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Peace negotiations with Syria are "nearing the decisive phase" and a "core agreement" could be reached within two months, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told interviewers on his return home from the talks. A Cabinet aide added the negotiations "are in a further state of progress than the eye sees." But Barak clashed with opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who contended that Israel already had promised the Golan Heights to Syria in secret.

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet appeared on the brink of freedom after doctors found him too ill to withstand extradition and trial for human rights abuses. Acting on that determination, the British government, which is holding Pinochet under house arrest, gave all parties in the case one week to submit arguments why he should not be released. There was no immediate reaction by a prosecutor who seeks to have him tried in Spain for alleged offenses against Spanish nationals in Chile between 1973 and 1990. But the Madrid government said it wouldn't contest the medical finding.

Pinochet could return home within weeks. But if he does, he'll find changes in the legal code that could lead to his prosecution, Chilean Ambassador to Britain Pablo Cabrera said. He cited high-ranking persons who've been stripped of the legal immunity they enjoyed under a law passed during Pinochet's rule.

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Another vehicle loaded with explosives - the fourth in less than a month - was seized by police in Spain's Basque region, reports said. They said 44 pounds of dynamite likely intended for use by the militant group ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty) were discovered in a car in Vizcaya province. Separate truck bombs were intercepted Dec. 21 and Dec. 23, apparently en route to Madrid. A third quantity of explosives was seized New Year's Eve across the border in France. ETA ended its unilateral truce late last year in its violent campaign for Basque independence.

The military junta's case against ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took a dramatic turn when the judge assigned to his trial refused to proceed. Shabir Ahmed ordered the trial transferred to a lower court after discovering undercover intelligence agents in the room. Sharif, who was overthrown last Oct. 12, is charged with attempted murder against coup leader Pervez Musharraf and other crimes that carry the death sentence if he is found guilty.

The lawyer for jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and two other prominent Malaysians were targeted in an apparent crackdown on opponents of government chief Mahathir Muhamad. Karpal Singh, who represents Anwar in his trial on sodomy charges, was arrested on grounds of sedition for his statements in court. He also is deputy leader of an opposition political party. Another opposition leader was charged with spreading "racial discord," and the editor of the leading antigovernment newspaper was ordered to appear in court for questioning about coverage of the Anwar trial.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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