Sharon Rival Wants

Referendum on Gaza

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faced a surprise challenge on Monday to his plan to expedite a pullout from the Gaza Strip when Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his main rival in the Likud Party, called for a referendum on the issue.

But Sharon won an unexpected reprieve from another quarter. A pro-settler religious party threatening to quit his coalition gave him a breathing space by voting to postpone a decision until parliament ratifies a Gaza withdrawal.

Analysts saw Netanyahu's bid, coming soon after a rally by 70,000 opponents of the plan, as an attempt to delay a withdrawal of settlers and soldiers that Sharon has said he hopes to complete by the end of 2005.

"I propose, not as a condition, but as something I believe can preserve national unity, an accelerated referendum process in which one question will be posed: 'Do you support or oppose the government's decision for a phased disengagement?' " said Netanyahu, a former prime minister.

Israel's military killed three members of a militant group linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization in an airstrike in the West Bank city of Jenin.

One of those killed was Mahmoud Abu Halifa, the local deputy leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The Israeli military said the three had been involved in attacks on Israelis.

The al-Aqsa commander in Jenin threatened to retaliate with an attack inside Israel within 24 hours.

EUROPE

* BELFAST -- A Protestant militant pleaded guilty to murdering a prominent Belfast lawyer, but the victim's family and Catholic leaders demanded a public investigation into suspected involvement of British security forces.

Ken Barrett, 41, was convicted of murdering Pat Finucane, who specialized in defending Irish Republican Army suspects. Two gunmen broke into Finucane's home on Feb. 12, 1989, and shot the lawyer 14 times as he sat down to a Sunday lunch with his wife and three children.

Barrett, who also pleaded guilty to 11 lesser charges, was expected to receive a life sentence. Under terms of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord, which has already allowed more than 500 convicted members of the IRA and outlawed Protestant groups to walk free from prison, he could win parole within weeks.

Catholic leaders said they welcomed Barrett's conviction, because it apparently removes Britain's chief public reason for delaying an inquiry into the wider Finucane scandal. Evidence has mounted over the past 15 years that paid agents of the British army and Northern Ireland police encouraged, abetted and committed the killing.

* ATHENS -- Greece announced three days of national mourning for the death of the patriarch of Alexandria, a top leader of the Orthodox Church, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Saturday.

Patriarch Petros, the leader of Orthodox Christians in Africa, died with 16 others when the Chinook military helicopter in which they were riding plunged into the sea 20 miles off the northern Greek coast.

The accident unleashed a flurry of finger-pointing in the Greek armed forces, with top officials admitting a breakdown in communications and delays in launching a search for the helicopter. The air force chief was fired over the weekend.

* VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II told New Zealand bishops that efforts to equate marriage between man and woman to other forms of cohabitation violate "God's plan for humanity."

New Zealand's parliament has been debating legislation that would grant civil union status to couples -- both same-sex and heterosexual -- who live together, giving them many of the same rights as married couples.

"Spouses rightly deserve specific and categorical legal recognition by the state," the pope said, "while any attempt to equate marriage with other forms of cohabitation violates its unique role in God's plan for humanity."

* BRUSSELS -- The European Union said it would impose sanctions on Sudan if it does not take adequate steps to disarm Arab militias accused of pursuing a campaign of murder, rape and pillage in the western region of Darfur.

"In the immediate future the E.U. will . . . take appropriate measures, including sanctions, against the Government of Sudan and all other parties . . . if no tangible progress is achieved in this respect," E.U. foreign ministers said in a statement.

* ROME -- Italian authorities found a boat filled with almost 500 illegal immigrants traveling from North Africa to Sicily, prompting the government to press Libya for more cooperation in stemming the flow of unlawful immigrants.

Dozens of illegal immigrants reach Italian shores most days during the summer, but the latest arrival near the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa was particularly large. Italy has said most of the immigrants leave from Libya, and it has already agreed on several measures with Tripoli to fight illegal immigration.

THE AMERICAS

* PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Gunmen shot and killed a Baptist minister who was Haiti's most popular radio personality, the radio station's owner said.

The Rev. Jean Moles Lovinsky Berthomieux, better known to listeners as Pastor Moles, was shot several times as he was leaving his Port-au-Prince home for Radio Caraibes FM, where his religious program, "The Morning Manna," was Haiti's top-rated show. The gunmen escaped.

Authorities said there was no immediate indication that the killing in the turbulent country was politically motivated.

ASIA

* TOKYO -- Japan on Tuesday hanged a man convicted of stabbing to death eight elementary school children, local news media reported. The execution of Mamoru Takuma, 40, took place with unusual speed, less than a year after his death sentence was finalized for the 2001 attack in western Japan that shocked the nation and severely shook its sense of security.

The Justice Ministry announced the hangings of two men, but in keeping with its usual practice did not disclose their identities. Local reports said the two were Takuma and Sueo Shimazaki, 59, a former gang leader sentenced to death for killing three other gangsters in 1988. The executions were the first in Japan in a year.

-- From News Services

Jason Hatch, 33, in a Batman costume, leans against a ledge at Buckingham Palace in the presence of a palace employee as he demonstrates for greater custody rights for divorced and separated fathers. The British government ordered a security review after Hatch used a ladder to scale the perimeter fence and climb the palace wall.