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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

Contract Killing Gone Awry

The Moscow City Court on Friday convicted a Russian man of murdering a pregnant woman in Switzerland in what prosecutors said was a contract killing that went awry, and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

The court found Alexander Bakayev guilty of killing Flavia Bertozzi, the wife of a Swiss border guard, at their home in the Swiss town of Ponte Capriasca in 2002, court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said.

Prosecutors said Bakayev was contracted to kill the victim's husband, Andrea Bertozzi, by Klaus Opris, a German-Romanian citizen who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Romania for the crime in 2004. (AP)

Chechens Still in Pankisi

A senior official in the Federal Border Service said Friday that Chechen rebels were still using Georgia's Pankisi Gorge as a hideout.

"We have information that a certain number of members of illegal armed groups are still present in the Pankisi Gorge," Lieutenant General Anatoly Zabrodin told Interfax.

"Even today we cannot rule out the threat that members of illegal armed groups could breach the border from the Georgian side," he said. (AP)

Georgian Dies in Custody

A Georgian citizen has died in custody in Moscow while authorities were in the process of deporting him, Interfax reported Friday, citing Georgian television reports.

Zurab Muzashvili, 38, had been brought from Saratov to Moscow to be deported but became ill on the way to the airport, the Georgian television station Rustavi 2 reported. Muzashvili died before reaching the hospital. Rustavi 2 reported that Muzashvili had tuberculosis. (MT)

Prostitution Ring Uncovered

ATHENS -- Police arrested six people and freed 24 East European women forced into prostitution following raids on three apartments in greater Athens, authorities said Friday.

The suspects, two men and four women, were held on charges of membership in a criminal gang, money laundering, abduction and pimping. Police said most of the women were from Russia but that some were also from Latvia and Lithuania. They were being kept against their will, subjected to violence and forced to work as prostitutes in the greater Athens areas of Kallithea, Neos Kosmos and Paleo Faliro.

The raids were carried out late Thursday, when police also seized cell phones, a laptop computer and cash and bank deposit books worth 26,000 euros ($33,750). (AP)

Ministry Slams U.S. Plan

The Foreign Ministry on Friday said a U.S. plan to deploy anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic was a mistake that would have negative consequences for international security.

The U.S. State Department announced on Sunday that the two countries had agreed to start detailed talks on allowing their territory to be used for the system, designed to shoot down missiles with rockets. U.S. officials say the system is intended to counter a long-range Iranian missile threat, not Russia.

"This issue will be a subject of our detailed analysis and dialogue with the United States and their partners," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its web site. (Reuters)

Court Rules on Intoxication

The Supreme Court has ruled that intoxication from alcohol or narcotics will no longer be considered an aggravating circumstance in criminal cases.

The ruling, issued Jan. 11, effectively orders judges not to hand out harsher sentences to people who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time the crime was committed. (MT)

U.S. Trains Tajik Guards

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- U.S. military instructors began training Tajik border guards in anti-terrorism and prevention of border infiltration Sunday under a program of military cooperation, the U.S. Embassy said Sunday.

Twelve U.S. marines will participate in the training of elite border guard troops until March 9 at a base 35 kilometers southwest of the capital Dushanbe, embassy spokesman Nur Umarov said.

The U.S. government last year granted $7.75 million to Tajikistan to help the country tighten security on its border with Afghanistan. The money will be used to build barracks and other facilities for Tajik border guards and customs officers. (AP)

Insult Laws Criticized

VIENNA -- The media freedom watchdog at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called Friday for the abolition of special insult laws in Kazakhstan and urged the country's public officials to be more tolerant of criticism.

In a letter to Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin, Miklos Haraszti, media freedom representative at the OSCE, said the laws, which give elevated protection to public officials from verbal insults, were undemocratic.

Haraszti made his plea after a Kazakh court on Monday gave journalist Kazis Toguzbayev a two-year suspended prison sentence for deliberately intending to insult the honor and dignity of the president, an OSCE statement said. (AP)

Uzbek Activist Arrested

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- A well-known Uzbek rights activist has been arrested on suspicion of possession of anti-government publications and entering Uzbekistan illegally, her lawyer, Abror Yusupov, said Friday.

Umida Niyazova, 31, was arrested as she tried to cross the border from Kyrgyzstan on Monday, one month after authorities confiscated her laptop computer, her passport and papers they said contained anti-government materials, Yusupov said. (AP)

Kazakh Islamists Arrested

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstan's security service has made a series of arrests among suspected leaders of a banned radical Islamic group across the country over the past two months, authorities said Friday.

The arrests were made in several regions and targeted an unspecified number of national and local leaders and activists from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the National Security Committee said in a statement.

Security officers also seized 25,000 extremist leaflets and 700 books, the statement said. Hizb-ut-Tahrir, whose Arabic name means Party of Liberation, claims to disavow violence in its quest to create a worldwide Islamic state. (AP)

Bakiyev Nominates PM

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan's president nominated a new candidate for prime minister Friday after lawmakers blocked his efforts to reinstate Felix Kulov as head of the Cabinet.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev asked lawmakers to approve his nomination of Agriculture Minister Azim Isabekov, the president's office said. Isabekov is seen as a Bakiyev loyalist and previously was a deputy head of his administration.

The parliament was expected to vote on Isabekov's posting this week, Bakiyev's office said. (AP)

Joint War Games Planned

Russia is expected to host a joint military exercise with India in the northwestern Pskov region in September, RIA-Novosti quoted paratroop commander Colonel General Alexander Kolmakov as saying on Sunday.

Close ties between the Russian and Indian militaries are part of a "strategic partnership" between Moscow and New Delhi, which has replaced the Cold War alliance of the two governments.

India is one of two top buyers of Russian arms. Together with China, it accounts for most of Russia's annual arms sales of around $6 billion. (Reuters)

Bird Flu Suspected in Death

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- A 14-year-old Azeri boy, treated for suspected bird flu in a medical institute in the capital, Baku, died Sunday before his diagnosis could be finally established, a health official said. (Reuters)