ASIA

Taliban Offensive Seeks Afghanistan Control

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Thousands of Taliban fighters launched a three-pronged offensive yesterday to crush the forces of Ahmad Shah Masood and take control of the whole of Afghanistan. Spurning Western and U.N. appeals to hold peace talks instead of prolonging Afghanistan's 20-year war, the Taliban went into battle backed by aging Soviet-era MiG fighters and a huge artillery barrage.

The Taliban's supreme ruler, Mullah Mohammad Omar, called on supporters to pray for the delivery of the broken state "from the tyranny of the opposition."

24 Killed in Religious Clashes in Indonesia

AMBON, Indonesia -- Twenty-four people were reported dead in fresh clashes between Christians and Muslims on Indonesia's devastated island of Ambon as Jakarta rushed troop reinforcements to the distant province.

Fighting gripped five parts of Ambon city, much of it in ruins after months of clashes, and spread to villages outside, witnesses said.

The violence followed two months of relative peace in the once idyllic island, about 1,440 miles east of Jakarta.

AFRICA

Ex-Speaker of Nigerian Parliament Guilty

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Salisu Buhari, who was speaker of Nigeria's new post-dictatorship parliament for seven weeks before being exposed as a fraud, pleaded guilty to forgery and perjury. Buhari resigned the speaker's chair last week, admitting that he was only 29, not 36 as he had claimed, and therefore too young to serve in parliament. He also admitted that he did not have a degree from the University of Toronto. The 360-member House of Representatives voted to forgive him, but the Justice Ministry decided to prosecute him.

Peace Force Puts Off Departure From Liberia

MONROVIA, Liberia -- A West African intervention force has postponed its final departure from Liberia, probably until August, to ensure that arms gathered after the country's seven-year civil war are destroyed, a senior officer with the force said.

THE AMERICAS

Fujimori Pledges to Stimulate Economy

LIMA -- President Alberto Fujimori addressed Congress in an independence-day speech meant to rally his impoverished nation and perhaps boost his public approval rating ahead of elections next year.

During his 50-minute state of the nation address, Fujimori pledged to empower local governments and stimulate growth in what he called the "marginalized, isolated" Andes and Amazon regions. He also unveiled populist economic measures that would increase funds to pensioners and provide credits and tax breaks for small businesses.

Only nine months before his possible bid for an unprecedented third term, Fujimori predicted economic expansion but offered nothing concrete to ease the jobless rate. Half the work force is without a proper job, and one in 10 people lives in extreme poverty.

EUROPE

Swiss Tours Canceled After Visitors' Deaths

INTERLAKEN, Switzerland -- Swiss adventure tour companies canceled their canyon excursions after at least 19 tourists died while white-water body surfing in the mountains near this Alpine resort.

The accident happened Tuesday afternoon when a flash flood carrying mud, rocks and wood debris washed down a canyon, engulfing 53 people, including tourists from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.

Nineteen bodies had been found as of midday yesterday and two other people remain missing, police said.

Spacewalk May Be Last From Mir Station

MOSCOW -- Two Russian cosmonauts made what probably will be the last spacewalk from the 14-year-old space station Mir, officials at Mission Control outside Moscow said. Cosmonauts Viktor Afanasyev and Sergei Avdeyev spent nearly 5 1/2 hours outside the station installing equipment and opening an antenna they could not unfold properly during a spacewalk last week.

European Court Convicts France of Torture

STRASBOURG, France -- The European Court of Human Rights made France the first European state to be convicted of torture, finding it guilty of torturing a suspected drug dealer during police questioning.

The court also condemned France for excessive delays in the administration of justice, as more than seven years went by between Ahmed Selmouni's complaint of torture and sexual exploitation by police and the conviction of those he accused.

French Official Will Not Prosecute Attackers

PARIS -- French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, in her first public appearance after an assault by angry hunters, said she wanted to put the incident behind her and would not seek to punish her attackers.

Voynet, 40, leader of France's Greens party, was punched in the face Saturday by three men who identified themselves as hunters in her hometown of Dole. "I have decided not to file a complaint because I consider this attack to be more a demonstration of cowardice and foolishness than of something deserving of attention," she said.

FOR THE RECORD

THE HAGUE -- United Nations war crimes prosecutors asked for a life sentence for a Bosnian Croat general charged with directing the murder and persecution of Muslims in central Bosnia. Gen. Tihomir Blaskic is accused of involvement in a bloody ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslims in 1992-94 in which hundreds were killed and thousands driven from their homes.

LONDON -- Appeal judges ruled that 17 soldiers involved in the worst mass killing by British troops in Northern Ireland may not be publicly identified -- a decision that angered Irish Republican Army sympathizers. The inquiry into the shooting deaths of 13 people in Londonderry on Jan. 30, 1972, has been delayed partly because of the dispute over whether the soldiers can testify anonymously.

BELGRADE -- Serbia's leading independent radio station, banned during NATO airstrikes for opposing the government, returned to the airwaves under a new name. Radio B 2-92, formerly B-92, began broadcasting on a frequency owned by Belgrade's Studio B radio and television station, said Sasa Mirkovic, the station's editor in chief. The frequencies are controlled by the opposition-led municipal council.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"This was a bloody and merciless killing."

Nebosja Vujovic, deputy foreign minister of Yugoslavia, speaking at the funeral of 14 Serbs slain last week

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