Bolivians Demand Vote;

Street Protests Persist

LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Protesters who forced President Carlos Mesa to resign returned to the streets Wednesday to denounce a congressional leader poised to replace him and to demand early elections that could boost the presidential aspirations of an anti-U.S. Indian leader.

Evo Morales, the leftist Indian leader who has been a key figure in the opposition protests, said early national elections were crucial to defusing the country's political and social crisis. He also demanded a constitutional assembly to address demands for more power for Indians and to begin a debate on nationalizing Bolivia's oil industry.

"The street mobilizations will not halt," Morales said.

About 2,000 teachers, peasants and laborers marched through La Paz on Wednesday. Weeks of such protests, coupled with highway blockades nationwide, have crippled Bolivia's economy and strangled La Paz, the capital. Mesa offered his resignation Monday.

Lawmakers scrambled to arrange a congressional session to choose his successor Thursday in the colonial capital of Sucre, hundreds of miles southeast of La Paz.

Morales vowed that protests would escalate if Senate leader Hormando Vaca Diez -- who, under Bolivia's constitution, becomes president when lawmakers accept Mesa's resignation -- took the post. Vaca Diez is widely seen as a free-market supporter.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* GAZA -- Israel and the Palestinians said they had agreed to closely coordinate security steps for the Jewish state's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip in August. The Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, and the Palestinian interior minister, Nasser Yusef, reached a deal after weeks of disagreement.

* JERUSALEM -- Israel built almost twice as many settler homes in the first quarter of 2005 as in the same period in 2004, despite U.S. calls to stop expanding settlements on occupied land, official figures show.

Construction work began on 564 new homes in West Bank and Gaza settlements in the first three months of 2005, an 83 percent increase from the 308 homes begun in the same period a year ago, the statistics bureau reported.

* DAMASCUS, Syria -- Pro-democracy activists and intellectuals appealed to the ruling Baath Party to release political prisoners, including two lawmakers who were stripped of their parliamentary immunity and sentenced to five years in prison in 2001.

A statement, issued as Baath Party members met for the third day of a conference, called for the immediate release of two legislators, Riyadh Seif and Mamoun Homsi, who were arrested in a crackdown on political "salons."

africa

* BRUSSELS -- NATO has decided to airlift African peacekeeping troops into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, the first mission for the Atlantic alliance in Africa, senior NATO and U.S. officials said.

On Friday, Darfur peace talks are due to resume in Nigeria after a six-month recess.

ASIA and the pacific

* KARACHI, Pakistan -- Police in southern Pakistan have arrested eight Shiite Muslims in an attack on a KFC restaurant last month in which six employees were killed, a police official said. The bodies were found May 31, a day after Shiites, angered over a suicide attack at their mosque in Karachi, set fire to the restaurant.

* CANBERRA, Australia -- Several embassies in the Australian capital including the U.S. Embassy, the British High Commission and the Japanese mission were closed Thursday after they received suspicious packages, officials said.

europe

* THE HAGUE -- The U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will not meet its deadline to finish all trials by 2008 and will have to keep working at least into 2009, the court's president said.

In a letter Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council, Judge Theodor Meron said the tribunal would not close before top fugitives Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and Ante Gotovina had been arrested and tried. Meron also noted that 51 defendants are awaiting trial.

* STRASBOURG, France -- Europe's top human rights watchdog criticized Britain for its treatment of terror suspects and urged it to tighten judicial supervision over terrorism cases. The Council of Europe said in a report that placing foreign suspects under house arrest violates basic human rights.

THE AMERICAS

* FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Organization of American States has agreed to a watered-down proposal to monitor democratic performance of its members, reaching a compromise between U.S. demands for greater accountability and Latin America's wariness.

The measure, approved late Tuesday, would require the OAS secretary general to report on concerns that a member state was slipping off the democratic path. The original U.S. proposal was for civil society or elder statesmen to monitor their countries' adherence to democratic ideals and for some way of ensuring accountability.

-- From News Services

Miners protest against the government and demand early elections in La Paz, Bolivia, which has been crippled economically by the demonstrations.