News In Brief

Abandoned cities and towns across East Timor were in flames as Indonesian soldiers herded thousands of people aboard ships out of the province. The number of casualties at the hands of rampaging anti-independence mobs was impossible to estimate with accuracy. "God only knows how many people are displaced," a UN spokesman said. The Indonesian government declared martial law, ordering curfew violators shot on sight. But defense officials rejected calls for a UN intervention force, to which neighboring Australia offered to contribute 2,000 troops.

Fulfilling its promise, the Jakarta government freed Timorese separatist leader Xanana Gusmao from house arrest. His immediate plans were not known, but he told reporters he'd "do everything" to bring peace to the troubled province.

The month-long fight against Islamic separatists in the southern republic of Dagestan was being called the most serious threat to Russian internal security since the 1994-1996 Chechnya war. It appeared that President Boris Yeltsin himself would chair a meeting of senior security officials on the matter. An angry Yeltsin blasted "the carelessness of the military" in allowing the rebel seizure of several towns and the explosion Saturday of a car bomb that killed 64 people at an Army garrison. Rebel forces were reported consolidating their defenses in six of the towns, although Army troops stalled an advance against their would-be capital.

Fresh fuel was thrown on the verbal fire between the communist government of China and Taiwanese President Lee Teng Hui. In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry warned Taiwan not to hold a referendum on independence like that last week in East Timor, saying such a move would be "very dangerous." And a front-page editorial in the official Communist Party newspaper vowed that China would reunify with Taiwan "no matter how tortuous the road is." But, in a conference with Central American leaders, Lee repeated his call for the two sides to deal with each other on a "state-to-state basis."

A deal allowing elected legislators access to their offices appeared to calm political tensions in Venezuela over new President Hugo Chvez's efforts to bring radical reform to government. The agreement between the opposition-controlled Congress and Chvez's Constitutional Assembly was mediated by Roman Catholic Church leaders. Lawmakers said the talks had made it possible for the two political units to coexist. The assembly effectively shut down Congress last week.

The strongest earthquake in years collapsed buildings in Athens, causing at least five deaths and numerous injuries. Hundreds of thousands of other people fled into the streets as the 5.9-magnitude temblor and its aftershocks struck in midafternoon. Seismologists said there was no clear connection with the powerful Aug. 17 quake in neighboring Turkey.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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