Only Russia and the "states" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will decide how many troops Moscow can keep on their soil, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Saturday, signaling the Kremlin will do as it pleases in the separatist Georgian regions regardless of Western demands.
The statement was in frank defiance of calls by Georgia, the United States and the European Union for a withdrawal of most Russian troops from the breakaway territories, which only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized as independent nations.
Thumbing its nose at Georgia and the United States, South Ossetia rolled what Russian media said were captured American-made Jeeps and Georgian tanks through the streets of its capital in an Independence Day military parade.
Putin stressed that Russia will adhere to its promise to pull back from the strips of land surrounding South Ossetia and Abkhazia once European Union monitors are deployed. Those areas are Georgian territory, he said.
But he said any "possible" Russian pullout from South Ossetia and Abkhazia themselves was a "separate issue."
South Ossetia broke from Georgian government control in a war in the 1990s, but its independence claims were not acknowledged by any nation until Russia's recognition last month.
Georgian forces launched a large-scale offensive targeting South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, on Aug. 7. Russian forces repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia.
Particle collider shut down for two months
The giant Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most expensive scientific experiment, will be shut down for at least two months, scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva said Saturday.
The collider is designed to accelerate the subatomic particles known as protons to energies of 7-trillion electron volts, far surpassing any other accelerator on Earth, and bang them together in search of new particles and forces.
Since the initial success of threading protons through the machine on Sept. 10, several mishaps, including the failure of a 30-ton electrical transformer, have slowed progress.
Physicists say such setbacks are an inevitable part of starting up such a large and complicated machine, which has cost $8-billion and taken 14 years.
Inquiry doesn't find evidence of reactor
Partial results of samples from a Syrian site bombed by Israel on Sept. 6, 2007, show nothing to back up U.S. assertions that the target was a secret nuclear reactor, diplomats said Saturday.
The diplomats cautioned that the results from the International Atomic Energy Agency inquiry are preliminary because findings of more detailed environmental tests are still outstanding.
Still, two of the three who spoke to the Associated Press said that IAEA officials did not expect the results from the samples still being tested to strongly contradict the first results.
Washington says that the Al Kibar site that Israel destroyed last year was a near-finished plutonium-producing reactor built with North Korean help, and that Damascus continues to hide linked facilities. Syria denies that.
All sides vow to halt offensives today
NATO's top general in Afghanistan has ordered all international troops in the country to halt offensive operations today in honor of a U.N.-backed day of peace. Even the Taliban is pledging to lay down its weapons for a day.
The order follows an announcement from President Hamid Karzai that Afghan troops will observe Peace Day by not taking part in offensive operations. He also called on armed militant groups to observe the day.
NATO said its 48,000 troops will continue to guard personnel and military outposts but will not engage in offensive operations. The separate U.S.-led coalition will also observe the day, said coalition spokesman Master Sgt. Mark Swart.
A Taliban spokesman said the group supports the idea of Peace Day. Qari Yousef Ahmadi said Taliban attacks are only a means of self-defense.
Fire at nightclub kills at least 43, injures 88
A fire that swept through a nightclub in southern China has killed at least 43 people, a government safety official said today.
The fire, which broke out late Saturday, also injured at least 88 people, said an official with the Shenzhen Work Safety Bureau. Like many Chinese officials, the man declined to give his name.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the fire broke out in a club called King of the Dancers while hundreds of people were watching a show.
An initial police investigation showed that the blaze was triggered by fireworks ignited during the show, Xinhua said.
Many partygoers were hurt in a stampede to escape down "a narrow aisle," a club staff member was quoted by the agency as saying.