EUROPE

London, Dublin Launch N. Ireland Peace Bid

BELFAST -- The British and Irish prime ministers, backed by President Clinton, launched a determined bid yesterday to transform the long-postponed hopes of Northern Ireland's peace accord into reality. In daylong talks, Britain's Tony Blair and Ireland's Bertie Ahern were confronting twin obstacles: Protestant refusal to form a new coalition government that includes Sinn Fein politicians unless their Irish Republican Army partners start to disarm first, and Sinn Fein's refusal to deliver any IRA disarmament promises at all.

The Good Friday accord, accepted last year both by the Protestants of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Catholics of Sinn Fein, did not explicitly link formation of a Protestant-Catholic government to any advance moves by the outlawed IRA.

But Blair, with Ahern's support, was pushing a compromise that would require the IRA to provide a timetable outlining how it would disarm by May 2000, the deadline set in last year's accord. In exchange, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble would be expected to accept Sinn Fein politicians in two of the government's 12 posts before any disarmament actually happened.

Moscow Rejects Jehova's Witnesses' Appeal

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court rejected an appeal by Jehovah's Witnesses, saying a panel of experts would be allowed to study the group's literature and recommend whether it should be banned. The Moscow city prosecutor's office has been trying to outlaw the Moscow branch of the U.S.-based church.

Annan Urges Muslims, West to Bridge Rift

OXFORD, England -- United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed for Muslim and Western nations to adopt a new "world ethic" embracing cultural diversity and bridging fault lines between them.

Praising Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi's "farsighted" call for a dialogue between Islamic and Western civilizations, Annan said contacts between the two cultures should be "a dialogue of mutual respect."

"We must accept -- even cultivate -- the presence of different traditions within each region of the world, and indeed within each society," Annan said in a speech at Oxford's Center of Islamic Studies.

ASIA

Eastern China Mobilizes for Summer Floods

SHANGHAI -- Cities in eastern China have mobilized 1.8 million people for flood control work after recent heavy rains inundated farmland, a state newspaper said. More than 1,000 people have been forced from their homes around Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, the Wenhui Daily said. It did not mention any deaths.

Six Condemned for Uzbekistan Bombings

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Uzbekistan sentenced six men to death and imprisoned 16 others for their involvement in a series of bomb attacks in February that killed 16 people in the capital, Tashkent. President Islam Karimov, who narrowly escaped one of the blasts, had declared that the attacks were an attempt by religious fanatics to assassinate him and vowed to stamp out Islamic fundamentalism in the Central Asian state.

Japan Will Not Seek Return of Base From U.S.

TOKYO -- Japan will not seek the return of a U.S. military base in Tokyo, the foreign minister said, rejecting a proposal by the capital's outspoken mayor to convert the base for civilian use. The decision was a blow to Tokyo Mayor Shintaro Ishihara's campaign to have Yokota Air Base returned to Japanese control or to establish its joint use as a civilian airport.

AFRICA

Ethiopia Captures Somali Regional Capital

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Ethiopian forces captured a regional capital in Somalia before dawn, radio reports said, putting much of southern Somalia under Ethiopian control. Radio reports said dozens of armored vehicles and hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers had surrounded the town of Garba Harre, 250 miles northwest of Mogadishu, and attacked it late Sunday night. No casualty figures were available.

THE MIDDLE EAST

U.N. Body Opens Iraq Inspections Debate

UNITED NATIONS -- A divided U.N. Security Council opened the first of a series of closed-door debates on how to get arms inspectors back into Iraq after six months of bitter relations with Baghdad.

Turkey Boosts Security Before Ocalan Verdict

ISTANBUL -- Turkish police reinforced security at embassies, airports and tourist areas one day before a court was expected to sentence Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan to death.

Police were ordered to be prepared for possible airplane hijackings or other attacks, a police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Security will be particularly high around U.S. diplomatic missions.

Syria Agrees to Visit by Israeli Mayors

JERUSALEM -- Syria has agreed to an unprecedented visit by a group of Israeli mayors, the Israeli Justice Ministry disclosed in a letter telling them they must get government permission to visit an enemy country. The development coincides with warming relations between the two countries.

FOR THE RECORD

LUSAKA, Zambia -- African officials began debating a plan to end Congo's civil war that calls for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of foreign troops and creation of a national army composed of government and rebel forces.

MOSCOW -- Russia's 1999 grain harvest will be lower than forecast, perhaps just 61 million to 66 million tons, a news agency reported. The previous official forecast was for 77 million tons.

BERLIN -- Construction Minister Franz Muentefering became the first German cabinet minister to move to Berlin, the latest step in the government's transfer from Bonn.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I do not see a way for Likud to join a government. It is heading into the opposition."

Outgoing Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon,

leader of the Likud party -- Page A9