Powerful Blast Kills One

In Beirut Christian Area

BEIRUT -- A powerful bomb exploded in a Christian neighborhood of eastern Beirut late Friday, killing at least one person and wounding 23, officials said. It was the latest in a series of bomb attacks to rock Lebanon's capital.

The bomb detonated just before midnight, heavily damaging the balconies and facades of several buildings along a street and destroying at least two cars.

Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, commander of the Internal Security Forces, said the explosive had been placed in a bag that was hidden between two cars, and detonated with a timing device.

The blast came days ahead of an expected visit by a U.N. investigator to Damascus to interview top Syrian officials over the deadliest of Lebanon's recent bomb attacks -- the Feb. 14 assassination of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The Middle East

* GAZA STRIP -- Hundreds of Palestinian policemen were sent to Gaza's border with Egypt to stop thousands of Palestinians from flowing across a frontier barrier that was breached after Israel's pullout.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to stop the crossings, which added to growing lawlessness in Gaza in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from the territory after 38 years of occupation.

THE Pacific

* WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealanders were voting on Saturday in a tight election that opinion polls suggested was too close to call after a rough-and-tumble campaign.

New Zealand's 2.9 million voters have a choice among 19 parties. Opinion polls suggested one of the tightest contests in New Zealand history as Prime Minister Helen Clark's center-left party seeks a third straight term over the conservative National Party, led by former central banker Don Brash.

The Americas

* BOGOTA, Colombia -- The Colombian government plans to spray the country's national parks with herbicide to rid them of the raw material for cocaine despite protests from environmental groups.

Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt said Friday that spraying the parks would save them from destruction at the hands of drug smugglers, who the government says damage the environment with chemicals used to make cocaine, such as sulfuric acid.

Environmentalists said spraying with the herbicide glyphosate, in a program funded by the United States, would damage pristine jungle environments and harm indigenous peoples.

EUROPE

* SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- NATO troops raided the home of a former bodyguard of Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, hoping to find information leading to his arrest, the alliance said in a statement.

NATO said Mladjen Kenjic was believed to still be providing support to Mladic, who has been indicted for genocide by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo.

-- From News Services