The first face-to-face talks in two months were scheduled for today between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israel's Ehud Barak. The summit, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt, presumably will discuss a recent proposal for peace put forward by President Clinton. Palestinian sources said their side had sent Clinton a letter asking for clarification on several points.
"Severe punishment" was pledged by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji for those responsible for a Christmas night blaze that killed at least 309 people in a shopping center in the central part of the country. State media said 20 suspects had been placed under close watch, and police had not ruled out arson as a possible cause of the fire, an official in Luoyang said. Relatives of the dead were at the fore of public outrage against the poor safety standards in the destroyed building and in other structures across China.
At least 7,000 South Korean riot police broke up a sit-in by some 10,000 striking bank workers northwest of Seoul, but employees vowed to continue their strike. The stoppage began last Friday when the country's two major commercial banks, Kookmin and Housing & Commercial, announced they would merge under a government drive to boost profitability. Unions fear the move will lead to job losses. In the raid by police, only minor injuries were reported.
The capital of Nepal virtually ground to a halt in the face of unrest that was sparked by alleged anti-Nepalese comments by one of India's biggest movie stars. Hrithik Roshan denied making such statements, but rumors about them spread Tuesday and caused rioting that left four people dead and 180 people injured, including 30 police officers. Protesters, mostly university students, later brought traffic in Kathmandu to a halt, and only emergency personnel were allowed on the smoke-filled streets.
Russia reinstated a Soviet anthem as its national hymn, minus its Communist-era lyrics. A new text has been recommended by a Kremlin commission, but the exact words remained under wraps. Committee members said they had selected lyrics by Sergei Mikhalkov, a popular author of children's nursery rhymes who wrote two previous official versions of the song. The anthem replaces a little-known melody chosen by former President predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
A half-million people were estimated to be homeless following a cyclone and flooding in Sri Lanka. At least three people were reported killed and at least 57 injured. Meteorologists were concerned the cyclone could inflict more problems as it approached the southern tip of India.
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