23 killed in plane crash in Caspian Sea

By wire services
Published December 25, 2005

MOSCOW - An Azerbaijan Airlines passenger aircraft crashed along the coast of the Caspian Sea shortly after taking off in foul weather late Friday night, killing all 23 people aboard, Azerbaijani officials said.

The plane, a twin-engine propeller aircraft on regional Flight 217 to the Kazak city of Aktau, disappeared from radar five minutes after departing from the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, and fell into shallows near the village of Nardaran.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, although Oruj Zalov, a deputy interior minister, said that the wreckage collected thus far showed no signs of explosion or fire, and terrorism was not suspected. Divers were searching for the flight data recorder.

Zalov said there was heavy rain, poor visibility and a low cloud ceiling when the plane lost control.

Eighteen passengers and five crew members died in the crash. Among the dead were four citizens of Kazakhstan, an Australian, a Georgian and a Turk, Zalov said. There were also unconfirmed reports that a British citizen was among the dead.

The plane was an Antonov An-140, a relatively new aircraft of Russian and Ukrainian design that is manufactured in Ukraine and has been designed to replace their aging fleets. An An-140 crashed in Iran in 2002, killing all 44 people on board.

Congo's voters likely approved constitution

KINSHASA, Congo - A draft constitution viewed as a crucial step toward lasting peace in Congo appeared likely to pass Saturday as vote counting from last weekend's referendum neared completion.

With 75 percent of Congo's 40,000 polling centers reporting, 83 percent of Congolese had voted in favor of the proposed charter, while 17 percent had voted against it, according to electoral commission chairman Apollinaire Malu-Malu.

Final results are due this week.

China, North Korea agree to develop oil reserves

BEIJING - China and North Korea signed an agreement Saturday to jointly develop offshore oil reserves, the Chinese government said, amid efforts to prod North Korea to speed up economic reforms.

The deal was signed after a meeting in Beijing between North Korean Vice President Ro Tu Chol and his Chinese counterpart, Zeng Peiyan, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The report offered no other details.

North Korea has begun limited Chinese-style reforms in its decrepit, centrally planned economy. But Beijing is pushing Pyongyang to speed up economic development and has promised aid and advice.

Beijing also is under pressure from the United States to use its influence with Pyongyang to push for a settlement to demands that North Korea give up nuclear weapons.

Rwandan helping with genocide case found dead

BRUSSELS - The body of a former Rwandan government minister indicted on charges of involvement in the 1994 genocide was found floating in a Brussels canal, officials said.

Former trade minister Juvenal Uwilingiyimana had been cooperating with the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal, which was trying him. He faced a variety of genocide charges when he disappeared from his home on Nov. 21.

His badly decomposed body was recovered from the canal last Saturday, officials said Friday. A cause of death was not announced.

The court said Uwilingiyimana often expressed concern to the investigators "about the dangers that he and his family would face from powerful persons in the Rwandan exile community when he told the truth about these persons' responsibility for the Rwanda genocide."

The 100-day genocide killed more than half a million Tutsi, as well as political moderates from the Hutu majority.

The slaughter was unleashed by the extremist government that took power after President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down as he returned home from peace talks with Tutsi-led rebels in 1994.