AFRICA

Namibia Waits For Election Results

WINDHOEK, Namibia--Two days of voting ended yesterday in an election almost certain to return the South West Africa People's Organization to power, the only governing party Namibians have known in a decade of independence.

The southwest African country's biggest opposition party said it was already considering contesting the count because of vote-rigging, though final results aren't expected until Monday. Early results are expected today.

ASIA

Nobel Laureate Returns to E. Timor

DILI, East Timor--Ending 24 years of exile, Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta triumphantly returned to his liberated homeland where thousands of supporters greeted him with chants of "Long live Ramos-Horta!"

"I am overwhelmed--very, very happy," Ramos-Horta said upon arrival in Dili. He played down his role in East Timor's fight for independence from Indonesia, and in an emotional speech he paid tribute to those who remained in East Timor during the long struggle.

U.N. Official Says No Children in Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan--A senior U.N. official, challenged by the Taliban to find child warriors in its ranks, said that he found no children fighting for the Islamic militia in a visit to a front line near Kabul.

"What I have seen today gives me the impression that this is not the case. People of seasoned age, middle age and youngsters are there, but not at the age of 14 or 15," said Erick de Mul, the U.N. aid coordinator for Afghanistan.

His statement was at odds with one by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who issued a report on Afghanistan this week in which he said children under age 14 were in combat alongside the Taliban against opposition fighters.

EUROPE

Irish Republic to Drop Claim to N. Ireland

DUBLIN--Foreseeing permanent peace in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern declared his government is firmly committed to dropping its territorial claim on the British province.

Ahern addressed lawmakers in Dublin hours before the British government was scheduled to formally transfer powers to a new Protestant-Roman Catholic government for Northern Ireland. Ahern said the Irish Republic's 1937 constitution would be amended today in keeping with the Good Friday peace accord of 1998. The proposed change, overwhelmingly approved by Irish voters last year, drops the definition of Northern Ireland as "part of the national territory" in favor of proclaiming hope that the north's British Protestant majority might one day seek unification.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Queen Elizabeth II had approved legislation transferring powers to the new Northern Ireland government.

Crash Victims' Families to Get Damages

ROME--Families of the 20 people who died when a U.S. Marine jet clipped a cable car line in the Italian Alps in 1998 will each receive up to $2 million in damages under a new law approved by Italy's Senate.

The legislation, adopted late Tuesday, names a special commissioner to identify the victims' relatives, determine the damages due and pay out the sum within three months.

Under a NATO convention, the host country pays 25 percent of the damages while the country responsible for the accident pays the remaining 75 percent. The treaty allows countries to try their own military officers, and regulates compensation in accidents involving two NATO members.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Palestinians Ask Milosevic for Christmas

JERUSALEM--The Palestinian Authority has invited President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia to Bethlehem to celebrate the Christian Orthodox Christmas in January, according to Palestinian, Greek Orthodox and Israeli government sources.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron predicted that if Milosevic accepted, he would be apprehended on arrival. The United Nations Tribunal on Yugoslavia has indicted Milosevic on charges of persecuting, deporting and murdering ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, and all members of the United Nations are legally obliged to arrest him if he sets foot on their territory. The Palestinian Authority, not legally a state, is not a member of the United Nations.

The Palestinians have invited many heads of state from predominantly Orthodox countries to celebrate their Christmas, which falls on Jan. 6.

Protesters Urge Release of Iranian Cleric

TEHRAN--Dozens of people gathered outside the home of a senior cleric to demand the release of a leading reformer who was jailed for advocating democracy, residents said.

Abdollah Nouri, a former interior minister and close ally of Iran's moderate president, was sentenced Saturday by a clerical court to five years in prison on charges including religious dissent.

Nouri held some of the top state positions in the Islamic republic, but in prison he is treated like an ordinary prisoner, the pro-reformist Asr-e-Azadegan newspaper reported. He shares a 6 1/2-by-10-foot cell with three other prisoners, all clerics, his lawyer said.

FOR THE RECORD

* KIGALI, Rwanda--Congolese rebels warned the government to halt a massive bombardment, threatening to take revenge against 700 Zimbabwean troops the insurgents have surrounded.

* MANAGUA, Nicaragua--Nicaragua launched an economic and diplomatic offensive against Honduras, breaking commercial ties with its neighbor over a maritime treaty that gives Colombia rights to Atlantic waters claimed by Nicaragua.

* TRIPOLI, Libya--Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema became the first Western head of state to visit Libya since 1992 sanctions isolated the country, giving a vote of confidence to a country struggling to overcome Western isolation.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We have no regrets for these charges. The public supports our petition. Arafat should apologize to us."

--Hassan Khreisheh,one of the dissident Palestinian lawmakers who signed a statement accusing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of allowing widespread corruption

--Page A30