THE AMERICAS

Excavation of Mexican Graves Ended

MEXICO CITY--Mexican and U.S. officials have ended their excavations of mass grave sites along the countries' border after turning up only nine bodies, Mexican prosecutors announced yesterday.

Officials began digging at four ranches near Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, this fall. At the time, one official cited an informant as saying drug smugglers might have buried as many as 100 bodies at the ranches.

The digging was called off Wednesday, Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo said. He said investigators were interviewing more witnesses to drug slayings, but that no specific locations had been identified for more digging.

Seven of the nine bodies have been tentatively identified, and the identifications indicate they were killed by a drug-smuggling gang headed by the Carrillo Fuentes family, said Jose Larrieta Carrasco, head of the Mexican attorney general's organized crime unit.

Military Supports Ecuadoran President

QUITO, Ecuador--Ecuador's armed forces came out in support of President Jamil Mahuad in the face of demands by thousands of protesting Indians that he resign for failing to improve their living standards.

"The president is part of the democratic system, the constitution. We Ecuadorans and the military have sworn to uphold that," Carlos Mendoza, chief of the armed forces joint command and interim defense minister, said.

Indigenous groups, who some say make up nearly half of Ecuador's 12.4 million population, claim the government is corrupt and has mismanaged the economy. They have demanded Mahuad, Congress and the Supreme Court step down.

Mexican Students Vote to End Strike

MEXICO CITY--More than 90 percent of students and employees at Latin America's largest university voted to end a strike over tuition fees that has paralyzed classes for nine months, according to initial projections of a referendum.

The result, based on an exit poll of 10,000 voters in 150 ballot stations, was published by private survey firm Consulta-Mitofsky two hours after teachers and students at the National Autonomous University finished voting.

Although the students organizing the strike have not said what they would do if the vote went against them, the referendum is the closest the two sides have come to finding a solution to the stoppage.

ASIA

U.S. Envoy Meets Taliban Officials

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan--The most senior U.S. official to visit Pakistan since an army coup met representatives of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, apparently to press for the expulsion of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Neither side released details about the meeting between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth and Taliban Information Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Saeed Mohammed Haqqani, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, according to the Taliban-run Radio Shariat.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Pope Prepares for Egypt Pilgrimage

VATICAN CITY--Making the first of his millennium pilgrimages to the Middle East, Pope John Paul II will visit Egypt next month in a three-day trip taking him to the very roots of Western faith. He will stop in Cairo and then visit a monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai on the Feb. 24-26 trip, the Vatican said in announcing the pilgrimage.

The trip will come a month before a major pilgrimage to the Holy Land that will include stops in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

EUROPE

New Austrian Government Attempt Fails

VIENNA, Austria--Attempts to form a new Austrian government failed today when the leading party broke off coalition talks with an opposition party after more than three hours of closed-door negotiations.

Chancellor Viktor Klima of the leading Social Democrats announced the end of the talks. He said he would propose to President Thomas Klestil that the Social Democrats form a minority government.

The leading Social Democrats won the biggest share of votes in October's parliamentary elections, but it was not enough for the party to form a government by itself. On Tuesday, it appeared the Social Democrats had reached a deal with the Austrian People's Party to form a coalition government, but the deal collapsed after the sides disagreed over who should control key government posts.

Russia Decides to Keep Mir Aloft

MOSCOW--Russia decided to keep the troubled Mir space station in orbit by using rockets that had been intended for the International Space Station, but officials insisted the move won't further delay building the station.

Mir has been flying without a crew since August, and heavily indebted Russia had said it would abandon the station in March unless private investors came up with funding.

Spain Blocks More Pinochet Appeals

MADRID--The Spanish government blocked a judge's bid to file an immediate appeal if Britain decides to free former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on humanitarian grounds.

Foreign Minister Abel Matutes said he had turned down Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon's request to ask British prosecutors to challenge any move by Home Secretary Jack Straw to send the 84-year-old general home. "There will be no further appeals," Matutes told reporters.

Poland Expels 9 Russian Diplomats

WARSAW--Poland ordered nine Russian diplomats out of the country for spying in an incident that has aggravated the uneasy relations between the former Cold War allies.

Moscow called the expulsions an "explicitly unfriendly and provocative action" and warned that "appropriate response measures become inevitable."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I apologize for the fact that, under our responsibility, laws were quite clearly broken and faith in the integrity of our democratic institutions was damaged."

-- Wolfgang Schaeuble, leader of Germany's opposition Christian Democratic party, addressing parliment -- Page A1