News In Brief

US envoy Dennis Ross was due in the Middle East for a last-ditch attempt to secure a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians before President Clinton leaves office. But his task assumed new difficulty in the wake of a protest Monday by an estimated 200,000 Jews in Jerusalem against Clinton's proposal to cede control over disputed religious shrines to the Palestinians.

The Lockerbie case against two Libyans in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 ended abruptly with prosecutors dropping two lesser charges and pushing for murder convictions. The defendants, meanwhile, have tried to shift blame to Palestinian terrorist groups. Following closing arguments, judges sitting under Scottish law at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands will return a verdict of guilty, not guilty, or not proven, with only "sufficient doubt" required for an acquittal. The 1988 bombing killed 270 people.

Saying it is difficult to trust Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist rebels, President Chandrika Kumara-tunga nonetheless told the nation in a TV address her government is willing to join them in a cease-fire - if they agree to "serious" peace talks. More than 63,000 people have died in the Tamils' 17-year fight for an independent homeland. Last month, the government rejected a unilateral truce offer and stepped up military attacks that have caused at least 167 additional deaths.

As many as two secret meetings have been held in recent days between democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and the military junta of Burma (Myanmar), a UN envoy said on finishing a diplomatic mission there. He said the talks were aimed at establishing a framework for the first open dialogue between the two sides since 1994. The junta overturned the 1990 election victory by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy but has failed to erase the movement.

Ultranationalist former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic was en route to the Netherlands to turn herself in to the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Plavsic (l.), a onetime close ally of the tribunal's most-wanted suspect, Radovan Karadzic, hasn't been publicly indicted for her actions during Bosnia's 1992-95 civil war but is thought to be on a secret list of indictees. She endorsed "ethnic cleansing" by Serbs but later distanced herself from Karad-zic, calling him corrupt.

Court-ordered mental and medical exams for which ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet failed to appear last weekend will begin today instead, legal sources said. The tests, rescheduled in a deal between his lawyers and a judge, are designed to determine whether the octogenarian is fit to stand trial for alleged human rights abuses during his 17-year rule. Late Sunday, President Ricardo Lagos told the nation that Pinochet's military had admitted executing 180 political prisoners, dumping most of their remains far out to sea.

The first of an estimated 70 million Hindus plunged into the icy Ganges River as a six-week religious festival opened in northern India. The Maha Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years in the city of Allahabad, a mythological battle site. Past festivals have erupted into deadly stampedes, but with the exception of a festering dispute between Hindus and India's Muslim minority, this one got off to a smooth start.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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