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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Pichugin Tested

MOSCOW (MT) -- Yukos security officer Alexei Pichugin has been sent to a psychiatric center for an evaluation without his lawyers' knowledge or consent, Ekho Moskvy radio reported Wednesday.

Pichugin was detained in June on suspicion of involvement in a 1998 double murder, and the Moscow City Court ordered him held in custody until Nov. 19.

Ekho Moskvy said Pichugin is undergoing an evaluation at the Serbsky Institute of Social and Forensic Psychiatry.

Lawyer Tatyana Akimtseva told the station that she was not notified about the decision to test her client and that this was a gross violation of the law.

The station did not say why the evaluation might be needed.

Earlier, Pichugin lawyers said their client had been drugged by investigators at the Lefortovo jail, where he was being held.

No OSCE Visa

MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- A representative from the Organization for Cooperation in Europe had to cancel his planned visit next week to Belarus because he did not receive his visa, the OSCE said.

Freimut Duve, head of the OSCE's media watchdog, said Tuesday that he had been planning to visit Belarus on Sept. 1 "to say farewell to the many courageous Belarussian journalists whom I have had the honor to frequently and publicly support."

Duve steps down from his post at the end of the year.

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry denied that it had turned down Duve's visa request. Ministry spokesman Andrei Shuplak said Duve had been asked to postpone his trip so that Belarussian authorities could "prepare for his visit in order to inform the OSCE representative about the progress made in the media sphere."

"Such a visit must be prepared jointly," Shuplak said. "But this visit was prepared without agreement from the Belarussian side."

Synagogue Fire

MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Unidentified assailants set a synagogue in Minsk on fire -- the latest in a steady series of anti-Semitic actions in Belarus, Jewish activists said Wednesday.

The attackers dosed kerosene at the synagogue's entrance and set it on fire overnight. Fireighters managed to save the building, but its facade was damaged in the fire, said Yury Dorn, president of the Jewish Religious Union of Belarus.

City police said they were searching for the perpetrators of the attack.

Eyewitnesses saw a group of four to six teenagers running away from the synagogue after it caught fire, Dorn said.

"The problem is that the police never find the culprits of anti-Semitic actions," he added.

The attack on the synagogue was the fifth attempt to burn it over the last two years. Minsk has two synagogues. Earlier this summer, Jewish organizations in Belarus sent an open letter to President Alexander Lukashenko urging him to take measures to deal with growing anti-Semitism.

About 27,000 Jews live in Belarus.

Erkel Plea to Italy

ROME (AP) -- The international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres is urging Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to raise the case of an aid worker kidnapped last year in Dagestan when he meets with President Vladimir Putin this weekend.

Arjan Erkel was abducted on Aug. 12, 2002, by three unidentified gunmen. Erkel, a 33-year-old Dutch citizen, headed the North Caucasus mission of Medecins Sans Frontieres-Switzerland.

The aid organization says Moscow is not doing enough to free the man. On Tuesday, MSF officials sent a letter to Berlusconi, who is the current president of the European Union.

"MSF is convinced that President Putin's personal involvement is essential to mobilize all resources to ensure Arjan's immediate and safe release," said the letter, which was signed by Morten Rostrup, president of MSF international.

Putin will be staying at Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia for three days starting Friday.

The Italian prime minister's office said it has not yet seen the letter.

No Apology Sought

KIEV (AP) -- Ukraine will not demand an apology from Russia for the Stalin-era famine that killed millions of people and was denied by Soviet officials for decades.

Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said Tuesday that Ukraine's top priority was to gain international recognition for the famine that killed 7 million to 10 million people in 1932 and 1933, Interfax reported.

"We don't want to aggravate relations and shift responsibility or raise hot issues for apologies aimed at establishing blame," Zlenko said.

"We would like to work together to remove all the accumulated history … [that] remains black for both our countries," he added.

Zlenko's comments came a week after Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, acknowledged that Moscow had assumed the Soviet Union's obligations as successor to the collapsed Soviet regime, but denied that its responsibilities included apologizing for the famine.

Historians say Josef Stalin provoked the famine as part of his campaign to force Ukrainian peasants to give up their land and join collective farms.

Aliyev Improving

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) -- Azeri President Heidar Aliyev's health has improved since his hospitalization at the Cleveland Clinic three weeks ago, the hospital said in a statement.

The statement, carried by the state Azertaj agency Wednesday, said Aliyev, 80 has responded positively to the medical treatment since his arrival at the clinic Aug. 6.

Aliyev, who has a history of heart trouble, arrived at the Cleveland Clinic following treatment at a Turkish hospital.

He is hospitalized with heart and kidney problems and speculation persists that his health is too fragile to survive the presidential election campaign or take on another term.

Critics say he is maneuvering to hand over power to his son, Ilham, named prime minister earlier this month.

Ilham Aliyev traveled to the United States this week and met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. He said in an interview to Azerbaijan's Lider television that he had spent several days with his father in Cleveland and added that the treatment was successful and doctors promised a ful recovery "in the near future."