News In Brief

Without exactly speaking the words, deeply unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori indicated his intention to quit. Mori told elders of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) late Saturday that he first wanted to keep commitments for meetings with the presidents of the US and Russia later this month and to preside over passage of the government's new budget in parliament. But he said he'd move up the election for the presidency of the LDP from September to as soon as early next month. Since the party is the largest in Japan's ruling coalition, whoever is elected its president automatically becomes prime minister.

In a speech interrupted often by applause, Iranian President Mohamad Khatami told parliament that no degree of pressure from the nation's hard-line Islamic clerics would make him abandon his reform agenda. But, contrary to expectations, he did not say whether he'll seek reelection in June. Despite massive public support for reforms, Khatami's efforts have been opposed by the clerics at every turn since he won a landslide election in 1997.

The world's largest social security system will be set up for China's hundreds of millions of laid-off workers, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The safety net will be based on individual contributions to a fund for their pensions or unemployment insurance, unlike the current system in which state-owned companies have cradle- to-grave responsibility for their workers. Many of those are unprofitable and lack the funds to meet pension payments. In the past three years alone, 21 million workers have been laid off.

A plea by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to spare the ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan was rejected by Taliban leaders, who said it came too late. A senior Taliban official, after meeting with Annan in Pakistan, said the destruction already was 90 percent complete.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to greet a caravan of Zapatista rebels and their sympathizers on its arrival in Mexico City as the Monitor went to press. The procession, which began in the impoverished state of Chiapas two weeks ago, was organized to lobby for legislation that would give Mexico's indigenous people a measure of autonomy. New President Vicente Fox has welcomed the march despite harsh criticism of himself and his government by march leaders.

The incumbent and leading challenger were trading accusations of fraud and intimidation as voters in Uganda prepared for today's presidential election. Opinion polls showed Yoweri Museveni, who's seeking a third five-year term, with about a 10-point lead over his closest rival and onetime ally, Kizza Besigye. But Besigye has mounted the toughest challenge of Museveni's career, and the latter must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Dismissing the comments of an international team of fertility experts, the Israeli government said it would be illegal for the first cloning of a human to take place later this year near Tel Aviv. Quoting a team member, a leading German magazine said its venue "very probably" would be Israel. The Jewish state reportedly is viewed as ideal for such experimentation because Judaism is more receptive to innovations in reproductive technology than other faiths.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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