Peace Process at Risk

After Ivory Coast Firings

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- The prime minister contemplated resigning Thursday after President Laurent Gbagbo fired three rebel and opposition ministers from Ivory Coast's national-unity government, dealing a major blow to the country's fragile peace process.

In a decree broadcast on state radio, Gbagbo fired the three ministers, including Information Minister Guillaume Soro, the leader of the rebels who captured half of Ivory Coast in a civil war sparked by a failed bid to oust Gbagbo in September 2002. Gbagbo temporarily replaced the ousted ministers with members of his own party.

A rebel spokesman said Gbagbo had "killed" the January 2003 peace deal brokered by France that brought insurgents into the transitional administration set up to arrange elections next year.

After the firings, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, the consensus choice among the parties to the peace accord that largely quelled the fighting, was considering leaving the government, his spokesman, Ahmed Toure, said.

The Middle East

* RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi security forces clashed with five wanted militants at a hideout north of Riyadh, killing four and wounding the fifth, a security official said.

A security agent was also killed and two others were wounded in the shootout at a house outside the town of Buraida, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The official said the men were "misguided individuals," a euphemism Saudi officials use to refer to Islamic militants. He said weapons and ammunition were found at the scene.

The Americas

* BUENOS AIRES -- Argentina has indicted a former naval officer known as the "Blond Angel of Death" for the murder of two French nuns in 1977, frustrating France's years-long effort to have him extradited.

Federal judge Sergio Torres indicted Alfredo Astiz, one of the most notorious figures of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, on human rights violations linked to the nuns' killing, a court official said.

Astiz has been in jail since September facing possible extradition to France after President Nestor Kirchner allowed officials accused of rights abuses to be extradited and ended the military's many years of protection from prosecution.

French courts in 1990 convicted Astiz in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison. Legal experts say the Argentine government is unlikely to approve extradition for someone who is being tried locally.

* CARACAS, Venezuela -- International observers said they would be able to monitor verification of signatures on a petition seeking a referendum against President Hugo Chavez, after they resolved a dispute with electoral authorities.

Electoral officials last week threatened to curb the participation of the Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center after accusing them of favoring opponents seeking a referendum to oust Chavez.

* SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- The United States sent a Boston man to Costa Rica to face charges of corrupting minors and hiring them out for sex, the first U.S. citizen ever extradited to the Central American nation, its security ministry said.

Arthur Kanev, a 56-year-old dentist, fled Costa Rica two years ago after being arrested in 1999 and then conditionally released while awaiting trial, officials said. Kanev was arrested last year in Pompano Beach, Fla., on the Costa Rica charges.

Africa

* KAMPALA, Uganda -- World Health Organization experts are investigating cases of an Ebola-like hemorrhagic fever in southern Sudan, WHO officials said.

Fifteen cases of the mystery illness have been reported near Yambio, a southern Sudanese town close to the border with northern Uganda, since May 10, said Oladipo Walker, WHO's resident representative in Uganda. He said no deaths had been reported.

* NAIROBI -- At least 60 people were killed and about 200 injured in fighting in Somalia last week while fresh violence was reported in the capital, Mogadishu, on Wednesday night, U.N. officials said.

The officials, quoting their own sources, said the victims, half of them civilians, were caught in cross-fire and bombardment by artillery and other heavy weapons in parts of the south and in Mogadishu. There was no word of casualties during Wednesday's clashes in the capital.

Europe

* ISTANBUL -- McDonald's was targeted in bomb plots in Turkey and Italy, with a small bomb damaging cars in a parking lot in Istanbul and firefighters defusing two explosives outside a franchise in Rome.

In Istanbul, police said they received a warning call minutes before the blast. Several cars were damaged, but there were no injuries, an official said. The bombs in Rome were hidden in suitcases along with a banner carrying a five-pointed red star -- a signature of the radical Red Brigades group, police said. No one was hurt.

-- From News Services