News In Brief

Few people seemed willing to take up Russia's offer of safe passage out of Chechnya's capital as more bombs fell on the city. The route was detailed in an ultimatum given to Grozny residents to leave by Saturday or die in artillery and air assaults. But thousands of civilians were unaware of the warning or were too frightened to leave their cellars, Chechen politicians said. The UN, European Union, and Clinton administration led a chorus of international protests over the Russian move. But China supported it, calling the Russian assault an internal matter.

A shipment of 350 tons of heating oil intended for two opposition-controlled cities in Serbia finally was allowed into the country by border guards. But at Nis, one of its destinations, the first trucks carrying it were held up again because of customs procedures. The oil is part of a European Union "Energy for Democracy" project. Despite international protests, Yugoslav authorities denied it entry from Macedonia Nov. 24, then demanded $12,000 in "parking fees" last weekend when the EU decided to retrieve it. With winter setting in, Nis and nearby Pirot reportedly are low on fuel.

An ultimatum by Cuban President Castro for the return of a six-year-old boy from the US was rejected by the State Department. But Castro kept up the pressure for refugee Elian Gonzalez to be sent home by relatives in Miami. His government staged a birthday party for the child and Castro paid an unannounced visit to his former school. The government also rallied thousands of protesters across Cuba to march in anti-US demonstrations.

Sitting behind bulletproof glass, two Libyans accused of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland made their first public appearance at a pretrial hearing. Lawyers for Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima asked the court to delete references to Libya's intelligence agency, for which they worked, as "irrelevant." They also requested that a charge of conspiracy to murder be dropped because the alleged plot to bring down the plane was not developed in Scotland. The trial is expected to open in February.

More than 80 percent of the voters will endorse Venezuela's new constitution in next Wednesday's national referendum, President Hugo Chvez predicted. He told a rally celebrating the first anniversary of his landslide-election victory that the charter - rewritten by a panel dominated by his allies - reflected the ideals of 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolvar. Among the clauses voters are asked to OK: a provision that would allow Chvez to serve for another 12 years.

A teacher and four high-school students were wounded in a shooting spree by a classmate in the Dutch town of Veghel. Shootings are almost unheard-of in the Netherlands, which has strict gun-control laws. The incident followed by one day the wounding of four students in Fort Gibson, Okla., the latest such incident in the US.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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