News In Brief

Israeli troops were back in control of parts of the Gaza Strip after an overnight assault in retaliation for mortar fire admitted to by the militant Palestinian group Hamas. One person died and 36 others were reported hurt in the Israeli attack, which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called "unforgivable." Israeli army spokesmen said the occupation would continue "while there is still Palestinian mortar fire."

Independent sources of news shrunk further in Russia after directors linked to the state-owned gas utility closed a daily Moscow newspaper and seized a popular weekly political magazine. The moves followed last weekend's takeover by Gaz-prom of NTV, once Russia's only independent television station. All were part of the empire of exiled media baron Vladimir Gusinsky, a severe critic of President Putin. Analysts said Ekho Moskvy, a radio station, could be next since it owes millions of dollars to Gazprom.

Tired and frightened passengers taken from a ferry in Benin were being called economic migrants rather than the child slaves for whom an international search has been conducted off the coast of West Africa. And there was doubt that the vessel was the ship supposedly carrying up to 250 youths believed to have been sold into servitude. Only about two dozen children were aboard the ferry, and all apparently were accompanied by adults.

Seventeen of 92 employees of a US oil company were still in the custody of suspected leftist Colombian rebels after being kidnapped as they returned from work. The captors later freed 75 Occidental Petroleum contractors, all Colombian nationals. Suspicion fell on the National Liberation Army, the nation's second-largest leftist force, which has a history of kidnappings and extortion.

UN peacekeepers are free to deploy in eastern Congo, rebel leaders said, after a dispute over alleged atrocities and cease-fire violations by the government Army ended to their satisfaction. The Rally for Congolese Democracy had refused permission for a plane carrying the first contingent of peacekeepers to land at the region's airport Sunday, demanding that the alleged acts must first be publicly condemned. Details were not available on the UN's response, but an investigation was conducted and a report is expected by next week.

All but three criminal charges against ousted Philippines President Joseph Estrada were dropped by the government to speed up his prosecution. The move, one day after he was freed on bail, leaves only perjury, falsification of documents, and plunder of $80 million from the treasury as subjects for trial next month. The plunder charge, which prosecutors say they want to focus on, is punishable by death if Estrada should be found guilty.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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