EUROPE

Hundreds Rescued From Burning Ferry

GOTEBORG, Sweden -- The smell of smoke and the sounds of alarms awakened passengers on an overnight ferry from Germany to Norway yesterday, when a fire below decks forced the predawn evacuation of hundreds of tourists. A distress call from the Prinsesse Ragnhild went out within moments of the fire's detection, and the decision was made to abandon the ferry, which had 1,167 passengers and 172 crew members on board.

A 70-year-old woman died hours later of heart failure in a hospital in this Swedish port city, where the ferry was towed.

Latvia Strengthens Language Laws

RIGA, Latvia -- Parliament strengthened laws mandating the use of the Latvian language in a move many fear will hurt the nation's large Russian-speaking minority. The new legislation requires the use of Latvian at most public functions and in business meetings, even those involving only Russian speakers.

Schroeder Visits Ukraine for Chernobyl Talks

KIEV, Ukraine -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Ukraine for two days of talks expected to focus on the former Soviet republic's troubled Chernobyl nuclear power plant. "We are here to develop good political and economic relations between Germany and Ukraine," Schroeder said.

Ahern Urges Disarmament Pledge on IRA

BELFAST -- Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern urged Irish Republican Army guerrillas to help revive Northern Ireland's stalled peace accord by promising to disarm.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland authorities banned the Protestant Orange Order from holding a major demonstration Monday near a Roman Catholic area in Belfast. The independent Parades Commission said the order's plans to gather in a park near the mostly Catholic Lower Ormeau Road area could have incited sectarian violence.

THE AMERICAS

Jamaican Prelate Assails Wave of Killings

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Shocked by the murder of 22 people this week, Edgerton Clarke, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kingston, said the government seemed "impotent" to control crime and "oblivious to the cries of the people."

Jamaica's Police Information Center said 486 people have been murdered this year in the Caribbean nation of 2.6 million people, most of them by shooting. Prominent among them was musician Michael Wallace of the reggae group Third World, who was shot dead late Tuesday. Police said robbery appeared to be the motive.

AFRICA

Congo Rebels Report Fighting in South

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Congolese rebels reported heavy fighting in the key south Congolese town of Kabinda, despite an imminent cease-fire to end 11 months of war. A spokesman for the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy said his forces had come under attack and were trying to take control of the town, a key staging post on the way to the diamond-mining city of Mbuji-Mayi.

ASIA

Kashmir Fighting Continues; Sharif Returns

MUSHKOH VALLEY, India -- The battle front in Kashmir was strewn with bodies, Indian military officials said, in fighting that showed no signs of stopping despite a promise by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to withdraw Islamic fighters from the area.

India said it seized an important ridge controlling the supply route through the Mushkoh Valley and two peaks soaring more than 16,000 feet high in the remote Himalayas. Heavy security was in place when Sharif returned to Pakistan yesterday after meeting President Clinton in Washington, where he promised to take "concrete steps" to end two months of fighting. He scheduled meetings with military commanders and his cabinet in Islamabad, trying to sell the agreement.

North Korean Leads Father's Rites

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il led memorial services for his late father, Kim Il Sung, as military generals swore loyalty to the first hereditary successor to take power in the communist world.

Kim, 57, stood solemnly with his eyes closed and head bowed as the sounds of a funeral dirge and memorial gunshots filled the air. The ceremony was held at the large plaza in front of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in the capital, Pyongyang, where Kim Il Sung lies in state. He died five years ago of heart failure.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Complaint Against Iranian Paper Withdrawn

TEHRAN -- Iran's intelligence ministry withdrew a complaint against a leading moderate newspaper, raising hopes that the banned daily would be allowed to resume publication.

"The intelligence ministry withdraws its complaint in line with its firm policy of nonpartisanship . . . and for the sake of maintaining calm, avoiding tension and backing the government's policies on political development and legal press freedom," it said in a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.

It was not immediately clear if the move would lead to the rescinding of a court order banning Salam, one of the main newspapers backing President Mohammed Khatemi against his conservative opponents.

Iraq Reparations Panel Pays $140 Million

GENEVA -- The U.N. body for Persian Gulf War reparations said it paid $139.9 million to companies and governments as compensation for losses from Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The awards brought the total paid by the Geneva-based U.N. Compensation Commission to $3.1 billion, it said. The payments went to more than 1.4 million claimants.

Bahrain Frees Opposition Shiite Cleric

BANI JAMRA, Bahrain -- A leading opposition Shiite Muslim cleric was released to a hero's welcome in his home village, a day after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying and inciting unrest. An amnesty from the Bahraini ruler wiped away the jail term and a stunning $15.4 million fine handed down Wednesday against Sheik Abdel Amir Jamri.

The cleric had been in prison since January 1996. He was reportedly jailed for ignoring government warnings and stepping up his campaign for political reform in the Persian Gulf state.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We want to turn biopiracy into bioprospecting."

Mary Allegretti, Brazil's secretary of the Amazon region