News In Brief

On his first full day in office, new Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received a letter of congratulations from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and said he was ready for a face-to-face meeting - "but that means we have to have quiet and security." The two have a bitter personal history, but analysts suggested that both currently are operating from weak political positions. Peace talks were suspended prior to the Feb. 6 election that brought Sharon to power.

Without setting a date, the Irish Republican Army said it is ready to reopen negotiations on surrendering weapons. But the IRA, which so far has allowed only two brief inspections of its arms dumps by an independent international commission, repeated demands that the British government dismantle more of its bases in Northern Ireland and reorganize the province's mostly Protestant police force. Protestant leaders called the move a "publicity stunt."

A visit to strife-torn Borneo by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid turned violent, with police firing into a crowd of ethnic Dayak protesters who'd ignored warnings to be calm. One person was reported dead and at least five others were hurt. The Dayaks were demanding that Wahid's government expel all Madurese migrants whom they have not already killed or forced to flee in the past 2-1/2 weeks.

The value of the yen against the US dollar plunged to the lowest level in almost two years after a senior Japanese government official warned the nation's finances are "close to collapse." Despite a decade of massive deficit spending, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said Japan is "in critical recession" and that "fundamental reform" is necessary. The yen was at 120.40 to the dollar as trading closed Thursday, a level it hasn't reached since July 1999.

Representatives of 25 other nations, the UN, and the Vatican were to look on as Colombia's largest rebel group and the government opened new talks to revive their flagging peace process. They hoped to agree on a "permanent mechanism of international companionship" that would allow the observers to reconvene any time the negotiators requested it. The US was excluded from the talks because the rebels oppose its proposal for a drug-free, $7.5 billion development plan.

For the second time this month, a member of the Cabinet in Zambia who publicly opposes a reelection bid by President Frederick Chiluba was fired and replaced with a legislator who supports amending the Constitution to permit it. The development was the latest sign that Chiluba, who's banned from seeking a third five-year term, is planning to run again after all.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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