- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

RUSSIA

Medvedev backs more democracy

MOSCOW | President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that Russia is taking steps toward greater democracy, defending electoral reforms that Kremlin critics dismiss as window dressing.

Mr. Medvedev met with leaders of three small political parties and offered hope they will someday win seats in parliament, which is dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Mr. Medvedev has spoken in favor of pluralism and lowered some of the barriers Mr. Putin threw up to keep opponents out of parliament and other power structures during his eight-year presidency.

He suggested that the changes - including a law that will give one or two seats to parties winning 5 percent to 7 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, instead of shutting them out entirely - marked slow-but-sure democratic progress.

IRAN

Nuclear watchdog rebuffed on monitors

VIENNA, Austria | Iran has rebuffed a bid from the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency to beef up its monitoring ability at an important atomic site as it tries to keep track of the country’s rapidly growing uranium enrichment capabilities, diplomats said Thursday.

The diplomats said Iran in recent weeks turned down a request from the International Atomic Energy Agency to place one or more additional surveillance cameras at the Natanz enrichment site.

In addition, they said, the agency was concerned Iran would use its recent denial of access to Natanz to agency inspectors seeking a surprise visit as a precedent, further hampering the U.N. agency’s need to increase its oversight.

MALI

Madonna adoption before high court

BLANTYRE | Malawi’s highest court plans to announce Friday whether the pop singer Madonna can adopt a second child from the impoverished southern African country, the star’s lawyer said Thursday.

The lawyer, Alan Chinula, said the ruling would be issued at 9 a.m.

Madonna appealed after a lower court ruled she could not adopt Chifundo “Mercy” James because she had not been screened over time in Malawi. The lower court said the residency rules were bent when Madonna adopted her son David from Malawi last year.

FRANCE

Air France had parts before crash

PARIS | Air France received replacement airspeed sensors for its Airbus 330s three days before the fatal crash of Flight 447, but the airline’s chief executive said Thursday that he was not convinced faulty monitors were the cause of the crash.

As storms bore down on the crash zone off Brazil, a French submarine searched the depths of the Atlantic for the black boxes that hold the best hope of finding out what happened to the plane when the Airbus A330-200 flew into heavy storms May 31 with 228 people aboard.

Investigators have focused on the possibility that external speed monitors - Pitot tubes - iced over and gave false readings to the plane’s computers.

The plane’s manufacturer encountered new problems Thursday when an Airbus 330-220 carrying 203 people made an emergency landing in Guam after an electrical problem sparked a small cockpit fire, Jetstar airline reported.

KOSOVO

NATO to cut troops strength

BRUSSELS | NATO agreed Thursday to cut its peacekeeping force in Kosovo to 10,000 troops from 14,000 as part of a plan that could see the alliance’s strength reduced to little more than 2,000 over two years.

Kosovo defied Serbia last year by declaring independence from Belgrade and was backed by many Western powers. NATO armies, stretched by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and with the global economic crisis hitting military budgets, have been looking to wind down their presence in Kosovo.

The alliance had yet to fix a firm date for this cut, but it is likely to happen in January 2012, NATO officials said.

BOSNIA

Clips show fugitive living in Serbia

SARAJEVO | Bosnian state television has broadcast several video clips it says show war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic living freely in Serbia despite genocide charges filed against him by a U.N. tribunal in 1995.

The Sarajevo-based TV Federacije did not say where it got the video footage aired late Wednesday, but a Serbian official said it was part of the material that was impounded last December from Mr. Mladic’s Belgrade home and handed over to U.N. prosecutors.

The station said the home videos were taken over a period of years, one as recently as 2008. But Belgrade officials said Thursday that the most recent was filmed in 2001, when the former Bosnian Serb army commander was last seen in public before disappearing.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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