Ivory Coast Junta Gets Down to Work

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast--After toppling an elected government in a largely bloodless coup, Ivory Coast's first junta leader yesterday offered to work with civilian politicians until democracy is restored.

Casting himself as a moderate, Gen. Robert Guei said he is not planning a political crackdown and invited parties to submit candidates for a new cabinet he said could be named next week.

Despite three days of frenzied looting, many Ivorians welcomed last week's coup, saying they hoped the army would improve Ivory Coast's shaky economic and political circumstances. President Henri Konan Bedie, who was elected four years ago, was widely accused of corruption and stirring up ethnic divisions.

U.N. Proposes More Sierra Leone Troops

UNITED NATIONS--The Security Council should expand the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone from 6,000 to about 10,000 soldiers because the Nigerian-led West African force is pulling out and a cease-fire remains fragile, said Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"The situation in Sierra Leone continues to pose a threat to peace and security in the region," Annan said in the letter to the council. He also recommended that the U.N. force be given greater powers to maintain security and enforce a peace agreement.

He warned that the departure of the West African intervention force, which has been providing security in the capital Freetown and at Lungi airport, would create "a dangerous security gap."

Nigeria Flood Leaves 250,000 Homeless MAIDUGURI, Nigeria--Rising waters in Lake Chad following the heaviest rains in central Africa in at least 30 years have left an estimated 25,000 people homeless in northern Nigeria, local officials said. Many victims have sought shelter in schools, mosques, churches and other public buildings.

Lake Chad lies on the fringes of the Sahara Desert but is fed by rivers in tropical central Africa. Environmentalists have warned that the lake could dry up as a result of overgrazing and possibly global warming.


39 Slain in Indonesian Province

AMBON, Indonesia--Rival mobs of Muslims and Christians clashed in Indonesia's troubled Spice Islands, killing at least 39 people, witnesses said. A mosque and the main church in the provincial capital were set on fire.

The violence, which erupted Sunday evening after a bus driven by a Christian struck a Muslim pedestrian, continued but had calmed considerably by midday. Security forces patrolled the streets, some on foot, others riding in British-made armored cars.

According to official statistics, about 750 people have been killed this year in a series of sectarian clashes in the province, known as the Spice Islands during Dutch colonial times.

Pakistan Launches Another Crackdown

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan--Pakistan's military-led government launched a second crackdown against corruption, moving to arrest 33 politicians and bureaucrats accused of various offenses, a government official said.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who took over the reins of the country on Oct. 12 after overthrowing prime minister Nawaz Sharif, last month ordered the arrests of 43 politicians and business leaders suspected of corruption and defaulting on bank loan repayments. Some have been released after settling with their banks. The latest sweep is part of the same process, but is aimed against corruption rather than loan defaults.


Guatemalan Leader Vows to Keep Peace

GUATEMALA CITY--Fresh from a landslide election victory, Guatemalan President-elect Alfonso Portillo vowed to uphold the 1996 peace accords ending decades of civil war and called on the military to respect the country's "winds of change."

With more than 97 percent of the vote counted, Portillo, of the rightist Guatemalan Republican Front, had won 68.29 percent of the vote in Sunday's runoff election. His opponent Oscar Berger, of the ruling National Advancement Party, won 31.71 percent.

Peru's Fujimori to Seek Third Term

LIMA, Peru--President Alberto Fujimori said he would run for an unprecedented third term in April in a bid to consolidate his free market reforms and tough anti-rebel policies.

Polls show voters could reelect the two-term leader despite economic problems, widespread criticism on human rights and a constitutional ban against his running for another term.


Sweden, Lutheran Church Cutting Ties

UPPSALA, Sweden--After nearly five centuries as the state church, Lutheranism will end its ties with the Swedish government on New Year's Day and will be treated like any other religion.

"It's a happy separation--or a happy divorce--that has evolved over many years, and that is very good," said Carl-Einar Nordling of the Ministry of Culture.

Although 90 percent of Swedes nominally are Lutherans, the change reflects demographic and immigration trends as well as Swedes' general indifference to organized religion.


Iraqi Palaces Open for Ramadan Meals

BAGHDAD--Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by opening his palaces to hundreds of ordinary Iraqis who rallied around him during a Western bombing campaign a year ago.

The Iraqis invited to the iftars, the evening meal with which Muslims break their daily Ramadan fast, had volunteered as human shields at the government palaces when American and British planes were bombing Baghdad. The United States and Britain had accused Iraq of failing to cooperate with U.N. inspectors sent to ensure it was surrendering its weapons of mass destruction--an issue still unresolved.


"Sixty-seven hours have passed and the passengers are almost dead. What more can the terrorists do before the government decides to take any action?"

--Anil Kumar, brother of one of the Indian Airlines passengers held captive in the jetliner since Friday