News In Brief

Ambon, the Indonesian city at the center of violent Muslim-Christian clashes, was all but deserted after Wednesday's furious confrontation with outnumbered Army troops. Witnesses said as many as 12 people died from gunshot wounds and more than 30 others were hospitalized. Mobs on both sides of the sectarian divide reportedly ignored orders to stop fighting or be fired upon. Meanwhile, on neighboring Sulawesi there were concerns that the violence would spread as thousands of Muslim students marched in a show of defiance against the local Christian minority.

Envoys from countries that share the Orthodox faith of Yugoslavia's Serbs took over the diplomatic efforts to nudge President Milosevic behind a peace accord for Kosovo. The foreign ministers of Greece and Russia were attempting to succeed where US envoy Richard Holbrooke apparently failed. Holbrooke said only that the "importance" of his talks with Milosevic Wednesday "won't be clear until later." Milosevic opposes the plan for autonomy because he doesn't want NATO peace-keepers on Kosovo soil.

Without the approval of his superiors, a field commander murdered three US Indian-rights activists in Colombia, the leftist rebel group FARC admitted. Their remains were found last weekend, and the discovery is considered likely to end prospects for an early peace with the Colombian government. FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rarely admits responsibility for atrocities, experts said.

Still more tough austerity measures were to be announced by the government of Ecuador - on top of those that triggered a nationwide strike by unionized workers and impoverished rural Indians. Thousands of police and soldiers patrolled the capital, Quito, for a second day after the strike turned violent. Reports said 19 strikers were hurt and 97 were arrested in Quito, Guayaquil, and other cities. Ecuador's economic crisis is its worst in 50 years.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder did not threaten to resign, an aide said. But the embattled leader flatly warned Cabinet ministers in his coalition government that their pet causes are alienating voters and business, Berlin newspapers reported. They said he cited proposals to impose highway speed limits, extend family leave, and for heavy new taxes.

The atmosphere was described as "friendly" as negotiators for both sides in Afghanistan's civil war opened a second round of peace talks. The discussions, in neighboring Turkmenistan, are being held under UN auspices. Mediators said it was significant that both the Taliban movement and rebels who control Afghan-istan's northeast sent senior representatives.

The political party known for its anti-Aborigine and anti-Asian views, One Nation, was stripped of its official standing in the Australian state where it originated. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said he took the action because One Nation had lost too many seats in the state legislature to qualify for certification. He also cut state funding to what's left of its parliamentary delegation by almost half - to $500,000 over three years.

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