News In Brief

Next week's scheduled handover of power to a joint Protestant-Catholic administration in Northern Ireland may have to be postponed, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Blair said. He spoke as Britain's Secretary for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, was meeting with political leaders from both sides to determine whether formation of the joint administration was feasible in view of the deep differences over disarmament by the Irish Republican Army and pro-British loyalist guerrillas. Support among the province's Protestants - 55 percent at the time of last April's peace deal - has dropped to 41 percent, a new opinion poll showed.

In an apparent attempt to quell growing unrest, the outgoing military government of Nigeria freed dozens of political prisoners - one of whom allegedly planned a coup against the late dictator Sani Abacha. At the same time, security was intensified around the home of President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo, who is due to assume power May 29. The disputed outcome of Obasanjo's election last weekend has triggered a wave of attacks on police stations in the financial capital, Lagos, that have killed 11 people.

Crude oil resumed flowing through the Iraqi pipeline whose

relay stations were destroyed this week by US jets. The pipeline carries half the oil Iraq is permitted to sell by the UN in exchange for food and medical supplies. In neighboring Turkey, meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry played down remarks by President Suleyman Demirel that the pipeline attack by jets using Turkey's Incirlik air base was "unacceptable." It cited State Department explanations that the pipeline wasn't an intended target.

Hundreds of Ugandan troops crossed into neighboring Congo in search of the Hutu rebels who killed members of a foreign-tourist party earlier this week. Meanwhile, the Rwandan government appealed for an "international crusade" against the rebels, whose senior leaders, it said, live comfortably in the US, Europe, and elsewhere in Africa.

In his first high-profile move, the new king of Jordan swore in a 23-member Cabinet with little or no loyalty to his uncle, ex-crown prince Hassan. King Abdullah's choice for prime minister, Abdul-Raouf Rawabdeh, has been a supporter of Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Tradition requires a sitting Cabinet to resign when a new king comes to power. Some of its members had close ties to Hassan, who was replaced as heir to the throne shortly before the death of King Hussein Feb. 7.

Inability to craft a more moderate political image appeared likely to cost the leftist FMLN a victory Sunday in El Salvador's presidential election. Late opinion polls showed the ruling Arena Party's candidate, Francisco Flores, with as much as a 20-point lead in the race to succeed the retiring Armando Calderon Sol. Flores is challenged by Facundo Guardado of the FMLN, the communist-influenced Farabundo Mart Liberation Front whose military wing waged a 12-year insurgency in which as many as 75,000 people died. It ended in 1992.

With the approach of spring, which would make fighting easier to resume, the two sides in Afghanistan's civil war agreed to open a new round of peace talks next week. A UN spokes-man said the discussions would be held in neighboring Turkmenistan, where a previous round early last month ended unsuccessfully.

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