World

In the wake of massive weekend protests against France's controversial new employment law, the powerful CGT confederation of trade unions warned of a possible nationwide general strike to force its withdrawal. Union leaders gave Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin until Monday night to do so. Protesters also have pressured President Jacques Chirac not to sign the measure, which he must if it is to take effect next month. Police said an estimated half-million people demonstrated in Paris and other cities; organizers claimed the turnout was three times as great. In Paris, where the protest turned violent, cars and bus shelters were destroyed and at least 10 stores were damaged. Police said 52 people were hurt and 167 were arrested.

With voting only two hours old in the presidential election in Belarus, two exit polling organizations were giving hard-line incumbent Alexander Lukashenko at least an 83 percent to 2 percent margin over his closest rival. Challenger Alexander Milinkevich said he would not accept the result of Sunday's voting and called for peaceful protests and a new election. "People will laugh at those figures," he said. On Saturday, in Minsk, the capital, an estimated 6,000 people turned out for the largest opposition rally in years, even though Milinkevich told them he knew he had no hope of winning. For his part, Luka-shenko, who has been in power for 12 years, left his polling place Sunday, calling President Bush of the US "the premier terrorist on the planet."

Opposition leaders claimed they have proof of fraud by Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's party, deepening the embattled leader's troubles as the April 2 national election nears. The prime minister rejected as "nonsense" the claims that his Thai Rak Thai Party had hired people to run as phony candidates from small rival parties. But the Elections Commission said it would examine the claims. Meanwhile, the government warned that its patience has worn thin with the round-the-clock anti-Thaksin protests that have disrupted the area of Bangkok around his office for almost a week.

Dueling rallies tried to outdraw each other in the streets of Taiwan's capital over the weekend on President Chen Shui-bian's approach to independence from China. Tens of thousands of people jammed Taipei Sunday to protest his efforts to buy high-tech defense weapons from the US and his suspension of a commission that was appointed to discuss possible reunification with the Chinese mainland. Such moves have heightened tensions with the communist government in Beijing, which has vowed to stop any declaration of independence by force. But on Saturday, Chen addressed a rally that may have been five times as large, telling participants that Taiwan's 23 million people - and not China - are the masters of their fate.

Only a few dozen Islamist guerrillas have surrendered in Algeria, despite the new amnesty program, the Interior Ministry announced Sunday. It estimated that as many as 800 others remain at large and are continuing terrorist attacks, making it "unwise" to lift the nationwide state of emergency that has been in effect since 1992. Under the amnesty, which was overwhelmingly approved in a Feb. 21 referendum, the guerrillas have six months to turn themselves in and be pardoned, providing they weren't involved in massacres, bombings, or rapes. The Islamist insurgency, which began after a fundamentalist political party was denied almost certain victory in national elections, has killed as many as 200,000 people, the government estimates.

Workmen installing an advertising billboard in Moscow drove a concrete pillar through the roof of a subway tunnel below and into a moving train Sunday. The train caught fire, shutting down the heavily used system. But early reports said all passengers were evacuated safely.

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