News In Brief

With a nod of approval from President Boris Yeltsin, Russian forces advanced still further toward Chechnya's capital from the north, east, and west. Analysts said the offensive now appeared aimed at restoring Kremlin control over the breakaway region following the two-year war that cost Russia heavy casualties. Chechen government leaders have called repeatedly for peace negotiations. But militant Islamic chief Shamil Basayev said such talks - even on neutral soil with international mediators - weren't possible yet.

Easy approval of a peacekeeping mission for East Timor was expected as the UN Security Council met to consider replacing the Australian-led intervention force that has been in the territory since Sept. 20. A resolution before the council called for more than 9,000 troops, plus a police detachment of 1,640, to provide security during East Timor's transition to independence. The new force was projected to cost at least $700 million in its first year.

Amid speculation that he won't be retained as chief of Indonesia's powerful military, Gen. Wiranto asked forgiveness for the heavy-handed crackdown on political dissent by his forces. In a "surprisingly conciliatory" speech to 10,000 troops and police brought to Jakarta to safeguard last week's vote for president, he called for internal reform in the armed forces and said the divide between the military and civilians must be bridged. Wiranto refused to comment on suggestions that he'll be replaced when new President Abdurrahman Wahid announces his Cabinet.

Even as President-elect Fernando de la Rua was celebrating his victory in Argentina's election, workers fanned out across the capital, Buenos Aires, pasting up posters announcing incumbent Carlos Menem's candidacy for the 2003 vote. De la Rua easily defeated ruling Peronist Party candidate Eduardo Duhalde with 48.4 percent of the vote - 3 more than needed for a first-round win. But analysts predicted he'll have trouble governing, since the Peronists still control a majority of Argentina's provinces and the upper house of Congress. Menem, ineligible to run for a third straight term, has made no secret of his desire to return to the presidency.

Clutching baggage and special new transit permits, hundreds of Palestinians lined up to be the first to use the so-called safe passage route across Israel. The 28-mile road, provided for in an earlier peace deal, is seen as a symbolic step closer to Palestinian statehood. It's expected to be used mostly by people from the impoverished Gaza Strip who are seeking work in the more prosperous West Bank. Security officers were checking vehicles and travelers at both ends of each trip. Persons considered to be risks will be permitted to ride only on buses manned by Israeli guards.

With the tobacco industry in their sights, delegates to a World Health Organization (WHO) conference in Geneva began work on a new treaty that would ban cigarette advertising and proclaim the right to a smoke-free environment. Such a pact, if ratified by governments, would be legally binding. The UN agency hopes to have it in place by 2003. WHO officials project that by 2030 smoking-related illnesses will account for 70 percent of the fatalities each year in developing countries.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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