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Quick jump to below stories:
Russia in deadly deep freeze - Moscow's minus 31 C lowest on record since 1927
IEA ends post-Katrina oil market bailout
U.S. blocks Spain warplane sale
Vermont poised to get discounted oil from Venezuela
Iran 'moves financial holdings'

Russia in deadly deep freeze

Moscow's minus 31 C lowest on record since 1927
January 19, 2006

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- A persistent spell of extreme cold kept Russia in thrall on Thursday, causing more deaths among people stranded on frigid streets but failing to freeze the spirits of thousands who plunged into ice water for an annual ritual marking a Russian Orthodox Christian holiday.

With the mercury dropping low and electricity use reaching record highs, the government struggled to keep homes warm and factories running while maintaining exports of natural gas -- a sensitive issue after Russia's image was damaged when a dispute with Ukraine decreased deliveries to Europe.

Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said Russia was considering releasing part of its strategic fuel reserve, and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said the government was helping state-controlled gas monopoly OAO Gazprom meet its obligations.

In Moscow, shivering through its fourth day of a cold snap, temperatures dropped to minus 31 degrees Celsius (minus 24 F) overnight -- the lowest recorded on January 19 since 1927, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a Moscow weather forecasting service official.

Seven people died of exposure in the capital over the previous 24 hours, Moscow ambulance service chief Igor Elkis said. At least 31 people have died in European Russia since the cold weather swept into the capital late Monday from Siberia.

In a town outside Moscow, dozens of homes and thousands of people were without heat overnight after a water main broke, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. A similar accident left thousands shivering in Siberia's Chita region, some 4,700 kilometers (3,000 miles) east of Moscow.

Traffic in Moscow was uncharacteristically light, with drivers reluctant to venture out or unable to start their cars. Outside one apartment building, residents hefted car batteries back into their vehicles after taking them home overnight to keep them warm. Others desperately tried, and failed, to jump-start their cars.

"This is what happens when it's minus 30 out -- when is this going to end?" wondered Igor, 34, a taxi driver who declined to give his last name.

At a bus stop nearby, morning commuters ran in place to fend off the cold.

Many parents kept their children home. At one Moscow school, three children in a class of more than 20 showed up, and at another a boy was sent home when none of his classmates came.

But amid pain, inconvenience and the frustration many Russians shrugged off the cold that is a trademark of their vast northern nation.

The cold snap coincided with Thursday's Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, and many defied warnings from doctors and priests, keeping up an annual ritual by jumping into holes cut into thick ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves with water deemed holy for the day. The tradition imitates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

"Minus 30 is the most intense feeling," one man in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg told Channel one after taking a dip, his eyebrows rimed with frost.

Friday was expected to bring slightly warmer temperatures -- but also a bone-chilling east wind -- and the mercury was expected to rise toward minus 20 C (minus 4 F) over the weekend in Moscow, Pozdnyakova said. State-run Channel One television, however, warned that Moscow temperatures could drop to minus 42 C (minus 43 F), a low last recorded in 1940.

Energy minister Khristenko said a proposal to release a portion of the country's strategic fuel reserves would reach Fradkov's desk Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported. "It is intended to activate reserves of coal and fuel oil," he told the Cabinet.

His comments came a day after countries including Italy, Croatia and Hungary reported a drop in supplies of Russian gas due to domestic demand.

Gazprom said it was strictly adhering to contracts with European customers, but that in some cases their applications for extra gas had been declined. It said it also was fulfilling obligations to domestic consumers, but that some industrial facilities would have to use reserves.

Russia's electricity sector and its large industrial users are obliged to form reserves of alternative fuel in case of a weather-related shortage of supplies in gas, the largest single energy source for the country's electricity and heating systems.

Electric power use reached a 15-year high of 146,000 megawatts earlier this week, the electricity monopoly RAO Unified Energy Systems said Wednesday.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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IEA ends post-Katrina oil market bailout

27 December 2005
Channel News Asia

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

PARIS : A collective effort by member countries of the International Energy Agency to offset oil market supply disruptions in the Gulf of Mexico caused by Hurricane Katrina was "successfully concluded" last week, said IEA chief Claude Mandil.

The decision to end the operation last Thursday was taken in consultation with all 26 IEA member countries, he said in a statement.

The members "agreed that the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita has been successfully addressed by a combination of the IEA collective action, lower than expected demand, worldwide refinery flexibility and additional efforts by producer countries.

"The IEA member countries will exercise flexibility in re-establishing their emergency stock levels through 2006, noting the need to take into account seasonal demand and the possibility of higher than expected refinery maintenance," Mandil said on Monday.

The agency, estimating the extent of the damage caused by Katrina on Gulf oil facilities severely would disrupt world market supplies, announced on September 2 that its members would make available their strategic reserves.

It offered two million barrels per day to the international markets for 30 days, or a total of 60 million barrels.

Most of that supply came from the use of stocks and increased production, while "demand restraint measures brought additional relief to the market," the IEA said.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita roared through the Gulf of Mexico, a region that ordinarily produces nearly one-third of US crude oil imports, in late August and early September, severely restricting production.

- AFP /ls

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U.S. blocks Spain warplane sale

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman
Sunday, January 15, 2006

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The U.S. government has blocked a planned sale of 12 military aircraft from Spain to Venezuela on the grounds that the planes contain U.S. military technology, and cannot be transferred without approval from Washington, a U.S. Embassy spokesman told CNN.

The move was made amid concerns the United States has about Venezuela's government, considered authoritarian by the Bush administration.

Spain reacted by pledging to substitute the U.S. technology on the planes with other technology so that the deal could go through. Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said at a news conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting that the sale of the 12 military airplanes "should be carried out."

The U.S. officially informed Spain of the decision on Thursday. Spain has argued that the planes were not for offensive military purposes, but were part of a military equipment package that also includes patrol boats. The boats were unaffected by the U.S. block.

Depending on how the planes were configured, they could possibly have contained a significant amount of U.S. military technology.

Relations between the Bush administration and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have soured in recent years, and the discord has grown since Bush began his second term.

U.S. officials have expressed concern over Chavez's policies, his friendship with Cuban President Fidel Castro and his crackdown on the news media, whose owners have largely opposed his rule.

In notifying Spain of the decision on Thursday, the U.S. government repeated a previous Bush administration claim -- that Chavez, while democratically elected, uses his country's democratic institutions to impose authoritarian rule.

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Vermont poised to get discounted oil from Venezuela

January 19, 2006

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

RUTLAND, Vt. --Low income Vermonters would benefit from discounted Venezuelan fuel oil this winter in a deal being arranged by Vermont's independent Rep. Bernard Sanders.

An agreement is expected to be announced next week that would bring the discounted oil to the state.

"Our expectation right now is we expect to bring at least several million gallons of discounted oil into Vermont and we expect to announce the details next week," said Sanders' spokeswoman Erin Campbell.

The deal would be similar to agreements Venezuela and the government controlled Citgo oil company reached recently with Maine and Rhode Island. Parts of Massachusetts and New York City have also benefited from Venezuela's offer.

"The bottom line is this should translate into a savings of several million dollars for the people of Vermont," Campbell said.

In November, Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum Corp. announced a program that makes available home heating oil at a 40 percent discount to cold weather states.

Fuel oil prices this month average $2.45 a gallon, up about 50 cents from a year ago.

Some critics of the agreement say Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is using the deal as a way to embarrass President Bush.

Republican Gov. James Douglas supports the proposal.

"The governor's first priority is the lowest-cost home heating options we can provide to Vermonters," Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said recently. "The political situation and demagoguery we'll leave to others."


Information from: Rutland Herald,

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Iran 'moves financial holdings'

Friday, January 20, 2006

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Amid the threat of possible U.N. economic sanctions, Iran announced Friday it is transferring its foreign exchange accounts out of U.S. and European banks, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Ibrahim Sheibani, the head of Iran's Central Bank, said the Islamic state will transfer all of its foreign accounts related to its oil income to Southeast Asian banks, according to the conservative news agency.

The United States and Europe could block Iran's foreign accounts if the U.N. imposes economic sanctions on Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has called an emergency meeting on February 2 to discuss Iran's resumption of nuclear activities.

Three European nations -- Britain, France and Germany, known as the EU3 -- referred the issue to the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, after a stalemate in negotiations with Iran.

The issue is expected to be referred to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions on the Islamic state.

Iran recently broke the seals on its Natanz uranium enrichment plant to resume what it says is nuclear research.

The United States and the EU3 want Iran to halt all nuclear activity, fearing it may try to build a nuclear weapon under the guise of a nuclear energy program.

Iran's Economic Minister Danesh Jafari said the transfer of funds is legal under international law.

CNN stringer Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report

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