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Moscow to ban snow

Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov -- the man behind the world's ugliest statue -- has a new grandiose project, keeping winter snow out of Moscow:

Moscow will blast clouds from the sky this winter to save money on snow removal, a city official said Wednesday, but the plan threatens to anger the surrounding region, which would have to cope with the extra powder. ....

Luzhkov is a long-time proponent of fighting clouds by spraying liquid nitrogen, silver, or cement particles into the cloud mass, which forces precipitation to fall before it can reach the capital and spoil holidays like Victory Day and City Day.

Last month, Luzhkov proposed expanding the technology to fight the snow drifts that snarl traffic every winter.

“What if we force this snow to fall beyond Moscow? The Moscow region will have more water, bigger harvests, while we will have less snow,” he said at an award ceremony for Moscow’s best-kept yard. He said that using the Air Force to prevent massive snowfall would be three times cheaper than using the regular system of trucks and snow-melting stations.

City hall estimates that the project will save the city $10.2 million in snow removal. Needless to say, officials in the surrouding region are less than thrilled with the plan. Locals have also criticized Luzhkov's previous cloud prevention schemes, noting that they make "the cucumbers turn yellow."

Alexander Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

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Did Italy pay off the Taliban?

The Times makes a very serious allegation against the Italian government today in a piece suggesting that the Italian secret service had been secretly paying Taliban leaders to keep an area it was patrolling quiet. Worse, they reportedly didn't tell the French soldiers who took the area over, resulting in an ambush that killed ten French soldiers:

The clandestine payments, whose existence was hidden from the incoming French forces, were disclosed by Western military officials.

US intelligence officials were flabbergasted when they found out through intercepted telephone conversations that the Italians had also been buying off militants, notably in Herat province in the far west. In June 2008, several weeks before the ambush, the US Ambassador in Rome made a démarche, or diplomatic protest, to the Berlusconi Government over allegations concerning the tactic.

However, a number of high-ranking officers in Nato have told The Times that payments were subsequently discovered to have been made in the Sarobi area as well.

Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.

“One cannot be too doctrinaire about these things,” a senior Nato officer in Kabul said. “It might well make sense to buy off local groups and use non-violence to keep violence down. But it is madness to do so and not inform your allies.”

Italy's defense minister condemned the report, calling it "offensive to the deaths we have suffered in Afghanistan, to our injured ones and to the daily level of commitment of our soldiers." The French defense ministry also say they have no information to corroborate the report. 

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi denied making the payments but also seemed to pass the buck to his predecessor, Romano Prodi. 

“The Berlusconi government has never authorised any kind of money payment to members of the Taleban insurrection in Afghanistan and has no knowledge of initiatives of this type by the previous government,” said the statement.