News In Brief
Three major oil producers signaled they disagree it's time for an increase in output to bring down soaring prices. Iran, Algeria, and Libya, known in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as "price hawks," said there was no need to hike output because "market fundamentals and reality do not point to supply shortages." Demand would drop with the approach of warm weather, they said. Their views stood in sharp contrast to those of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and non-OPEC member Mexico, whose oil ministers said late last week they'd recommend a production increase when the cartel meets March 27 in Vienna. In London trading yesterday, oil futures closed at $29.48 a barrel - within pennies of their highest level since the 1991 Gulf War.
A third straight year of deficit spending - topped by a 13 percent increase for the military - was announced by China's finance minister. Much of the money for the armed forces will be used for pay increases, he told the National People's Congress. But analysts noted the budget didn't cover weapons procurement or research and development - items hidden in other allocations. That means actual defense spending could be as much as 10 times higher than announced, the analysts said. The government's top economic planner also spelled out a broad plan for developing the vast but primitive interior, whose 33 million people account for only 15 percent of the gross domestic product.
Islamic rebel forces rudely surprised the Russian troops guarding a town in southern Chechnya, penetrating their lines and inflicting heavy casualties. Reports said as many as 50 soldiers were killed at Komsomolskoye and an unknown number of others were wounded. Residents pleaded with the Russians to stop shelling the town in an effort to flush the rebels into the open after most houses on its southern edge had been destroyed.
With the arrival of US, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Libyan units, aid efforts finally were operating smoothly in flood-ravaged Mozambique. Food, medical supplies, and drinking water were being ferried to isolated communities by as many as 50 fixed-wing planes and helicopters. The nation also appeared likely to escape the arrival of another cyclone, as forecasters downgraded it to a tropical storm. But it still was expected to dump persistent new rain until midweek.
Police said they couldn't verify that the government of Zimbabwe had given them the go-ahead to forcibly evict black squatters from white-owned farms. A spokesman said he was not aware of any arrests in the matter despite the passing of a deadline for the squatters to leave. The Home Affairs Ministry said last week police would act if the squatters hadn't left by Saturday. Most of the squatters are veterans of Zimbabwe's war against white rule in the 1970s. Their association vowed more farms would be seized this week regardless of the ultimatum.
Making good on its vow, Germany's embattled Christian Democratic Union filed suit to overturn the $21 million fine levied by parliament for its still-emerging financial scandal. The national party argued it should not be held responsible for the mistakes of one of its state branches. But the fine, the largest in German political history, could be increased if records of alleged secret CDU accounts dating back to the 1950s are revealed.
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