News In Brief

The reelection prospects of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu appeared in serious jeopardy as all three minor challengers quit the race. Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai reversed his earlier stand and withdrew yesterday, following the pullout of Arab contender Azmi Bishara. Ultranationalist candidate Benny Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachim Begin, then announced his withdrawal, leaving voters today with a choice between Netan-yahu and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. Barak widened his lead in late opinion polls, and analysts said Netanyahu's main hope was for a runoff June 1.

Angered at their own inability to pass impeachment articles against President Yeltsin, Communist members of Russia's parliament were planning their strategy for Wednesday, when debate opens on the confirmation of his new nominee for prime minister. The only one of five articles that came close to passage - for Yeltsin's role in the 1994-96 war against Chechnya - still fell 17 votes short. Prime Minister-Designate Sergei Stepashin was paying courtesy calls on parliamentary leaders, although his prospects for confirmation were considered poor.

NATO expects to find compelling evidence of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo once refugees are escorted back home, Secretary-General Javier Solana said. Citing the virtual absence of Albanian men between 30 and 60 among Kosovo refugees, Solana said "probably we'll see dramatic facts we don't even believe." Meanwhile, British Defense Minister John Spellar said it was likely that Albanians were used as "human shields" last week when about 80 civilians died in a NATO airstrike at the military post of Korisa.

An "absolute" deadline of June 30 for the formation of Northern Ireland's overdue Protestant-Catholic administration was set by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Establishment of the government was to have been completed last November. But it has stalled as the province's First Minister-Designate, David Trimble, demands that the Irish Republican Army disarm completely before its political ally, Sinn Fein, can fill two posts in his administration.

Rebels fighting to topple self-proclaimed Congo President Laurent Kabila were to hold crisis meetings after the second of their two foreign allies attended a new round of peace talks in Libya. Rwanda was a partner to the conference mediated by Libyan leader Quaddafi, although no new deals were announced. The rebels' other ally, Uganda, OK'd a cessation of hostilities last month in talks also brokered by Quaddafi.

Women stood on the verge of political equality in Kuwait, whose Cabinet unexpectedly granted them the right to vote and seek elective office. But the decision won't take effect in time for July's elections, and must be ratified by the newly elected members of parliament. If approved, women would be eligible to participate in their first elections in 2003. Only Oman and Qatar among Persian Gulf Islamic states allow women to participate in elective politics.

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