Arafat Fends Off

Political Challenge

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat fended off another challenge to his authority Wednesday when lawmakers backed away from insisting that the Palestinian leader sign decrees imposing sweeping reforms and instead approved a watered-down set of recommendations to curb corruption and restore law and order.

A wave of chaos plaguing the occupied Palestinian territories, meanwhile, took another victim when gunmen in Gaza seriously wounded a senior intelligence official.

Gunmen opened fire at a convoy carrying the deputy Palestinian intelligence chief, Tareq Abu Rajab, seriously wounding him in the chest and killing two bodyguards.


* KATMANDU, Nepal -- Food and other supplies rolled into Katmandu after Maoist rebels lifted a week-long blockade that demonstrated their growing power and that analysts said could embolden them to step up their revolt.

The Nepali capital of 1.5 million people had only a few weeks of fuel and food left after the blockade choked off supplies from the southern plains and neighboring India.

* BANGKOK -- Soldiers detained 2,000 Hmong refugees from Laos who hope to join their families in the United States after living in a camp in central Thailand for almost two decades, officials and refugees said.

Thai officials and Hmong refugees, some of whom fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, gave conflicting accounts of the detentions. An army colonel at the Tham Krabok refugee camp said the refugees -- who had failed to register to move to the United States -- walked to a nearby police station to demand permission to join the exodus.

* ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani interim Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain resigned to pave the way for Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz to take over as head of the government in a few days.

* TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Typhoon Aere battered northern Taiwan, triggering a mudslide that buried a church and killed a man and his daughter as the storm churned toward China, where nearly 250,000 people were being evacuated. The new fatalities pushed the death toll to nine.


* VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II, aiming to improve ties with Russia's Orthodox Church and possibly pave the way for a papal trip, sent an icon dear to Russians on its way back to Moscow after nearly a century in the West.

At an elaborate ceremony with Byzantine chants used in the Russian Church, the pope gave the Mother of God of Kazan icon to a delegation that will take it to Russia on Friday after public veneration in Rome.

* BUDAPEST -- The ruling Socialist Party chose one of Hungary's wealthiest men to become the new prime minister, resolving a split with a smaller party that had threatened to undo the center-left governing coalition.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, a centrist reformer who was sports minister, must be formally approved as head of government by parliament, where the Socialists and the Alliance of Free Democrats hold a narrow majority.


* LUANDA, Angola -- The leading opposition group in Zimbabwe announced that it would boycott parliamentary elections planned for March unless President Robert Mugabe repealed a strict security law, restrictions on the press and the right to assemble.

The Movement for Democratic Change issued a statement criticizing "the government's unrelenting assault on democratic rights" and said recent election reforms proposed by Mugabe did not address the broader problems created by his increasingly repressive tactics over the past four years.

-- Craig Timberg

* KAMPALA, Uganda -- Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo agreed to immediately disarm rebel groups who threaten peace and security in Africa's Great Lakes region.

-- From News Services