News In Brief

Separate meetings in Washington are expected this week among US officials and senior Israeli and Palestinian representatives as momentum built for the possible resumption of full peace efforts. Israel would neither confirm nor deny that Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami planned to leave for the US today, but Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told journalists that both sides were scheduled for meetings there tomorrow. As he spoke, however, three more Palestinians died in West Bank and Gaza Strip violence, bringing the number to at least 339 since clashes erupted Sept. 28.

Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell "ignores the fact" that the anti-Iraq coalition "has fallen apart," the Baghdad government said in reacting to his warning that President Saddam Hussein's days in power are numbered. But the government acknowledged for the first time that it is losing money because of UN ecomomic sanctions imposed since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Late last week, the UN decided to notify buyers of Iraqi oil not to pay a 40-cent-a-barrel surcharge for it and to reject requests to make payment only to special Iraqi bank accounts.

The main separatist movement in Kashmir appeared to break ranks with other such groups in declaring its readiness for peace negotiations with the government of India. Hurriyat said it would "participate in a meaningful and comprehensive dialogue" for a "permanent solution" to the dispute over the state. Almost all other militant groups fighting for Kashmiri independence or to unite the state with Pakistan reject a unilateral cease-fire called by India for the Ramadan Islamic holy month.

Elections for president were scheduled for next June 8 by the powerful Guardian Council in Iran, and incumbent Mohamad Khatami's prospects for winning a new term appeared to be further weakened by the arrest of a leading political dissident. Under a court order, police took nationalist Ezatollah Sahabi into custody on charges of insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a speech to university students last month. The move followed last week's resignation of Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani under pressure from hard-line conservatives for the freedoms he'd allowed the country's pro-reform newspapers and magazines.

At least 12 more people were found dead over the weekend in restive Aceh province as thousands of police and soldiers deployed to provide security for tomorrow's visit by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. Wahid has warned Acehnese against efforts to break away from the rest of Indonesia. But despite death threats, he's expected to authorize Sharia, the rigid code of Islamic law - a move seen as a concession to Muslim separatists. Clashes this year between Acehnese and security forces have killed more than 800 people, many of them despite a truce that has been in force since June.

Residents of towns at the base of Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano were widely ignoring government orders that they evacuate because of its increased volatility. Only a relatively few people of the roughly 40,000 who live in the area boarded buses sent to shuttle them to safer ground as the volcano spewed smoke and ash Friday, described as sounding like "a truck dumping a load of rocks." The evacuation was the first since 1994. Early last week, a record 200 mini-eruptions from Popocatepetl were observed in one 24-hour period.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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