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World in brief

Russian jets watch U.S. spy plane flight

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


MOSCOW -- Russia delivered a statement of protest to the U.S. Embassy on Saturday, accusing Washington of tactics associated with the Cold War after a U.S. spy plane flew near Russia's border with neighboring Georgia.

Two Russian fighters were scrambled to track the U-2 spy plane as it flew 12 to 19 miles from the Russian border Saturday, the Defense Ministry said, according to Russian news agencies.

The U.S. Embassy said it had no comment.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Nikolai Deryabin was quoted as saying that air defense systems locked onto the American plane as it began its flight over the former Soviet republic of Georgia, an impoverished Caucasus Mountains nation that Washington has identified as a possible haven for Islamic terrorists, including militants linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

CHECHENS SURRENDER WEAPONS: In an apparent gesture of conciliation, 46 Chechen rebels surrendered their weapons to Russian troops on Saturday, the eve of a constitutional referendum aimed at bringing peace to the troubled region. President Vladimir Putin has said the referendum will promote peace, but critics say it's a cosmetic change and won't do anything to discourage rebels who attack Russian troops almost every day.

Chinese police find baby girls hidden in suitcases

BEIJING -- Police found 28 baby girls hidden in suitcases aboard a long-distance bus in southern China, apparently being smuggled for sale, a police officer and a newspaper said Saturday.

Officers acting on a tip made the discovery Monday when the bus stopped at a toll plaza in Binyang, a town in the Guangxi region, the Beijing Morning News said. Guangxi, on China's southern coast west of Hong Kong, is one of the country's poorest areas. An officer of the Guangxi traffic police in Binyang confirmed the discovery of the babies. She wouldn't give her name or other details.

Chinese authorities say an unknown number of children are abducted every year for sale to childless families. Older girls are sometimes sold as brides in rural areas with fewer women.

Elsewhere . . .

NIGERIA: Ethnic militants threatened to blow up 11 multinational oil installations they claimed to have captured in retaliation for government military raids. Dan Ekpebide, a leader of Ijaw tribal fighters in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, said his followers took over oil pipeline facilities belonging to ChevronTexaco, Royal/Dutch Shell and TotalFinaElf on Friday. The companies had earlier evacuated the sites during unrest that has killed scores of people.

PAKISTAN: An appeals court has ordered the release of two Christians in eastern Pakistan who were sentenced to life in prison for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammed. The Lahore High Court overturned a lower court's conviction of brothers Rasheed and Saleem Nazir, in a ruling Friday, said Joseph Francis, head of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement. The Nazirs were convicted three years ago. Police had charged them with blasphemy based on a complaint by a Muslim ice cream vendor who had argued with them.

KOSOVO: Explosions damaged two police stations in Kosovo in simultaneous attacks, a U.N. police spokesman said Saturday. No one was injured. The attacks late Friday targeted Pristina police stations manned by both U.N. and local police, spokesman Al Garcia said. No motive was known, and police had no suspects, he added.

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