ASIA

Chinese Official Jailed for Falun Gong Role

BEIJING--A high-ranking Chinese air force official has been sentenced to 17 years in prison on charges he played a key role in the banned Falun Gong meditation movement, a human rights group said yesterday.

Yu Changxin, 74, a former professor at the Air Force Command Institute, was tried in secret Jan. 6 by the Air Force Military Court, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said. Yu, who held the rank of a cabinet minister, was convicted of using a cult to undermine the law, the center said in a statement. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense refused to confirm the report.

Yu was accused of helping Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi publish and sell the group's materials, the center said.

U.S. Marine Arrested for Attempted Rape

TOKYO--A U.S. Marine was arrested on suspicion of attempted rape after an incident at a disco in Okinawa, where relations between American servicemen and Japanese residents remain tense after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by Marines.

The arrest was the first since the U.S. military lifted a ban, imposed after the 1995 rape, barring military personnel from Okinawa's bars and discos at night. It comes as Okinawans are once again debating the presence of American forces on the island before a summit meeting in July of the Group of Seven industrialized countries.

Police said the Marine, identified as Lance Cpl. Oswald McDonald Jr., 29, admitted touching the Japanese woman, who is in her thirties, on the dance floor around 4 a.m. But he denied any intent to rape her, according to local media.

McDonald is stationed at Futenma air base in the central Okinanwan city of Ginowan.

THE AMERICAS

American Begins Hunger Strike in Peru

LIMA, Peru--An American woman convicted as a terrorist in Peru has begun a hunger strike, stepping up her pressure for a new trial at the beginning of the fifth year of her life sentence.

Jailed as a Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement rebel leader, Lori Berenson, 30, began refusing food Tuesday, and two doctors have been monitoring her health, prison authorities said.

Mark Berenson, her father, said by telephone from New York that his daughter was "disgusted and frustrated" because Peru refused to grant her a new trial after she was convicted by anonymous judges in a secret military court for plotting to storm Peru's Congress. She denied the charges.

Cuban Mothers March for Boy's Return

HAVANA--More than 100,000 Cuban mothers paraded past the U.S. diplomatic mission as President Fidel Castro's government promised to intensify its fight to reclaim 6-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez.

Both of Elian's grandmothers, hundreds of pregnant women, thousands of children and Castro's sister-in-law also took part in the government-organized march along Havana's seafront Malecon boulevard.

The march was the latest in a series of protests by Cuba since Elian was rescued at sea by U.S. fishermen Nov. 25 and taken in by relatives in Miami.

Elian's paternal grandmother, Mariela, told reporters that she was willing to go to Miami to retrieve her grandson if she was assured that she could pick him up and return immediately to Cuba without becoming embroiled in legal or political problems.

"I would go there just for one minute to get him. To get him. Nothing more," she said.

Some U.S. officials have suggested that Elian's father travel to Miami to pick up his son. Juan Miguel Gonzalez has said he, too, would want assurances he could take his son home.

Fishing Banned on Venezuela's Coast

CARACAS, Venezuela--Venezuela banned fishing and swimming along hundreds of miles of Caribbean coastline after detecting dangerous levels of sewage pollution caused by December's devastating floods. The measure affects some of the country's top tourist beaches and comes during one of the most productive times of the year for local fishermen.

"The levels of contamination are very high and obviously we have to take action to preserve the population's health," Environment Minister Jesus Perez said.

Officials said the extent and duration of the ban had yet to be decided but would likely cover a stretch of coastline across four states measuring about 200 miles.

EUROPE

Abu Nidal Aide Arrested in Vienna

VIENNA--Police have arrested a key associate of Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal in Vienna, law enforcement officials said. Nimer Halima was arrested Thursday by members of Austria's financial police organization, according to police officials who asked not to be identified.

The State Department has listed Abu Nidal's group as "the most dangerous terrorist organization in existence," blamed for killing 300 people and wounding 650 in 20 countries since 1973. Reports last year said Abu Nidal had moved to Egypt from Libya.

Surgeons Perform Double Arm Transplant

LYON, France--An international team of surgeons said it has transplanted both hands and forearms onto a former house painter who had been maimed by the explosion of a homemade rocket. The 33-year-old patient, a Frenchman from the Atlantic port of Rochefort, was doing as well as could be expected after major surgery--the first of its kind--team leaders said.

The 17-hour operation was conducted by France's Jean-Michel Dubernard and Australian Earl Owen, part of the team that conducted the first single hand graft in 1998.

Iran May Buy Russian Nuclear Reactors

MOSCOW--Iran may order three more nuclear reactors for power generation from Russia, a top Russian official said after meeting with an Iranian government representative in Moscow.

U.S. officials have strongly protested Russia's assistance with Iran's nuclear program. The United States accuses Iran of attempting to build weapons of mass destruction.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"We need a wake-up and a shake-up at the European level."

-- Erkki Liikanen, European Union commissioner for information technology, speaking of Europe's lag behind the U.S. in computers and Internet services