The Israeli flag was lowered for the final time at an Army base near the West Bank town of Nablus as Prime Minister Barak's government began the transfer of another 5 percent of occupied territory to the Palestinian Authority. The withdrawal followed seven weeks of deadlock between negotiators over whether the Palestinians could have a say in which areas would be handed over under their interim peace accord. Five more encampments were to follow by today's scheduled completion of Phase 2 of the three-phase transfer. The two sides are due to agree on the framework for a permanent peace deal by Feb. 13.
A suicide-bomb attempt on the life of Sri Lanka's prime minister killed at least 13 people, but its intended target escaped harm because she was not in her office at the time. Twenty-seven others were hurt in the blast, which came as security guards intercepted the attacker. The incident was blamed on a Tamil extremist, who was among the dead. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranike is the mother of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was partially blinded in an another assassination attack Dec. 18.
Opposition parties were scrambling to select their candidates after the Russian parliament voted to move up the date for electing a new president from June to March 26. To qualify for the ballot, each contender must gather the signatures of 500,000 voters by Feb. 13. Only one challenger to acting President Vladimir Putin, ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, so far has publicly declared his candidacy. Putin is the presumed heavy favorite for the office since being handed the reins of power Dec. 31 when Boris Yeltsin surprised the world by resigning prematurely.
The father of Elian Gonzalez is free to travel to Miami to retrieve his son if he wishes, and the Cuban government "will help him," a senior leader of the National Assembly in Havana said. But although US Immigration and Naturalization Service officials ruled Juan Miguel Gonzalez had the right to custody of the six-year-old, the father has said he doesn't believe he should have to leave Cuba to pick him up. (Story, page 4; related opinion, page 9.)
The possibility of a presidential race between Peru's incumbent, Alberto Fujimori, and his ex-wife loomed as opposition leaders met with former first lady Susana Higuchi to try to coax her into declaring her candidacy. The couple divorced in 1996 after a two-year public dispute over corruption in his government and her accusation that he ignored the needs of Peru's poor. Fujimori, who announced last week that he'd seek an unprecedented third five-year term, said he'd have "no problem" with a candidacy by his former wife. The election is scheduled for April.
Emergency crews were searching for trapped survivors of a high-speed, head-on crash between passenger trains 100 miles north of Oslo, Norway. Authorities estimated 100 people were riding in the two trains, which quickly became engulfed in flames. At least 11 people were reported dead, 30 others were hospitalized with injuries, and 26 were missing in 5 degree F. weather.
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