- - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RUSSIA

Putin says book ‘Gulag Archipelago’ is essential

MOSCOW | “The Gulag Archipelago” is essential reading for Russian students, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday — unusual words of praise from a former KGB agent for Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s explosive book on the crimes of the Soviet regime.

Mr. Putin spoke at a meeting with Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s widow, Natalya, to discuss a new edition of the 1973 book “The Gulag Archipelago” that was made part of required reading for Russian high schools.

“Without the knowledge of that book, we would lack a full understanding of our country and it would be difficult for us to think about the future,” Mr. Putin told Natalya Solzhenitsyn, who prepared an abridged edition of the massive three-volume work.

Publication of the new edition comes shortly before Russia marks a day commemorating victims of Soviet political repression this weekend.

Historians estimate that more than 700,000 people were executed during the purges that peaked during the Great Terror in the late 1930s, and tens of millions of people were sent to prison camps where millions of them died of harsh labor and cruel treatment.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who had won the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature, drew on his own experiences as a prisoner and on the testimony of hundreds of other Gulag inmates to chronicle the horrors of the sprawling Soviet prison camps system, known under its Russian acronym, Gulag. He died in August 2008 at the age of 89.

CHINA

U.S. seeks Beijing help on toxic drywall

SHANGHAI | The top U.S. product safety official urged Beijing on Tuesday to press state-owned firms to help Americans fix homes that have been damaged by toxic drywall made in China.

Inez Tenenbaum, head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, asked her Chinese counterpart to help call to account producers of drywall found to emit dangerous levels of sulphur, which could corrode wiring and pipes.

“Chinese drywall is an example of a complicated issue in the United States where we are hopeful that the Chinese government will use its influence with state-owned companies to help us reach a fair outcome for everyone involved,” she told a joint news conference after meeting EU and Chinese officials.

One manufacturer, German-Chinese joint venture Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co, has agreed to help repair 300 homes in four southern U.S. states as part of a pilot project to help affected homeowners, Ms. Tenenbaum said.

There have been more than 3,000 complaints about dangerous drywall in the United States alone. Homes built between 2005 and 2009 chiefly in southern U.S. states were most acutely affected, thanks to the large amount of Chinese drywall imported for rebuilding efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Freed Cuban dissident to begin asylum

PRAGUE | Ronaldo Jimenez Posada, a Cuban dissident released from prison last week, arrived in Prague with his family on Tuesday to begin political asylum, the Czech foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The Czech Republic will grant political asylum to him and his family,” the ministry said, adding that they would receive full welfare, including medical benefits.

Jimenez Posada, a 40-year-old lawyer, spent six years in prison before coming to Prague with his partner, son, brother and niece, Veronika Honcova from the ministry’s press department said. Mr. Posada and his family landed in Madrid on Friday along with two other Cuban political prisoners and their families.

He was jailed for revealing state secrets. Amnesty International considers him to have been a prisoner of conscience.

The three political prisoners were not part of a group of 52 people released after a deal in July between Cuba’s communist regime and the Roman Catholic Church.

BRITAIN

Former prime minister to stay in hospital

LONDON | Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is expected to remain in the hospital for “some days” after being admitted a week ago with the flu, her spokesman said Tuesday.

Mrs. Thatcher — who is 85 and has suffered a series of minor strokes — was said Saturday to be “a lot brighter” and facing a few more days in the hospital.

But her spokesman said Tuesday that, although she was “fine,” it would “probably be some days yet” before she could return home.

Mrs. Thatcher, who held power from 1979 to 1990, was admitted to a hospital in west London one week ago for tests.

She was forced to miss a planned 85th birthday party at Downing Street on Oct. 14 because of her illness.

Known as the “Iron Lady,” Mrs. Thatcher was the longest continuously serving British prime minister of the 20th century and the only woman to be premier.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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