Bid to Undo Fertility Law

In Italy May Fall Short

ROME -- Italians voted in an emotionally charged referendum on fertility treatment and embryo research on Sunday, but a low turnout appeared likely to make it invalid, a victory for the Catholic Church's campaign for a boycott.

At the end of the first day of the two-day poll, only about 18.7 percent of those eligible had cast ballots. A half day of voting was to be held on Monday.

Barring an unlikely surge in turnout Monday, commentators said the referendum, aimed at repealing a restrictive law on assisted procreation, would fail to reach the minimum turnout of 50 percent needed to make it valid.

The Catholic Church and groups that want the law to stand called for the boycott.

The run-up to the referendum sparked the most heated debate on social issues in Italy since divorce and abortion were legalized in the 1970s.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* GAZA CITY -- Palestinian authorities carried out their first executions since 2002, killing four convicted murderers in a campaign that was meant to halt a growing wave of lawlessness but that drew swift condemnation from human rights groups.

The executions reflected the tough challenge that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faces as he tries to establish rule of law in the Palestinian territories. Abbas has made public order a top priority, but Palestinian security forces have been severely weakened by Israeli attacks, internal rivalries and a lack of resources.

* KUWAIT CITY -- The Kuwaiti government has appointed its first female cabinet minister, a month after lawmakers in the oil-rich nation granted women the right to vote and run for office.

Massouma Mubarak, a women's rights activist, columnist and political science teacher, was given the planning and administrative development portfolios, Prime Minister Sabah Ahmed Sabah said.

THE AMERICAS

* EL ALTO, Bolivia -- Bolivia's most radical protest leaders threatened the country's new president with massive marches like the ones that toppled his predecessor if he did not immediately pledge to nationalize the country's rich natural gas resources.

Eduardo Rodriguez, the former Supreme Court chief justice who was sworn in Thursday as interim president, met with neighborhood, union, mining and farm leaders in a church auditorium in El Alto, a sprawling, impoverished city adjacent to La Paz, in an effort to quell the country's most intense civil disturbances.

The protest leaders said their truce was only temporary after three weeks of roadblocks and factory occupations forced out Carlos Mesa, the country's second president to resign in two years.

In Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez blamed President Bush for Bolivia's crisis and said Bush's "poisoned medicine" of free-market policies was being rejected by Latin America.

AFRICA

* NAIROBI -- Somalia's new government swore in several ministers and held its last parliamentary session in Kenya before beginning to return home after a nine-month delay over security concerns.

The government of President Abdullahi Yusuf fears that without an international peacekeeping force, militias will prevent ministers and their teams from carrying out their work.

Yusuf and nearly 140 lawmakers who support him attended the parliamentary session, in which a new information minister and several junior ministers were sworn in.

ASIA

* BEIJING -- Rescuers have found the bodies of 28 more people, most of them children, after a flash flood triggered by the worst rains in 200 years hit a packed Chinese school two days ago, killing at least 92 people.

* MANILA -- Fourteen communist guerrillas were killed when Philippine security forces raided a suspected rebel hideout in a farming village on Luzon Island, an army spokesman said.

EUROPE

* VIENNA -- The governing board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency is expected to formally approve Mohamed ElBaradei's third term as the agency's chief, after the United States ended its efforts to oust him, diplomats said.

But the Bush administration has not given up its battle to stop Iran's nuclear program, which it contends is secretly working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its atomic programs are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity.

* LONDON -- Peter Hain, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said he expected the Irish Republican Army to issue a statement soon that would commit the guerrilla group to "peaceful means."

Officials in London are trying to get the British-ruled province's feuding Catholics and Protestants back to the negotiating table to try to restore self-government.

-- From News Services