Unionists Criticize N. Ireland Peace Plan

BELFAST -- Northern Ireland's largest political party yesterday branded British Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans to form a Protestant-Catholic government here "fundamentally unfair and unbalanced." The Ulster Unionists, who represent much of the province's Protestant majority, insisted that the Irish Republican Army begin disarming "immediately" in exchange for the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party's involvement in a government. It was the Ulster Unionists' first formal response to the week-old plan from Blair, who wants the government envisioned in last year's peace accord to be named Thursday.

Russia-Belarus Union Treaty Almost Set

MOSCOW -- Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said a treaty on forming a union with neighboring Belarus was almost ready, sending the latest signal that Moscow is accelerating moves toward the union. Stepashin said after a meeting with President Boris Yeltsin that details on how to implement the union treaty would be completed by August. The union would commit Russia and Belarus to vaguely defined goals of political and economic integration, although both countries would remain independent.

Mir Crew May Have to Return Early

MOSCOW -- Russia warned Kazakhstan that the three crew members aboard the Mir space station may have to come home early if a ban on launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome is not lifted, a news report said. Kazakhstan abruptly banned all launches from Baikonur on Tuesday after a Proton booster rocket carrying a Russian Defense Ministry satellite exploded shortly after takeoff Monday. If Russia is not able to launch a Progress cargo ship on July 14, "the crew of the Mir orbital station . . . will have to be evacuated," First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said in a telegram to Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev, according to the Russian Tass news agency.

EU Picks New Executive Commission

BRUSSELS -- Former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi announced a list of the 19 people he wants to replace the scandal-ridden European Commission, the main European Union executive body. Prodi, the incoming commission president, promised "a new era of change," saying the new commissioners will "meet the very highest standards of public life." The commission runs the day-to-day affairs of the 15-nation union. The last commission, headed by Jacques Santer of Luxembourg, resigned in March after a report by independent experts found nepotism and financial mismanagement at the EU head office.


Vigilantes Attack Democracy Rally in Iran

TEHRAN -- Hard-line vigilantes attacked a student pro-democracy rally with tear gas, sticks and stones, as Iran's "press wars" spilled onto the country's biggest campus, witnesses said. Students interviewed at the scene of the clashes at the Tehran University dormitory complex, which started late on Thursday, and at a nearby hospital said dozens of students were injured and at least one may have been killed. Witnesses said Islamic hard-liners of the Ansar Hezbollah group broke up a rally involving about 500 people protesting a ban on the leading moderate daily Salam, which backs President Mohammed Khatemi.


U.S. Extradition Provokes Jamaican Protests

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Scattered groups of protesters took to the streets in Jamaica to protest the extradition to the United States of the alleged leader of a drug gang that U.S. authorities blame for as many as 1,500 deaths. Vivian Blake was alleged to be head of a notorious Jamaican gang that sold cocaine throughout the United States in the 1980s. A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami confirmed that Blake had been brought to the United States from Jamaica Thursday and was in custody in Miami. Blake had been fighting extradition since his imprisonment in Jamaica in 1994. He was named in indictments in Florida and Virginia on murder, drug smuggling and racketeering charges.


Somali Fundamentalist Leader Slain

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Unidentified gunmen have shot and killed a Muslim fundamentalist commander whose group has been seeking to unite an eastern Ethiopia region with Somalia, witnesses said. Col. Abdullahi Irad, a commander in the Al-Itihad al-Islam group, was shot Thursday by four men in a taxi outside a mosque where he had just prayed, said witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity. Relatives who also spoke anonymously said Irad's family and Al-Itihad officials suspect he was killed by Ethiopian agents. Irad has for the past seven years organized raids in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which Al-Itihad wants joined with Somalia.

Algeria to Ban Islamic Party Permanently

PARIS -- The fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front, which was poised to take power in Algeria after a national election in 1992, will not be allowed to return to politics, Algeria's new president said. "No. No. For a very simple reason," President Abdelaziz Bouteflika told France Inter radio. "History cannot move backward." The army's decision to cancel the 1992 elections that the Salvation Front was on the verge of winning triggered a violent insurgency by Islamic militants. The categorical refusal to allow the Salvation Front any future role killed speculation that the movement might be reintegrated into society as part of Bouteflika's effort at national reconciliation.


U.S. Senator Seeks Release of American

BEIJING -- Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) will fly to famine-stricken North Korea today to seek the release of an American arrested near the border with China on June 17. In an interview during a stopover in Beijing, Torricelli said the American, whom he identified as a Korean American charity worker named Karen Han, has not been allowed to meet with Swedish diplomats who represent U.S. interests in North Korea. Nothing is known about the charges against Han, Torricelli said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We don't have neon signs on top of our heads reading `stupid.' " -- Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negotiator