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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Pasko Becomes Aide

MOSCOW (MT) -- Grigory Pasko, who was released in January after serving more than two-thirds of a four-year prison sentence on treason and espionage charges, is now an aide to liberal lawmaker Sergei Yushenkov, Interfax reported Monday.

Pasko, a navy journalist and environmental whistle-blower, will work in the State Duma as an expert in ecology, media, military and judicial reform, Yushenkov told Interfax.

His first assignment will be a bill on amendments to the law on state secrets, which was used to prosecute the journalist, Yushenkov said.

Pasko was sentenced in December 2001 after being accused of illegally attending a meeting of top military commanders and making notes there. A military court said he intended to pass the notes to Japanese media with which he had worked.

Pasko has not joined Yushenkov's Liberal Russia party, Interfax said.

Kasyanov Recovers

MOSCOW (MT) -- Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov returned to work Monday after being hospitalized with the flu, Interfax reported.

Kasyanov became sick last week and was hospitalized Thursday.

Kasyanov plans to meet the prime minister of Belarus, Gennady Novitsky, on Wednesday, Interfax reported, citing the department of government information.

Spacecraft Deal

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian Aviation and Space Agency chief Yury Koptev warned Monday that time is running out for Washington to finance construction of extra Russian spacecraft needed to run the international space station during a break in U.S. shuttle flights.

"The problem has be resolved within a month," Koptev said during a seminar with Italian government officials and aerospace executives in Moscow.

Koptev said Russia is ready to build extra spacecraft but needs additional funding from U.S. and other partners in the 16-nation space station project. He said if an agreement is not reached soon, new ships will not be ready in time.

"We can build a ship in a minimum of 1 1/2 years. We could maybe squeeze it into 14 months, but anything shorter is impossible," he said.

Soyuz capsules and Progress cargo ships remain the only link to the space station following the Columbia shuttle disaster and the suspension of U.S. shuttle flights pending an investigation.

But NASA says potential funding is constrained by U.S. legislation barring additional payments to Russia's space agency unless the United States confirms Russia has not transferred missile technology or nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to Iran in the previous year.

Niyazov's Crackdown

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe appealed Monday to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to cooperate with an international investigation into the severe crackdown following an alleged assassination attempt against him.

Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who holds the rotating OSCE chairmanship, said he tried to convince Niyazov and his foreign minister to respond to a report written after 10 OSCE members called for a probe into the government's harsh reaction to the alleged Nov. 25 attack.

Turkmenistan had refused to grant a visa to the French expert who completed the report last week.

"Sometimes your organization and we -- we don't understand each other," Niyazov told de Hoop Scheffer. "Europe doesn't know us very well."

The government says gunmen directed by former government officials opened fire on the president's motorcade as he was driving to work Nov. 25; four police officers were injured but Niyazov says he was not aware of the shooting at the time.

The opposition in exile claims the plot was manufactured to provide a pretense for a crackdown.

The OSCE has labeled televised trials after the Nov. 25 attack as "Stalinist."

Latvia Sets New Vote

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- Latvia's parliament agreed Monday to push up its presidential election by three months in a bid by pro-European Union politicians to ensure that a crucial referendum on joining the bloc is approved later this year.

The election will be held March 12, three months early.

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's term expires in July. Parliament sets the date for a new election, according to Latvia's constitution. The parliament -- not the public -- elects Latvia's president, who has traditionally focused on foreign policy for the country of 2.4 million.

Armenian Protests

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) -- Tens of thousands of Armenians took to the streets of the capital in rival demonstrations Monday to support the incumbent president and his challenger in this week's run-off election.

Police estimated the size of the crowd at a rally in favor of President Robert Kocharyan at close to 100,000. The opposition attracted around 20,000 supporters, police said.

Kocharyan fell just short of the simple majority he needed to win the election outright, receiving 49.48 percent of the votes, according to official results. His challenger in Wednesday's run-off, People's Party leader Stepan Demirchyan, received 28.22 percent.

Aliyev in Ohio Clinic

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) -- Azeri President Heidar Aliyev underwent a hernia operation Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, where he arrived last week for a medical checkup after a visit with U.S. President George W. Bush, his office said.

Aliyev, 79, felt fine after the operation, the presidential press service said in a brief statement. Azeri state television had reported over the weekend that Aliyev arrived in Cleveland for a checkup on Friday, also giving few details.

In February 2002, Aliyev had heart bypass surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in 1999 and underwent prostate surgery at the same clinic in February 2002, a procedure that was kept secret until afterward. In 2000, he had cataracts removed from his eyes at a clinic in Washington.

Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan since it was a Soviet republic and has announced his intention to run again in presidential elections this fall. The opposition accuses him of stifling dissent and media freedom in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation.

Aliyev met with Bush last Wednesday.