ASIA

Militants Free 2 Hostages in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan--Islamic militants freed two hostages who were kidnapped nearly two months ago, but were still holding seven others, including four Japanese geologists and their interpreter, officials said. After talks with officials, the militants released Kyrgyz Interior Troops commander Gen. Anarbek Shamkeyev and his aide, said Kyrgyz security chief Bolot Dzhanuzakov. The guerrillas seized 13 hostages in August after invading the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan from neighboring Tajikistan.

EUROPE

Belarusan Officials Blame West for Riots

MINSK, Belarus--Belarusan authorities accused the West of being behind street clashes between some 5,000 opposition demonstrators and police in which at least 92 people were arrested. But Dmitri Bondarenko of the opposition Khartiya-97 movement said police started the fighting and another opposition member said authorities have long provoked violence by repression.

The fighting broke out Sunday in Minsk following an authorized rally by about 20,000 people. The demonstrators were protesting the disappearance of several leading opposition figures and President Alexander Lukashenko's drive to reunite Belarus, a former Soviet republic, with Russia.

Milosevic Rejects Early Election Demands

BELGRADE--President Slobodan Milosevic's government rejected opposition demands for early elections, saying rebuilding Yugoslavia after NATO's bombing campaign must take precedence. Last week, all major opposition parties demanded early parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of the year. In a rare show of unity, they set a series of conditions for a free and fair vote, including foreign monitoring and freeing of the media, which are under tight government control.

Solana Takes EU Foreign Policy Post

BRUSSELS--Fresh from leading NATO through the Kosovo conflict, Javier Solana took over as the European Union's foreign policy chief and pledged to give the bloc a major voice in world affairs. The former NATO secretary general immediately met with the EU's new external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, to calm fears that the appointment of two such high-profile international figures could lead to a turf fight over who speaks for the 15-nation Union.

Chinese President Arrives in Britain

LONDON--Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in Britain to begin a two-week trip to Europe, North Africa and Saudi Arabia that officials said was largely ceremonial, although China's bid to enter the World Trade Organization was on the agenda.

Jiang arrived with little ceremony at Heathrow Airport, but Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip planned to formally welcome him today. He will be the queen's guest at Buckingham Palace during his stay.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Kurdish Rebels Ask Turkey for Reforms

ANKARA, Turkey--Kurdish rebels loyal to condemned guerrilla chief Abdullah Ocalan have called on Turkish President Suleyman Demirel to push for legal reform recognizing a separate ethnic identity for the country's 12 million Kurds.

Their plea was delivered by a small group of rebels who surrendered to Turkish authorities this month to prove their newly declared commitment to peace. The Turkish government has studiously ignored Ocalan's peace overtures.

Mandela: Syria Wants Peace With Israel

JERUSALEM--Former South African president Nelson Mandela said his talks with President Hafez Assad have convinced him that the Syrian leader is committed to peace with Israel.

Mandela, opening his first visit to Israel, told a joint news conference with President Ezer Weizman: "Syria is your neighbor and take it from me, they are seeking peaceful relations with Israel." Peace talks between longtime foes Israel and Syria have been sporadic and logjammed for years over the strategic Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Catholic Official Against Nazareth Mosque

JERUSALEM--The Holy Land's highest ranking Roman Catholic official said a plan to build a mosque near a Christian shrine in Jesus's boyhood home of Nazareth was an act of discrimination against Christians. The decision will "prove to be a grave historical mistake," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told Israeli President Ezer Weizman, writing on behalf of church leaders in Jerusalem.

AFRICA

Botswanan Ruling Party Wins Election

GABORONE, Botswana--President Festus Mogae's ruling Botswana Democratic Party rolled to a landslide general election victory, but a poor showing in urban areas underscored the government's need to fight poverty and create jobs.

The latest results from Saturday's election gave the rural-based Democratic Party 32 seats against six for the opposition Botswana National Front. Figures for remaining seats in the 40-seat elected assembly are due today.

AMERICAS

Venezuela Debates New Constitution

CARACAS, Venezuela--A powerful Venezuelan assembly opened debate on a proposed constitution that supporters of President Hugo Chavez say will help clean up corruption and ease poverty in the oil-rich South American nation.

Chavez, a former coup leader who won a landslide electoral victory last December, has made the new constitution the centerpiece of his first year in office. He and his supporters, who control 92 percent of the seats in the constitutional assembly, contend that the current document has helped corrupt political parties maintain their dominance in Venezuela.

The proposals include extending the presidential term from five years to six, with immediate reelection possible. Under the current constitution, presidents must wait 10 years before running again. The proposals also call for creating the post of vice president and giving soldiers the right to vote.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I don't believe he is an extremist; quite the opposite."

-- U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan William B. Milam, on Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the country's new military ruler --Page A1