News In Brief

The likely suspension today of Northern Ireland's coalition government is a "problem" but not a "terminal crisis," its Protestant chief minister said. David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party is due to vote tomorrow on whether to withdraw from the Protestant-Catholic self-rule administration because the Irish Republican Army has yet to surrender any of its weapons. But the British government, armed with the OK of the House of Commons, was prepared to strip it of its powers first.

"No guarantees" were sought or given, British authorities said, as the hijackers of an Afghan commercial jet released their hostages unharmed and surrendered at an airport near London. Nineteen of the 151 people aboard were arrested, and Britain chartered another plane to fly home to Afghanistan all those wishing to go. Officials said 74 of the people on the Ariana Airlines plane had applied for asylum, although the hijackers did not mention their concerns about the troubled political situation in Afghanistan until the final hour of the four-day drama.

A military train was ambushed by Muslim rebels in an area of Chechnya under Russian control. Reports of casualties were being withheld, although the train was disabled by explosives and a gun battle ensued. The bold attack was seen as proof that the rebels were carrying out promised guerrilla warfare after losing the capital, Grozny, to Russian troops.

Israelis were permitted to leave their bomb shelters in northern border villages (above) as hostilities between the military and Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon eased. But a new poll indicated that 57 percent of respondents now want Israeli troops pulled out of southern Lebanon even if no peace deal is reached with that country or neighboring Syria.

UN inspectors won't be allowed into Iraq to restart the program of weapons detection and destruction, the Baghdad government announced. Its leaders earlier said they wouldn't deal with a Dec. 17 Security Council resolution establishing a new disarmament mission to replace UNSCOM, whose last inspectors left Iraq in late 1998. But they'd stopped short of notifying the UN that the new panel would be denied admission to the country. The controversial proposed new constitution for Zimbabwe will go before voters tomorrow after a last-minute bid by opponents to delay the referendum on it failed. The would-be charter gives President Robert Mugabe increased powers, although analysts rated its prospects for passage uncertain. Authorities warned they would "suppress triumphantly" any efforts to intimidate Zimbabweans into voting "no." And the nation's highest court rejected an appeal to postpone the two-day referendum. The appellants argued that the document ignores the thousands of people whose views were solicited before the charter was drafted.

A $107 million satellite failed to achieve its intended orbit in the latest setback for Japan's struggling space program. The vehicle may have burned up in Earth's atmosphere, scientists said. It was the third mishap for the program since last February, tarnishing the country's image as a global technology leader.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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