News In Brief

Five hundred refugees an hour were being allowed to pass through a Russian border checkpoint from Chechnya into Ingushetia, and reports said that for the first time they included men of combat age. The numbers were the largest streaming out of the breakaway region in almost two weeks, and the Kremlin's emergencies minister was quoted as saying additional exit routes would be set up. The clogged checkpoint into Ingushetia had generated intense international criticism of Russia's human-rights policy.

While a sizable majority of Australians apparently no longer want Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, almost all signs were pointing toward defeat of tomorrow's landmark referendum on changing the country to a republic. Final opinion polls continued to show the outcome would be close, but with the "Yes" forces on the losing end because voters don't like the alternative: a president chosen by Parliament rather than through direct election. National Treasurer Peter Costello warned that if the measure lost, such a vote wouldn't be attempted again soon.

A tumultuous week in oil-rich Aceh province appeared to win new Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid's OK for a referendum on independence. Wahid spoke after being served with an ultimatum by visiting Aceh legislators: schedule an East Timor-type vote within one month or the province would conduct its own. Meanwhile, an estimated 50,000 Aceh separatists were capping a week of violence with a demonstration to intensify the pressure on Wahid. It followed the deaths of three people when Indonesian troops fired on protesters who'd set fire to government buildings in the city of Meulaboh.

A historic, but increasingly bitter, primary election Sunday was being called the biggest experiment in democracy in 70 years for Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Ex-Interior Secretary Francisco Labastida was leading in late opinion polls over three rivals for the nomination to succeed President Ernesto Zedillo in next July's general election. But hard-hitting ads by his top challenger, populist Tabasco Gov. Roberto Madrazo, portrayed Labastida as a puppet of disgraced former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Labastida responded with the same accusations against Madrazo. Previous PRI nominees have been picked by their predecessors.

The dimensions of a rebel assault in northern Sri Lanka were indicating the worst defeat for the Army this year. A military spokesman acknowledged 1,000 government troops were dead, wounded, or missing. Survivors were said to be retreating in disarray. Reinforcements were en route to the area as Tamil separatists pushed their advantage. The setback was seen as a major liability for President Chandrika Kumara-tunga, who's seeking reelection Dec. 21 as well as a mandate for her plan to end the 16-year separatist war by offering Tamils greater autonomy.

With their heavily armed followers resuming warfare against each other, Sierra Leone's rival guerrilla chiefs went on radio together to urge an immediate handover of weapons. Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front and ex-junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma said neither side would lose face by disarming. Earlier such appeals, however, have gone unheeded. More than 120 people died in two recent clashes between the rivals, reports said.

Compiled by Robert Kilborn

and Lance Carden

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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