ASIA

Japan's Lower House Passes Wiretap Law

TOKYO -- Japan's powerful lower house of parliament passed legislation yesterday that would allow wiretapping in investigations of organized crime, setting the stage for enactment of the highly controversial bills.

The move prompted an outcry from opposition parties, legal experts, human rights activists and the media, which argue that the bills would violate constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy and confidential communication.

The legislation would allow authorities to wiretap as part of investigations in four categories of crimes: those involving narcotics, guns, gang-related murders and large-scale smuggling of foreigners into Japan.

Philippine Rebel Threats Fail to Deter U.S.

MANILA -- The United States said a communist rebel threat of punishment for U.S. soldiers would not deter it from carrying out joint military exercises with Philippine troops.

The threat "is an issue for the Philippine government to address," U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard said. Communist guerrillas have warned they would "punish" U.S. soldiers who commit "crimes" while on exercises in the Philippines.

"We certainly plan to move ahead with activities under this newly signed agreement. I feel certain that we'll find a way to carry out these activities in safety," Hubbard told reporters, referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington, which was ratified last week.

Popular Chinese Internet Chatroom Closes

BEIJING -- One of China's most popular Internet chatrooms said it was closing for 10 days, in a sign of jitters before the 10th anniversary of the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests on Friday. Sohu.com issued a notice on its Web site (www.sohu.com) saying it was temporarily closing its chatroom, or online discussion forum, to "improve the system and services."

But an employee at Sohu said it was because the company feared online users might use the chatroom to post anti-government messages.

THE AMERICAS

New Salvadoran President Sworn In

SAN SALVADOR -- El Salvador swore in its youngest president ever, 39-year-old Francisco Flores.

Flores took the oath of office from congressional chairman Juan Duch in front of an audience of 5,000 that included six presidents from Central America and the Dominican Republic, plus Prince Albert of Monaco and Spain's heir to the throne, Prince Felipe.

Flores replaced Armando Calderon Sol after winning the second presidential election held since the small Central American country ended a bloody civil war in 1992.

Cuba Files Huge Claim Against United States

HAVANA -- Cuba launched a political and legal salvo at the United States, filing a $181.1 billion compensation claim for deaths and injury in what it called a 40-year "dirty war" against President Fidel Castro's government.

The massive claim, on behalf of 3,478 Cubans said killed and 2,099 injured by Washington's "aggression," seemed to be Havana's response to an accumulation of hostile legislation against the island in the United States in recent years.

The Cuban Communist Party's daily newspaper, Granma, published the detailed legal demand, which it said was presented Monday to a Havana court by various popular organizations.

Pirates Attack Ferry Off Cozumel

CANCUN, Mexico -- Brandishing a grenade and firing assault rifles into the night air, a half-dozen hooded pirates attacked a ferry returning from the Caribbean resort isle of Cozumel. They robbed passengers of money and valuables, threw two security guards overboard and beat a crew member Monday night before speeding off in another boat, local officials said.

Foreign tourists make up most of the ferry passengers on the 10-mile route between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, 36 miles to the south. However, there were no official estimates of how many foreigners were among the 253 passengers on the ferry "Mexico I" during the attack.

Suriname Leader Offers to Step Down Early

PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Surinamese President Jules Wijdenbosch offered to cut short his five-year term amid widespread calls for him to resign over his handling of the tiny South American country's economy. Wijdenbosch's proposal to hold new elections in the former Dutch colony fell short of opposition and union demands that he step down immediately due to spiraling prices and a national strike that has paralyzed the country.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Moderate Is Elected Mayor of Tehran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- A moderate adviser to President Mohammed Khatemi was elected mayor of Tehran, ending a political feud between Islamic reformers and hard-liners.

Morteza Alviri was unanimously elected by the Tehran City Council in a secret ballot, according to a state-run Tehran radio report monitored in Dubai. He replaces Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who was convicted of corruption.

Karbaschi, who many Iranians believe was an honest mayor caught in the power struggle between hard-line and moderate factions in Iran's Islamic government, began serving a two-year prison sentence last month.

EUROPE

24 Go on Trial for 1995 French Bombings

PARIS -- Twenty-four men suspected of helping to plan and carry out a wave of guerrilla bombings that terrorized France in 1995 went on trial.

Eight people died and another 170 were wounded in the series of bomb attacks claimed by the Armed Islamic Group group that was battling to topple the Algerian government.

The group said the attacks were intended to punish Paris for taking the government's side in a civil war against the rebels.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"At this point, it doesn't matter if we have a rocket scientist; we have a rocket scientist, and look where we are now."

Wimar Witoelar, a political commentator in Indonesia speaking on what kind of president the country needs. -- Page A15