News In Brief

By , Judy Nichols and Stephanie Cook

The first sign of a break in the soaring price of oil was expected to come from a strategy meeting of Persian Gulf Arab petroleum ministers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The host country was believed to be seeking support for a production increase to drop the current price of crude from about $30 a barrel to between $20 and $25. A year ago this month crude was fetching $11.37. The Saudi oil minister planned to take whatever plan they agree on to a meeting with Venezuela and non-OPEC producer Mexico March 2 and - if it's endorsed by them as well - to the cartel's next general meeting, March 27 in Vienna.

Special US envoy Dennis Ross was battling uphill in his mission to try to bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators back to the peace table. Ross encountered only "disappointment" in relaying Israel's answers to a set of questions Palestinians said were necessary before they'd resume negotiations, and the latter called for direct intervention by President Clinton. The questions centered on the handover of 6.1 percent more West Bank land, which was to have taken place last month but now is on indefinite hold.

A new trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, which could bring another death sentence, opened in Ankara, Turkey, but was quickly adjourned so the whereabouts of his codefendants could be learned. Ocalan already faces hanging for his conviction last year on a treason charge, but his appeal is being reviewed by the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey's admission to the European Union is dependent upon improvement in its human rights record. The new trial is on charges of extortion and murder. Some 37,000 people have died in the campaign for an autonomous Kurdish homeland that Ocalan has led.

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The UN Security Council was racing to complete a new resolution on sending a military mission to Congo. But it appeared unlikely to be adopted in time for a high-level meeting of African leaders in Lusaka, Zambia, to try to revive last July's foundering peace deal between Congo President Laurent Kabila and the rebel groups trying to topple him. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed a 5,500-man cease-fire monitoring mission, but only if the belligerents recommit themselves to peace.

"Do something," protesters shouted at Spanish Prime Minister Jos Maria Aznar as he joined a rally in memory of the latest car-bomb deaths blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty). The blast Monday in Vitoria, the Basque capital, killed a Socialist political leader and his bodyguard, the second and third such fatalities attributed to ETA since it ended its unilateral truce with Spain in early December. Other politicians suspended campaigning for the March 12 national election to join similar protests in city squares across Spain.

Prison sentences of up to seven years appeared certain for three Cuban political dissidents scheduled for trial tomorrow in Havana. The most prominent, Oscar Elias Bicet, is charged with turning the national flag upside down in front of visiting foreign journalists and leading an antiabortion demonstration, but he also admits to having ties to anti-Castro Cuban-American groups in Florida. His trial is seen as the most significant in Cuba in a year.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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