News In Brief

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak indicated negotiators would cut short peace talks with Palestinians in Sweden, after an Israeli toddler was severely injured in a firebombing by unknown assailants in the West Bank town of Jericho. This latest incident of violence came at the end of a week of confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that killed at least five Palestinians and injured hundreds more. As a result, Barak canceled his meeting this week with President Clinton in the US.

A hostage situation that resulted from a coup attempt in Fiji entered a fourth day, although about 30 people had been released. The crisis began Friday, when businessman George Speight led as many as 10 gunmen into parliament and seized about 45 hostages, including the prime minister and other government officials. Claiming to have taken power on behalf of indigenous Fijans, Speight swore himself in as the new prime minister, but the rebels have received no sign of support from the country's security institutions.

Although Beijing criticized the presidential inauguration speech of Taiwan's Chen Shui-bian for being "evasive" on the principle of "one China," analysts generally saw the mainland's response as restrained. In his address, which commentators said offered Beijing an olive branch, Chen pledged not to declare independence unless the island is attacked. The following day, the new president indicated he would seriously consider ending a decades-old ban on direct air and shipping links with the mainland.

Tamil rebels said they've captured a strategic Sri Lankan town in the north as part of an offensive to retake their former capital of Jaffna. But the claim about the town of Chavakachcheri could not be independently confirmed, and the government said fierce fighting continued and that two top rebel commanders had been killed. The battles precede the planned arrival of a Norwegian delegation today in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, to try to broker a cease-fire.

Bomb attacks struck both the southern Philippines and Manila, where an explosion killed one person and injured at least 11 others. Officials blamed that attack - the fourth in the capital in the past two weeks - on Islamic rebels. But the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is fighting for an independent Muslim homeland in the south, denied involvement. Government negotiators, meanwhile, said they expected to start substantive talks today or tomorrow with the Abu Sayyaf, a smaller rebel group. Those guerrillas have held 21 hostages for almost a month on Jolo island.

As Zimbabwe's main opposition party prepared for a key rally ahead of June's parliamentary elections, 17 supporters were arrested, a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change said. The MDC has emerged as perhaps the toughest challenge yet to President Robert Mugabe's 20-year rule, under which more than 1,200 white-owned farms have been occupied by black squatters and ruling party militants in recent months. The Commercial Farmers Union reported that another 13 farms had been occupied in the past few days.

Congratulations from around the world streamed in for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, who gave birth to their fourth child early Saturday. Leo, named after his paternal grandfather, is the first baby born to a sitting British prime minister in 152 years. Blair has indicated he plans to cut down his workload for awhile but won't take a parental leave.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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