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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

$3M Ransom

TBILISI, Georgia (AFP) -- The kidnappers of three UN observers, a Dane and two Germans, in Georgia are demanding $3 million for their release, Interfax reported Sunday, citing Rustavi-2 television.

Rustavi-2, which did not cite any sources, said the abductors had gotten the UN staff, who were seized Thursday along with their interpreter, to contact their headquarters and to relay the ransom demand.

The channel earlier reported that a $2 million ransom had been set.

The local UN observer mission and Georgian authorities refused to comment on the ransom reports.

Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze said an intensive search was continuing to find the observers in the Kodor Gorge, located on Georgia's border with Abkhazia.

Russian Broadcasts

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- Latvia's highest court lifted restrictions Friday that limited the amount of Russian-language broadcasting on radio and television stations in the country.

Many Russian speakers said a law requiring that 75 percent of all commercial broadcasts be in Latvian was discriminatory. Latvia's Constitutional Court agreed, and struck down the law in a 5-2 decision.

"It's clearly a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of information and doesn't hold up under international law," said Aivars Endzins, the court's head judge.

No Turkmen Deal

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) -- Two days of talks between Russian and Turkmen officials ended Saturday with no sign of an end to an escalating dispute over how to disband the two countries' dual-citizenship agreement.

Vladimir Kotenev, head of the Russian delegation and director of the Foreign Ministry's consular department, said after the talks that the sides "better understood each other's positions" and agreed to form a bilateral commission to look at the issue.

However, Kotenev said he was not sure whether that commission would be in place by a June 22 deadline for residents to choose between Russian or Turkmen citizenship.

Kotenev said Friday that Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov assured Moscow that Russian citizens would not see any change to their status after the deadline.

Kim Writes to Putin

TOKYO (AFP) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin seeking his help in breaking a stalemate in talks with the United States over the nuclear crisis, a report said Sunday.

The letter was sent in late May, Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun reported from Beijing, quoting Chinese diplomatic sources. It was not known how the letter had been delivered to Putin.

Arms Destroyed

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia said Saturday that it has destroyed or converted to civilian use thousands of conventional weapons it had pulled back beyond the Ural Mountains before a European arms treaty was signed in 1990, keeping a promise that helped settle a Soviet dispute with Western nations over the pact.

Russia has informed other parties to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty that it has fulfilled its obligation to destroy or convert the tanks and other weapons, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The CFE treaty, which set limits on the numbers of non-nuclear weapons that nations in the Soviet bloc and NATO could maintain within Europe, was aimed to prevent Moscow from launching a lightning strike on Western Europe.

But the United States and other nations were concerned about the tanks and other arms that the Soviet Union had pulled back east of the Ural Mountains before the treaty was signed.

Under a compromise reached in 1991, months before the Soviet collapse, the Soviet Union pledged to destroy or convert to civilian use at least 6,000 tanks, 1,500 armored combat vehicles and 7,000 artillery pieces that were located east of the Urals.

Katzner Dead, Age 72

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kenneth Katzner, one of the United States' most distinguished authorities on the Russian language, has died of congestive heart failure due to cancer. He was 72.

Katzner compiled a popular English-Russian/Russian-English dictionary and wrote "The Languages of the World'' and "A Russian Review Text.'' He was born in Washington, grew up in New York and returned to Washington in 1972. He died in Washington on May 25.

His English-Russian/Russian-English dictionary, which took 18 years to write, sold hundreds of thousands of copies throughout the world and was pirated in the Soviet Union.

Satellite Launched

MOSCOW (AP) -- A heavy Russian Proton-M rocket brought a U.S. telecommunications satellite into space on Saturday, news agencies reported.

The rocket carrying the AMC-9 satellite, commissioned by SES Americom and built by France's Alcatel, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:24 a.m. Saturday, Interfax reported, citing the Russian Space Forces.

Cargo Sent to ISS

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Progress M1-10 cargo ship with food, oxygen and other supplies for the international space station blasted off Sunday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Mission Control said.

The Progress, carrying more than 2 tons of fuel, food, water, oxygen and other supplies, is to dock with the space station Wednesday.

Duma Approves Flag

MOSCOW (AP) -- The State Duma gave its final approval Friday to a new military flag that mixes symbols of the Soviet and tsarist eras.

Deputies voted 284-99 in favor of the flag design submitted by President Vladimir Putin.

The flag's bright red background and the five-pointed stars around the edges are reminiscent of the Soviet era, but its center is dominated on both sides by a tsarist-era double-headed eagle.

Boris Nadezhdin of the liberal Union of Right Forces party said the new flag was an improvement on the Soviet-style red one approved in 2000, which it replaced, and that "it really looks very good."

However, he added, "For me, as a person who understands art, this banner came out as a kind of collage: There are monarchic symbols, republican symbols and Soviet stars. But the Duma voted for it, so that's the flag we will have."