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MIDDLE EAST Secretary of State James Baker has won cautious Egyptian backing for a regional Middle East conference, but he will face his sternest test when he seeks to persuade Syria to back the idea. The official daily al-Baath, newspaper of the ruling Syrian Baath party, said Thursday any effort bypassing UN resolutions calling for an international peace conference and Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands were ``doomed to total failure.'' ... Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said after Secretary of State Baker's two-day peace mission to Jerusalem that Jewish settlement in the occupied territories had nothing to do with Middle East peace efforts.


Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking to a Soviet journalist, said he resisted pressure by hard-liners to use military force to stop German reunification - a move he said could have ignited World War III.... The collision Thursday between an Italian ferry and an oil tanker near Leghorn in northwestern Italy, in which more than 130 people may have been killed, is the latest in a ch ain of disasters involving ferries. Thousands of people have been killed over the past two decades when ferries have overturned, caught fire, or collided with other vessels. Often the ferries were overloaded and the precise death toll was never established.


A UN operation to monitor a cease-fire and referendum in Western Sahara, where Morocco has been battling Polisario Front guerrillas since 1976, will cost about $200 million, according to a new UN report. The referendum, for which a date is not set, is to enable the inhabitants of the former Spanish territory to choose between independence, as sought by Polisario, or integration with Morocco, which controls most of Western Sahara.... South Africa Thursday declared the great white shark, villain of the film ``Jaws'' and the ocean's most dangerous predator, a protected species. It is the first nation to do so. The great white occurs around the world, but is most common off the US, Australia, and South Africa.


US Health Secretary Louis Sullivan denounced the tobacco industry for sponsoring sports events and urged Americans to boycott in protest.... Harvard University and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari announced a $2.9 million debt-for-scholarship agreement to help Mexican students afford a Harvard education.


Monday: 95th running of the Boston Marathon; Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev begins four-day visit to Japan. Wednesday: 30th anniversary of the abortive 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by US-backed Cuban exiles.

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