The largest group of Palestinians so far – 26 – emerged from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and was driven away to be interrogated by Israeli authorities. But reports said an estimated 200 people remained inside the besieged church, among them all 20 to 30 armed militants Israel wants to send into exile. Meanwhile, all Israeli forces that had swept into Hebron in search of militants were expected to be withdrawn as the Monitor went to press. And Israel was holding firm to its refusal to cooperate with a UN fact-finding mission assigned to look into last month's fighting in Jenin. (Related editorial, page 8.)

Vote-counting began immediately after the polls closed in Pakistan's referendum on whether President Pervez Musharraf should remain in power for five more years. But there were indications that the turnout was as low as 25 percent of eligible voters, and the Reuters and Agence France-Press news agencies said their reporters had seen "blatant" irregularities at several polling places. There were no indications that Musharraf would win by less than a comfortable margin, although opposition parties called the low turnout the "verdict of the people" and demanded his resignation.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are expected to fill the streets of Paris today, both for the traditional observation of May Day by labor union members and because of rallies for and against ultrarightist presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Police pledged to crack down hard at the first indication of trouble and said they'd deploy extra antiriot squads to keep supporters and opponents of Le Pen apart. Le Pen trails far behind incumbent Jacques Chirac in opinion polls on Sunday's runoff. But the news media were hesitant to use those findings because no survey predicted the National Front leader would survive the first round of voting.

A three-month state of disaster was declared in Zimbabwe because of growing food shortages due to drought. The signing of the decree by President Robert Mugabe was the first step in an effort to speed up pledges of aid by foreign donors, which would be needed to pay for imported food since the government has an acute hard-currency shortage. The UN's World Food Program blamed the seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks for much of the problem. Meanwhile, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change retracted as false a report late last month that a woman who voted for its presidential candidate had been beheaded in a revenge attack by Mugabe supporters.

Speculation was sweeping the capital of Myanmar (Burma) that leading democracy activist and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi would be freed from her latest house arrest as soon as tomorrow. A spokesman for the military government said she'd be allowed to "go any place she likes, as before." But skeptics noted that when she tested that freedom two years ago, she was reconfined to her home in Yangon, the capital, for the second time since 1995.

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