Court Strikes British Military Ban on Gays

LONDON--The European Court of Human Rights yesterday struck down Britain's policy of excluding gays and lesbians from the military, ruling that it represented "grave interferences with their private lives." While most European countries accept homosexuals as members of their defense forces, Britain has maintained a ban since 1994, and the Defense Ministry has expressed strong opposition to any change.

Defense Secretary George Robertson said Britain would abide by the ruling, but gave no indication when the policy would change.

Yeltsin Moves Ahead on Belarus Merger

MOSCOW--President Boris Yeltsin approved a draft agreement on merging Russia and Belarus and ordered his aides to prepare for public discussion of the document, the Kremlin said. Russia and Belarus have been discussing a plan to merge. In 1996, Yeltsin and Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko signed a union agreement, boosting political, economic and military ties between the two nations but stopping short of creating a single state.


Iranian President Blasts Satire

TEHRAN--President Mohammed Khatemi criticized a satirical student play for insulting Islamic sanctities but warned that the incident was being exploited as part of a "calculated design" to incite the nation. In remarks to his cabinet on Sunday, the president condemned the play, which first appeared last month in a campus journal with a circulation of less than 200, as an insult to pious believers. However, he said, compounding the injury was a campaign to turn the crisis to political advantage--an indirect swipe at his conservative rivals.

Israel Retaliates for Bomb in Lebanon

MARJUYUN, Lebanon--Israeli warplanes struck southern Lebanon after a roadside bomb killed a top official of the pro-Israeli militia and seriously wounded his driver, Lebanese security officials said.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah group claimed responsibility for the bombing. Security officials said Israeli warplanes raided suspected guerrilla targets, firing at least 15 air-to-surface missiles at villages in Iqlim al-Tuffah, a guerrilla stronghold opposite an Israeli-occupied enclave in southern Lebanon.

Iraq Says Civilian Target Bombed

BAGHDAD, Iraq--An Iraqi military spokesman said Western planes bombed a civilian target in northern Iraq, but the U.S. European Command said the aircraft had attacked antiaircraft batteries after being fired on.

The Iraqi spokesman, quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency, said U.S. and British aircraft flew 22 sorties over northern Iraq and bombed a civilian target.

Mubarak Elected to Fourth Term in Egypt

CAIRO--Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak won his fourth six-year term, taking nearly 94 percent of the vote in a referendum on his presidency, the interior minister said. Mubarak, 71, was the only candidate in Sunday's referendum. Opposition groups boycotted the ballot, calling it a sham.


Mexico's Ruling Party Wins State Vote

SALTILLO, Mexico--Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won a landslide victory in a northern border state, defeating an opposition coalition in a vote seen as a test of the public mood before next year's presidential elections.

With 95 percent of voting stations reporting in the race Sunday for governor in Coahuila state, PRI candidate Enrique Martinez had 59.12 percent of the vote against 33.53 percent for Jose Antonio Garcia Villa, candidate for a coalition of four opposition parties, state election officials said.

7 Killed in Colombian Rebel Stronghold

BOGOTA, Colombia--At least seven people, including women and children, were murdered in the oil refining town of Barrancabermeja in northwestern Colombia, officials said. Acting Mayor Juan Carlos Sierra said hooded and heavily armed gunmen dragged the victims out of their homes in a working-class neighborhood and shot them.

The town, which has a history of violence, has long been considered a stronghold of Marxist guerrillas eager to maintain a foothold in the country's main oil center. More recently, ultra-right death squads--backed by the military, according to human rights groups--have moved in.

Cuba Tries 8 on Drug Charges

HAVANA--Four Britons and four Jamaicans tried in Havana on drug-smuggling charges are facing prison terms of up to 20 years, diplomatic sources said. The eight suspects, whose names were not released, appeared before Havana's People's Provincial Court last Thursday. The Jamaicans were detained at Havana's international airport last November after customs officers said they found 35 pounds of cocaine in their luggage. The Britons were arrested days later at a Havana hotel.


Jiang Defends China on Human Rights

SHANGHAI, China--President Jiang Zemin defended China's human rights record in a combative speech to world business leaders in which he renewed China's threats to retake Taiwan by force. He also insisted that economic development had to come before all else.

Jiang also reaffirmed official condolences for losses in Taiwan's earthquake last week.

Tajikistan Votes to Change Constitution

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan--Tajikistan voters strongly supported constitutional changes that will extend the president's term and allow the opposition to set up Islamic political parties, an official said. Voters appear to hope the changes will strengthen a shaky peace agreement between the Moscow-backed secular government and the Islamic United Tajik Opposition movement, who fought a civil war from 1992 to 1997.


"We will not hold meetings for the sake of meetings."

-- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, rejecting Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's call for urgent talks on the conflict in southern Russia, Page A1