News In Brief

Attacking from two directions at once, Russian troops finally reached the center of Chechnya's capital, the Defense Ministry said. The claim could not be verified independently, but Chechen commanders acknowledged heavy fighting for control of a vitally important river bridge used as a link to other parts of Grozny. Russia has claimed several times to be near to capturing the city, only to be driven back by Islamic rebels.

With Israeli-Syrian negotiations on indefinite hold, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat agreed to speed up their own peace efforts. They held a private meeting late Monday. But as their discussion ended, a Barak aide hinted the two sides still were too far apart on key issues to meet a self-imposed Feb. 13 deadline for the outline of a final peace deal. A senior Palestinian source said intensive negotiations may be held outside the Middle East and that Arafat would seek the personal intervention of President Clinton tomorrow.

The UN Security Council faced a noon Tuesday deadline to act on the nomination of Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus as chief of the new weapons-inspection mission in Iraq. Ekeus led its predecessor, UNSCOM (UN Special Commission), when Iraq's biological weapons program was uncovered, and he drew a quick objection by Russia. UNMOVIC (Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission) replaces UNSCOM, whose inspectors left Iraq in late 1998 and, the Baghdad government says, may not return.

Security forces went on full alert on Indonesia's Lombok island as Muslim protesters appeared to be gaining the upper hand in worsening sectarian violence. Tourist hotels were emptying, Christian-owned homes were being looted, cars overturned, and an estimated 500 Christians were seeking safety at police stations and a military base. On Monday, Muslims burned a dozen Christian churches. The violence was blamed for a 2.5 percent slide in share prices on Indonesia's main stock exchange.

A crisis meeting of Germany's main opposition party was running overtime amid reports that the resignations of its most senior leaders could follow. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was trying to halt the slide in public-opinion polls that began when ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl admitted he'd accepted $1 million in secret campaign donations while in power. Sources said the party was engulfed in an internal struggle between forces urging support for and the expulsion of Kohl and its current president, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who also has confessed to a role in the scandal.

Another powerful bomb - the second in two days - was defused by police experts not far from the office of Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumara-tunga. The device consisted of plastic explosive and steel pellets. On Monday, a letter bomb delivered to her office was discovered in an X-ray inspection. Mrs. Kumaratunga survived a suicide-bomb attack Dec. 18 three days before winning reelection. That and two other explosions that followed in Colombo, the capital, were blamed on Tamil extremists.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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