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Russian president boris yeltsin replaced Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin with Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy and current national-security chief. Yeltsin's unexpected move marked the fourth time in 17 months he has fired the government, and this time even some of his allies said the president's unpredictable behavior made him unfit to govern. Yeltsin, whose term expires next year, also declared that he would prefer Putin as his successor. Meanwhile, Stepashin said that Moscow risked losing its unruly southern province of Dagestan, where Russian forces and Islamic militants are locked in battle.

A French soldier was seriously injured in clashes with ethnic Albanians, who were demanding access to a bridge that leads to a Serb residential area in Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo. Above, it was the third straight day of clashes in the area. In Belgrade, rival Serb opposition leaders met or the first time in years to work out a common agenda for a rally - set for Aug. 18 - against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic .

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Israeli officials were surprised how Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accepted an offer they never made. Arafat said he was accepting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer to begin withdrawing from the West Bank area beginning Sept. 1. Israeli officials said no such proposal was made. They said the countdown will begin in September, not the implementation.

China blocked Pope John Paul II's proposed visit to Hong Kong because the Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Tensions have increased between China and Taiwan since last month, when Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui said relations between the two should be on a "state-to-state" basis. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

Rival factions in the Indonesian province of East Timor signed an antiviolence accord, ahead of an Aug. 30 independence referendum. The code of conduct bars violence as a means to justify political beliefs. Terror and intimidation have been rampant on the island.

Japanese lawmakers declared the Rising Sun flag and the "Kimigayo" national anthem as official national symbols with an overwhelming 166-to-71 vote. Although used routinely, both symbols had enjoyed only a de-facto status. The vote sparked numerous protests in Japan, where many contend that they are reminders of their country's association with wartime aggression.

Eight Britons and two Algerians were convicted on charges of terrorism by the Arab state of Yemen. They received sentences between three and seven years - and were accused of plotting to bomb the British Consulate and the Anglican church in Aden. The Britons are Muslims of Pakistani and Arab decent, and their families have accused the British government of doing little to assist the defendants.

Some 10 million people in 16 African countries require emergency food aid, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report. Civil war and drought were the main reasons for the food shortage, the UN agency said. Angola and Somalia are reportedly the neediest of the group.

British officials said the end may be near for the hostage crisis in Sierra Leone, after rebels released 19 of the 30 persons they had held captive.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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