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Venezuela appeared more deeply split along class lines than ever after a national referendum on its proposed new constitution was overwhelmingly OK'd by voters. The measure was headed for approval by a 71-percent to 29-percent margin. It entitles controversial President Hugo Chvez to serve two consecutive six-year terms, allows him to disband what remains of the National Assembly, and reduces civilian control of the military. The new charter, written by a Constitutional Assembly packed with Chvez backers, was bitterly opposed by Vene-zuela's wealthy elite.

Stung by the failure of its first penetration into Chechnya's capital, Russia told a meeting of senior NATO ministers to mind its own business and stop meddling in the breakaway region. Journalists in Grozny reported seeing the burned wrecks of 15 tanks and personnel carriers trapped in a large, open square of the city by Muslim rebels. At least 115 soldiers died in the clash, perhaps the Russians' worst defeat since the Chechnya campaign began in September. NATO foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, issued a new statement of regret over the Chechnya offensive.

A stronger criticism of Russian actions in Chechnya was expected to come from a meeting of Group of Eight ministers in Berlin. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov would be told, European Union sources said, that the conflict was likely to result in proposed trade restrictions, among them the loss of Russia's most-favored-nation status.


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