Venezuelans to Vote Aug. 15

On Recall of President Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez will face a recall referendum Aug. 15 that could open the way for presidential elections within 30 days if he is defeated, the elections council president said Tuesday.

Opponents of Chavez had compiled 2.54 million petition signatures supporting the recall, surpassing the 2.43 million required under the constitution, said Francisco Carrasquero, head of the five-member council that voted unanimously on the date.

After a year-long opposition campaign for a vote, it was a victory for foes of Chavez who had feared that delays in holding the referendum could have dimmed their chances of ousting him. The Venezuelan leader survived a coup two years ago and later weathered a two-month oil strike.

To recall Chavez, the opposition needs more than the 3.7 million votes he won during his reelection to a six-year term in 2000.

EUROPE

* GENEVA -- The world's largest labor organization named the United States, China, Burma, Colombia and Belarus as serious violators of workers' rights. Around the world, 129 leaders and members of workers' groups were killed in 2003, and tens of thousands were harassed, jailed or threatened with death, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said in its annual global survey of labor union repression, released Wednesday.

The report said 94 people were killed last year in Latin America for exercising basic labor union rights, 90 of them in Colombia, which it called "the most dangerous location in the world to be a trade unionist."

"Far from being a shining beacon of labor practices, trade union rights violations continued unabated in the United States," said the Brussels-based ICFTU, set up during the Cold War with U.S. government support to counter communist influence in labor movements.

In China, "any attempt at trade union action is met with severe repression," and Burma "continued its total repression of trade union activity," the report said.

* MOSCOW -- A Russian court ordered billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky to stand trial with another major shareholder in the Yukos oil company. Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos, and Platon Lebedev face charges of tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud as part of an organized criminal group. The Meshchansky district court approved a defense request to combine their cases and scheduled their first joint hearing for June 16.

ASIA

* SURABAYA, Indonesia -- A Singaporean and an Indonesian were killed and at least five people were seriously injured when Mount Bromo, a popular tourist site in East Java province, spewed ash and hurled rocks the size of footballs, police said. Another volcano, in the country's far northeast, also belched out dust and smoke, forcing authorities to evacuate as many as 20,000 people.

* KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- U.S. and Afghan troops backed by airstrikes killed 21 Taliban militants after rebels attacked a convoy in the mountains of southern Afghanistan, an Afghan commander said. Five Marines and two Afghans were wounded in the clash, the U.S. military said.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lost his parliamentary majority but appeared in no immediate danger of being toppled after the head of a pro-settler party quit the cabinet over a Gaza pullout plan approved Sunday. Housing Minister Effi Eitam, leader of the National Religious Party, and deputy minister Yitzhak Levy tendered their resignations to Sharon, whose coalition had 61 of parliament's 120 seats before they stepped down.

* GAZA CITY -- Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a metal workshop next to a building housing a Hamas office in Gaza City, sparking a fire and wounding two people, residents said. The Israeli military said Hamas, whose formal name is the Islamic Resistance Movement, housed arms and ammunition at the site. Earlier in the day, Palestinians fired a rocket from Gaza at the nearby Israeli town of Sederot. Five Israelis were treated for shock, the military said.

In separate incidents, Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops fired rockets and shells at each other across the Lebanese-Israeli border, a day after the deepest Israeli airstrike into Lebanon in four years. Lebanese security officials said the guerrillas attacked Israeli positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

* ISTANBUL -- Turkish police detained 25 journalists from Kurdish news outlets as the country stepped up security for a NATO summit this month to be attended by President Bush and other leaders.

Anti-terrorism police raided the Istanbul offices of the Dicle news agency and Ozgur Halk magazine, seizing computers and other records, according to a reporter who spoke on condition of anonymity.

AFRICA

* HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The government announced that all farmland would be nationalized and private land ownership abolished. All land, including more than 5,000 former white-owned farms handed over to blacks, will be subject to state-issued 99-year leases, Land Reform Minister John Nkomo told the state-controlled Herald newspaper. About 200,000 black families have been allocated former white-owned land since 2000. Nkomo said a National Land Board would be set up to supervise nationalization of all productive farmland and its effective use.

* LIBREVILLE, Gabon -- A passenger plane carrying at least 29 people plunged into shallow waters off the coast of Gabon, killing many of those on board, airline officials said. Local fishermen and a French army helicopter assisted in the rescue effort. Several foreigners were believed to be among the passengers.

-- From News Services