A split appeared in the ranks of senior government leaders in France over the new youth- employment law that has triggered violent protests in the streets. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a presumed candidate for president in next year's election, told a magazine interviewer he favored a six-month trial period for the law, which attempts to lower the 23 percent unemployment rate among young people. The measure, however, has angered students and union leaders because it allows business owners to fire any employee under 26 within two years of being hired and without explanation. Analysts said Sarkozy's remarks, which were made before the protests turned violent last weekend, appeared to be an effort to distance himself from Prime Minister Domin-ique de Villepin, who has vowed not to withdraw or suspend the law. It is expected to take effect next month, but opponents have called a nationwide general strike for March 28 to try to derail it.
A new dispute arose between Pakistan and Afghanistan after the latter's security forces attacked a party of people who'd just crossed the border late Tuesday, killing at least 15 of them. An Afghan official said the casualties were suspected Taliban guerrillas and identified one as a mid-level commander who'd led repeated raids from a base in Pakistan. But local residents claimed the dead were tribesmen who were headed for a religious festival and demanded that the security forces be punished. Pakistan's government also denied that the dead men had crossed the border, and an investigation was ordered by the provincial governor. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart have been arguing over whether either has done enough to head off potential terrorists.
Leaders of the campaign aimed at forcing Thailand's prime minister out of office announced they were giving him until Thursday night to resign. If he does not, they said they'd escalate the protest against him, although it was not clear what actions that might include other than more rallies and marches in Bangkok, the capital. Another rally against Thaksin Shinawatra is scheduled for Saturday and is expected to attract tens of thousands of people. Thaksin was consulting Wednesday with the Army's chief of staff on a contingency plan in case of violence. If he wants the military to control such a crowd, he must first declare a state of emergency.
For the second time in less than three weeks, a state of emergency was declared in Ecuador to counter demonstrations by its powerful Indian movement against a proposed free-trade agreement with the US. The declaration, which affects four provinces as well as two cities, forbids public gatherings and sets a curfew. But organizers said they "are going to continue with the protests." So far they have failed to reach the capital, Quito, in significant numbers but have disrupted commerce elsewhere and cost millions of dollars in lost revenue. President Alfredo Palacio has said he will not intervene in the negotiations on the trade deal, which are scheduled to resume Thursday in Washington. The Indians claim such an agreement would wreck their way of life. Neighboring Peru already has signed a free-trade deal with the US, as has Colombia.
All 102 people aboard one of the largest passenger ferries in Canada's fleet were accounted for after it sank off northern British Columbia Wednesday. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said the accident involving the Queen of the North began about 1 a.m. when it struck a rock and began listing. But the crew had time to rouse sleeping passengers and fill its lifeboats. The ferry was southbound from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, a 280-mile trip.