News In Brief

Saying "the time has arrived," India's president disbanded Parliament and announced new national elections. K.R. Narayanan acted after neither caretaker Prime Minister Vajpayee nor the opposition Congress Party could put together a strong-enough coalition to form a viable government. The election, which will be the third in three years, must be held within six months. The last election, 13 months ago, cost an estimated $189 million, a high price in a country with tens of millions of people still living in poverty.

International Red Cross President Cornelio Sommaruga visited the three US soldiers captured last month by Serb forces at the Macedonian border and gave them messages from their families. Sommaruga is believed to be the first outsider granted access to them. He offered no word on the condition of the men, who were shown on Serb TV soon after their capture with obvious facial injuries. But in Washington, a White House spokesman said they appeared to be well.

Official news agencies and all Chinese government offices were ordered not to comment on Sunday's massive public protest in Beijing by adherents of Falun Gong, a form of meditation and martial arts. Analysts said the demonstration by an estimated 10,000 people was of concern to the communist leadership because it indicated a disciplined organization able to mobilize large numbers of followers under a shared faith.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed credit for the apparent decision by Palestinian lawmakers not to declare unilateral statehood next week when the five-year interim autonomy period contained in the Oslo accords ends. Israel has said it would agree to a one-year extension. But Netanyahu, who's in a tough reelection fight, said his threat to annex parts of the West Bank if Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat proclaimed statehood May 4 forced the latter to back down. The Palestinian Central Council is due to convene today to make a "final" decision on statehood.

An estimated 5,000 anti-independence East Timorese in traditional dress pledged to die fighting to keep the territory part of Indonesia. The militiamen also vowed to weed out civil servants stationed in East Timor who are known to support the government's decision to offer it autonomy or independence. A UN-sponsored referendum on the issue is being prepared for July or August. Pro- and anti-independence forces agreed to a truce last week.

Only about 40 percent of eligible voters turned out for Sunday's national referendum in Venezuela on rewriting the Constitution. But President Hugo Chvez called the outcome "a glorious day" after near-complete returns showed his proposals would pass by more than an 80 percent to 20 percent margin. Venezuelans next will be asked to return to the polls in June to elect members of a constituent assembly, which will undertake the revisions.

A reward of $80,000 was offered in Britain for the arrest of white supremacists who have set off terrorist bombs in two London minority neighborhoods, injuring 46 people. A neo-Nazi group known as Combat 18 has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Meanwhile, another group calling itself "White Wolves" reportedly has mailed threatening letters to black members of Parliament.

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