A March 31 deadline was set by the vice president of Indonesia for foreign troops to finish their tsunami-relief work and leave his country. Ten nations, led by the US, Australia, and Japan, have sent thousands of military personnel to badly battered Aceh Province, and the Jakarta government is known to be edgy about their presence. Aceh has had a long-running separatist campaign marked by clashes between Muslims and Christians and between rebels and the army. The government also ordered aid workers and journalists in Aceh to register and to declare their travel plans or risk being expelled - a move that critics said was due less to the threat posed by rebels than to a desire to keep the movements of Indonesia's own military units under wraps.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new unity government with the Labor Party survived its first test in parliament as rebellious members of his own Likud movement reconsidered their threat to defeat the first of three votes on his proposed 2005 budget. But the Likud rebels vowed to bring down the new government by the deadline for passage of the budget, March 31, unless Sharon agrees to a national referendum on withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. Meanwhile, Israel Radio said it had learned that 5,000 soldiers and police will be deployed to Gaza in June, a month before the evacuation is scheduled to start, because up to 90 percent of Jewish settlers there are expected to resist it forcibly.
Legislators gave themselves a standing ovation for ratifying the first constitution of the European Union, then urged the 25 member governments to follow their lead. The vote of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, was 500 to 137, with 40 abstentions. The 460-article charter takes away the right of members to veto policy decisions in such areas as justice and immigration and provides for a single foreign minister to represent EU interests globally. It is set to take effect in 2007, providing it wins unanimous approval. But analysts said ratification in such nations as Britain and Denmark will be a hard sell.
Hundreds of firefighters were battling the worst blazes in Australia since 1983, and authorities said nine people had died. Six others were missing; property damage was heavy. The wildfires, feeding off temperatures as high as 111 degrees F., scorched more than 358,000 acres of grass and farmland in South Australia State.