News In Brief

At least 39 police were hurt as they tried to keep Catholic and Protestant rioters apart in Northern Ireland's worst violence in years. The trouble appeared to be the result of weeks of building political tensions, although it centered on a row over access to a Catholic elementary school by parents taking their children to classes. It flared amid intense efforts by senior political leaders in London and Belfast to stave off collapse of the province's power-sharing government. Its First Minister, David Trimble of the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, has vowed to quit unless the Irish Republican Army begins surrendering its weapons by July 1.

Worries that President Vladimir Putin plans to restrict civil liberties in Russia were revived as the lower house of parliament easily OK'd a bill to limit the number of political parties and make them dependent on government financing. The measure, which is expected to be rubber-stamped by the upper house, specifies that a party must have at least 10,000 members and field candidates in every election. Under it, critics say, Russia's 180 current political movements would be reduced to a few of a centrist nature and on cozy terms with the Kremlin.

Indications that he might retire from public life in the near future were rejected by controversial longtime Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir, who has held the post for 20 years, angrily denounced his political opponents, the news media, and Westerners who "hate" Malaysia in an address to the annual meeting of his party. After winning reelection in 1999 he pledged this would be his last term. But he said Wednesday: "It is not so easy to step down; you have a responsibility."

An immediate appeal was planned by lawyers for American Lori Berenson after a court in Peru found her guilty, for the second time, of collaboration with leftist guerrillas. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, counting time already served, after which she would automatically be expelled from the country. Neither the State Department nor Peruvian President- elect Alejandro Toledo would comment on the verdict, but it is considered a possible subject for discussion when he visits Washington next week on a mission to attract new foreign investment.

The destruction of illegal coca crops was suspended by Bolivia's president until after his term ends in August of next year. An aide to Hugo Banzer said the step was taken to avoid clashes between Army troops and growers who rely on coca farming for their livelihood. Coca is the raw ingredient of cocaine. Earlier this week, 750 soldiers sent to eradicate coca were ordered back out of one such region after dozens of people were hurt in a confrontation with local growers.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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