Israel's foreign minister cut short a visit to France and flew home amid indications that his government and the Palestinian Authority may resume high-level peace talks. Shlomo Ben-Ami would head Israel's negotiators, who - like the Palestinians - will outline their positions on points in dispute. Afterward, a US envoy will go to the region to try to help narrow the differences. Meanwhile, travel restrictions were eased in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although in Jerusalem a terrorist bomb was defused only minutes before it would have exploded. (Related story, page 1.)
Amid criticism that he has gone soft on separatism, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard was expected to quit both his post and politics in general. Bouchard almost engineered a separatist victory in a 1995 referendum on independence. But he estranged hard-liners in his Parti Quebecois recently by publicly criticizing a staunch separatist who'd expressed intolerance for Jews and English speakers. (Story, page 7.)
The controversial chief of state TV in the Czech Republic bowed to pressure and quit hours before a new round of planned street protests in at least a dozen cities. An earlier rally in Prague drew an estimated 100,000 people. The news staff of Czech TV refused to accept Jiri Hodac's Dec. 20 appointment, saying it would impinge on editorial independence.
The UN and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) were among aid groups suspending work and pulling their foreign staffs out of Chechnya after the kidnapping of an American. Chechen separatists, however, denied they'd seized charity worker Kenny Gluck. The moves by the aid groups come as thousands of refugees face a harsh winter without adequate shelter or food.
A car bomb exploded in the underground parking garage of a shopping mall in Medellin, Colombia, killing at least three people, and injuring 50 others. It also set more than 250 cars on fire and damaged 20 stores. The was no immediate claim of responsibility for the incident, which came as the government and two leftist guerrilla movements are engaged in on-again, off-again peace efforts.
At least 50 people died and another 100 were hurt as two freight trains collided on a recently reopened track in the Congo Republic. Many Congolese took to riding freight trains after much of the nation's rail infrastructure and rolling stock were damaged in a civil war that ended in 1997.
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