News In Brief

Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland were reacting in opposite fashion to the suspension of the province's self-rule government by Britain. Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a partner in the government, accused Britain of ignoring a "major concession" by the IRA. The latter said late Friday it would consider surrendering its weapons under certain conditions. But Protestant First Minister David Trimble said it was "make-up-your-mind time" for "all of the republican movement," which he accused of trying to keep open "both options - politics and terrorism."

An Israeli decision on pulling its troops out of volatile southern Lebanon will not be made until April - and possibly even May, a senior defense official said. Amid continuing hostilities in the so-called security zone - Israel and Hizbullah guerrillas traded new rocket and artillery fire yesterday - Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told radio interviewers Israel will leave the zone and "bring forward" its departure if no peace agreement with the Lebanese government or with Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, is possible. Prime Minister Ehud Barak has long pledged to withdraw by July but wants an accord to help ensure the safety of Israel's northern settlements.

Although denying he'd been pressured, Indonesia's president backed down from a threat to fire his controversial security/ political affairs minister. Abdurrahman Wahid, returning from a long overseas trip, said he'd met with General Wiranto, the ex-armed forces chief accused of human rights abuses in East Timor, and decided "to give him the right to be investigated according to the law." The probe, to be conducted by Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, is expected to take about a month - during which Wiranto will remain in his post.

Turnout was reported low, and exit polls suggested most voters were casting ballots against the proposed new constitution in Zimbabwe. Vote-counting is to begin today following the two-day referendum on the new charter, which would increase longtime President Robert Mugabe's powers. The outcome is seen as a key indicator of how Mugabe will fare in national elections in early April. But only about 60 percent of the polling stations were staffed by independent observers, and analysts warned that the exit polls should not be considered an accurate indicator of how the referendum would turn out.

A plume of pollution with the potential to be Europe's worst environmental crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power accident was flowing into the vitally important Danube River. Liquid cyanide leaking from a gold mining operation in northwestern Romania was blamed for killing all life in the Tisa River in neighboring Hungary and Yugoslavia. The Tisa joins the Danube, the continent's second-longest river and a major transportation corridor, 80 miles north of Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital.

None of the former hostages aboard a hijacked Afghan airliner will be forced to return home - or to neighboring third countries - against their will, British authorities said. The Home Office said it hoped to deport "all those on the plane as soon as reasonably practicable" and identified Pakistan and Russia as governments it had contacted about serving as hosts. Only 17 of the freed passengers and crew so far have said they want to return to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The four-day hijacking drama ended last Thursday at an airport near London.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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