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News In Brief

By CompiledRobert KilbornLance Carden, and Ross Atkin / December 27, 1999



India appeared to be considering the demands of hijackers holding an Indian Airlines aircraft with at least 150 passengers in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said he would "exercise all options" to ensure the well-being of the passengers, one of whom was stabbed to death by one of the hijackers Friday. Indian newspapers said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had reprimanded the leader of the team dealing with the hijackers for allowing the aircraft to leave an airport in Amritsar. It was hijacked after leaving Nepal Friday. It has since stopped at airports in India, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan.

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China convicted four principal organizers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 18 years. All four were Communist Party members who held positions of influence in government and business, underscoring the group's reach and the government's difficulties in suppressing it. The government's Xinhua News Agency said judges found the four guilty of organizing and using a cult to undermine implementation of laws and other offenses.

The first coup in the history of the Ivory Coast took observers by surprise, both inside and outside the country. Former Army Chief of Staff Robert Guei, leader of the military coup and chairman of a National Public Salvation Committee, said Saturday he wanted to "create the necessary conditions for a real democracy with a view to holding fair and transparent elections." But he gave no timetable. There were reports of looting Thursday by rampaging soldiers and others, but little if any bloodshed. Guei said elected President Henri Konan Bedie - under French protection at a French military base in Abidjan - could go to France.

Russian forces were reportedly pushing deep into Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, Sunday, the second day of a new operation aimed at gaining rapid control of the city and the rebel province. Russian television said troops had reached Minutka Square, a strategically important intersection near the center of the city. Between 1,500 and 5,000 Chechen guerrillas have been defending Grozny in fighting that has trapped up to 40,000 civilians in basements with little food or firewood.

Alfonso Portillo, a former university professor, was expected to win a presidential run-off election in Guatemala. In recent opinion polls, the right-wing Republican Front candidate had a comfortable lead over Oscar Berger of the ruling Party for the National Advancement. Portillo took 47.8 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting Nov. 7; Berger won 31 percent. Candidates need a majority to avoid a run-off. It is the first time Guatemalans have voted for a new president since the end of a 36-year civil war.

Tornado-like winds of up to 120 m.p.h. hit Switzerland, France, and Germany, killing at least 26 people. The freak gales disrupted rail services, blocked roads, and led to the closure of airports in Paris for several hours.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society