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News In Brief

Forensic experts began looking for traces of a bomb yesterday in a suitcase from the Pan Am jumbo jet which crashed in Scotland last week, killing up to 270 people. The suitcase was taken to the Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment, south of London, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The establishment at Fort Halstead is Britain's leading explosives research unit, and can identify minute particles of explosives. It is still not known whether sabotage or massive structural failure caused the crash.

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British man released from prison in Iran

A Briton imprisoned in Iran for more than two years on weapons charges returned home yesterday after being released from a Tehran prison. The British Foreign Office said Nicholas Nicola, a tourist traveling by land from Pakistan when arrested, had been held without trial since September 1986.

But a Islamic Republic News Agency report said he had been officially charged, tried, and sentenced to 3 years in prison for ``the possession of two weapons and a number of cartridges.''

French girls still missing after announced release

Two French girls captured by Palestinian guerrillas more than a year ago were still missing yesterday, a day after their captors said they had been freed and put on a plane to Paris. Relatives of 7-year-old Marie-Laure Valente and her 6-year-old sister, Virginie, said in Paris that Abu Nidal's Fatah Revolutionary Council guerrilla group had refused to give them a precise date for the girls' return.

Bulgaria stops jamming of Radio Free Europe

Bulgaria has stopped jamming broadcasts by Radio Free Europe, the last Soviet bloc country to do so, a spokesman for the US government-financed station said yesterday. Spokesman Bob Redlich said the jamming was halted on Christmas Day. The programs had been scrambled by Bulgarian authorities ever since the station began broadcasting to Eastern Europe from Munich in the early 1950s, he said.

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Brazilian rancher's son says he killed ecologist

A cattle rancher's son has confessed to arranging last week's murder of a Brazilian ecologist and labor leader known worldwide for his efforts to preserve the Amazon rain forest, police say. Police said Darcy Pereira told them he hired a professional killer to slay Francisco Mendes, who was shot last Thursday.

TV Globo, the nation's principal private network, said Mr. Pereira's father was involved in a land dispute with Mendes.

Chile government agrees to meet with opposition

For the first time in 15 years of authoritarian rule, President Augusto Pinochet's government has agreed to hold formal talks with opposition leaders. The government agreed Monday to meet the opposition Jan. 3 to discuss demands for constitutional changes that would speed up a transition to democracy.

Patricio Aylwin, president of the centrist Christian Democratic Party and spokesman for a 17-party opposition coalition, requested the meeting.

Sudanese stage protests against price increases

Thousands of people demonstrated in the Sudanese capital and two provincial towns yesterday protesting a government increase in sugar prices, witnesses and news reports said. Hundreds of riot police were deployed in the capital as several thousand people shouting antigovernment slogans marched in at least three demonstrations, the witnesses said.

The demonstrators called for the resignation of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi's coalition government.

Yugoslav rail workers stage strike over pay

About 1,000 railroad workers went on strike yesterday to protest their falling living standard and demand the resignation of the federal government, an official report said. The strikers, who walked off their jobs, asked for a 100 percent pay increase, according to the Tanjug news agency and sources in Ljubljana, capital of the northern republic of Slovenia.

Argentine general is fifth Army chief in 5 years

Gen. Francisco Gassino took office Monday as Argentina's fifth Army commander in five years following the third and most serious military revolt under the government of President Ra'ul Alfons'in. General Gassino, who is described by Defense Ministry sources as a keen advocate of discipline, replaced Gen. Jos'e Dante Caridi. General Caridi resigned from his post last week.

Philippine leader adds 25 generals to military

President Corazon Aquino swore in 25 new generals yesterday in a move her defense chief said would improve military effectiveness in dealing with communist insurgents. Ten of the new generals came from the Army, five from the Philippine Constabulary, five from the Air Force, four from the Navy, and one from the Medical Service Corps.

The new generals brought to 93 the number of flag officers in the 160,000-member armed forces.

US strikes back against EC beef ban

The US plans to limit imports from the European Community beginning Jan. 1, the US trade representative's office announced yesterday. The US curbs, which will affect $100 million worth of European exports, are in retaliation for a EC ban on imports of US hormone-treated meat. Labeling the European ban an ``unfair trade practice,'' US Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter said in a statement: ``I regret that the US is forced to retaliate against the EC's ban on meat treated by growth hormones.''

The restrictions will cover imports of EC canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, miscellaneous alcoholic drinks, instant coffee, boneless beef, tomato sauce, fruit juices, certain pork products, and pet food.

The measures will last as long as the EC continues to restrict US meat exports. The EC ban is set to take effect at the beginning of the year and is considered almost certain to go ahead. No US-European talks on the issue have been scheduled.

EC officials say they introduced the ban in response to pressures from consumer groups concerned about possible health risks of hormone-treated meat. EC farmers are barred from using hormones.

Furthermore, the EC has vowed to counter-retaliate against any US restrictions with further curbs on US products. They have prepared a ``shopping list'' of US products that might face EC import restrictions in counter-retaliation.

For the record

Israeli troops shot and wounded 16 Palestinans yesterday in clashes in the Israeli-occupied lands, Arab hospital officials said. Sales of existing homes in the US rose 1.1 percent in November, the biggest increase since August, the National Association of Realtors reported yesterday.

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