Death Toll Climbs

In Chechen Bombing

MOSCOW -- The estimated death toll from Friday's suicide bombing of the government center in the Chechen capital of Grozny climbed to more than 80 yesterday as Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed that Chechen terrorists will not disrupt the Kremlin's plans for the restive republic.

Fifteen people remained in critical condition after more than a ton of explosives detonated in front of the government headquarters that Russian officials had presented as the safest place in the war-ravaged city.

Militants "can certainly increase the number of victims, including among their own people," Putin told his cabinet. "But they will not disrupt the political settlement. Neither will they . . . upset stabilization of the republic and the strengthening of Russia's statehood as a whole."

Prosecutors blamed the attack on lax security and hinted that workers in the Grozny building might have arranged the official passes and military license plates that enabled the bombers to pass through military checkpoints before they crashed the gates of the government complex.

Sharon LaFraniere


Israeli Court Rules Against Reservists

JERUSALEM -- Israel's Supreme Court ruled that army reservists cannot refuse to serve in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but sidestepped a decision on whether Israel's 35-year occupation of the disputed territories violates international law. Eight reservists had contended that they could refuse to be assigned there because the occupation is illegal.

More than 500 Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past 27 months. Dozens have been jailed.

Meanwhile, four Palestinians were killed by troops in continuing violence, and a fifth died under uncertain circumstances in Hebron. Palestinians said he was taken away by Israeli border police and beaten, dying after his return. The Israeli military had no comment.

Associated Press


Ivory Coast Rebels

Apologize to French

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Leaders of rebels in western Ivory Coast apologized for firing on French troops, moving to ease tensions after a string of clashes in the former French colony, according to a spokesman for the French forces.

Rebels met with French officers to deliver their apology, apparently stepping back from an increasingly confrontational stance toward the troops flowing into Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, an American missionary, William P. Foster, left the western war zone after having been reported missing.

"He is safe and sound," John Mueller, director for missionary service at the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said by telephone from St. Louis. Mueller said Foster had not been held hostage by rebels.

Associated Press


Ex-Official Sentenced

In Turkmenistan Plot

ASHKHABAD, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan's high court convicted a former foreign minister and sentenced him to 25 years in prison for allegedly plotting to kill the president. A handpicked assembly of the president's loyalists then increased the sentence to life in prison.

The sentencing came a day after the former minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, was shown in a videotape on state-run television, speaking haltingly and looking down as he confessed to trying to assassinate President Saparmurad Niyazov.

Before increasing the sentence, the People's Council, the assembly of Niyazov supporters, watched the full video, in which Shikhmuradov asserted he had not been tortured into confessing.

Associated Press


Venezuela's opposition threatened to increase civil disobedience and begin a tax boycott as part of a strike that has blocked oil exports but has failed to make President Hugo Chavez resign. . . . The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will remain in Belarus after an agreement was reached that defuses government allegations of political bias, officials said.