Three Saudi Dissidents Tried in Open Court

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- In a rare open court hearing, three advocates of democratic reform appeared before a judge Monday on charges arising from their criticism of political and religious life in the kingdom.

Saudi trials are normally held behind closed doors, but Monday's hearing was attended by about 200 people. The defendants -- Matrouk Faleh, Ali Dimeeni and Abdullah Hamed -- are charged with sowing dissent, creating political instability, printing political leaflets and using the media to incite people against the government, according to two political activists who attended. The hearing was adjourned until Aug. 23.

The open trial is the latest in a series of moves toward limited reform in Saudi Arabia, the boldest of which is a pledge to hold municipal elections starting in November.

THe Middle East

* ISTANBUL -- Explosions rocked two small tourist hotels in Istanbul and a gas plant nearby early Tuesday, killing two people and injuring seven in what the police chief said was an apparent terrorist strike.

Workers at the Pars hotel said they received an anonymous call, saying there was a bomb in a room, 10 minutes before the explosion, which killed two people. There were 37 guests at the hotel, in a district catering to Eastern Europeans, when the blast occurred about 2 a.m.

About the same time a bomb went off at the Star Holiday Hotel. The three-story hotel had 20 guests at the time, officials said.

Authorities said two bombs were placed under storage tanks at the liquefied petroleum gas plant outside Istanbul, where cooking gas canisters are filled. The blasts took place a half-hour apart, shortly after an anonymous bomb threat, police said. There were no casualties and a gas leak was reported to be under control.


* CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela will guarantee oil exports and prevent unrest regardless of who wins next Sunday's referendum, the government said Monday, seeking to dispel fears of violence.

As the recall vote approaches, oil and financial markets have been nagged by concerns that a close result, especially a defeat for President Hugo Chavez, could trigger instability for the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. Oil prices are already at record highs.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who would temporarily assume power if Chavez lost, assured diplomats that there would be no breakdown in law and order. As the meeting took place, scuffles broke out in a Caracas square between supporters and opponents of Chavez and troops trying to separate them.

* LIMA, Peru -- The head of the Peruvian Institute of Nuclear Energy said that two stolen nuclear measuring devices used by miners do not contain enough radioactive material to produce a "dirty bomb."

The institute's president, Modesto Montoya, said the missing 44-pound industrial measurers each contain about 3.5 ounces of removable, encapsulated cesium-137. They were stolen on July 31, most likely for sale to a scrap collector, he said.

Although the amount of cesium-137 would not be enough to make a radioactive bomb, it could cause serious burns if carried around in a pocket for several days, Montoya said.


* NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- The pro-U.S. government of Mauritania broke up a plot by military officers and Islamic radicals to seize power in this heavily Arab West African nation through a bombing and assassination campaign, military and ruling party officials said. At least two military officers were arrested and soldiers were ordered restricted to barracks nationwide.

* CAIRO -- Sudan agreed to take part in peace talks to resolve the crisis in the western region of Darfur, where government-backed militias are accused of killing thousands of villagers. Sudan's acceptance came a day after President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, in his capacity as African Union chairman, offered to host the talks.

In Brussels, the European Union said a fact-finding mission found no evidence of genocide in Darfur, although killing was widespread. The conclusion put the E.U. at odds with the U.S. Congress, which, in a resolution, characterized conditions in the region as amounting to genocide.

Pieter Feith, who visited Sudan on behalf of E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, showed little optimism, even as he declined to endorse the U.S. congressional assessment.

"We are not in the situation of genocide there. . . . But it is clear there is widespread, silent and slow killing going on, and village burning on a fairly large scale," Feith said to reporters.

"There are considerable doubts as to the willingness of Sudan's government to assume its duty to protect its civilian population against attacks," he said.

In Darfur, health agencies reported an outbreak of hepatitis E in some of the teeming camps housing refugees, which could herald other epidemics with greater fatality rates.

In Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, U.N. officials announced that two rebels groups in Darfur have agreed to allow the vaccinations of up to 500,000 children trapped behind rebel lines.

* BUJUMBURA, Burundi -- The nation's top Anglican church official fled a kidnapping attempt by the rebel group Hutu Forces for National Liberation, a Protestant pastor said.

Bishop Pie Ntukamazina was seized on Sunday about six miles south of the capital while returning from a church trip. The bishop, a pastor and other church officials were pulled out of the vehicles and robbed, but a counterattack by the Burundian army helped the churchmen flee, the church official said.

* ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Rebels and opposition leaders rejoined Ivory Coast's power-sharing government, ending a five-month boycott that began after security forces killed more than 100 opposition followers.

Ministers representing loyalists and the opposition convened a cabinet session with President Laurent Gbagbo. The session was the first assembling of ministers from all sides since March and followed international pressure to get peace efforts back on track after a 2002-03 civil war.

"We think the moment has come to work for peace and to move things forward," said Guillaume Soro, a rebel leader and information minister who had been fired in May from the national reconciliation government.

"It's like the first day of school. Smiles are everywhere," Prime Minister Seydou Diarra said after the cabinet session.


* SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- Forensic experts said they found a mass grave in the waste dump of a coal mine in eastern Bosnia, which they suspected may contain the bodies of about 350 Muslims who disappeared from a detention center during the Bosnian war.

The experts believe the remains could be those of Muslims who were held in a former jail in the town of Foca, about 45 miles southeast of Sarajevo, that was turned into a detention center by Bosnian Serbs, according to Amor Masovic, the team leader.

* BERLIN -- An estimated 40,000 people across Germany protested social welfare cuts, with large demonstrations in eastern German cities hard hit by unemployment.

-- From News Services