News In Brief

A breakthrough agreement that will lower barriers to commerce between China and the US was signed by negotiators for the two countries. The deal, which clears China's biggest hurdle to joining the World Trade Organization, obligates the Beijing government to cut tariffs on imported goods by an average of 23 percent and to open the relatively closed Chinese market to easier access by American banks, insurance and telecommunications companies, and motion-picture exporters. On-again, off-again negotiations on the agreement lasted 13 years.

Residents of the region in northwestern Turkey hit by last Friday's earthquake were clamoring to stay in soft tents rather than return home - even if their houses had not sustained damage. Meanwhile, the official number of casualties from the 7.2-magnitude quake - the second powerful tremor since Aug. 15 - was raised to at least 452 dead and 2,386 injured.

The second of three handovers of West Bank land to Palestinians by Israel failed to take place on schedule because the two sides could not agree on which locations would be involved. The handover is mandated by last year's interim peace accord. Analysts said the snag was likely to command the immediate attention of special US envoy Dennis Ross, who was to arrive in the region to help facilitate negotiations on the framework of a final peace deal, due in February.

Commercial lenders in the West will be asked today to write off $12 billion in Soviet-era debt, Russia's finance chief said. He said the amount is 40 percent of the $30 billion Russia owes to foreign commercial banks. In exchange the Kremlin would set up a schedule for repaying the remainder. The banks have yet to indicate a willingness to forgive so large a debt.

All but complete ballot-counting gave President Leonid Kuchma a runoff victory in Ukraine. Despite his personal unpopularity and failure to generate economic recovery, he won 56 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Communist Party challenger Petro Symonenko. In conceding defeat, Symonenko admitted a failure to convince Ukranians they had nothing to fear from a Communist comeback.

The sodomy trial of ex-Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has been postponed indefinitely, his lawyer said. The move, ostensibly because of the judge's back ailment, was criticized by opponents of embattled Prime Minister Malathir Mohamad. They noted it came on the heels of Malathir's sudden call last week for a Nov. 29 general election - and that it would serve to keep Anwar quiet until then. Malathir fired the widely popular Anwar 14 months ago. The election is expected to be Malathir's most difficult since he first won the post in 1981.

Efforts by the Church of Scientology to be recognized as a religion rather than as a sect were set back by a French court that found a regional leader and four other members guilty of fraud. The Scientologists were accused of accepting up to $25,000 for "purification" treatments - mostly heavy doses of vitamins and sauna baths. The church, which complains of discrimination in France, called the case "politically motivated."

Compiled by Robert Kilborn

and Lance Carden

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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