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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

PEN Center Decries Tax Bill

Russian PEN Center, a writers' human rights group and a local branch of the International PEN Club, said Thursday that it might be forced to close after being asked to pay a back tax claim that it called politically motivated.

PEN Center head Alexander Tkachenko said tax inspectors had abruptly demanded 2 million rubles for land where the group's building was located. He said the claim was unfounded, explaining that the group did not own the land and used the building rent-free for 16 years under an agreement with the Moscow city government.

Calls to the city tax service went unanswered Thursday.

Tkachenko said the demand was an attempt to clamp down on the group for its human rights activity and criticism of the new law restricting NGOs. (MT)

Soldier Undergoes Surgery

Moscow doctors on Thursday operated on the left kidney of a conscript whose legs and genitals were earlier amputated following a brutal New Year's Eve hazing, Interfax reported.

Private Andrei Sychyov came through the surgery well but remained in serious condition, said Vyacheslav Klyuzhev, the chief doctor at the Burdenko Military Hospital.

Sychyov, 19, was flown to Moscow on Tuesday from Chleyabinsk. (MT)

Japan Drops Spy Case

TOKYO -- Japanese prosecutors said Thursday that they would not press criminal charges against a former Russian trade official who had been suspected of stealing corporate secrets from a subsidiary of a Japanese electronics giant.

Japanese police in October asked prosecutors to investigate the 36-year-old Russian man and a 31-year-old Japanese man who purportedly helped him steal secrets from his former employer, Toshiba Discrete Semiconductor Technology Corp. (AP)

7 Years for Andijan Witness

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- An Uzbek court has sentenced a human rights activist to seven years in prison after he briefed foreign media about last year's bloody government crackdown in the town of Andijan, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov was sentenced Jan. 5 on charges of conspiring with "terrorists," defaming the state, and religious extremism. (Reuters)

Clash With Drug Smugglers

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Tajik border guards seized 70 kilograms of heroin Thursday in the largest confiscation this year, a Tajik official said.

The shipment was supposed to reach Russia's Urals Mountains, the official said. (AP)

For the Record

Russia's special envoy for the Middle East said Thursday that "outside forces" -- possibly including Iran -- might be stoking the demonstrations and the violence that have erupted over the publication of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. Alexander Kalugin's remarks echoed those of a growing number of officials across the world. (AP)

Vladimir Kuchinov, head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency's international relations department, said Thursday that Russia was unhappy with recent moves by Iran over its nuclear program and called for calm and compromise, in comments reflecting Russian frustration at Tehran's approach to a mounting standoff. (AP)

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will visit Vietnam on Feb. 16 and 17 to boost diplomatic ties and strengthen a strategic partnership, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said Thursday. (AP)

Dagestan's Supreme Court on Thursday cleared four men on trial for two failed attempts to kill the region's pension fund chief and deputy prime minister, Amuchi Amutinov. (AP)

A Riga court on Thursday dismissed a criminal case against a former Soviet security officer for his suspected role in deporting hundreds of Latvians to Siberia during the Soviet occupation of the country. The court deemed Ilya Mashonkin, 90, to be mentally deficient and unable to stand trial. (AP)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, speaking to parliament in his state-of-the-nation address Thursday, called for a new constitution to be drawn up and put to the people. (Reuters)

Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday voted to bar foreign troops from participating in military training exercises this year, a move that reflects the opposition's anger at President Viktor Yushchenko's approaches to NATO. (AP)