News In Brief

The Macedonian government declared a new 24-hour cease-fire in its fight against ethnic-Albanian insurgents after launching a fierce attack on northern villages under the latter's control in which a civilian was killed. Officials said the truce would allow the government to alleviate water and food shortages in villages cut off by the fighting. More than 33,000 refugees have crossed into neighboring Kosovo since the insurgency erupted in February.

Buying time in its latest kidnapping crisis, the Philippines government agreed to a Malaysian mediator as demanded by Muslim extremists. The agreement came shortly after one of the group leaders announced he would kill one of three American captives if the government did not agree to mediation by one of the same Malaysians who participated in similar talks last year. Meanwhile, the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas snatched 15 new hostages.

Violence intensified in the Middle East as Israeli bulldozers demolished a Palestinian home in eastern Jerusalem said to have been built without permission and an explosion injured a Palestinian as he parked his car in a West Bank town. Meanwhile, a five-month-old Israeli baby died a week after a stone smashed the windshield of the family car near their West Bank home. Against that backdrop, three-way security meetings led by CIA chief George Tenet resumed as differences in the Israeli and Palestinian positions remained wide. (Story, page 7.)

Activists on both sides pro-tested an agreement between the German government and four leading electric utilities to shut down the country's 19 nuclear power plants. The accord would require the first plants to close in 2003, but the newest would not be forced to shut down until 2021. Critics want to see faster closures, while supporters hailed the deal as an historic shift of energy policy in Europe's biggest economy.

Some 4,000 NATO troops and dozens of warships began an exercise in Georgia - a first for the alliance in a former Soviet republic. In Moscow, the Kremlin issued no immediate comment, although it had previously voiced opposition to the idea. Russian leaders are concerned over the US-led alliance's expansion into their sphere of influence. Analysts said the move further strains Georgia's already difficult relations with Russia. The exercises are scheduled to run until June 22.

Billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi accepted his oath of office as prime minister of Italy, assuming the post for the second time. Berlusconi, one of the world's wealthiest men, came to power after a May 13 parliamentary election victory gave his center-right coalition solid majorities in both houses of parliament. He also announced his 25-member cabinet, which includes Umberto Bossi, a volatile politician whose party once advocated secession by Italy's affluent north. Many of the key cabinet jobs went to Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, which won 30 percent of the vote in the May elections.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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