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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Putin to Visit Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria -- President Vladimir Putin flies to Algeria on Thursday, his first visit to the former Soviet ally, and is expected to conclude the sale of MiG-29 combat jets for up to $1.5 billion.

Algerian media said Monday that the visit would boost economic and military ties. Putin will discuss the possibility of Moscow converting Algeria's debt into investments and of concluding a sale of weapons to the North African country during his two-day visit, media reported.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, visiting Algiers this week, said the two countries were determined to strengthen ties. (Reuters)

A Million in United Russia

United Russia announced its one millionth member on Monday, reaching a milestone unseen since the Communist Party of the Soviet Union folded 14 years ago.

The party has 999,546 registered members. A further 500 membership applications now being processed will take it over the million mark, said party leader Boris Gryzlov. "This is a major event," he said. "The responsibility for implementing many decisions rests on the members of United Russia. … The growth in our numbers will help us to achieve that," he said.

The party still has a long way to go to rival the Soviet Communist Party, which in its heyday said it had 20 million members. Its nearest rival is the Russian Communist Party, which has about 200,000 registered members. (Reuters)

Crimean Referendum

KIEV -- Ukraine's Justice Ministry said Monday that the Crimean Peninsula's plans to hold a referendum on whether Russian should be made a second state language violated national law.

The Crimean parliament approved the measure last month, opening the door on a highly explosive issue, and set the referendum for March 26 -- the date of national parliamentary elections.

The ministry said in a statement the decision went far beyond the responsibilities of Crimea's parliament and called it illegal and unconstitutional. It urged President Viktor Yushchenko, whose office has also criticized the planned referendum, to appeal to the Constitutional Court to bar the vote from taking place.

But the court has been paralyzed, with legislators refusing to vote on nominees for judges. (AP)

Uzbekistan Bars Aid Group

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- An Uzbek court on Monday ordered the closure of the U.S.-funded rights group Freedom House, the latest foreign aid organization to be banned in the country.

Branka Sesto, the group's director in Uzbekistan, said the Tashkent City Civil Court barred the group at the request of prosecutors because of alleged violations of laws regulating nongovernmental organizations. "We don't see any sense in appealing," Sesto said.

Meanwhile, another U.S.-funded nongovernmental organization, the Eurasia Foundation, announced it was shutting its Uzbek operations following charges that it had not registered its office properly and had held unauthorized workshops. (AP)

Opposition Leader Jailed

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- An Uzbek court on Monday sentenced an opposition leader to more than 10 years in prison on charges of organizing a criminal group, tax evasion and money laundering.

Sandjar Umarov, chairman of the Sunshine Uzbekistan group, pleaded not guilty to all charges. But Judge Zokirjon Isayev said, "Umarov's statements about his absolute innocence have been fully disproved by witness testimonies and documents."

Isayev said Umarov should be jailed for 14 1/2 years, but reduced the sentence to 10 years and eight months in accordance with a presidential order issued in December. (AP)

Azeri Reporter Beaten

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Assailants abducted and severely beat a reporter who works for an Azeri opposition newspaper, an opposition leader said Monday.

Fikret Guseinli, with the newspaper Azadlyg, was seized Sunday night in the Padamdar district of Baku by three men who threw him into a car trunk, drove him to a dark alley and started assaulting him, said Isak Avazogli, a spokesman for the People's Front of Azerbaijan.

The three left him after he lost consciousness, and passers-by eventually rescued him and took him to a hospital, Avazogli said. (AP)

Activists on Hunger Strike

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Two Kazakh opposition activists entered their sixth day on hunger strike Monday, protesting their jailing for holding an unauthorized rally in memory of a slain opposition leader.

Two other jailed activists have also joined the strike, which comes after 12 opposition members were either jailed or fined last week for participating in the Feb. 26 anti-government rally in Almaty.

The rally commemorated Altynbek Sarsenbayev, of the opposition Nagyz Ak Zhol party, who was abducted and shot dead along with his bodyguard and driver in what his supporters call a politically motivated slaying. (AP)

Ships Collide in Baltic

TALLINN -- A cargo ship carrying a load of aluminum sank in the Baltic Sea after colliding with another vessel early Monday. The crew of 14 was evacuated safely to a Russian icebreaker, Estonia's maritime border guard said.

The ships collided north of the island of Vaindloo, about 20 kilometers off Estonia's mainland, border guard spokeswoman Helena Loorents said. They were part of a convoy that had left St. Petersburg.

Loorents said it was unclear yet under which flag the sunken ship, Runner 4, was sailing, but most of the crew members were Russians. (AP)