- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

RUSSIA

Moscow to give China Ussuri border islands

VLADIVOSTOK — Russia has begun demilitarizing a border zone that is to be yielded to China under an agreement signed by President Vladimir Putin in Beijing last October, according to military officials in the Russian Far East.

Under the accord demarcating the last 2 percent of the 2,666-mile border in dispute for centuries, Russia agreed to surrender some 115 square miles in Siberia and the Far East to Chinese sovereignty.

As part of preparations to implement the deal, Russia dismantled defense installations on Tarabarov and Bolshoi Ussuriiskiy islands in the Ussuri River. “Military vehicles have already been taken deep inside Russian territory and weapons systems have been dismantled. Some of the military equipment will be reused,” the Far East military district announced.

FRANCE

‘Gentleman Thief’ faces second trial

STRASBOURG — A 33-year-old hotel worker went on trial last week, charged with stealing 239 works of art worth tens of millions of dollars.

Dubbed “The Gentleman Thief” by European media, Stephane Breitwieser has already served three years in a Swiss prison for the theft of 69 works there, but was extradited to France to face further charges.

His defense was expected to be the same as in Switzerland — his passion for beauty drove him to steal the paintings and artifacts. He reportedly took impeccable care of his loot and never attempted to sell it, the Times of London said.

But to the horror of the art world, many of the masterpieces were destroyed by his angry mom, who shredded many and dumped others in a canal. She is also on trial for receiving stolen goods. The mother apparently acted in revenge against her son, described as a spoiled only child.

IRELAND

Drivers soon to face metric speed limits

DUBLIN — The government has begun a public-information campaign to prepare drivers for the imminent arrival of metric speed limits nationwide.

Transport Minister Martin Cullen said 35,000 existing speed-limit signs in miles would be replaced by metric signs days before the Jan. 20 switch. An additional 23,000 signs will be erected in what he called “one of the most important changes to date in Irish motoring history.”

Leaflets detailing the changes are being mailed to about 1.6 million households in the Republic of Ireland — printed in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese and Russian.

Weekly notes

Fewer than 10,000 people sought asylum in the Netherlands last year, down from 13,402 in 2003. Forty percent of applications were rejected under a speedy processing procedure lasting four to six days, and 26,000 asylum seekers whose applications were rejected were expelled, though some had lived in the country more than five years. … A German man, angered by a court decision, got an additional fine for storming out of court and slamming the door, authorities said last week. “Apparently the panes shook,” said Wolfgang Ohler, spokesman for the court in Zweibruecken.

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