Today's Story Line

In a part of the globe where oil, religion, terrorism, and war make a volatile mix, an election in Israel can ignite intense interest. The May 17 victory of Ehud Barak (pronounced EH'-hud bah-RAHK') means the Mideast peace train is back on track. The new prime minister's extraordinary military career, like that of his mentor Yitzhak Rabin, means he has political clout to cut deals with Palestinians. Quote of note: "I don't think we'll have an easy ride with Barak, but there is a big difference between non-negotiators and tough negotiators." - Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negotiator.

Mr. Barak's come-from-behind campaign was influenced by American political consultants who worked for candidate Bill Clinton. Their on-the-stump advice is now an American export, reshaping politics from Britain to South Africa.

Another export of American democracy - primaries - has entered Mexico. Reformers within the longtime ruling party voted to end the back-room process of selecting presidential candidates. Quote of note: "This is a shift of historic dimensions for the PRI." - Jos Natividad, a member of the party's national political council.

The NATO-Serb conflict has been dubbed the first Internet war - the two sides use the Net to battle for public opinion. But now Serb users fear US providers will cut off access as part of the US economic sanctions against Serbia.

- Clayton Jones, World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *WAR CORRESPONDENCE: The Monitor's Balkans correspondent Justin Brown is half a world away from where he attended high school in Baltimore, but his high-profile assignment in Belgrade has actually brought his class closer together - thanks to the Internet. Recently a friend compiled a list of classmates' e-mail addresses, and Justin has used about 50 addresses to give updates on his adventures. His notes have been passed on to others as well, and Justin says he's been in touch with people he hasn't seen since graduation. When his computer broke recently, and Justin didn't have access to his e-mail, many friends feared something had happened to him. But his sister came to the rescue and sent out her own mass e-mail, assuring others that Justin is just fine in Belgrade.

CULTURAL INSIGHTS *GLOBAL ROLLOUT FOR GALACTIC FLICK: The "Phantom Menace" opened in the United States May 19, but "Star Wars" fans outside the US will have to wait. Much of Western Europe won't see the film until September. France has to wait until October. In Britain, the opening is July 16. Brazil, Chile, and Colombia have only to hold out until June. Mexico's release date is set for July 2.

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