Azerbaijani passenger plane goes missing

Saturday, December 24, 2005

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- An Azerbaijan Airlines passenger plane with up to 60 people aboard has gone missing, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported Saturday. The agency cited an official it did not name at the international airport in Baku, the capital, as the source of its report. ITAR-Tass said the An-140 plane went missing while flying between Baku and the city of Aktau in Kazakhstan. Airport and airline officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Both Baku and Aktau are centers of the thriving Caspian Sea oil industry, which has attracted substantial foreign investment.

Lawmakers expelled from India's parliament

NEW DELHI -- Taking a stand against corruption, India's parliament ended its winter session Friday with a vote to expel 11 lawmakers caught taking bribes in a television station's sting operation. The lower house voted to expel 10 lawmakers and the upper house threw out one member, the first time that body has expelled one of its own. The powerful lower house, or Lok Sabha, has not removed a member since 1951. The 11 legislators belonging to parties across the political spectrum were shown on the independent Aaj Tak television channel earlier this month accepting cash from journalists who posed as representatives of a fictitious lobbying group in what the station called an effort to expose corruption. The lawmakers took up the journalists' offers of bribes ranging from $325 to $2,400 in exchange for promises to raise more than 60 questions in parliament.

Judge issues warrants for purported CIA operatives

ROME -- An Italian judge has issued European arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA operatives wanted for the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, a prosecutor said Friday. Prosecutor Armando Spataro said the warrants allowed for the arrest of the suspects in any of the 25 European Union member countries. Italy issued warrants for the arrest of the 22 suspects within its own borders earlier this month. Prosecutors are seeking the suspects' extradition for their alleged involvement in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in February 2003. The suspects are all described as U.S. citizens. Prosecutors have identified one of them as Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan who has since returned to the United States. The whereabouts of the others are unknown. Lady's attorney, Daria Pesce, said the new warrants meant the alleged operatives could no longer travel to Europe without risking arrest.

Twelve Sri Lankan sailors killed by land mines

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Two powerful land mines struck a naval convoy in northwestern Sri Lanka on Friday, killing 12 sailors and injuring four others, the navy said. Separatist Tamil rebels were suspected of triggering the explosions. About 30 sailors were traveling in a bus and a truck toward their base in Mannar district, 135 miles north of the capital Colombo, when the explosion set the bus on fire, said navy spokesman Cmdr. Jayantha Perera.

British court bars extradition of Yukos

LONDON -- A British judge ruled Friday that a former executive of Russian oil producer OAO Yukos may not be extradited to Russia because the case is politically motivated and he would not receive a fair trial. Russian authorities had sought the extradition of Alexander Temerko, 39, a former senior vice president of Yukos Moscow, to face allegations of defrauding the state oil company and perverting the course of justice. "I am satisfied that the request for Mr. Temerko's extradition is made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing him for his political opinions," Judge Timothy Workman said. "The witnesses before me have all concluded it is highly unlikely if not impossible for Mr. Temerko to receive a fair trial. I have found their evidence accurate and compelling." Temerko, a close associate of jailed Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had claimed that the extradition request was punishment for his political opinions and that he would not receive a fair trial if returned to Russia. His argument was supported in court by several expert witnesses.

-- From wire reports

Temerko, who was elected to the board of directors of Yukos Moscow in October 2003 after Khodorkovsky's arrest, was charged with conspiring to defraud the state-owned Rosneft oil company of its shares in a third company, Yeniseineftegaz.

A second count alleged that Temerko conspired to pervert the course of justice by providing false evidence about the allegations.

Lawyers for the Russian Federation had argued that the charges against Temerko were not related to the government's prosecution of Khodorkovsky, who is currently serving an eight-year sentence on tax and fraud charges. The sentence was widely seen as a Kremlin vendetta after Khodorkovsky funded opposition parties in 2003.

Workman said that Temerko was effectively Khodorkovksy's successor and made many public statements in support of the jailed businessman and the cases were "inextricably intertwined."

"I can see no reason to doubt the evidence ... that the authorities' underlying motives include the eradication of Khodorkovsky's power and influence and that Mr. Temerko is central to this objective given his seniority in the company and proximity to Khodorkovsky," Workman said.

The former Yukos executive moved to London shortly after he was questioned by Russian officials in October 2004. He was present at Friday's ruling, assisted by an interpreter.

Outside the court, he said that he would consider seeking political asylum in Britain and would continue the fight to free Khodorkovsky and other jailed Yukos executives.

Speaking through an interpreter, Temerko said he believed the case against him was part of a wider attempt by the Russian government to "remove Khodorkovsky as a political opponent to (President Vladimir) Putin" and to steal Yukos assets.

Lawyers acting for the Russian authorities said they would consider whether to appeal the ruling. They have 14 days to register an appeal.

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