News In Brief

Citing weakened buildings and unexploded ordnance, Russian military commanders declared Chechnya's capital off limits to returnees. The ban on Grozny was expected to last until at least March 1. The city, which once had a population of 400,000, is in ruins from months of heavy bombardment. In Moscow, Russian government leaders met to discuss rebuilding the city, although a spokesman said there was no money for the task, and many former residents say they don't plan to return anyway.

A medical report claiming ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is unfit to stand trial for human rights abuses must be released, Britain's highest court ruled. It said Home Secretary Jack Straw erred in keeping the report from the plaintiffs in a legal battle to pry Pinochet loose from British custody. At the time, Straw said the medical finding left him inclined to allow Pinochet to return home to Chile rather than extraditing him to Spain for a trial. Belgium, which filed the appeal, France, and Switzerland also are seeking his extradition.

A $20.5 million fine, the largest in German political history, was levied against the opposition Christian Democratic Union for its still-emerging financial scandal. The CDU was ordered to return half the money granted each year by parliament to help fund its operations and election campaigns. The party said it would appeal the penalty, which was far larger than expected. But more fines may follow, parliament's top leader said, after an investigation into the CDU's failure to record other funds in the form of donations.

Signaling an unwillingness to be held responsible for damages from a massive cyanide spill, the Romanian government said it, too, was entitled to compensation for Europe's worst environmental disaster in 15 years. Neighboring Hungary and Yugoslavia demanded payment for the poisoning of the Tisza River, and the latter threatened to sue if Romania refused. Meanwhile, UN experts were testing water samples from the Tisza amid concerns that the cyanide also contained even longer-lasting heavy metal residues.

Saying, "the 'no's' have it," Zimbabwe's top elections officer announced that a ballot question on the proposed new constitution had been rejected. The outcome of last weekend's referendum - by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin - was a stinging defeat for longtime President Robert Mugabe, who stood to acquire still more power if it had passed. He made no immediate comment but pledged before the vote to respect the final count.

The 56th major strike aimed at toppling the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina already was idling most transportation in Bangladesh in its opening hours. The three-day walkout, called by an opposition alliance, also coincided with implementation of a widely unpopular new law that considers obstructing transportation and damaging property as crimes punishable by up to 14 years in prison at hard labor. Both are common in Bangladesh strikes. The strike is the second this month - in a series that began in 1996.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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