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In a day full of surprises, Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon offered the post of defense chief in a unity government to former opposition Labor Party leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres, radio reports from Jerusalem said. The move followed the sudden reversal by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who late Tuesday backed out of his agreement to take the defense post and said he'd quit politics. Sharon aides refused to confirm the report. Peres had been expected to accept the post of foreign minister.

Without opposition in Parliament, the government of India extended for another month its unilateral - but shaky - cease-fire in disputed Kashmir. The truce, which began last Nov. 26, restricts Indian forces from taking offensive initiatives against Islamic guerrilla groups who have been fighting to make the state independent or a part of rival Pakistan. One such group called the extension "a fraud" and accused India of using it to increase its forces in Kashmir.

Followers of the banned Falun Gong movement who have "woken up" should not be excluded from society, an unusually conciliatory commentary by China's official Xinhua news agency said. Analysts said the wording, issued as International Olympic Committee officials were beginning an evaluation of Beijing's bid to stage the 2008 summer Games, suggested an admission by the government that its crackdown against the movement had gone too far.

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Hundreds of police reinforcements were rushed to a district on the Indonesian island of Borneo, where four days of ethnic clashes have killed as many as 31 people. The fighting between Dayak tribesmen and Madurese migrants has caused more than 1,000 residents of the area to seek shelter in local government facilities, police said. Despite the violence, President Abdurrahman Wahid planned to leave on schedule for a pilgrimage to Mecca and a tour of Arabic and North African countries.

Effective immediately, no criminal charges may be filed against ousted Philippines President Joseph Estrada for 30 days, the Supreme Court ruled. The order was seen as giving the court time to consider Estrada's claim that he remains chief executive and therefore immune from prosecution because he never submitted his resignation. The order came as prosecutors were preparing corruption charges against Estrada, who escaped conviction in his impeachment trial by the Senate.

In a goodwill gesture, two battalions of Ugandan troops will be withdrawn from neighboring Congo, where they've been supporting antigovernment rebels, the foreign ministry in Kampala said. It said the move "by the end of next week" would help implement the faltering 1999 cease-fire in Congo's civil war. Hopes for peace there have grown since youthful Gen. Joseph Kabila was sworn in as president, succeeding his father who was assassinated Jan. 16.

Aides to unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori were denying that the Japanese leader postponed his meeting in Washington next month with President Bush because of heavy pressure on him to resign. The trip, expected to take place over the March 2-4 weekend, was seen as an opportunity to ease frayed relations because of the sinking of a Japanese fishing boat by the submarine USS Greeneville.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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