THE MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Warplanes Bomb Iraqi Defense Sites

ANKARA, Turkey -- U.S. warplanes bombed Iraqi artillery and communications sites in the northern "no-fly" zone yesterday in response to Iraqi missile and artillery fire, the U.S. military said. The bombing was triggered by Iraqis who fired surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft artillery at U.S. warplanes near Mosul, about 250 miles north of Baghdad, said a statement from the Germany-based U.S. European Command.

Iraqi forces began challenging U.S. and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq last December, charging that the patrols violate its sovereignty and international law.

Iran, Turkey Agree to Fight Kurdish Rebels

ANKARA, Turkey -- Iran agreed to join with Turkey in launching simultaneous military operations against Kurdish rebels. The agreement, which followed three days of talks, was aimed at easing tensions between the two neighbors.

The agreement calls for Iran and Turkey to increase their cooperation in the fight against the guerrillas, who have waged a 15-year battle for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. It also says the two nations will set up a hot line between their military commanders to coordinate attacks.

ASIA

Sharif Questions India's Desire for Peace

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said today the shooting down of a Pakistani naval patrol plane showed that arch-rival India was not serious about making peace.

"The world should realize after this incident who aspires for peace, and who wants to destroy peace," Sharif said in an Independence Day speech broadcast from outside parliament house in Islamabad. He was referring to the shooting down of a Pakistani plane by the Indian air force along the southern reaches of the nuclear neighbors' common border Tuesday. India has said it had acted "prudently" in the attack that killed all 16 people aboard.

Meanwhile yesterday, India offered to release eight Pakistani soldiers captured in the recent conflict in Kashmir in what it called a "goodwill gesture." Pakistan welcomed the move as a positive step.

Korean Leader Approves Sweeping Amnesty

SEOUL -- President Kim Dae Jung approved a sweeping amnesty that will free 56 political prisoners, including seven North Korean spies. But human rights groups denounced the presidential clemency as cosmetic and demanded the release of 240 other "prisoners of conscience." The amnesty, the fourth since Kim took office 18 months ago, affected 2,864 convicts in and out of jail. The amnesty was part of celebrations marking the 54th anniversary this weekend of South Korea's independence from Japan.

Korean Farmers Clash With Riot Police

SEOUL -- Several hundred livestock farmers throwing rocks and wielding metal pipes clashed with riot police, one day after their leader slashed himself with a knife in the National Assembly to protest a government plan to abolish their organization. About 20 farmers were injured and taken to nearby hospitals after the altercation with police, who fought them with batons and plastic shields, according to the national news agency Yonhap.

Japan to End Fingerprinting of Foreigners

TOKYO -- Japan's parliament decided to stop requiring the fingerprinting of foreign residents, a move that should end decades of protests that the practice is demeaning and discriminatory. The law, which takes effect next April, will apply to the 880,000 nonpermanent residents of Japan. Under the law, they will have only to provide a photo and a signature when registering to live in Japan.

Opposition to fingerprinting has been the center of the civil rights movement of Japan's Korean residents. After years of protest from Korean residents that they were being treated like criminals, Japan abolished the fingerprinting of permanent residents in 1992.

Indonesian Police Deny Church Killings

AMBON, Indonesia -- Government security forces, overwhelmed by recent religious rioting that has left at least 94 people dead in eastern Indonesia, denied that troops gunned down rioters inside a church. In Maluku province, witnesses said the death toll from clashes between Muslims and Christians included 24 people shot Tuesday and Wednesday by troops in and around a Protestant church in Galala, a suburb of the provincial capital of Ambon. Police spokesman Jekriel Philip denied that anyone was shot at the church and said the rioters were killed in neighborhoods nearby.

Vietnamese Catholics Flock to Apparition Site

LA VANG, Vietnam -- Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics streamed to the biggest church event of the year in Vietnam, a communist nation where any religious gathering is a concern for the government. A rural area flanked by lush rice fields was the pilgrims' destination -- the spot where a group of persecuted Catholics saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary 200 years ago. It is considered to be the only known apparition of Mary in Southeast Asia. Church officials estimate 200,000 people may visit the site by Sunday, when a yearlong celebration of the apparition's bicentennial concludes.

THE AMERICAS

Daschle Begins Visit to Cuba

HAVANA -- Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) arrived in Cuba on the highest-level visit by an elected U.S. politician in recent years. Daschle flew into Havana's international airport on a U.S. government plane, accompanied by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.). The senators were due to stay in Cuba until Sunday, and sources said they had been told to keep Saturday night free for a likely meeting with President Fidel Castro, who turned 73 yesterday.

AFRICA

Thousands Displaced by Fighting in Nigeria

YENAGOA, Nigeria -- Thousands of ethnic Ijaws have fled fighting with Ilaje rivals in which hundreds are reported to have died, local authorities said.

Authorities in Bayelsa state, in the Niger River delta, said villagers in the remote region were struggling to cope with the influx of people displaced by fighting, which began two weeks ago. "Some of these people have been severely wounded," the Agbadagba of Gbarahun, the area's traditional ruler, said in the state capital, Yenagoa.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The KLA leadership has made all the right noises about establishing democracy, but they don't seem to be able to control their membership."

A Western diplomat voicing concern about Kosovo's ethnic Albanian militia