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AROUND THE MIDDLE EAST Iraq is considering freeing all its foreign hostages, provided France and the Soviet Union commit themselves to resolving the Persian Gulf crisis by peaceful means, an Iraqi official told the British Financial Times.... Six American sailors were killed and four were seriously injured yesterday when a steam pipe ruptured in the boiler room of the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima. A total of 37 US servicemen have now died in accidents involving Operation Desert Shield.... The UN Security Council resumed its pressure against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by adopting a resolution making Baghdad liable for war damages and human rights abuses arising out of its three-month occupation of Kuwait. The vote Monday was 13 to 0, with Cuba and Yemen abstaining. At the same time the five permanent members of the Council sent a signal to Iraq by convening an informal meeting of the UN Military Staff Committee, a body that has been virtually moribund for the past four decades.... Iraq's last 267 French hostages flew home to freedom yesterday.


The Supreme Court let stand an order scrapping at-large City Council elections in Norfolk, Va., ruling that such elections discriminate against blacks. The court refused to review a decision of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals that the at-large format, used by Norfolk since 1918, lets the city's majority white population control the council's racial makeup in violation of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965.... Construction activity remained weak in September with contracts valued at $231.47 billion on a seasonally adjusted annual rate, slightly more than the 1990 low recorded in August, F. W. Dodge reported yesterday. Contracting for new construction at this time last year was some 25 percent stronger than the current rate. The construction sector often is seen as a barometer of general business activity.


In Seoul, South Korea, 40 people were under arrest and about 150 others are being sought for forming the ``Socialist Workers Alliance of South Korea,'' an underground leftist organization, authorities said yesterday.... Indian paramilitary police yesterday opened fire on militant Hindus trying to break through a massive security cordon around a disputed Hindu-Muslim religious site yesterday, killing at least one demonstrator.... Southeast Asian economic ministers yesterday expressed their alarm over the stalled Uruguay Round of multilateral trade talks and called for fair rules to avoid greater restrictions and protectionism. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was meeting on the island of Bali.... South Korea opened its first embassy in Moscow yesterday.... Vietnam yesterday accepted a US proposal to station a permanent US representative in Hanoi to account for Americans still missing from the Vietnam War.... Philippines President Corazon Aquino yesterday said she will not seek reelection in June 1992.

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