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Home rule for Northern Ireland moved a step closer to reality as the province's main Protestant party dropped a demand that the Irish Republican Army first turn in its weapons. A vote Saturday by the Ulster Unionists endorsed the latest peace formula: the simultaneous seating of a joint Protestant-Catholic Cabinet and appointment by the IRA of a delegate to meet with the province's disarmament commission. Nominations by the parties that will compose the Cabinet are expected today. British government officials said they trusted the IRA to disarm and were planning to transfer home-rule powers to the Cabinet Thursday. Above, Belfast residents cheer the vote.

Palestinian Authority police arrested five of the 20 prominent professionals and intellectuals who signed a petition calling their government "corrupt, unjust, and manipulative." Eight others, immune from arrest because they serve in the would-be state's legislature, will be dealt with as soon as a special session can be convened, an aide to President Yasser Arafat said. The aide said the arrests were justified because "this is an act of incitement."

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Beginning Friday, its 14-month unilateral truce will end and hostilities against the government of Spain will resume, the Basque separatist group ETA announced. ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom), repeated accusations that the government had shown intransigence by refusing to discuss any change to Spain's boundaries. In response, Prime Minister Jos Maria Aznar accused ETA of "terrorist blackmail," and security measures in the Basque region were stepped up.

Buoyed by recent successes on the battlefield, the leader of Sri Lanka's main separatist rebel group called for peace talks with the government - but only if President Chandrika Kumaratunga loses her reelection bid Dec. 21. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief Velupillai Prabhakaran said Kumaratunga lacks the "honesty and determination" to resolve the Tamil bid for an independent homeland "in a fair manner." The government had no comment. Almost 60,000 people have died in 16 years of civil war.

Elections that could hasten the end of authoritarian rule in Croatia were scheduled for Jan. 3 by the nation's acting president. But parliament Speaker Vlatko Pavletic, who took on the new role Friday because of President Franjo Tudjman's prolonged hospitalization, drew quick criticism by opposition leaders for picking that date. While Croats generally chafe under low living standards and high unemployment, one of the ruling party's key voting bases is the thousands of supporters who live overseas but return home for the year-end holidays.

A left-of-center government will rule New Zealand after voters ousted Prime Minister Jenny Shipley Saturday. Shipley conceded defeat to a Labor-Alliance party coalition led by the former's Helen Clark. The winners campaigned on a tax-the-rich pledge to fund improvements in education and health care and to shift the economy toward a high-tech base.

A runoff election to decide the presidency was under way in Uruguay, with late opinion polls showing the two finalists again running even. Leftist Tabare Vazquez, a physician and ex-mayor of Montevideo, was challenged by five-time ruling-party candidate Jorge Batlle. Vazquez won 39 percent of the ballot in the first round of voting Oct. 31 to Batlle's 32 percent.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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