News In Brief

As many as 40 million Nigerians may vote tomorrow for a civilian president in the first election of its type since the Army invalidated 1993 balloting apparently won by a candidate it didn't like. He's opposed by ex-Finance Minister Olu Falae. Obasanjo's Peoples Democratic Party already has swept local, state, and parliamentary elections.

No disruption of tomorrow's vote has been threatened. But former US President Carter, one of hundreds of international observers scheduled to monitor polling, warned of a "high level of irregularities" that would threaten the legitimacy of the voting and Nigeria's transition to full democracy. The election caps interim military ruler Abdulsalam Abubakar's plan to end decades of rule by soldiers.

Suspected hard-liners roughed up a female candidate and at least one unidentified gunman sprayed the headquarters of a moderate political party with bullets in Iran in the hours before today's much-anticipated local elections. The election is seen as a major test in the bitter confrontation between the well-entrenched clerics in Iran's fundamentalist leadership and reform-minded President Mohamad Khatami.

Tensions rose another notch between supporters of independence and those in East Timor who want to remain linked to Indonesia. Witnesses in Dil, the capital, accused the latter of provoking a fight that killed two separatists and a soldier. The incident spurred a protest march by thousands of independence supporters. The separatists' funerals are scheduled for today. From house arrest in Jakarta, separatist leader Xanana Gusmao urged that they be held quickly to reduce the risk of further violence.

The Chinese political activists who were planning a human-rights seminar next week have been arrested, sources in Hong Kong said. Xiao Shichang and Chen Zhonghe are among four dissidents whose whereabouts now are unknown, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said. Authorities had warned Xiao and Chen not to proceed with the two-day forum, which was scheduled to open Monday in a Wuhan hotel.

Opposition leaders left a five-hour meeting with new President Hugo Chavez saying they were satisfied the Venezuelan leader "doesn't feel any calling to be a dictator." Chavez, whose five-year term began Feb. 2, has repeatedly warned Congress not to oppose his political agenda, which includes plans to rewrite the Constitution. Critics call his style confrontational and inflexible. The ex-paratrooper spent two years in prison for his role in a 1992 coup attempt against President Carlos Andres Perez.

All but two telephone circuits between the US and Cuba were cut by the Havana government. The state monopoly ETECSA took the action because of nonpayment of millions of dollars owed by such carriers as AT&T and MCI. Payment is being held up because of a lawsuit that seeks compensation for the 1996 shooting down of two unarmed planes by Cuba's Air Force. The planes belonged to a Miami exile group that searches for Cuban refugees trying to reach Florida by raft.

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