Russia Hits Oil Giant

With More Back Taxes

MOSCOW -- Russian tax authorities slapped oil giant Yukos and its main production unit with two new tax claims for nearly $10 billion, raising the company's total bill to more than $17.6 billion, the Interfax news agency reported Monday. The move seems to bring the unit's sale a step closer.

The Tax Ministry gave Yukos a fresh bill for 2002 of $6.7 billion, while its biggest subsidiary -- Yuganskneftegaz -- received new claims amounting to more than $3 billion for 2001 and 2002.

"This is easily higher than we had expected in our worst-case scenario," said Ron Smith, an analyst at Renaissance Capital.

The announcement came on the same day that the investment bank J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. gave Yuganskneftegaz a valuation far above a government-cited starting price for a pending sale. The government wants to sell Yuganskneftegaz to recover the billions of dollars in taxes it says Yukos owes.

The tax case against Yukos and the parallel trial of its jailed former chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on fraud and tax evasion charges are widely seen as the Kremlin's revenge for Khodorkovsky's growing political clout.

On Monday, a Moscow court agreed with a request by prosecutors to extend Khodorkovsky's detention by three months until Feb. 14. Prosecutors argued that the Yukos founder might try to flee the country or influence witnesses.

EUROPE

* HELSINKI -- The United States, after receiving "threat information" on the eve of its election, has warned Americans in the Nordic and Baltic states to be extra vigilant.

A State Department spokesman said the information was specific in that it mentioned a particular date but described it as of "uncertain credibility." U.S. officials in Washington noted that the warnings did not rise to the level of a formal State Department travel warning.

State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said the warnings were based on "a possible terrorist threat" in Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

Norway shut its embassy in the Latvian capital, Riga, just two days after Latvian police increased security at some embassies and installations, citing a threat from Muslim extremists. The Oslo government said the decision was not linked to the U.S. warning.

ASIA

* BANGKOK -- Suspected Muslim militants beheaded a Buddhist village official in southern Thailand and left the head and trunk more than a mile apart, officials said on Tuesday.

Local people found the head of the 58-year-old deputy village chief in a fertilizer bag on a road in Narathiwat province with a handwritten note that said, "A revenge for the innocents of Tak Bai district." It referred to the place where seven Muslim protesters were killed and 78 suffocated or were crushed last week in army trucks after their arrest.

AFRICA

* MONROVIA, Liberia -- At least 18 people died and more than 200 were injured during riots in Liberia's capital last week, the worst outbreak of violence in the West African country since the end of civil war last year.

"As of this morning we had 12 dead in the hospitals, four people were found dead in the street and two were found dead in the lagoon," the country's interim leader, Gyude Bryant, said at a news conference.

Mobs of Christian and Muslim youths armed with sticks and knives fought running battles on Sunday in a suburb of the capital, Monrovia, carrying out revenge attacks for deaths in riots there Friday.

U.N. troops in armored vehicles patrolled the streets Monday alongside Liberian police officers. Many residents stayed inside and schools remained closed, residents said, as religious leaders used radio broadcasts to appeal for calm.

* KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Sudan will implement a protocol dividing its oil riches between the north and south next year, whether or not there is a peace deal to end more than two decades of civil war in the south, the head of the ruling party said.

Asked if the protocol would be implemented with or without a peace deal, Ibrahim Ahmed Omar said, "Yes, starting from next year . . . because we are convinced that this is what the people want."

* LAGOS, Nigeria -- African Anglican bishops, who condemn same-sex marriages and the ordination of gays, resolved to strengthen local training colleges to distinguish their teaching from North American churches that have embraced homosexuality.

In a communique on the last day of a landmark conference, bishops representing more than half the world's 70 million Anglicans said the move reflected the failure of the Western theology to relate to sociopolitical and economic challenges in Africa.

-- From News Services