- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008


AIDS-stricken executive freed

MOSCOW | A jailed former oil executive gravely ill with HIV/AIDS was freed on bail Tuesday, his father said, ending an almost three-year detention that the European Court of Human Rights called inhuman.

Vasily Alexanian’s case is politically charged because he is the former vice president of the now-defunct oil firm Yukos, whose founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in what some observers saw as a Kremlin drive to quash dissent.

Supporters of Mr. Alexanian, awaiting trial on charges of fraud and tax evasion, say his prosecution is politically motivated and that the authorities have been deliberately denying him adequate medical treatment.

A Russian court earlier this month ruled Mr. Alexanian, who also has cancer and problems with his sight and has suffered from tuberculosis, could go free pending his trial if he lodged bail of $1.71 million.


Britain, Australia sign troops deal

BAGHDAD | Iraq signed agreements with Britain and Australia on Tuesday permitting their troops to stay in Iraq after a U.N. mandate authorizing their presence expires Jan. 1, Iraq’s Defense Ministry said.

The agreements would take effect Thursday and would require combat troops from the two countries to leave Iraq by the end of July.

Britain has 4,100 troops stationed in Iraq, near the southern oil hub of Basra. Australia has 300 troops in Iraq.

Iraq’s Presidency Council on Sunday ratified a measure agreed by parliament that allows troops from Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Romania and Estonia and other NATO nations to stay in Iraq until July 2009. But bilateral agreements between Iraq and each country still needed to be finalized.


King names prime minister

BRUSSELS | King Albert named Flemish Christian Democrat Herman Van Rompuy as Belgian prime minister on Tuesday to head a revived five-party coalition.

Mr. Van Rompuy, 61, replaces his party colleague Yves Leterme, who resigned Dec. 19 over allegations of political meddling in the bailout of stricken bank Fortis. He will face a vote of confidence in parliament Friday.


Airline flies jet on biofuel

WELLINGTON | Looking to reduce its carbon footprint and cut its fuel bill, Air New Zealand on Tuesday tested a passenger jet that was powered partially with oil from a plum-sized fruit known as jatropha.

Air New Zealand said the two-hour flight from Auckland International Airport was the first to use what are known as second-generation biofuels, which typically use a wider range of plants and release fewer emissions than traditional biofuels like ethanol.

Tuesday’s flight was a joint venture by Air New Zealand, airplane maker Boeing, engine maker Rolls Royce and biofuel specialist UOP LLC, a unit of Honeywell International.

In February, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic carried out a similar test flight that included a biofuel mixture of palm and coconut oil. Continental Airlines has said on Jan. 7 it will operate a test flight out of Houston using a special blend of half conventional fuel and half biofuel with ingredients derived from algae and jatropha plants.


Tons of spoiled seafood seized

ROME | Italian authorities confiscated 176 tons of spoiled or fake seafood across Italy in a series of raids over the past two weeks, officials said Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia said the seizures over the Christmas holiday, when Italians typically eat lots of fish, were the largest-ever involving seafood.

Most of the haul involved frozen seafood that was either expired or poorly preserved. A fraction involved cheap, foreign fish that was being marketed as more expensive, locally caught fish.


300 migrants feared dead

NEW DELHI | The Indian coast guard rescued two people off India’s east coast during a search for more than 300 illegal immigrants missing for the past four days and feared dead, police said Tuesday.

At least 10 bodies have washed ashore near the Andaman Islands, the top coast guard official on the islands said. Survivors told Indian authorities that more than 300 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar had jumped from a rickety boat that had been drifting for 13 days in the Indian Ocean and tried to swim to shore. Authorities rescued 105 others after pulling in the boat.

Poor Bangladeshis, sometimes joined by Myanmar refugees, often pay up to $300 a head to trafficking syndicates to carry them to Thailand or Malaysia to search for better jobs. They often travel in dangerous boats known to capsize and sink.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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