News In Brief

At least 14 people - and possibly more than 20 - were hurt when pipe bombs exploded simultaneously in the Israeli coastal resort of Netanya. Suspicion fell on Islamic militants opposed to peace efforts, and reports said police were questioning two Palestinian suspects and had arrested dozens of others. The three bombs went off a day before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to resume intensive talks on the outline of a final peace treaty.

Amid some of the heaviest pounding of Chechnya's capital yet by Russian forces, the president of the breakaway region appealed to the US to help end "the genocide" of his people. In a letter to President Clinton, Aslan Maskhadov said he was ready for dialogue on "different ways of regulation" of the region that senior Russian officials now say they will seek to capture completely. Russia so far has shown no sign that it is ready for such discussions.

Defeated supporters of a plan to convert Australia into a republic already were vowing to try again two years from now if they first can oust Prime Minister John Howard from office. The measure was headed for a 55 percent to 45 percent loss, with most of the "no" vote coming from rural areas. Howard, who favored defeat, has said he won't allow another referendum on it while he's in office. But he must call an election by 2001.

The fragile four-month-old peace in Congo appeared over as leaders of rival rebel movements said their forces were resuming efforts to topple President Laurent Kabila. The Congolese Liberation Movement accused Kabila's troops of attacking its positions Friday and of using the period since the signing of a truce in July to rearm. The Congolese Rally for Democracy also said it no longer would observe the truce. UN experts have been in Congo since Oct. 13 to draw up plans for a peacekeeping mission.

For the first time since civil war ended in 1996, voters were going to the polls to elect a new president in Guatemala. Late opinion surveys indicated the likely winner would be charismatic Alfonso Portillo, despite the fact he represents the Guatemalan Republican Front, a party led by former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and has admitted that rumors about his killing two men in Mexico in 1982 were true. His main challenger was ex-Guatemala City mayor Oscar Berger.

Broadcast or publication of any news of military operations in Sri Lanka was banned by the government after its troops were routed last week in fighting with separatist Tamil rebels. The defeats were among the worst for the government in the 16-year civil war for an independent Tamil homeland. The Army also replaced its top six commanders in the war zone and ordered an official inquiry into the losses. Officially, censorship has been in place since July 1998, but enforcement has been lax.

Rebuffing the demands of Hindu nationalists, Pope John Paul II said the Roman Catholic Church would not stop trying to convert followers of other faiths to Christianity. At an outdoor mass in New Delhi, the pontiff called for a "new relationship of ... tolerance of all religions." His visit was preceded by weeks of protests by Hindus accusing the Catholic Church of illicitly proselytizing the poor and illiterate.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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