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Tuesday, August 10, 2004; Page A16

Three Saudi Dissidents Tried in Open Court

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- In a rare open court hearing, three advocates of democratic reform appeared before a judge Monday on charges arising from their criticism of political and religious life in the kingdom.

Saudi trials are normally held behind closed doors, but Monday's hearing was attended by about 200 people. The defendants -- Matrouk Faleh, Ali Dimeeni and Abdullah Hamed -- are charged with sowing dissent, creating political instability, printing political leaflets and using the media to incite people against the government, according to two political activists who attended. The hearing was adjourned until Aug. 23.

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The open trial is the latest in a series of moves toward limited reform in Saudi Arabia, the boldest of which is a pledge to hold municipal elections starting in November.

THe Middle East

ISTANBUL -- Explosions rocked two small tourist hotels in Istanbul and a gas plant nearby early Tuesday, killing two people and injuring seven in what the police chief said was an apparent terrorist strike.

Workers at the Pars hotel said they received an anonymous call, saying there was a bomb in a room, 10 minutes before the explosion, which killed two people. There were 37 guests at the hotel, in a district catering to Eastern Europeans, when the blast occurred about 2 a.m.

About the same time a bomb went off at the Star Holiday Hotel. The three-story hotel had 20 guests at the time, officials said.

Authorities said two bombs were placed under storage tanks at the liquefied petroleum gas plant outside Istanbul, where cooking gas canisters are filled. The blasts took place a half-hour apart, shortly after an anonymous bomb threat, police said. There were no casualties and a gas leak was reported to be under control.


CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela will guarantee oil exports and prevent unrest regardless of who wins next Sunday's referendum, the government said Monday, seeking to dispel fears of violence.

As the recall vote approaches, oil and financial markets have been nagged by concerns that a close result, especially a defeat for President Hugo Chavez, could trigger instability for the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. Oil prices are already at record highs.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who would temporarily assume power if Chavez lost, assured diplomats that there would be no breakdown in law and order. As the meeting took place, scuffles broke out in a Caracas square between supporters and opponents of Chavez and troops trying to separate them.

LIMA, Peru -- The head of the Peruvian Institute of Nuclear Energy said that two stolen nuclear measuring devices used by miners do not contain enough radioactive material to produce a "dirty bomb."

The institute's president, Modesto Montoya, said the missing 44-pound industrial measurers each contain about 3.5 ounces of removable, encapsulated cesium-137. They were stolen on July 31, most likely for sale to a scrap collector, he said.

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