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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 11, 2009

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TODAY: Putin calls for sanctions on Perm officials as death toll continues to rise; military officers dismissed over hazing; ‘UFO’ is failed Russian missile test; opinion polls up and down over Putin; Belarus and Russia in ’emotional’ talks; Abkhazia elections; tobacco epidemic.
The Perm nightclub death toll has reached 141, as Moscow authorities temporarily closed ten city nightclubs over fire safety violations, although the current law on such violations means that the clubs can reopen after 90 dayswithout eliminating the violations and without notifying officials‘.  The Emergencies Minister says inspectors turned a blind eye to breaches of fire safety in the Lame Horse nightclub ‘for years‘.  Vladimir Putin, at a late-night cabinet meeting yesterday, said, ‘All the vices of our bureaucracy were exposed by this tragedy. Its incompetence, corruption and links to businesses.‘  Putin wants officials who violated state procedures to face criminal responsibility sanctions.  Eight military officers have been dismissed from the armed forces after complaints about hazing (violent trials for new recruits), and a member of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee called it ‘a very strong political decision. The commanders always get off scot-free in such cases‘.  

Norwegians thought they were being visited by UFOs, until Russia admitted that this strange spiraling light display was the result of a failed missile test.  Russians increasingly believe in the relevance of the Constitution, says a VTsIOM poll, and the Public Opinion Foundation, in contrast with recent slumping popularity reports, says that Vladimir Putin’s question and answer session last week gave his public ratings a boost.  ‘The primary danger is that in place of true modernization, Russia’s leaders will only slightly tweak existing power-vertical institutions and then try to package it in terms of “modernization reform.”‘  
Emotional‘ talks between President Dmitry Medvedev and his Belarussian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, saw both sides agreeing to a more unified foreign policy, although there is no clear indication that Belarus will follow Russia in recognizing breakaway Georgian provinces.  Russia will be eyeing Abkhazia’s Saturday elections carefully, although the winner ‘is unlikely to divert from the path of close association with Moscow, while Western influence in the region promises to remain minimal as long as no other countries recognize Abkhazia as independent,‘ says the Moscow Times.  
On Russia’s tobacco ‘epidemic.  
PHOTO: A strange light phenomenon soaring in the night sky above the town of Skjervoy in northern Norway on Wednesday. (Anita Olsen / AP)