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A protest strike called by opponents of the Middle East peace talks paralyzed the occupied lands April 27 as the negotiations resumed in Washington. The PLO's Fatah faction, the main backer of the peace talks, urged some shopkeepers to stay open and demonstrate support for the talks, but the appeal was ignored. The strike was not necessarily a gauge of opposition to the talks, but rather of people's fear of Palestinian militants who in the past have torched shops and beaten strike-breakers. No violence w as reported on April 27. The same day, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to ease the closure it imposed on the occupied lands March 31 to quell anti-Israeli violence. Gunmen hold hostages

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Four gunmen stormed into Costa Rica's court building April 26 and grabbed 19 of 22 Supreme Court justices as hostages. The gunmen demanded $20 million and the release of an unspecified number of prisoners, an official said. There was widespread speculation in news media and among politicians that the kidnappers belonged to Colombia's Medellin cocaine cartel and were trying to win the release of four cartel members arrested in Costa Rica in September. Officials refused to confirm or deny the reports. Eritrean independence

Eritreans overwhelmingly voted for independence from Ethiopia in a referendum that formalizes a rebel victory in Africa's longest liberation struggle, organizers of the vote said April 27. The three-day independence referendum, which ended April 25, was held to cement Eritrea's de facto separation from Ethiopia. China-Taiwan talks

China and Taiwan opened two days of talks in Singapore on April 27. It was their highest-level negotiations since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. The heads of the two semiofficial bodies handling ties discussed ways to expand trade and investment, cooperation to fight crime, and the creation of a regular, formal channel of communication between them. Clinton is nonplussed

President Clinton on April 27 shrugged off remarks made by his budget director that the president had a tough fight ahead to win congressional approval for his economic and Russian aid packages. When asked during a morning jog if he was angry at budget director Leon Panetta, the president smiled and replied, "What for?" Conan the talk-show host

Conan O'Brien, a young and unknown comedy writer, will replace David Letterman as the host of NBC's "Late Night" talk show, the network announced April 26. Mr. O'Brien has won an Emmy award as a writer for the NBC comedy program "Saturday Night Live," but has never spent much time in front of a camera. Mr. Letterman said earlier this year he will leave NBC to host a talk-show earlier in the evening for rival CBS. Waco investigation

Cult members inside the besieged Branch Davidian compound apparently set the blaze that killed some 86 cult members, an arson investigator from the Houston Fire Department said April 26. The preliminary findings of the investigation, which showed the fire was started in two places inside the sprawling complex at about the same time, supported statements by federal authorities immediately after the 51-day siege ended April 19. But lawyers for some of the Branch Davidians questioned the impartiality of the

outside team of arson investigators. Carjackers sentenced

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The first three defendants ever convicted under a new federal carjacking law received stiff sentences on April 26. US District Judge Patricia Fawsett in Orlando, Fla., handed down nonparole life terms, plus 25 years, to three youths convicted Feb. 25 of the execution-style slayings of two young men and the wounding of a third.

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