News In Brief

"An almost complete consensus" among Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Central Council members appeared certain to delay a unilateral declaration of statehood until after Israel's May 17 election. As the Monitor went to press, the 124-seat council - in Day 2 of debate on the issue - was expected to agree with the Palestinian Authority president that the original goal of proclaiming statehood next Tuesday would be unwise.

A laser-guided missile strayed off-course and hit private residences in a southern Yugoslav town, NATO admitted. Local authorities said at least 20 people died in the attack, which was aimed at an Army training center. Meanwhile, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, who earlier this week urged his government to compromise with NATO "because we cannot defeat" it, was fired, reports said. That followed another senior Yugoslav official's claim that "this will be the week" the outline of a Kosovo peace deal is "firmed up."

The first official visit to the US by a Japanese prime minister in more than a decade is to begin tomorrow with Keizo Obuchi's arrival in Los Angeles. Obuchi, who's to meet with business leaders and President Clinton, is expected to raise Japanese concerns about a rising mood of protectionism caused by the $64 billion trade imbalance between the two countries. But analysts said he'll also be pressed to convince skeptics that Japan is recovering from its deepest recession since World War II.

Defiant militia leaders in East Timor rejected the Aug. 8 referendum on independence announced by Indonesian President B.J. Habibie. They also vowed to resist being disarmed by the Army. They did not say whether they would try to block or disrupt the referendum. The territory's Roman Catholic Bishop and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Carlos Belo, was quoted as saying the atmosphere was too violent for a free vote.

Chinese with gripes against their government may complain "through normal channels" but are not to demonstrate publicly, the official state news agency quoted a spokesman as saying. The announcement was the government's first response to the orderly but massive turnout in Beijing last Sunday by followers of a martial-arts tradition. The demonstrators were seeking assurance that they may legally practice the teachings of their leader, who now lives in the US.

The announcement of a 50 percent rollback of the unpopular gasoline tax hike proposed by Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson was greeted with calm across the island. The 31 percent increase caused three days of rioting last week that killed nine people and caused heavy property damage. In accepting the recommendation of a special study committee, Patterson said he'd find another way to try to make up a $37 million shortfall in his government's 1999 budget. More protests were threatened if the tax wasn't cut significantly.

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