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Nominee for envoy to Pakistan would focus on Haqqani network

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s nominee to become the new ambassador to Pakistan said Tuesday that his top priority would be to press the government there to take more forceful measures against the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate whose leaders, sheltered in Pakistan, have mounted a series of attacks against U.S. and other targets in Afghanistan.

The diplomat, Richard G. Olson, made the pledge at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he appeared along with James B. Cunningham, the nominee to become the new ambassador to Afghanistan.

“I will certainly, if confirmed, take it as a central responsibility and the most urgent of my responsibilities to continue to press the Pakistani authorities on the Haqqani network in every way possible,” Olson said.

Together, the two seasoned diplomats, both currently stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, would face perhaps the most complex and unstable tangle of issues to confront any pair of U.S. envoys in the world, a tangle in which terrorism and intrigue meet military, political and economic turmoil.

—John H. Cushman Jr., The New York Times

Russian activist charged with embezzlement

MOSCOW — Accelerating the Kremlin’s campaign against the country’s fledgling opposition, Russian investigators charged the blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny on Tuesday with embezzlement, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 10 years. A previous case against him based on the same events was closed this spring in Kirov by prosecutors who said they had not found evidence of wrongdoing.

If the case progresses to an arrest or a sentence, it will signal a shift in strategy by President Vladimir V. Putin. For the 12 years he has served as Russia’s paramount leader, he has mainly refrained from criminal prosecutions of activist leaders, instead sidelining them with softer methods like short-term detentions and limited access to mass media. But some commentators say they expect to see more criminal cases brought against activists.

“A political decision has been made, though I don’t know for how long,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant. “Maybe the people who made this decision think it is a short period of intimidation, which will be followed by a return to more velvet methods. But now there is a regime in which, given a range of choices, they are selecting the harshest.

“The system is informing us that it is changing the rules,” he said.

Navalny, 36, rose to prominence as a protest leader in large part because of his popular blog and Twitter feed, which he has used to report corruption and inside dealing by Kremlin officials. Since 2010, he has faced the possibility of criminal charges related to a state-owned timber company called KirovLes, but the charges announced Tuesday were significantly more severe.

—Ellen Barry, The New York Times

Jury recommends 30-day sentence in military hazing case

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A military jury recommended Tuesday that a sergeant be sentenced to 30 days in prison for mistreating and assaulting Pvt. Danny Chen, whose suicide in Afghanistan last year drew attention to the standing of Asians in the U.S. military.

The jury also said the sergeant, Adam M. Holcomb, should be reduced one rank, to specialist, and be fined $1,181.55.

Holcomb had faced a sentence of up to two years in prison, as well as a punitive discharge.

On Monday, the jury found him guilty of two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault. But he was acquitted on charges of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat and hazing.

The verdict was a blow to military prosecutors, who had sought at the court-martial here to show that Holcomb’s treatment of Chen, which the prosecutors said included hazing and racial taunts, led directly to his suicide.

Supporters of Chen’s family expressed dismay Tuesday over the sentencing, calling it too lenient.

During the sentencing hearing, a military prosecutor, Maj. Stephen Hernandez, told the 10-member jury of Army officers and enlisted soldiers that they had an opportunity to help redress the suffering of Chen, a Chinese-American from Manhattan, and other “little people” in the military.

“You answer for that weak soldier who couldn’t have a voice,” he said. “Danny Chen, ladies and gentlemen, is an American soldier. And today you bring justice to that American soldier.”

—Kirk Semple, The New York Times

24 Hour Fitness is said to be
on the block

The health club chain 24 Hour Fitness is for sale, people briefed on the matter said Tuesday.

Forstmann Little, the private equity firm that owns 24 Hour Fitness, has hired Goldman Sachs to run the auction process, these people said. Goldman will soon begin soliciting interest from potential buyers, a group that includes other fitness chains and private equity firms.

The chain is expected to fetch about $2 billion in a sale, said these people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deal publicly.

With about 425 locations, 24 Hour Fitness is the nation’s largest privately owned chain of fitness centers. A representative of the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Forstmann Little’s eventual sale of 24 Hour Fitness was expected. Once one of the world’s largest private equity funds, Forstmann Little began winding down its operations several years ago after ill-timed telecommunications investments. Theodore J. Forstmann, the financier who led the firm, died last November at the age of 71.

—Peter Lattman, The New York Times