News In Brief

The largest rally in Israeli history - "even if there's rain" - was anticipated by organizers to protest a future withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal with Syria. A spokesman for Jewish settlers on the strategic plateau said hundreds of thousands of people would demonstrate last night in the Tel Aviv square where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. The protest was to coincide with the expected return of current Prime Minister Ehud Barak from the US, where he has been negotiating an accord with Syrian diplomats.

Before concluding the negotiations with Syria, Israel will sign the framework of a final peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, a Barak aide pledged. He also said Israel would meet a self-imposed Feb. 13 deadline for producing the broad outlines of a deal with the Palestinians. But the sides have made little measurable progress, and Israel rejected a demand that it allow the return of 3.7 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars - as well as their descendants - and compensate them for lost property and "suffering."

For the first time since the campaign against Islamic guerrillas in Chechnya began in September, the Russian government conceded its troops have taken major losses. The admission came as the rebels forced the Russians onto the defensive Sunday with a counterattack to retake two towns near Grozny, the capital, that they'd lost last month. For weeks, the Kremlin has claimed that its casualties were only a few a day, despite reports by soldiers there that they were far higher.

Hard-line conservatives barred one-third of the reform-minded candidates expected to seek election to parliament in Iran Feb. 18. No reason for the rejections was given, but some of the candidates affected said they were accused of lacking faith in Islam and the institution of supreme clerical rule. Among them are dissidents with close ties to relatively moderate President Mohamad Khatami, who has been engaged in a power struggle with the rigid Council of Guardians since his election in 1997. Over the opposition of the central bank, the embattled president of Ecuador announced he was pegging the nation's plummeting currency to the US dollar. Jamil Mahaud said he acted to halt the devaluation of the sucre, which has lost 20 percent more of its value in less than a week. The sucre, now at 29,000 to the dollar, was valued at 7,000 a year ago at this time. Mahaud also vowed to fire any central bank official who tried to block the move. He also announced the resignation of his 15-member Cabinet and said replacements would be appointed as soon as possible.

Roman Catholic leaders in Germany hurried to try to calm a furor that began when the country's top bishop appeared to suggest Pope John Paul II should resign for health reasons. Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz said in a radio interview Sunday he trusted the pontiff to step down if "he was simply no longer capable enough to lead the church." John Paul II keeps a heavy schedule, but has experienced difficulty in walking and exhibits other signs of frailty. In a statement issued by Germany's Bishops Conference, Lehmann said he was misunderstood. No pope has resigned voluntarily since 1294.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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