Algerians Seen Backing

Amnesty for Militants

ALGIERS -- A large majority of Algerians voted Thursday to back a partial amnesty for hundreds of Muslim militants under a plan intended to end a decade of civil war, a senior source close to the government said.

"It's clearly looking like a massive 'yes' result from the population for this referendum," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's a victory for peace."

The long conflict, one of the world's cruelest, with atrocities by rebels and allegations of crimes by security forces, isolated Algeria from the rest of the world. More than 150,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly civilians.

Although some Algerians buried voting cards in the graves of loved ones to protest the amnesty, many said they were ready to forgive. "We are fed up with the tears. It's time to forget the past and build a future," said a teacher in Algiers who gave her name as Amina.

Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said 79.49 percent of 18.3 million eligible voters took part. Official results were expected Friday.

Some small opposition parties accuse President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of using the referendum to strengthen his grip on the oil-producing Arab state. Human rights groups say the amnesty would hinder trials and conceal abuses, including the fates of thousands of missing persons, which the president denies.


* ROME -- Italian authorities have ordered the arrests of a former U.S. Embassy official here and two other people in connection with a "rendition" case in which CIA operatives allegedly kidnapped a radical Muslim cleric from Milan and flew him to Egypt, where he has said he was tortured.

The new arrest warrants bring to 22 the number of people sought in the February 2003 operation and apparently are the first direct connection to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The warrants were signed by a judge earlier this week in response to a petition from prosecutors, an Italian judicial official said Thursday.

As with earlier orders in the case, the named Americans are believed to have long since departed Italy, and no actual arrests appeared imminent.

* BERLIN -- Germany's two biggest parties edged closer to a "grand coalition" as conservative leader Angela Merkel said there was a strong chance the conservatives and Social Democrats would form a government.

After meeting the leader of the liberal Free Democrats, the allies with whom she failed to win a majority in the Sept. 18 elections, Merkel said her Christian Democrats were much more likely to forge a coalition with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, or SPD. "The possibility or likelihood of a coalition with the SPD is much higher than the other constellations," she told reporters, adding that there was a high probability of success.

* BRUSSELS -- Austria blocked European Union agreement on a mandate to start entry negotiations with Turkey next week, forcing E.U. foreign ministers to call an emergency meeting on the eve of the talks to seek a deal.

Diplomats said Austria stuck to its demand that Turkey be offered an explicit alternative to full membership if it failed to meet the criteria for membership or if the E.U. was unable to absorb it -- something Ankara vehemently rejects.

* AMSTERDAM -- Sixty years after the end of World War II, the Dutch national railway company apologized for its role in deporting thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Aad Veenman, chief executive of Nederlandse Spoorwegen, acknowledged for the first time that his firm had collaborated with Nazi occupiers by deporting 107,000 Dutch Jews -- 70 percent of the country's Jewish community -- to camps in Germany and Poland.


* NABLUS, West Bank -- Israeli forces killed three Palestinian gunmen in the occupied West Bank on Friday, pressing ahead with raids against militants despite a halt to recent cross-border rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, announced the deaths of the three gunmen over loudspeakers in the Balata refugee camp in the city of Nablus, saying they were killed by soldiers mounting a raid.

An Israeli military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said Palestinians fired at troops who entered Balata and the nearby Askar refugee camp to arrest militants in a pre-dawn operation. "The soldiers shot back, and several [gunmen] were hit," she said.

The latest bloodshed came hours after Palestinians finished voting in a third round of local elections in the West Bank widely seen as a test of political clout for the militant Hamas group ahead of a parliamentary ballot in January.

Fatah won control of 59 percent of the 104 municipal councils up for grabs Thursday, compared with 27 percent for Hamas and 14 percent for other factions, said Jamal Shobaki, head of the Higher Commission for Local Elections. Official results are expected in a few days.

* CAIRO -- Egyptian police in the Sinai Peninsula have shot dead three men suspected of organizing bombings that killed 67 people in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in July, the Interior Ministry said.

Khaled Musaid and Tulub Murdi Suleiman were killed Wednesday in a gun battle with police in the Mount Halal area, near where another suspect, Moussa Badran, had been shot dead earlier in the day.


* GENEVA -- Twenty-nine people were reported killed in an unprecedented attack on a refugee camp in the northwest of Sudan's Darfur region, the United Nations said.

According to initial reports, the Aro Sharow camp was attacked by 250 to 300 "armed Arab men on horses and camels" late Wednesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement.

The camp, home to 4,000 to 5,000 people, lies 10 miles north of the town of Saleah in an area that has been regarded as a no-go zone for the United Nations for months because of continuing violence.

Although many villages have been attacked, the agency said, this was the first time a camp for displaced persons had been hit since fighting broke out in the vast area more than two years ago.


* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Thousands of Indonesians staged noisy protests across the country Thursday, some throwing rocks and burning tires as they demanded that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono drop a plan to raise fuel prices sharply.

Tens of thousands of Indonesians also lined up at gas stations in numerous cities to fill their tanks and plastic containers before the increases take effect Saturday. Yudhoyono has said he plans to raise fuel prices to help cut crippling energy subsidies.

* SEOUL -- South Korea will keep sending food aid to the rival North despite the communist regime's demand that international donors halt emergency food shipments and provide development aid instead, an official said.

"Food aid is provided because food is very vital and important . . . for development of relations" between the two Koreas, said Vice Minister Rhee Bong Jo of South Korea's Unification Ministry.


* BUENOS AIRES -- Rescue workers called off a 12-day search for two Argentine men whose snowmobile plunged into a deep ice crevasse in Antarctica, saying there was little hope of finding them alive.

The rescuers then shifted their efforts to trying to find two Chilean soldiers who went missing in a similar accident Wednesday on the same Antarctic peninsula.

-- From News Services

Algerian women in Blida, 30 miles from the capital, Algiers, bury their voter registration cards to protest an amnesty for Muslim militants. The measure, intended to end a decade of civil war that has resulted in more than 150,000 deaths, was put to a referendum Thursday.