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The first peacekeeping troops for East Timor could be on the ground there as soon as this weekend, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. After meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, Annan said they'd agreed to move fast in deploying peacekeepers in the violence-wracked province. Their talks followed assurances by the Indonesian government that it would impose no conditions on the composition of such a force. Earlier, members of parliament had insisted that no personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, the US, or Canada be among the peacekeepers.

The UN closed its compound in the battered East Timor capital, Dili, but reports that anti-independence militias then set it on fire couldn't be verified. Departing UN staffers took 1,300 Timorese refugees with them to safety in Darwin, Australia. Beginning tomorrow, Australian cargo planes are expected to drop food to thousands of other Timorese refugees driven from their homes and hiding in remote mountains.

New loans to Indonesia will be withheld by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank until a spreading banking scandal is resolved, the latter's president said. The matter involves the payment of more than $70 million by Bank Bali to a leading official in the ruling Golkar Party. The funds were for the recovery of loans from an agency charged with restructuring the banking system as a result of Indonesia's ongoing economic crisis. The funds, which regulators say should have been repaid without the need for third-party help, are suspected of being siphoned off for President B.J. Habibie's reelection campaign. He denies the accusation.

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With no claims of responsibility for the latest explosion that demolished a Moscow apartment building, police were searching the capital for suspects. Authorities put the number of deaths from the Monday blast - the fourth in Russia in two weeks - at 121. Meanwhile, a search of another apartment building turned up almost two tons of explosives connected to a 70-yard-long fuse. The building was evacuated, and the explosives were detonated at a military training site. The blasts are believed to be in retaliation for operations by Russian troops against Muslim rebels in the Caucasus republic of Dagestan.

Despite secret-service concerns about a British woman's loyalty, she never was questioned about passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, a government report said. Home Minister Jack Straw, delivering a promised statement on one of the most serious security scandals in a generation, said the sensitivity of other investigations kept Melita Norwood from being interviewed - and that intelligence agencies, on their own authority, had kept successive Labour and Conservative governments in the dark about the matter.

Despite heavy security, an increasingly violent general strike in Bangladesh resulted in the deaths of two activists, almost 150 injuries, and the arrest of 270 others for defying a ban on rallies in the capital. The strike, due to end tonight, has virtually shut down highway transportation and the main seaport, and forced markets, banks, and stock exchanges to close. Organizers dismissed as "a ploy" a government offer to discuss the principal grievance behind it: a plan to allow Bangladesh to be used as a corridor for goods being sent between points in neighboring India.

Compiled by Robert Kilborn and Lance Carden

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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