ASIA

India Train Crash Death Toll Reaches 280

GAISAL, India -- Crews poring over the wreckage of two trains that collided in India shifted their efforts from rescue to recovery yesterday, removing more bodies as the death toll climbed to 280.

With no hope of finding more survivors, weary rescue workers at Gaisal station, some 250 miles north of Calcutta, took a four-hour break -- their first in 48 hours.

The crash, in which 297 people were injured, occurred Monday when the Awadh-Assam Express, heading for the northeastern state of Assam, and the Delhi-bound Brahmaputra Mail collided head on.

Amid Tensions, Japan and S. Korea Hold Drills

SEOUL -- Longtime rivals Japan and South Korea ran a third day of joint naval exercises despite North Korean denunciations that the maneuvers are aimed at starting a war.

The six-day Japanese-South Korean drill -- the first joint military exercise between the two countries -- is seen as a countermeasure to growing military threats from North Korea.

The exercises come amid concerns that North Korea is preparing to test a long-range ballistic missile. A year ago, it test-fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific.

Forest Fires Blanket Sumatra With Smoke

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Out-of-control forest fires on Sumatra island spewed out a thick haze over Indonesia, slowing air and sea traffic while pushing air pollution to dangerous levels.

Smoke from the dry-season fires choked shipping traffic through the busy Strait of Malacca. Low visibility caused some domestic flights to be diverted, said local transportation department chief Ismanu, who goes by only one name. Sumatra's Riau province, which has been covered in smoke for several months, declared a state of emergency.

Taliban Offers Welcome to War Refugees

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The ruling Taliban offered amnesty to its retreating foes and temporary shelter to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by a week-long offensive north of Kabul.

The Taliban's leader, Mohammad Omar, promised protection for those who joined his "Islamic emirate" and said those continuing to oppose it would be regarded as rebels. His statement was seen as a thinly veiled offer to fighters loyal to opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to defect, a common practice in the country's 20-year war.

Death Sentences in Vietnam Corruption Trial

HANOI -- Six people were sentenced to death and six others to life in prison in Vietnam's biggest corruption trial.

All 77 defendants, including 18 bank executives, were convicted on charges of fraud in appropriating state property. Punishment for other defendants ranged from 30-month suspended sentences to 20 years in prison, a court official in Ho Chi Minh City said.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Reformist Newspaper Shut Down in Iran

TEHRAN -- Iran's hard-line clerical court has banned the country's leading pro-reform newspaper for five years and barred its publisher from journalism, the official IRNA news agency said.

It said the court ordered a ban on the daily Salam for printing secret documents, while publisher and managing editor Mohammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha, a powerful leftist cleric, was suspended from journalism for three years.

The ruling by the Special Court for Clergy silences one of the most influential voices backing reformist President Mohammad Khatami just seven months before parliamentary elections expected to shape the rest of his term in office.

EUROPE

Gorbachev's Wife Battling Leukemia

BONN -- Raisa Gorbachev, the last first lady of the Soviet Union, is seriously ill with leukemia and is "very weakened" by the disease and chemotherapy, doctors said.

Her husband, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, was at her side at the German clinic where she has been receiving treatment for an acute form of the blood cancer for 10 days, an official said.

Britain May Recognize Same-Sex Couples

LONDON -- The British government is considering recognizing same-sex couples for the first time under a new criminal compensation law, officials said.

The possible change was spurred by the bombing of a gay pub in London on April 30, the Times newspaper reported. A gay man whose partner was killed in the blast was denied compensation because the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority does not recognize same-sex couples.

Plan to Test Beef for Dioxin Angers Belgium

BRUSSELS -- Belgium criticized as baseless the European Union's decision to order tests on all beef exports for the cancer-causing chemical dioxin and said it would officially protest the decision.

The dioxin crisis, which erupted in late May, has been Europe's biggest food health scare since mad cow disease. In May, the government's admission that meat contained high levels of dioxin triggered worldwide bans on Belgian meat, eggs and dairy products.

THE AMERICAS

Nuns Who Shot Intruder Cleared of Charges

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Two nuns who made headlines when they shot an intruder in their convent were cleared of murder charges. "The nuns acted in legitimate self-defense," said a statement from the public prosecutor's office, ending a two-week investigation.

The cloistered sisters, Luz Adelia Barragan and Eva Maria Silva, admitted that on July 21 they took turns firing a .38-caliber pistol into the darkness after hearing an intruder. One killed a would-be burglar.

The nuns, who spent two nights in jail, said they had only meant to scare away the man who broke into the El Tobo convent in Tunja, 80 miles northeast of Bogota. Fed up with rampant violent crime rates, many Colombians said they sympathized with the nuns' actions.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I want to walk into dance halls and feel like a movie star, a white one."

Sheri Roth, 22, one of many Jamaicans

seeking lighter skin -- Page A15