- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

Russia media mogul flees to Israel

JERUSALEM — Vladimir Gusinsky, the Russian media magnate who has been battling extradition to his homeland to face criminal charges, has arrived in Israel, an associate said yesterday.

"He´s right next to me," Mark Meerson, the Israeli representative for Media-Most, Gusinsky´s media empire, said in a telephone interview. However, Mr. Meerson declined to put Mr. Gusinsky on the phone.

Russian authorities filed a new arrest warrant Sunday with Interpol, charging that Mr. Gusinsky was involved in a money-laundering scheme that amounted to $97 million.

Mr. Gusinsky says Russian charges against him are politically motivated.

South Africa fears coup attempt

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa´s top law enforcement official has accused three of the country´s most powerful businessmen of plotting to oust President Thabo Mbeki.

In an interview on the South African Broadcasting Corp. news Tuesday night, Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete said the government was investigating plots to remove Mr. Mbeki from power.

The accusations against the men were not spelled out, but several analysts said the government in one of Africa´s strongest democracies might be trying to stifle any opposition to Mr. Mbeki.

The investigation focused on Cyril Ramaphosa one of the most respected people in the country as well as Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale.All three are senior members of the ruling African National Congress.

Serious charges dropped against American

MOSCOW — Russian prosecutors dropped drug-dealing charges against American student John Tobin yesterday, saying they would seek a four-year sentence on the lesser charge of drug abuse instead, witnesses said.

Investigators in the southern Russian city of Voronezh had threatened Mr. Tobin, 24, with up to 15 years in jail for reportedly running a marijuana ring. Drug charges were accompanied by hints from security officials that he also was training to be a spy.

But the prosecution abandoned accusations that Mr. Tobin and a fellow U.S. student had formed a drug-dealing ring after witnesses provided no incriminating evidence.

Putin poll shows slip in popularity

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin´s approval rating has slipped slightly in the past month but remains sky high despite concerns about press freedom and continuing casualties in the war in Chechnya, according to a poll released yesterday.

Seventy percent of those questioned in the poll, taken April 20-23, approved of the job Mr. Putin was doing, while 24 percent disapproved.

That was down from 75 percent approval the month before, but Yuri Levada, head of the respected VTsIOM polling agency, said the drop was not especially significant.

Mr. Putin scored highly in the poll despite concern expressed by foreign governments and press advocates over the takeover of NTV, the country´s only nationwide non-government TV channel, by a state-connected gas company.

Many of the station´s journalists said it was a Kremlin-backed move to muzzle independent reporting.

Chernobyl remembered 15 years later

KIEV — Fifteen years after the Chernobyl disaster sent a radioactive cloud over much of Europe, the infamous plant has been idled and a beleaguered nation struggles to deal with its deadly legacy.

The plant — site of the world´s worst nuclear accident — continued operation after the April 26, 1986, explosion, amid international concern over safety issues.

The last reactor was shut down in December and the plant stopped operating for good.

The greatest worry remains the leaky concrete-and-steel sarcophagus over the ruined reactor, and a $758 million internationally funded project aims to make it environmentally safe.

Now, with promised Western aid in limbo, the economically struggling Ukraine must provide for about 6,000 Chernobyl workers who depended on the plant to survive.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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