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Russia's Viktor Bout 'never sold weapons': lawyer
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Aug 17, 2011

Viktor Bout, a former Soviet air force officer accused in the United States of trafficking arms worldwide, never sold or had anything to do with the sale of weapons, his lawyer said Wednesday.

"Selling? Never. He never sold, he never brokered," attorney Albert Dayan said in New York federal court during a pretrial hearing.

The statement appeared to surprise Judge Shira Scheindlin, who will preside over Bout's trial on charges that he tried to sell a huge arsenal, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, to a Colombian guerrilla group called FARC.

"Your position is that he's not an arms dealer," Scheindlin said.

"Absolutely," Dayan replied, describing his client, who sat in court in a dark blue prisoner's smock, as a "transporter."

Bout, who has pleaded not guilty to the trafficking charge, is alleged to have been one of the world's most prolific private arms dealers, operating a fleet of ex-Soviet airplanes that poured weapons into African wars.

He was arrested in Thailand during a US sting operation in March 2008 and extradited last November after a long legal battle. He is being held in the high security wing of a Manhattan detention center.

His reputation earned him the popular nickname "Merchant of Death" and his life inspired a film called "Lord of War," starring Nicholas Cage.

During Wednesday's hearing, Scheindlin began the process of ruling how much detail from Bout's colorful past can be admitted during the upcoming trial on the narrower allegations of attempting to arm the FARC.

She said that certain episodes of alleged arms drops to African countries like Angola may be brought up to demonstrate the suspect's dealings. Prosecution lawyers will also be allowed to mention that the United Nations put him on a list of people banned from international travel.

However certain details that Scheindlin said could unfairly prejudice the jury against Bout will be barred, including that some alleged arms shipments involved Libya and Rwanda.

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Venezuela's Chavez thanks Russia for tanks
Caracas (AFP) Aug 17, 2011 - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday thanked Russia for its sale of 25 tanks and other arms to the South American country, saying they were needed for "defending our sovereignty."

"I want to thank (Russian) President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister (Vladimir) Putin for these weapons manufactured in the Russian Federation, in sister Russia," Chavez said in a message broadcast by state TV.

"These arms from Russia, now in Venezuela, will be for defending our sovereignty. Thanks to Russia. A round of applause for Russia," he added, to applause, speaking at a military ceremony to receive the arms.

The Venezuelan military received 25 tanks and hundreds of other weapons, according to generals present at the ceremony.

Between 2005 and 2007 Venezuela reached deals to buy $4 billion worth of arms from Russia, including Sukhoi fighter jets, combat helicopters and guns.

The Chavez government also secured a $2.2 billion loan in 2010 to purchase Russian T-72 tanks and an undisclosed number of S-300 antiaircraft missiles.

Chavez, a leftist firebrand who often rails against the "imperialist" United States, said Venezuela needed to guard its vast oil and mineral wealth.

"We do not seek war with anyone, but we have to defend our country," he said.

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Panetta: Cuts could 'hollow out' defense
Washington (UPI) Aug 16, 2011
A $350 billion cut in the U.S. Defense Department's budget and the threat of losing $500 billion more would "result in hollowing out the force" and weaken the country's ability to respond to threats, U.S. Defense Secretary Lean Panetta said Tuesday. "I don't think we have to choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility," Panetta said about the cuts, which are part of a ... read more

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