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Russia: Putin Calls On Central Asian Republics To Coordinate Response

Prague, 23 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today called the leaders of the five Central Asian republics to coordinate a response to possible U.S. strikes on Afghanistan. A Kremlin statement quoted Putin's top foreign policy advisor Sergei Prikhodko as saying that Putin "continued his coordinated action related to the region and its surroundings."

No other details were immediately disclosed..

The United States has lifted nuclear-related sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan after the two Asian rivals sparked world alarm with tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests in 1998.

In a memorandum, released last night by the White House, to Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. President George W. Bush said the continued presence of the sanctions "would not be in the national security interests of the United States."

Both India and Pakistan today welcomed the American decision.

Pakistan says it will allow U.S. forces to use its airspace for any possible military retaliation in Afghanistan, and also says it will share intelligence on the ruling Taliban regime.

India is also expected to play a key role in the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Pakistan and India had been lobbying hard for the lifting of the measures, which restricted military sales, financial and economic assistance.

Pakistan's Sports and Culture minister today announced the cancellation of the South Asian Games, scheduled for the second week in October.

The games are held every two years between Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives.

Minister S.K. Gressler said the current tensions in South Asia caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States were the cause for the indefinite cancellation.

An aide said the games might be rescheduled for early next year.

Also, Bush signed a $15 billion aid package for America's airline industry, which has suffered mounting economic losses since the terrorist attacks.

The U.S, will refrain from any action while Pope John Paul is on an official visit to Central Asia.

The pope is scheduled today to celebrate mass in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

More than 50,000 pilgrims are expected at the mass.

The pope arrived in the predominantly Muslim country yesterday. The pope has said he hopes his trip will contribute to an ecumenical dialogue.

Catholics comprise just two to three percent of Kazakhstan's 15 million population. The majority religions are Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity.

The pope was welcomed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

John Paul called for solving world conflicts through dialogue, not force.

He said "conflicts should not be resolved by force ... but peacefully through negotiations."

The pope led a prayer ceremony and laid a wreath at the city's monument for the victims of the Soviet totalitarian regime.

Also today, the pope will meet with Nazarbayev and members of his family and with students at the Eurasian University.

The pope will go to Armenia on Tuesday for celebrations marking the country's 1,700th adoption of Christianity as the state religion.