News In Brief

Final approval of an agreement to end the 11-month civil war in Congo is expected at a meeting tomorrow of the rebels, the country's leadership, and the presidents of the five other African governments that were drawn into the conflict. The pact, reached in talks at Lusaka, Zambia, calls for fighting to stop within 24 hours of its signing. The rebels also agreed to merge with the Congolese Army, although a peacekeeping force of UN or Organization of African Unity troops was to ensure order. In New York, however, a senior UN official warned that such a mission would be "large, expensive, difficult, and beset by risks."

Another postponement of the autonomy referendum in East Timor could come soon unless the Indonesian government acts to end the escalating violence there, a senior UN official warned. The ballot, first scheduled for Aug. 8, was delayed for two weeks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the same reason. UN staffers organizing the vote have been subjected to numerous attacks and threats by pro-Indonesia militiamen, who accuse them of favoring independence.

The newspaper that helped moderate Iranian President Mohamad Khatami in his landslide victory in 1997 elections was banned indefinitely by rival conservative clerics. The Special Court for Clergy acted to silence the daily Salam one day after conservatives in parliament pushed through a major overhaul of the press reforms that Khatami drafted in the 1980s when he was culture minister.

A disaster at sea was averted as rescuers evacuated all 1,167 passengers from a ferry that caught fire on its way from Germany to Norway. Reports said the blaze broke out about 2 a.m. in the engine room of the Princess Ragnhild as it neared the Swedish coast. One passenger died after arriving at a hospital.

Over the warnings of Western diplomats, parliament in Latvia overwhelmingly passed a controversial law that appeared aimed at the country's Russian minority. The measure requires that all public speech and all signs, posters, and advertisements be in the Latvian language only. Legislators ignored protests that it doesn't meet international standards, may violate the European Union charter of rights, and could heighten ethnic tensions - although it does not specifically target the Russian language, which was forced on Latvians during a half-century of Soviet domination.

A day after being sentenced to a long prison term and multimillion-dollar fine, Bahrain's senior opposition leader was released. Thousands of supporters in Sheikh Abdul-Ameer al-Jamri's home village greeted his return with jubilation, and riot police who'd been sent there for protective purposes were not needed. Al-Jamri, a Shiite, was accused of spying for a foreign power and inciting unrest in the primarily Sunni Muslim state.

Soldiers were enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the capital of Jamaica as a renewal of gang violence caused residents of two neighborhoods to flee for their safety. Seven people have died in shootouts in the two areas since Monday morning - and 25 overall in Kingston, a city of 800,000. Gangland truces organized last summer because of Jamaica's participation in the World Cup soccer tournament largely collapsed in October.

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