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Asylum seeker hijacks airliner

A Turkish man seeking political asylum hijacked a jetliner carrying 113 people on Tuesday and forced it to land in southern Italy, where he surrendered and released all the passengers unharmed, officials said.

Security officials in the southern Italian city of Brindisi, where the plane landed, said the unarmed hijacker was seeking to have a message delivered to the pope but said they did not know what that message was.

Turkish officials said the suspect, identified as Hakan Ekinci, 28, was an army deserter seeking political asylum. They stressed that earlier statements by some officials that he had hijacked the plane to protest Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey next month were incorrect.

The passengers got off the plane about two hours after it landed in Brindisi, a town on southern Italy’s Adriatic coast, and were individually questioned by authorities. They apparently hadn’t been aware of the takeover while it was occurring.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Russia refusing to lift suspensions

Exasperated Georgians crowded at the capital’s airport in disbelief Tuesday after Russia cut all travel links with the former Soviet republic in retaliation for detaining four of its military officers for espionage.

Moscow refused international pressure to lift the suspension of road, rail, air, maritime and postal links, saying Tbilisi deeply insulted it by arresting the officers. Georgia released the men Monday and they were permitted to return to Russia.

“One must not feed off Russia and insult it. The Georgian leadership must understand this,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Moscow.

The punitive measures, which dealt a painful blow to economically struggling Georgia, mark the first time Russia has used such pressure against a former Soviet state. They reflect the Kremlin’s irritation over Georgia’s pro-Western policies and NATO ambitions and signal a struggle for influence with Washington in Moscow’s former Soviet backyard.

The European Union said the Russian retaliation was disproportionate and appealed for calm.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country holds the EU presidency, said both sides had overreacted and warned against any “more acute measures.”


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