- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009


Ex-Soviet states balk at Russia deal

MOSCOW | Two former Soviet republics refused to sign on to a deal Sunday to create a rapid-reaction force for a Moscow-dominated security alliance, undermining a Kremlin bid to bolster its power and prestige amid a struggle with the West for regional clout.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko boycotted the Moscow summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization amid a politically charged trade dispute with longtime ally Russia. Central Asian power Uzbekistan attended the summit but balked at signing a deal that could increase Moscow’s influence over its affairs.

Russia and its partners in the seven-nation organization agreed in February to create a collective force that could be dispatched to stem terrorism, drug trafficking and local conflicts. But only five presidents signed Sunday’s deal on its mandate, makeup and potential operations.

Mr. Lukashenko snubbed the summit to protest a Russian ban on his country’s dairy products. Long a staunch backer of Russia in its disagreements with the West, the authoritarian leader of Belarus has been courting the United States and European Union amid increasingly strained ties with Moscow.


Authorities seize radioactive pellets

ROME | Police across Italy have seized 10,000 tons of wood fuel pellets contaminated by a radioactive substance, news reports said Sunday.

The fuel seized Saturday had been imported from Lithuania in the fall and was found to contain cesium-137, a highly toxic isotope whose radiation can cause serious health problems, including cancer.

The Corriere della Sera daily quoted police officials as saying the pellets could have posed a health threat only through the smoke and ashes they produce when burned. Further tests on pellets were being conducted to determine how dangerous they were.

Wood pellets and other kinds of biomass fuels are used in stoves and furnaces as an environmentally friendly alternative to oil-based fuels.


Kidnapper caught after taking ransom

HELSINKI | Police say they have captured a kidnapper who received a large ransom by taking the daughter of a millionaire hostage.

Until the police announcement late Saturday, the public had not been told that 26-year-old Minna Nurminen had been missing since May 27 and kidnapped.

Detective Chief Superintendent Kari Tolvanen says the family paid “a very large ransom” for her release, but declined to name the amount. A Finnish TV network said the ransom was almost $14 million.

Superintendent Tolvanen said Ms. Nurminen was found unhurt in a forest in southwestern Finland late Friday. She belongs to the Herlin family, which owns the international elevator company Kone.


Little danger seen in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan | A top U.S. general says violence has reached an all-time high in Afghanistan, but Turkey’s foreign minister said Saturday that his troops have suffered only one attack in almost four years.

Turkey, the Muslim nation with the highest number of troops and civilian workers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, has about 800 troops in the country. A separate team of about 140 civilians carries out aid projects in a violent province just west of Kabul, a region where U.S. troops have faced dozens of attacks this year.

But Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkish troops and civilians face little danger here because of the relations that Turkish citizens have built with Afghans. The fact that the two countries share a common religion plays a part but is not the only reason, he said.

The Turkish provincial reconstruction team based in the capital of Wardak province conducts reading, writing and computer courses for women. Turkey also has built 42 schools and about 25 hospitals in Afghanistan, Mr. Davutoglu told the Associated Press.

Mr. Davutoglu’s advice to U.S. and other NATO nations seeking to tamp down rising violence in their regions of Afghanistan: ramp up nonmilitary projects.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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