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A smooth transfer of power in Syria appeared certain with the unanimous election of Bashar al-Assad as leader of the ruling Baath Party. The move frustrates those who might have hoped for an internal power struggle since the late President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, did not succeed in arranging a new Baath politburo before his death June 11. But with Bashar already appointed commander of the armed forces, all that remains is his formal nomination as president, followed by a national referendum.

A "major" criminal investigation was begun into the discovery by customs officials of 58 dead people in a produce truck that apparently was trying to smuggle them into Britain. The victims, as well as two hospitalized survivors, all appeared to be Asian. The truck arrived at the port of Dover via an English Channel ferry from Belgium and was searched as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. Authorities said it fit a profile of suspect vehicles and was registered to an unrecognized company. The driver, a Dutch national, was arrested.

An early end to the crisis in Fiji appeared possible as rebel chief George Speight said he'd accept the appointment of ethnic Indians to the country's next government. The breakthrough in negotiations with the nation's military came after they agreed on Ratu Josefa Iloilo, an indigenous Fijiian, as the next president. Iloilo could, if he wished, put non-Fijiians in his administration, Speight said. Since seizing 30 members of ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's administration May 19, Speight and his followers had called for a new government that denies the Indian minority political power.

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A ransom of $1 million each for the 21 hostages being held in the southern Philippines is being demanded by their Muslim rebel captors, a senior government official said. But its chief negotiator said the government would neither meet that condition nor permit a third-party effort to win the hostages' release. It also has ruled out independence for the southern region under Islamic rule. The hostages were seized April 23 in a daylight raid on a resort in neighboring Malaysia.

A fire set by supporters of ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide burned outside the US Embassy in Haiti and the capital ground to a halt amid protests over the release of last month's election results. The violence, which police didn't try to stop, was the second in less than a week. It followed the flight to the US of elections commission chief Leon Manus, who was threatened with death because he wouldn't certify the vote-count. The US and UN have challenged the election, which appeared likely to give Aristide's party control of the Senate.

Noboru Takeshita, who died in Tokyo, was remembered as one of the most influential politicians in modern Japanese history. Although forced out of the prime ministership because of a financial scandal in 1989, his power only increased in behind-the-scenes dealings. He is credited with grooming such protgs as Sosuke Uno, Toshiki Kaifu, Ryutaro Hashimoto, and Keizo Obuchi, all of whom later became prime ministers.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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