THE MIDDLE EAST

Netanyahu Admits Secret Talks With Syria

JERUSALEM -- Outgoing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his cabinet he had secretly negotiated with Israel's arch rival Syria, a cabinet statement said yesterday.

The statement quoted Netanyahu as saying: "Unofficial contacts took place with Syria for about a year. These contacts did not reach a comprehensive agreement because we did not agree to the territorial demands of Syria."

Science Minister Silvan Shalom said Netanyahu confirmed a Ha'aretz newspaper report that negotiation between the two failed because Israel refused to commit to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in 1967.

Barak Names Yatom as Chief of Staff

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak named Danny Yatom, the scandal-marred former head of the Mossad spy agency, as his chief of staff.

Pressing ahead with efforts to form a new government, Barak met at his Labor Party's Tel Aviv headquarters with leaders of potential partners on both right and left. Barak, who defeated incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu in a landslide earlier this month, has until early July to form a government.

Yatom, a former general, served as a military aide to Labor Party leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres before his ill-starred Mossad stint under Netanyahu. In 1997, a Yatom-approved attempt on the life of a Palestinian militant in Amman, Jordan, was intercepted and foiled. The ensuing scandal rocked relations with Jordan, Israel's closest Arab friend, and led to humiliation for the once-vaunted Mossad.

With Repairs Over, Great Pyramid to Reopen

CAIRO -- The largest of the three ancient Giza Pyramids will reopen this week after workers cleaned up graffiti, mended cracks and installed new lighting and ventilation systems.

The restoration of the Great Pyramid, built as a tomb for King Cheops about 4,500 years ago, is part of Egypt's plan to welcome the new millennium and attract visitors to boost its economy. The restoration, which took nearly a year, cost only $29,500, said Zahi Hawass, the chief government archaeologist for the pyramids.

EUROPE

54 Killed in Stampede in Belarus Capital

MINSK, Belarus -- A crowd stampeded in an underground passageway in the Belarusian capital, leaving 54 people dead and more than 100 injured, state radio said.

The incident occurred after a rock concert and festival marking the two-year anniversary of a radio station. According to police and health officials, the crush occurred in a pedestrian tunnel near a subway station not far from the center of the city.

There were sharply divergent reports about the death toll. The Interfax news agency initially put the death toll at 40, but the Health Ministry insisted early that only 17 had died. State radio then said 54.

Crash in Austrian Tunnel Sparks Fatal Fire

VIENNA -- Scorching heat and the danger of falling concrete delayed rescuers yesterday in their search for bodies in an Alpine tunnel where a fire Saturday left at least one person dead and 49 injured.

Officials said two other people were still missing late yesterday and feared dead in the Tauern tunnel in western Austria. It was the second deadly fire in an Alpine tunnel in just over two months.

The fire was sparked when a truck loaded with paint plowed into a car hundreds of yards inside the tunnel, firefighters said. The car exploded immediately, setting off a chain reaction of explosions. Temperatures in the tunnel soared to more than 1,800 degrees.

In an earlier tunnel fire, 42 people were killed March 24 when a blaze broke out in the Mont Blanc tunnel linking France and Italy.

Police Search for Graves of 1970s IRA Victims

CARLINGFORD, Ireland -- Irish police stepped up their search for the graves of eight people who were abducted and killed by IRA guerrillas based in British Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.

Officers dug up part of a parking lot at Templetown Beach, near the County Louth coastal town of Carlingford, looking for the body of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 children who was killed by the Irish Republican Army in 1972.

She is among some 15 people -- dubbed "The Disappeared" -- who are thought to have died at the hands of IRA hardliners during the early years of turmoil in Northern Ireland. So far, the IRA has admitted nine killings.

ASIA

Indonesian Troops Hunt for Rebels in Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Hundreds of Indonesian troops were deployed to search for rebels who allegedly killed nine police officers and soldiers in an ambush, the military said. The attack Saturday was the latest outbreak of violence in troubled Aceh province in north Sumatra, where separatist guerrillas are fighting for an independent Islamic state. They have called for a boycott of the June 7 parliamentary elections.

THE AMERICAS

Leftist Wins Ruling Coalition Primary

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Centrist Andres Zaldivar conceded defeat to leftist Ricardo Lagos after a primary election for the leadership of the ruling coalition, setting him on track to be the country's next president.

With 55 percent of votes counted, Lagos had 70 percent to Zaldivar's 30 percent. Lagos now appears the odds-on favorite in the presidential elections Dec. 12. If elected, he would be Chile's first socialist leader since Salvador Allende, who was toppled in a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

FOR THE RECORD

MUDANYA, Turkey -- Bereaved Turkish women gathered on the promenade of this small port town for today's opening of the trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, which is sure to revive painful memories of a 14-year guerrilla conflict in which thousands died.

ALGIERS -- A bomb exploded in a square in the hills of the Algerian capital, killing at least one person and injuring five others, security forces said.

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Armenians voted in a parliamentary election marred by confusion over errors in voting lists, but election officials said the result should be considered valid.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"It was war, but now let us forgive."

South African National Defense Force

Maj. Gen. Lungile Pepani, on years of fighting between a black liberation movement and South Africa's apartheid forces.