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Morning re-cap of main news, December 16

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* Some 2,500 opposition activists held a peaceful rally in central Moscow to protest President Vladimir Putin's alleged backsliding on democracy, but were prevented by police from marching toward the Kremlin

* Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said:

- Reducing poverty and providing greater support for public-sector pensioners are among the government's key priorities;

- Financing of infrastructure projects with money from the Stabilization Fund would feed inflation

* Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said:

- Russia hopes its strategic dialogue with Japan on global security will start next year;

- Leaders of the six nations involved in North Korea nuclear talks should remain focused and abstain from any inflammatory rhetoric or actions that may break off the negotiating process;

- The UN Security Council should try to reach consensus on Iran's nuclear program before the end of this year

* A small trainer plane caught fire and crashed in northwestern Russia, killing a passenger and a two-member crew, while a helicopter crash outside Moscow claimed two lives

* Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Palestinian Authority leaders to search for compromise to overcome their factional differences after President Mahmoud Abbas' call for an early election sparked a new wave of violence between supporters of the radical group Hamas and the moderate Fatah movement

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