News In Brief

The most resounding defeat in Israeli political history appeared imminent for caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak as the nation prepared for today's election. Final opinion polls showed his right-wing rival, Ariel Sharon, holding as much as a 26-point lead, with 72 percent of respondents saying they thought Barak managed the nation's affairs poorly during his 19 months in office. Amid threats of a Palestinian "day of rage" for the election, the Israeli Army said the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be blockaded.

Angered by signs that embattled President Abdurrahman Wahid may be impeached, thousands of supporters smashed and burned regional offices of Indo-nesia's former ruling party and attacked a university campus aligned with one of his bitterest political enemies. The violence occurred as legislators turned over to prosecutors a report linking Wahid to two multimillion-dollar scandals and agreed on terms for calling a special session of parliament to impeach him if he fails to respond to last week's official censure.

Claiming he still has immunity from prosecution, former Philippines President Joseph Estrada asked the Supreme Court to order a stop to official investigations of his alleged unexplained wealth. Estrada argued that he did not resign his office and remains "on leave." His bank accounts have been frozen by successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government and he and his family are forbidden to leave the country.

Two key government officials - one of them the energy minister - quit under pressure from President Vladimir Putin because of their inability to deliver adequate heat and electricity to Russia's Far East. Tens of thousands of people have been shivering in the region's coldest winter since 1949, and Putin's emergencies chief already has flown there twice since Jan. 1 to deal with public protests.

Preparations were nearing completion in Haiti for tomorrow's return to the presidency of controversial Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who left power in 1996. But after inauguration, analysts said he faces an uphill fight to put the impoverished nation's economy on a stable footing while regaining the support of the US and other aid donors. Last weekend, under pressure from foreign diplomats, Aristide met for the first time in years with opposition leaders to try to persuade them not to set up a shadow government.

Reversing his earlier stance, new Mexican President Vicente Fox said his government is ready "to do everything necessary" for peace with Zapatista rebels. That appeared to mean closing still more Army bases in impoverished Chiapas state and freeing additional Zapatista sympathizers from jail. Fox already has shut four bases, released some sympathizers, and sent Indian rights legislation to Congress. But the rebels say they will not discuss peace until all their demands are met.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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