News In Brief

Foot-high lights were to illuminate the line where the Berlin Wall stood as Germans and their international guests wound up celebrations of the 10th anniversary of its fall. The festivities were designed as a show of unity for a country that remains deeply divided along socioeconomic lines. New government statistics showed unemployment nationally fell below 10 percent for the first time since 1996 last month. But in eastern Germany it rose by more than 1 percent from the September rate - to 16.9.

The first heavy snow of winter slowed the offensive against Chechnya by Russian forces to a crawl, keeping combat planes on the ground and infantry units in place. Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rejected new US accusations that the offensive violated the Geneva convention on war practices. He said Russia's actions were "wholly appropriate" because "we are dealing with groups which are armed and trained from abroad."

Calm returned to the capital of Aceh a day after the largest independence rally in Indonesian history. But a separatist leader called new President Abdurrahman Wahid "a liar" for repeating the view that he doesn't oppose an autonomy referendum there. Wahid was cutting short an overseas tour to address the Aceh situation and reportedly planned a visit to the volatile oil-rich province. He said he'd offer "fairer revenue-sharing" and a special status that would allow Acehnese to make their own laws.

As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began Day 2 of their work on the draft of a final peace treaty, their leaders were indicating at a conference in Paris that the gaps to be bridged remain wide. Prime Minister Barak spoke of the Middle East as a "rough neighborhood" and said Israeli security must be taken into account when determining how much land should be returned to the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Arafat said a comprehensive peace required Israel to return all occupied lands as stipulated in UN Resolutions 242 and 338.

A question on whether controversial President Hugo Chavez should be kept in office will be added to the Dec. 15 national referendum on Venezuela's proposed new Constitution, the committee writing it said. The panel said the question is needed because the new charter would extend the presidential term from five years to six and allow an incumbent to seek immediate reelection. A "no" vote would necessitate a new presidential election early next year. But Chavez, who's completing his first year in office, will likely win with ease, analysts said.

A runoff was scheduled for the day after Christmas to decide the next president of Guate-mala. With vote-counting 98 percent complete from Sunday's election, neither populist candidate Alfonso Portillo nor ex-Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger had the outright majority needed to win the post in the first round. Portillo had 48 percent of the ballots; Berger 30 percent. Analysts said that to put himself over the top, Portillo would need to woo the support of major business interests away from Berger, the candidate of the ruling Party for the National Advancement.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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