World Watch

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Demonstrators shut down the Brenner Pass, a major artery that links Germany and Italy through the Austrian Alps, causing major traffic snarls along one of the region's busiest roads. The protesting group, Transitforum Tirol, is upset over E.U. attempts to force Austria to reduce its tolls, which the E.U. says are discriminatory. Residents argue that they are the region's last means of protecting the delicate Alpine environment. Transitforum Tirol wants the proceeds from tolls used to expand the region's rail network. Traffic has increased by 50% along the highway since Austria signed a transit agreement with the E.U. in 1993. A Ger-man official accused Austria of breaking European law by tacitly supporting the protest. ViennaThe Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (opec) boosted output by 708,000 barrels a day, after a March production increase failed to bring the price of oil down to a $25-a-barrel target price. Industry analysts say the modest 3% rise is unlikely to help consumers and believe that further production increases will be needed to keep prices down.

Shedding its image as the E.U.'s most backward economy, Greece became the 12th member state to join the Economic and Monetary Union, a decision endorsed by E.U. leaders at a summit in Portugal. Greece's entry into the monetary system, which will take place on Jan. 1, 2001, comes two years after the E.U. turned down its application because of the country's then poor economic performance. Prime Minister Costas Simitis insists there will be no letup on the measures that put the country's finances in order.

Ehud Barak came through the worst crisis of his 11-month premiership with his coalition intact, but his political stature tarnished. In a weekend poll published in Yediot Aharonot, 59% of Israelis criticized his handling of the standoff in the Knesset. Four ministers from the Sephardi religious Shas party rescinded their resignations after Barak agreed to bail out their cash-strapped school network. Three ministers from the liberal-left Meretz resigned, but their 10 members of parliament will remain in the six-party coalition in order to support the peace process. Education Minister Yossi Sarid, of Meretz, had provoked the confrontation by insisting on supervising how the school subsidy was spent. Barak said afterward that the maintenance of a broad coalition would enable him to take "the most critical fateful decisions" in Israel's history.

In a 35-page report issued before Zimbabwe's general election at the weekend, human rights organizations in the country contended that "high-ranking" officials of President Robert Mugabe's zanu-pfparty, militant veterans of the guerrilla war for independence and members of the Central Intelligence Organization were among those implicated in a country-wide campaign of intimidation and violence against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (mdc). Mugabe's party could face a voter backlash against the violence that could benefit the mdc, particularly in urban areas. Firstresults in the balloting areexpected early this week.

All 42 people aboard a Wuhan Airlines plane died when it exploded after being struck by lightning in central China. And in China's southern province of Sichuan, a capsized ferry left an estimated 120 people missing and 14 reported dead. Officials said overcrowding was partly to blame for the accident. The ship had a capacity of 70 and was believed to be transporting about 200 people.

The U.S. eased sanctions on North Korea that dated from the Korean War and which had banned nearly all U.S. trade to, and travel and financial transactions with, the country. The move will allow trade and investment in consumer goods, farm products, financial services and raw materials, as well as direct flights between the two countries. Coca-Cola quickly began shipping drinks to hotels in the country.

In his first news conference since his May 20 inauguration, President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan urged his mainland Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, to recognize the "age of reconciliation" exemplified by the recent summit between North and South Korean leaders. Calling on Jiang to join him for a "historic handshake," Chen said their meeting could take place "anywhere, in any format, but without preconditions." Beijing responded by reiterating its insistence on Taiwan's acceptance of the "One China" principle. During her visit to China, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggested to its leaders that they show greater flexibility in dealing with Taiwan.HalmaheraMore than 120 lives were lost last week in eastern Indonesia, marking one of the worst outbreaks of violence since the conflict between Muslims and Christians broke out 18 months ago. In a pre-dawn raid on predominantly Christian villages on the North Maluku island of Halmahera, witnesses say, Muslim fighters destroyed hundreds of houses, churches and other buildings, leaving at least 108 people dead and thousands more homeless. Fears of more attacks have been stoked by the arrival of more than 2,000 fighters from the island of Java. More than 2,500 people have been killed since January 1999 in what were known as the Spice Islands, once renowned as a model of religious harmony.

Fijian rebels and the country's military rulers ers reportedly reached an agreement that could end a long standoff and secure the release of 31 hostages held since May 19. Rebel leader George Speight would not comment on the accord—which he declined to sign on Saturday—but had said earlier he wanted to ensure that those who had participated in the coup against Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's government would not be harassed or arrested following a settlement. Speight says he is fight against domination by Fiji's minority Indian population.

Fifteen backpackers died after fire swept through a hostel in the eastern Australian town of Childers. Flames took hold in the historic Palace Backpackers Hostel just after midnight on June 23, sending travelers scrambling onto neighboring roofs. The victims were seven Britons, three Dutch citizens, three Australians, one South Korean and one Japanese. About 70 other guests, most staying in the small Queensland town to work as fruit pickers on local farms, escaped the blaze. Authorities are investigating reports that the fire may have been started by a local resident who bore a grudge against the workers.

Scouts Canada officially recognized Rover Troop 129, making it the world's first gay and lesbian scout troop. Plans for the Toronto troop sparked controversy in the U.S., where scouts and leaders have been expelled from troops for being openly homosexual. Rover Troop 129 is entitled to wear all the badges of Scouts Canada. Its six members (two women and four men) wear rainbow-colored neckerchiefs with their khaki shirts. Rovers are the oldest scout group, aged 18 to 26, but Scouts Canada is considering plans for a gay-friendly Venturers group for 14- to 17-year-olds.

The U.S. Senate approved a controversial aid package of nearly $1 billion to help equip and train Colombian security forces to fight drug traffickers. The drug trade in Colombia helps to finance the country's long guerrilla conflict. The U.S. aid includes a fleet of 60 helicopters and other hardware, plus funds for the U.S. military to train counter-narcotics troops in the Colombian army and national police.

Guatemala City
Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo sent his family to Canada following threats from a notorious gang of local kidnappers. Portillo declared last week that he was afraid that members of the Los Pasaco gang would take revenge after he denied presidential pardons for two gang leaders who face execution on June 29 by lethal injection. "I have information that some actions can be made against my family," Portillo said. His move enraged many Guatemalans who lack the funds to send their own families abroad to escape the country's escalating violence.

Rio de Janeiro
The Brazilian government banned the sale of firearms in an effort to control crime. The move was part of a broader national security plan intended to reduce urban violence and reform the police. The ban on weapons will remain in effect until the end of this year, when the Justice ministry hopes it will be replaced by a more restrictive law that would make it illegal for virtually any person who is not a member of the police, the armed forces or a private security firm to own a gun.