine in the Luhansk region.

A fourth miner died at the Novopavlivska mine in the eastern town of Krasniy Luch after falling into a chute during cleaning operations.

Pumpkin Lawsuit

MOSCOW (MT) -- A resident of Pavlovsky Posad in the Moscow region plans to sue a seed firm after he was knocked unconscious by a giant pumpkin he grew on his balcony, the Pravda newspaper reported.

Nikolai Salakhov said the instructions on the seed packet told him to expect "decorative vegetables the size of a pear" on meter-high plants. But instead the plants produced pumpkins weighing almost 20 kilograms, one of which fell on his head and knocked him out as he sat on his balcony, Pravda said.

Andrei Tumanov, chairman of the Moscow Union of Gardeners, told the newspaper that almost half of all seeds available on the Russian market "did not meet gardening standards."