News In Brief

By , Robert Kilborn, and Judy Nichols

Confusion reigned in the Middle East over the future of peace efforts amid reports that special US envoy Dennis Ross had delayed - if not canceled - his last-ditch mediation trip. But a US Embassy spokesman in Israel said he knew of no change to Ross's plans, although Palestinian sources said the trip was called off during a phone call between President Clinton and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. Meanwhile, Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak refused to pull out of his reelection race against opposition Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon despite opinion polls showing he'd lose the Feb. 6 vote in a landslide.

Only six of 250 sites tested for radiation in Serbia since the 1999 NATO bombing campaign showed increased levels because of depleted uranium (DU) munitions, a top nuclear scientist reported. Based on those findings, he told a conference called by Yugoslavia's Health Ministry, the people of Serbia are not at risk. Meanwhile, scientists sent by the Portuguese government to test 52 sites in Kosovo reported identical conclusions. But in Brussels, NATO officials announced a new study of health consequences for soldiers from member nations who served in areas where armor-piercing DU munitions were used.

A one-month renewal of the truce in Indonesia's volatile Aceh province was agreed to by government and separatist negotiators. The deal, despite earlier indications that neither side was likely to accept an extension, came as the negotiators ended two days of talks on neutral ground in Geneva. But within hours, two government soldiers and two rebels were killed in fighting in Aceh, bringing the number of deaths to 44 so far this year.

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Responding to spreading consumer alarm over so-called mad-cow disease, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder (above, at a news conference) announced new ministers of health and agriculture from the environmental Green Party with mandates to rethink consumer safety and farm-production methods. The first case of the disease there was discovered six weeks ago despite staunch assurances that German beef was not susceptible.

In a published statement, Iran's President Mohamad Khatami failed to indicate whether he'd run for a second term in six months. Khatami's continued equivocation has chagrined his reformist supporters. Officials quoted in the Iran Daily indicated that the president had grown increasingly frustrated with a Constitution that grants nearly unlimited authority to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rendering the presidential office ineffectual.

The bitter standoff over who should control Czech TV eased slightly after its management agreed to allow rebellious staffers - and their newscasts - back on the air. The newscasts had been replaced by "official" digests put together by journalists loyal to controversial director-general Jiri Hodac. The staff journalists, holed up in the station's newsroom since Hodac was appointed Dec. 20, welcomed the move but repeated demands that he quit on grounds that he's biased against President Vaclav Havel.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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