News In Brief
The proposed US national missile-defense shield would neutralize China's nuclear weapons arsenal and possibly force the Beijing government "to increase the number of our warheads," its chief arms-control official warned. Sha Zukang said his government cannot base its security on US "assurances" that such an antimissile system "is not directed at China." His remarks went further than any previous Chinese statements, which mainly have suggested that the proposed system could open a costly and destabilizing arms race. China has not divulged the size of its nuclear arsenal, but Western analysts put it at 20 to 30 warheads.
"Friendly fire" wounded six UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone as government troops mistook them for rebel attackers. The wounded, all Kenyans, were trying to break through rebel lines, where they'd been trapped for more than a week. Meanwhile, the UN said it would fly 1,700 more troops from Bangladesh and India to join its mission in Sierra Leone. And West African governments were considering whether to send their intervention force, ECOMOG, which has contained the rebels on past occasions.
Even if a cease-fire is agreed to in the restive Indonesian province of Aceh, separatist leaders warned they won't drop their demand for independence. The rebels and negotiators for the government are due to open talks today in Geneva and are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding that would produce a 90-day truce, the first in the oil-rich region in 25 years. At least 5,000 people have died in Aceh's campaign for an Islamic state since 1990; 345 of them in the past five months. On the ground, rebels were reported putting their weapons into storage "so we won't be blamed if anything happens" while the talks are in progress.
A two-week adjournment in the Lockerbie bombing trial was ordered to allow the presentation of evidence and calling of witnesses to be streamlined. Prosecutors and defense attorneys reached agreement to speed up the first two phases of the trial so that forensic and technical evidence can be introduced sooner. Two Libyan defendants in the case have pleaded innocent to murder charges in the 1988 explosion of Pan Am Flight 103, blaming Palestinian terrorists for the act instead.
Armed and masked police commandos raided the Moscow offices of a company whose TV and radio stations and newspaper have been critical of new President Vladimir Putin's government. As other police stood guard outside, dozens of investigators entered Media-Most's headquarters, searched documents, and questioned employees about their identities and activities. The company is controlled by an outspoken critic of Putin. Authorities identified the raiders as "tax police" and said the intrusion was not politically motivated.
A move by fundamentalist hard-liners in Iran to outlaw the possession of Western videos, CDs, and "obscene" photographic material was defeated by reform-minded members of parliament, reports from Tehran said. The voting margin was not immediately known. Hard-line legislators have been attempting, as the outgoing parliament winds down, to toughen the country's laws in an effort to undermine President Mohamad Khatami's reform agenda.
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