Two bombings in Russia's Causcasus region leave at least 12 dead


MOSCOW -- Twin bombings rocked a city in Russia's troubled Caucasus region Thursday night, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 100 others, officials said.

The first explosion in Makhachkala, the capital of the restive Dagestan republic, came shortly after 10 p.m., when a car exploded near a police checkpoint in a northern suburb, killing and injuring a few police officers.

About 10 minutes later, as ambulances and fire engines arrived on the scene, a much more powerful car bomb exploded in the middle of the crowd.

"We understand who committed and organized this crime and consider a possibility of suicide bombing," Magomed Magomedov, Dagestan's interior minister, said in televised remarks Friday.

Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, who will be inaugurated to his third term as president Monday, often takes credit for crushing the separatist movement in neighboring Chechnya in the early 2000s in a conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives. But experts note that resistance movements have flared in neighboring republics, including Dagestan.

Most attacks in Dagestan are aimed at law enforcement officers, said Yelena Denisenko, head of the Makhachkala office of the Memorial human rights organization.

"The situation in the republic is very unstable and the police actions are not making it any easier," Denisenko said in a phone interview from Makhachkala. "Kidnappings of people by the police are on the rise in the republic."

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Convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout asks Moscow to intervene


MOSCOW -- Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, sentenced last week to 25 years in American prison, Thursday urged the Russian government to sue the United States on his behalf in order to help him get back to Russia.

In a brief televised news conference organized by the Russian RAPSI news agency, Bout, speaking from a detention facility in Brooklyn, said that legal action before the International Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by the Russian government is his "main hope" now.

Bout, 45, known as the "Merchant of Death," was sentenced in a U.S. federal court in New York last week to a 25-year minimum mandatory sentence for conspiring to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles. He also was also sentenced concurrently on three other counts of conspiracy to kill Americans and to provide material support to a terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Bout asked Thursday that the Russian State Duma, the national parliament’s lower house, file the lawsuit against both the United States and Thailand, where he was arrested and later extradited in 2010. He also asked the Russian government to organize a commission to investigate his case.

“I am confident that if Russia will come to the bottom of what happened and make a confident and  tough statement I will come back home very quickly,” Bout said. “I haven’t committed anything and I will make no deals and no confessions.”

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White ribbons fill Red Square as Russian officials allow protest

REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Russian authorities relented Sunday and let demonstrators wearing white ribbons take to the historic cobblestones of Moscow's Red Square, strolling unhindered past the Kremlin walls and Lenin mausoleum as they protested the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, now president-elect.

The Kremlin’s peaceful reaction surprised the "Let’s Turn Red Square White" protesters after dozens of people were detained during a similar rally a week earlier. The authorities that day closed down the square in the face of demonstrations, angering and inconveniencing not only Muscovites but thousands of tourists.

“It is just one more of our victories, and we will build up pressure on Putin and his government,” said Pavel Shelkov, 47, a businessman. “I think they realized how absurd it is not to allow people to peacefully walk in Red Square with white ribbons.”

A week ago, Shelkov and his wife spent four hours in a police cell for trying to enter Red Square wearing white ribbons, which have become the symbol of peaceful resistance to the Putin regime.

Sergei Udaltsov, an opposition leader who spent the better part of last year behind the bars for protest activities, on Sunday was able for the first time to distribute opposition booklets in the square.

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32 killed in Siberian plane crash

32 killed in Siberian plane crash

REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Russian officials said 32 people were killed when a passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff in eastern Siberia.

The French-made ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop operated by UTair was flying from Tyumen to the oil town of Surgut. Officials said 39 passengers and four crew were aboard.

Twelve people were pulled alive from the crash shortly before 6 a.m. Monday and were airlifted by helicopter to a hospital, where one person later died, officials said.


Palestinian on hunger strike is freed, deported to Gaza

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Myanmar voters sweep Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament, party says

-- Sergei L. Loiko

Photo: Russian Emergency Ministry rescuers and police officers search the site of the ATR-72 plane crash in Siberia, Russia, on Monday. Credit: Marat Gubaydullin / AP Photo

Russia denies reports of 'anti-terror' forces sent to Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Russia's foreign minister denied reports Tuesday that his country had sent special forces to help its ally Syria, calling media reports "sheer fairy tales."

Sergei Lavrov said he surmised that the reports must have arisen because an oil tanker was sent to the Gulf of Aden to help refuel Russian navy boats positioned to protect the sea routes in the area from pirates.

Several Russian and Western news outlets reported Tuesday that the Iman tanker, at the Syrian port of Tartus, had an "anti-terror squad" on board. The Syrian regime often refers to the forces rebelling against President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Lavrov said the tanker had a "protection unit" on board to protect against pirate attacks, "like any other civilian vessel."

The Russia Today news channel reported that the Russian Defense Ministry issued this statement:

There are no Russian combat ships on missions off Syrian shores. The Iman auxiliary vessel (tanker) has been in the port of Tartus for the last 10 days with the task of providing supplies to the ships of the Black Sea Fleet and the North Sea Fleet that are currently protecting the navigation through the Gulf of Aden. The crew of the Iman is manned by civilians with a security formation joined with them. 


Russia is an ally of Assad and the chief weapons supplier to Syria. Although Russia has turned down calls for Assad to step down at the United Nations Security Council in the past, Lavrov says Russia will back a plan created by special envoy Kofi Annan, as yet unrevealed, to settle the crisis, the Associated Press reported.


Human Rights Watch alleges abuses by Syrian rebels

Pakistani lawmakers want a halt to U.S. drone strikes

Israel's defense minister sells his swanky Tel Aviv apartment

-- Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting with his Serbian counterpart, Vuk Jeremic, in Moscow on March 16. Credit: Misha Japaridze / Associated Press

Ukraine's former prime minister faces accusations of treason

Poster of Yulia Tymoshenko

REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Ukraine’s parliament called on authorities Tuesday to investigate the country’s imprisoned former prime minister on high treason charges, adding to the legal woes of the onetime Orange Revolution leader and chief political rival of President Viktor Yanukovich.

The Supreme Rada voted to back a commission report that accused Yulia Tymoshenko of showing “signs of state treason” when she signed a 10-year gas deal with Russia in 2009.

The charismatic 51-year-old Tymoshenko, popularly known as the Orange Princess for her leading role in the country’s 2004 peaceful revolution, is already serving a seven-year prison term. The sentence was imposed last October after she was convicted of abusing the powers of her office by signing the oil deal, which cost Ukraine $1.5 billion in damages, according to the verdict.

The case has been widely condemned inside and outside of Ukraine as a politically motivated attack on a rival by Yaukovich’s administration.

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After Putin victory, air is let out of Russian opposition protest


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- Most of the usual elements of a protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin seemed to be in place on a sunny Saturday afternoon in downtown Moscow: riot police blocking every approach to the rally site, police helicopters buzzing overhead, mass chants of "Russia without Putin," white balloons and ribbons.

What was sharply lacking were the numbers and the passion.

Less than a week after Putin was declared the overwhelming winner in Russia’s presidential election, about 10,000 people joined Saturday’s march, a shadow of the 100,000-strong marches in Moscow in the last three months in the wake of a disputed parliamentary vote.

The crowd seemed to be largely going through the motions, with none of the typical high-note ardor in echoing “yes” and “no” to the anti-Putin incantations coming from the speakers’ stage.

"I have a strong feeling that the movement which I have been enjoying so much is skidding," said Nikita Grishin, a curly-haired 18-year-old physics student at Moscow University. "I think people are simply in despair, as none of our demands have been met and Putin doesn’t seem to care about what we think and what we say here."

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Russian rights activists lash out at Clinton over Putin comments

A group of Russian human rights activists took the rare step of criticizing a U.S. official, lashing out at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for calling Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the “clear winner” in this week's presidential election
REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- A group of Russian human rights activists took the rare step Friday of criticizing a U.S. official, lashing out at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for calling Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the "clear winner" in this week's presidential election.

The rebuke came amid continued charges from election monitors of irregularities during Sunday's balloting.

Clinton said this week that the United States was ready to cooperate with the new Russian president despite "a number of concerns about this latest electoral process that should be investigated and addressed" and other worries "about the arrests of peaceful protesters, which occurred again on Monday."

"The election had a clear winner, and we are ready to work with President-elect Putin as he is sworn in and assumes the responsibilities of the presidency," Clinton said. "We are going to be looking for ways to enhance cooperation on a range of difficult issues."

The group of rights activists led by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, called Clinton's remarks "an insult."

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Russian election webcam appears to catch ballot stuffing [Video]

Is this what election fraud looks like? In this webcam video of Sunday's presidential election in Russia, several men are seen feeding dozens of ballots into an electronic box in the southern republic of Dagestan. 

Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov said election officials were merely depositing ballots that were filled out by sick or elderly people voting at home, the Associated Press reported. Nonetheless, Russian officials ultimately annulled the results at the Dagestan station.

Complaints of election fraud have swirled around the presidential race. In an attempt to allay fears of corruption, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who ran in the presidential contest and ultimately was declared the winner, ordered more than 90,000 webcams to be installed at polling places, at a reported cost that topped $300 million.

But voting monitors were unconvinced that the cameras had cleaned up the elections.

Election monitors reported "massive serious violations" during the vote, including "carousels" of voters bused from poll to poll to vote more than once.

The Russian webcams also caught some hijinks -- the good kind -- before voting had even started. This YouTube video shows a little bit of electoral boogeying at a polling station in western Siberia:


Vladimir Putin -- teary-eyed [Video]

Putin declares victory in Russia presidential election

Russia deeply divided ahead of Putin presidential vote

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: A webcam at a Russian polling station shows men feeding multiple ballots into a machine. Credit: Associated Press

Russia deeply divided ahead of Putin presidential vote


REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- After weeks of opposition and pro-government rallies in Russia, both sides are preparing for a climax Monday, a day after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win the country's presidential election.

Most believe that Putin will win in the first round, solidifying his grasp on power and entering his third presidential term after one as prime minister.

As opposition leaders continue their tough talk and plan for a massive protest Monday, the front-runner is already accusing the opposition of preparing provocations and seeking violent clashes with police.

Speaking at a convention of supporters this week in Moscow, Putin expressed confidence in his Sunday victory and called on the opposition to accept the country’s choice.

"The main rule is that the opinion of the minority should be respected but the choice of the majority should be obeyed," Putin said. "And the minority has no right to impose their opinion on the majority."

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