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News in Brief

Israel Closes Embassy



MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Israel announced Monday that it would close its embassy in Belarus, less than a week after the country's Jewish community accused the government of failing to tackle anti-Semitism.

Israeli Foreign Ministry official David Peleg, on a visit to Minsk, denied the closure was political, saying it was connected to budget cuts in the ministry.

The Union of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities said last week that vandals had desecrated about 60 Jewish graves this month at two cemeteries in the capital -- the latest in a string of similar actions in several cities.

Peleg, deputy director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said he hoped the government would take measures in response to the recent desecration of graves. "Incidents of vandalism are characteristic of all of Europe," he said.




Korea, Macau Talks



SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Monday that North Korea is ready to negotiate with the United States and Japan to discuss inter-Korean issues "without any preliminary conditions."

Ivanov made the remarks during his two-day visit to the communist state, which ended Monday after talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Itar-Tass reported. "Pyongyang is ready for a constructive dialogue with the U.S. and Japan without any preliminary conditions," Ivanov was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass. "Such a dialogue would help to discuss the entire range of problems of the Korean Peninsula."

Also Monday, Ivanov met in Macau with the leader of the tiny gambling enclave and said he hoped the two sides could improve business, tourism and cultural ties, the Macau government said.

Ivanov was due to go to nearby Hong Kong to meet leaders on Tuesday before attending a gathering of Southeast Asian nations in Brunei.




Putin Confident



MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin expressed confidence Monday that his government can meet its financial targets for reforming the country's post-Soviet military.

"We will be able to resolve the problems related to reforming the armed forces," including raising military salaries by Jan. 1, Putin told a meeting of Cabinet officials in the Kremlin.

Putin said his government can meet its military reform targets if parliament passes the government's budget for next year, Interfax reported. Putin said the government would iron out the final budget plan next month and parliament would consider it in the fall.




3 Killed in Shootout



MOSCOW (AP) -- A shootout among federal servicemen guarding a military base early Monday left three Interior Ministry contract soldiers dead and the head of the guard detachment seriously wounded, officials said.

Gunfire broke out in the early morning among members of the unit guarding a base near the town of Kotlas in northwestern Russia, said Albert Istomin, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Istomin said it was unclear what prompted the shooting, in which two privates and a sergeant were killed. Another sergeant, the head of the guard detachment, was hospitalized in serious condition, he said. All the dead were contract soldiers. A criminal investigation was under way, Istomin said.




ORT to Change Name?



MOSCOW (MT) -- ORT television is likely to change its name to Pervy Kanal, or First Channel, Interfax reported Monday.

The decision was approved at the annual shareholders' meeting Monday. The name change is expected to be finalized at an extraordinary shareholders' meeting scheduled for early fall.

ORT is known to many Russians as Pervy Kanal, a name that has stuck to the channel since Soviet times. ORT launched its first broadcast in April 1995, replacing the Ostankino television company created after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.




Borodai Denial



MOSCOW (MT) -- Alexander Borodai, a former deputy editor at the hard-line nationalist newspaper Zavtra, denied a report Monday that he has been appointed deputy director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Reached by telephone, Borodai said the report, carried by the Pravda.ru web site and attributed to the sensationalist Political News Agency, was a hoax arranged as a gag gift for his recent 30th birthday.

"It should simply be dismissed as totally untrue," Borodai said. He explained that he quit Zavtra some time ago, finding it too difficult to combine the job with his work as head of a small political public relations agency.

The FSB press service said Monday that it was not aware of any such appointment.

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