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Main news of March 20

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RUSSIA

* Two brothers with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship, one of whom works at oil company TNK-BP, have been charged with industrial espionage, Russia's domestic security service said

* A court in St. Petersburg sentenced a man to life imprisonment for killing and raping four girls between 11 and 20 years of age

* A court in Siberia's Irkutsk Region turned down prosecutors' lawsuit against the pulp mill near Lake Baikal, accused of violating fish protection laws, local prosecutors said

* Emergency service workers in central Russia carried out an operation to prevent thaw waters reaching a cave where 35 members of a doomsday sect have been holed up for almost five months

* Moscow strongly condemns the latest flare-up of violence in Iraq, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said

* A skirmish with militants in central Chechnya left five law enforcement officers dead and another three wounded, a police source in the North Caucasus republic said

* The State Duma has proposed that the government consider increasing the number of Russian peacekeepers deployed in Georgia's conflict areas, the parliament's lower house said in a draft statement

* Two police officers received gunshot wounds when they carried out a routine vehicle check in northeastern Moscow, a law enforcement source said

* Russia's Air Force has suspended all Su-25 strike aircraft flights following a fatal crash in the country's Far East early Thursday, an AF spokesman said

* Russian investigators accused fugitive tycoon Boris Berezovsky of fabricating an assassination plot against him to receive asylum in the U.K., and opened a new criminal case against him 

WORLD

* Lawmakers in Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia signed a statement accusing Tblisi of military aggression, and warning that war could break out in the Caucasus

* The Gaza Strip is to be connected to a unified regional energy system, the Egyptian news agency MENA said

* A decision to permit U.S. arms deliveries to Kosovo is "another profoundly mistaken step" by Washington, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said

* Rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah failed at Yemeni-brokered talks to overcome their differences, but agreed to start dialogue in early April, Al Arabiya television station reported

* Russia may allow its land and airspace to be used as a transit route for NATO-led counter-terrorism operation supplies to Afghanistan, a senior defense official said

* Belarus's Foreign Ministry has advised the U.S. to halve the number of its diplomats in Minsk, ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said

* Israel's Air Force has destroyed a militant command post in Gaza, leaving at least one person dead, a military source said

* Up to 10 Georgian opposition members protesting against the results of the country's January presidential polls agreed to end their hunger strike

* Belgium's King Albert II named Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme prime minister, ending nine months of political deadlock

* A terminally-ill French woman whose legal application for assisted euthanasia was turned down on Monday has died at her home in the east of France, national media said

* About 15 people were injured, five critically, when a staffer at a car auction in Crestwood, Illinois drove an on-display Range Rover at high speed into a crowd, local media reported

* Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he wants better ties with the European Union, but cannot accept the bloc's unquestioning obedience to the United States

* It may take the Thai authorities up to two years to reach a decision on the extradition of a suspected Russian arms dealer to the United States, the suspect's lawyer said

* Armenian President Robert Kocharyan announced that the state of emergency imposed in the country's capital, Yerevan, on March 1 will not be extended after it expires at midnight

* The United States has proposed an array of confidence building measures to Russia, in particular allowing Moscow to monitor U.S. missile defense elements in Central Europe, Russia's foreign minister has said

* The Sea Launch consortium has successfully launched the U.S. satellite DirecTV 11 from the Odyssey platform in the Pacific Ocean, the company said

* Russia and Israel signed a deal on mutual visa-free travel, as part of the Russian foreign minister's visit to the country 

 

BUSINESS

* Russia's largest carmaker AvtoVAZ announced plans to start production of Lada off-road vehicles in Egypt in summer 2008

* UC RusAl, the world's largest aluminum and alumina producer, said it had bought a cathode plant in China and intends to invest over $20 million in its development

* PepsiCo and the Pepsi Bottling Group (PBG) are to jointly acquire a 75.5% stake in the Russian Lebedyansky juice company for $1.4 billion, the company said on its website

* Russia's nuclear power corporation has agreed with Japan's Toshiba to design nuclear power plants, produce products and equipment and provide nuclear cycle services, a statement said

* Heineken, a leading global brewing company, plans to invest 117 million euros ($180 million) in Russia's Volga brewery in 2008-2009, the head of the Russian company said

* President Vladimir Putin ordered the transfer of the state's shares in electricity export-import operator Inter RAO UES and some other UES assets to the Federal Nuclear Corporation, the Kremlin said

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