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Russian-U.S. space crew land safely in Kazakhstan

Posted by arnon_k On November - 26 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – A Soyuz spacecraft carrying two U.S. astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut back to earth from the International Space Station landed safely in Kazakhstan on Friday.

The spacecraft, containing Russian commander Fyodor Yurichikhin and NASA’s Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker touched down as planned at 0446 GMT north of the remote central Kazakh town of Arkalyk, Russia’s space agency Roskosmos said.

“We have a landing!” flashed the flight monitoring screens at mission control just outside Moscow.

Images of the crew on state television showed Yurichikhin bundled against gusty winds in a blue thermal blanket.

He shut his eyes as doctors checked his pulse and wiped his brow after the Soyuz’s fiery descent through the atmosphere ended his five and half months in space.

Next out of the space capsule, Walker flashed a wide smile and winked at television cameras as she accepted a bouquet of flowers from members of the recovery teams.

ISS Mission commander and US army Colonel Wheelock held up a “Hi Mom!” home-made cardboard greeting for cameras. Grinning widely, he said the descent back to Earth was “everything and more” than he expected.

Roskosmos said in a statement the three crew members were in good health.

Two-time flier US astronaut Scott Kelly, Russia space veteran Alexander Kaleri and rookie flight engineer Oleg Skripochka remain aboard the orbiting outpost — a $100 billion project shared by 16 nations.

Friday’s textbook landing will help alay concern about dependence on the Russian Soyuz flights after unprecedented trouble undocking during the craft’s last re-entry in October forced the three-member crew to remain an extra day in orbit, scrambling to free jammed latches.

The mishap in a space program that depends on pinpoint accuracy came as NASA is due to mothball its Discovery shuttle program later this year.

With the shuttles’ retirement, NASA has handed Russia responsibility for ferrying the ISS crew, at a cost of $51 million per person.

The shuttle program is ending after 30 years of flights to save on operating costs of about $3 billion a year and refocus on long-distance human space flights to the Moon and Mars.

Speaking to journalists after the landing, Roskomos’s chief said joint international missions to Mars may begin in 2030, but that many countries had renewed their interest in the Moon.

“There is a lot of interest right now in the Moon, after it was discovered that there is water on the poles,” Anatoly Perminov said, according to a Roskomos statement. “Many countries have returned to the idea of building colonies.”

Iran nuclear plan ‘must be peaceful’ – Russia

Posted by arnon_k On November - 19 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has stressed the importance of Iran having a peaceful nuclear programme, following a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This is the first meeting between the two leaders since a breakdown in ties.

Earlier this year, Moscow backed a series of UN sanctions against Iran and later dropped plans to supply the Iranians with surface-to-air missiles.

Mr Ahmadinejad recently accused Russia of selling out to Iran’s enemies.

Thursday’s meeting was held on the sidelines of a regional summit in Azerbaijan.

Mr Medvedev told Mr Ahmadinejad that nations stood ready to support Iran as long as it kept its ambitions in check, the Kremlin said.

“The president [Medvedev] spoke of the importance of the continuation of a peaceful Iranian nuclear programme,” Russian news agencies quoted Mr Medvedev’s top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko as saying.

“An example [of such co-operation] came at Bushehr” where Russia recently launched Iran’s first nuclear power plant, Mr Prikhodko added.
Earlier this year, Russia voted in favour of sanctions on Tehran for failing to halt its nuclear enrichment programme.

But Russian scientists recently completed Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant, which is set to produce electricity from 2011, and are providing the fuel.

They will also be taking away the spent fuel which could potentially be used to make a plutonium-based nuclear bomb.

Thursday’s meeting had been billed as a last chance for Tehran to step out of its growing international isolation.

Iran’s separate uranium enrichment programme has alarmed Western nations, who distrust Iran’s claims it is solely for peaceful purposes.

PM not going to Russia ‘not because of Bout’

Posted by arnon_k On November - 19 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

A planned trip to Russia by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been called off because of his parliamentary duties, and has nothing to do with the controversial extradition of suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the US, said Panitarn Watthanayakorn, deputy secretary to the PM.
“The prime minister has been busy with parliamentary sessions involving amendments of the Constitution, and assigned Deputy Prime Minister Suwit Khunkitti to go to Russia [to attend the International Forum on Tiger Conservation from November 21-24] on his behalf,” he added.

Asked whether a written explanation extended to Russia over Bout’s US-bound extradition was needed, Panitarn said it remained to be seen depending on the “appropriateness”.

“Thai-Russian relations are indeed improving, and Thai and Russian delegations have had no problems [over Viktor Bout’s extradition] during recent meetings,” he added.

Abhisit had earlier said his cancellation had been conveyed to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in a recent meeting.

The prime minister said he and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya had explained to the Russian authorities about legal channels through which they could resist or defend the extradition, prior to the legal deadline on November 20 when Bout could walk free if not extradited. “But no response or action was taken, and I don’t know why,” he added.

Asked about a statement by the Russian Embassy in Thailand that it had not received a written explanation about Bout’s extradition, Abhisit said the embassy staff should make an inquiry through the Russian Foreign Ministry. “I think the matter should not affect Thai-Russian ties. We would have sent Bout to the US long ago if we were manipulable to whatever requests the US makes,” he added.

Thai court ruling stalls extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer to US

Thailand’s Criminal Court on Monday dropped a prosecutor’s request to withdraw the second round of charges on money laundering against alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout, saying the defendant opposed the request, delaying the extradition of the wanted former Soviet air force officer to the United states.

An elusive Russian businessman dubbed “The Merchant of Death’, Mr Bout arrived at court Monday morning, wearing a bulletproof vest and under tightened security protection by Thai commandos.

Asked if he expected a fair trial in the US, Mr Bout shouted to reporters from a cell: “No! For sure no! Which fair trial are you talking about?”

The judges explained that since Thai extradition law did not stipulate about dropping legal procedures, therefore the court had to apply the Criminal Procedure Code, Article 35. Under the law, a defendant has the right to object to the charges against him being dropped, which Mr Bout decided to do to thwart any attempt to extradite him to the US.

As the court rejected the prosecutors’ request, the trial on money laundering and wire fraud will proceed. The judges, however, did not immediately set a date for the next hearing.

The Thai Court of Appeals ruled on August 20 to extradite Mr Bout, arrested and detained in Bangkok since March 2008, to the US to face charges of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to kill officials and employees of the United States government, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

The ruling of the Thai Court of Appeals to extradite Mr Bout overturned a lower court ruling in August 2009 that rejected a US request that Mr Bout face trial there.

The extradition of the Merchant of Death however can’t proceed as Mr Bout faces a second case concerning money laundering and wire fraud charges which was accepted by Thailand’s Court of First Instance – at the earlier request of the US government.

The US government later requested the Thai foreign ministry that the charges be withdrawn in order to proceed with extradition. The Office of Attorney-General later agreed to seek court approval to withdraw the second charges as proposed by the US government.

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