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Muslim rebels appeared to be holding their own against better-armed Russian troops in Chechnya's capital. But Grozny remained under heavy attack, and rebel reinforcements were finding it difficult to reach the city through the Russian encirclement. And with supplies of food running out, some Grozny residents were reduced to eating pigeons, reports said. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov proposed internationally mediated negotiations that would shorten the ordeal "by even an hour." But a senior Russian official said he'd meet Maskhadov only to discuss how to help Grozny's civilians leave safely.

Heavy new fighting erupted in southern Lebanon as peace negotiations likely to affect the area were to resume between Israel and Syria. A Hizbullah guerrilla chief vowed the clashes with pro-Israel forces and attacks on Israeli-held zones would continue until the Jewish state withdraws completely from the region. Syria maintains 30,000 troops in south Lebanon, although Hizbullah is supported mainly by Iran.

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A $5.13 billion offer of compensation to Nazi-era slave laborers was expected to be finalized Friday in a deal between Germany and lawyers for an estimated 2.3 million Jews and other survivors. The Berlin government said it would sell some shares in state-owned companies to help fund the settlement.

Heavy rains were slowing the pace of voting across much of Venezuela on a national referendum to approve or reject a proposed new constitution. But a sizable majority of the 11 million eligible voters was expected to OK the rewritten charter that would transform the nation - allowing President Hugo Chvez to stay in office for up to 13 years, eliminating the national Senate, and even changing the formal name of the country. The document is the centerpiece of Chvez's planned "peaceful revolution," but he has feuded with the wealthy elite, who see it as paving the way to a Cuba-style communist regime.

The most powerful cyclone yet recorded in Australia sideswiped a thinly populated coastal region north of Perth, causing relatively light damage before veering back out to sea. No injuries were reported in the aftermath of 180-m.p.h. winds, and the Insurance Council of Australia estimated loss claims might go no higher than $189 million.

The urgency was taken out of the political crisis in Romania - for the moment - by ousted Prime Minister Radu Vasile. He dropped his refusal to leave office after being fired by President Emil Constantinescu and said he'd return to his seat in parliament. But he also asked the legislature to "clarify" the legality of his dismissal, a move that could involve a vote of confidence in the president. Constantinescu acted after 12 Cabinet members quit in protest over Vasile's economic reforms.

More than 10 million people in India are likely to test positive for HIV by the end of the next decade, a senior economic planner projected. HIV is believed to be the virus that causes AIDS. Krishna Chandra Pant warned that the government lacks sufficient resources to cope with such a situation and called for stronger private initiatives to provide preventative and rehabilitative measures. India already has about 12 percent of the world's HIV cases, according to UN statistics.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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