News In Brief

Backing down from last week's rejections, the Indonesian government announced it would allow a force of international peace-keepers into East Timor. President B.J. Habibie said "too many people have lost their lives" in the conflict that began well before the Aug. 30 referendum on autonomy, which was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. Habibie said Indonesian troops had tried hard to quell the violence but were hampered by "very complex" psychological problems. His government angrily denied claims by witnesses that Indonesian soldiers had shot civilian refugees at a camp near Dili, East Timor's capital.

The UN welcomed the Indonesian announcement, which came under heavy pressure from world leaders. But it found itself under pressure from Timorese separatist leaders "to move fast" in organizing and deploying the force. Newly freed rebel chief Xanana Gusmao also appealed for urgent humanitarian aid for the estimated 200,000 Timorese who've sought shelter from the violence in remote hills, where there is no food or water.

Without actually speaking the words, Israel's new prime minister indicated his government could offer the Palestinians provisional statehood if - by February - it became clear that the two sides were still far from a permanent peace settlement. Ehud Barak told Radio Israel that long-term "interim arrangements" were "an important achievement" and better than no deal at all. Barak already has said a Palestinian state, in some form, is all but a reality. "Final status" negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were to have ended in May but never got off the ground.

"So far," four persons have been sentenced to death for their roles in week-long demonstrations against Iran's hard-line ruling clerics, reports said. Quoting a senior judge, the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper said an unspecified number of others are under investigation "for heavy charges" and another 45 have been sentenced to prison terms. The mid-July protests, which brought tens of thousands of people - mostly students - into the streets, were set off by the closure of a popular moderate newspaper and a police raid on a dormitory that resulted in one death and 20 injuries.

Demolition was under way on the remaining sections of the huge Moscow apartment building whose entire center was destroyed in a powerful explosion late last week. Although investigators had sifted most of the rubble, they still could not say for sure what caused the blast. It's blamed for at least 91 deaths and 250 injuries.

A rally calling for the resignation of Bangladesh's prime minister turned violent when thousands of demonstrators clashed with police in Dhaka, the capital. One death was reported, at least 100 people were hurt, and dozens of others were arrested. Opposition-party leaders called a three-day nationwide general strike beginning today to protest the rough response by police, but witnesses said the demonstrators were exploding crude bombs and had tried to burn a gas station. The protest was triggered by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's decision to allow Bangladesh to be used as a transportation corridor for goods from neighboring India.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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