News In Brief

Unofficial estimates put the voter turnout at better than 95 percent in East Timor's referendum on autonomy. The UN, which organized and conducted the balloting, said one poll worker died in a confrontation with an unidentified group near Dili, the capital. But voting otherwise was largely peaceful. Supporters of independence from Indonesia said the huge turnout meant success for their cause. Anti-independence militias vowed to monitor airfields, seaports, and border crossings to ensure that pro-independence leaders "stay and take responsibility for what happens."

There won't be a similar vote on self-rule in the equally troubled province of Aceh, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie was quoted as saying. More than 200 people have died so far this year in violence between separatist rebels and security forces in the resource-rich former Dutch colony. But an opposition leader said after meeting with Habibie that a referendum in Aceh "could damage national unity" and would not be held "this year, in the next 10 years, or 20 years."

Because official campaigns to promote consumer spending haven't worked, bank depositors in China learned their savings accounts will be taxed for the first time - with the revenues to be used for overdue state-pension payments and subsidies to workers laid off from government-owned industries. The measure, OK'd by parliament, is part of an economic-stimulus package brought on by a 22-month slide in retail prices. China observes its 50th anniversary as a communist state Oct. 1, and the government is believed eager to demonstrate social stability. Analysts said the new tax was certain to dismay savers, with no guarantee it now would cause them to spend more freely.

Amid the worsening political climate in Venezuela, new President Hugo Chvez vowed to defy legislators and travel abroad anyway, despite their intention to use their few remaining powers to block him. He's due to go to Panama today and to Brazil on Saturday. Chvez, in his weekly radio call-in program, said, "We aren't going to raise the flag of tyranny." But bitter confrontations over his campaign to "revolutionize" public institutions have renewed accusations that Venezuela is edging toward dictatorship.

Backing down from a threat to walk out of negotiations on implementing the Wye Plantation peace deal with Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Barak said there still was time to agree on how to proceed before Secretary of State Albright arrives in the region. Palestinians claimed his threat to implement the deal unilaterally was empty because it represented a "win-win situation" for them. The rivals hoped to sign an agreement in Albright's presence later this week.

Up to 1.5 million workers from both the public and private sectors are expected to begin a nationwide strike in Colombia today in protest against the government's austerity measures. The action, which the government said would cost $130 million a day, would be the second in 11 months. A 21-day stoppage last October collapsed when President Andres Pastrana refused to give in to workers' demands.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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