Congo Children Buried

By Strong Earthquake

KINSHASA, Congo -- A powerful earthquake Monday toppled dozens of homes and buried children in rubble in eastern Congo, killing at least two people in a region already beset by chronic violence and grinding poverty.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.8, struck at 2:20 p.m. and was centered beneath Lake Tanganyika on the Congo-Tanzania border, about 600 miles southwest of Nairobi, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

"Dozens of houses have collapsed," said Jean-Donne Owali, a Congolese doctor and aid worker in the lakeside city of Kalemie, Congo. "Several children were buried by the roofs of their houses." He said at least two people died of injuries at his clinic.

U.N. spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said a child was killed in Kalemie when two houses and a church crumbled. Three people were injured. It was not clear whether the child was one of the two people Owali reported killed.


* MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin ordered his administration to draft amendments to a proposed law that would bring grass-roots activism in Russia under greater government control. But he insisted that some legislation was necessary to prevent foreign interference in the country's political life through the work of nongovernmental organizations.

The draft law, which passed the first of three required readings in the parliament last month, has created strong opposition among Russian activists whose work in areas such as human rights can bring conflict with the government. Foreign organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International fear that the legislation could force them to close their offices in Russia.

A second reading of the bill, set for Friday, is now likely to be postponed, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

In televised remarks to his cabinet, Putin said that "the main accomplishment of today's Russia is its democratic process and the civil society's achievements."

Putin did not give specifics on how he would like the bill revamped but said he would like to see amendments in five days. He also made clear that some version of the legislation would pass.

-- Peter Finn

* VIENNA -- U.N. investigators began questioning five Syrian officials under a cloak of secrecy in Vienna in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, diplomatic sources said. Syria denies any role in the killing.

* NEKRASOVKA, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko, angry over delays in reporting a virulent strain of bird flu, ordered the dismissal of Ukraine's top veterinarian officer. Ukrainian troops were destroying domestic fowl in five villages in the Crimea peninsula after experts detected bird flu, but residents said birds had been dying since September with officials taking no action. Tests are being run to determine whether the virus is the deadly H5N1 strain.

* AMSTERDAM -- Fourteen men, including the jailed killer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, went on trial accused of plotting attacks and being members of a terrorist network. Mohammed Bouyeri, sentenced to life earlier this year in van Gogh's death, and most of the other men are descendants of Moroccan immigrants.

* TBILISI, Georgia -- A trial began for the man charged with trying to assassinate President Bush in the former Soviet state of Georgia. Vladimir Arutyunian is accused of throwing a grenade while Bush was speaking in Tbilisi in May. The grenade did not detonate.


* CAIRO -- A court ordered the detention of the runner-up in Egypt's presidential election, Ayman Nour, and his five co-defendants as their trial on forgery charges approached its end. Judge Abdel Salam Gomaa gave no reason for the detention, but Egyptian judges often make such orders when a guilty verdict is looming.


* JIAMUSI, China -- The head of a Chinese chemical company blamed for a benzene spill that poisoned the Songhua River has been removed from his post, the company said. The announcement came as the spill neared this northeastern city of 990,000 people.

* MANILA -- The U.S. Embassy here closed to the public Tuesday after receiving "plausible threat information," the embassy said in a statement. It did not elaborate.

-- From News Services