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By a 92-to-19 vote, parliament in Macedonia OK'd the crucial first step of the controversial peace deal between the government and the ethnic-Albanian minority. Two other legislators abstained in the secret ballot, which followed days of acrimonious debate that at times suggested the deal could collapse. NATO troops, in Macedonia to collect the weapons of Albanian insurgents, quickly held discussions with their leaders on when and where to resume the handover. (Story, page 6.)

Preparations for a "buffer zone" on the West Bank that would be off-limits to Palestinians were under way, Israeli officials said. The "seam zone program" would be an attempt to keep militants at arms length. Palestinians already living inside the buffer would be issued special permits, but Israeli soldiers would be authorized to arrest intruders. Meanwhile, aides to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat set conditions for an eventual meeting between him and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Among them: "a clear indication" that political - and not just security - issues would be discussed.

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Within hours of receiving an invitation, the government of communist North Korea agreed to resume formal contacts on reconciliation with the South. The two sides set Sept. 15-18 for ministerial-level talks in Seoul. Without saying why, the North broke off contact in March despite what appeared to be the promising outcome of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's visit last year to the North's capital, the first summit since the peninsula was divided in 1945. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has yet to fulfill his promise for a reciprocal visit.

Backing away from earlier suggestions that eight foreign aid workers on trial for preaching Christianity in Afghanistan could be hanged, a ruling Taliban official said it was "too early" to discuss punishment if they're found guilty. Ominously, however, the Foreign Ministry displayed boxes of evidence it said was confiscated from the defendants' employer, including Bibles and audio tapes translated into the local languages as well as other articles (above).

Despite a ban on their activities and the arrest of two leaders, hundreds of pro-democracy activists in Syria gathered in Damascus to resume calls for the release of political prisoners, free elections to break the ruling Baath Party's four-decade hold on power, and other measures. The organizer of the self-declared National Dialogue Forum vowed to hold further meetings every two weeks.

As expected, the resistance movement that led East Timor's 24-year campaign for independence from Indonesia won the first democratic election in the fledgling state. But Fretilin fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to dictate terms of the Constitution, which will be drafted by the constituent assembly that will evolve into a parliament. UN supervisors of the Aug. 30 election said Fretilin candidates took 55 of the 88 races on the ballot, to 7 for the closest rival party.


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