News In Brief

Despite scathing criticism, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to use as much military force as necessary "to protect Israeli citizens" against Palestinian suicide-bomb attacks. Sharon was meeting with his cabinet Sunday in the wake of last week's violence in which Israeli F-16 jets pounded Palestinian security compounds in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in retaliation for yet another suicide-bomb mission - this time at a shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya. Six people died in the latter incident; 12 in the former. The Israeli response provoked a torrent of international criticism.

An end to all political contact with Israel was called for by Arab League foreign ministers, a move that analysts said likely would stop even the joint Egyptian-Jordanian peace initiative launched last month. The recommendation stopped short of calling for a breakoff of diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, senior Palestinian officials accused the US of being "primarily responsible for the escalation of Israeli aggression."

In a new series of warnings, senior military commanders in Indonesia called on embattled President Abdurrahman Wahid not to declare martial law, disband parliament, or replace the army chief of staff - a vocal critic - with a general loyal to him. Wahid, who concedes he is certain to be impeached by legislators this summer, refuses to quit or to transfer any powers to Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Army leaders have been especially critical of Wahid since he tried to make them accountable for numerous human-rights abuses.

Not even a widely publicized punch in the face delivered last week by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott against a heckler slowed the campaign momentum of Britain's ruling Labour Party, a major new opinion poll showed. The survey for The Times (London) gave Labour another two-point gain - to 19 percent - over the opposition Conservative Party before the crucial June 7 national election.

An instant national poll declared populist presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo the winner of his only scheduled TV debate with rival Alan Garcia before Peru's June 3 runoff election. The debate was aimed in part at trying to lower the number of voters - perhaps one in every three - who are expected to turn in blank ballots out of dissatisfaction with both men. Peru's Constitution would nullify the outcome if the blanks exceed two-thirds of all votes cast.

Thousands of people, most of them apparently backers of opposition leader Etienne Tshis-ekedi, rallied in Congo's capital after new President Joseph Kabila lifted a four-year ban on political parties. Police watched the demonstration in front of a hotel where a visiting UN Security Council delegation was staying, but didn't intervene. Kabila has promised fair multiparty elections, but not until after antigovernment rebels disarm and foreign troops involved in Congo's civil war return home.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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