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Turnout large in vote on Chechen constitution

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2003

KARABULAK, Russia -- Voters in Chechnya appeared to approve a constitution Sunday the Kremlin hopes will bring stability to the separatist region after nearly a decade of bloodshed.

Results from 106 of 418 electoral districts showed more than 95 percent of voters there supporting the constitution, which cements Chechnya's status as part of the Russian Federation.

Russia's Central Election Commission said 92,496 people in those districts voted for the constitution, while 3,025 voted against.

The turnout across the breakaway republic was 79 percent, much more than the simple majority needed to make the referendum valid.

The Kremlin and Chechnya's Moscow-appointed administration have portrayed the referendum as a key step toward peace and a return to normal life in the region, which since 1994 has experienced two wars and an interim period marked by lawlessness.

Critics argued a new constitution won't end the war and cannot replace negotiations with rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. Russia has rejected talks with Maskhadov.

Slovenia voters say yes to joining EU, NATO

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- Slovenia chose to join NATO on Sunday, overcoming fears of being part of a defensive alliance dominated by the United States, and also approved joining the European Union.

The vote was a victory for the government which said membership in both organizations was the only way for Slovenia to gain greater international influence. It summed up its message with the slogan "At home in the EU, safe in NATO."

Voters comfortably approved NATO membership, with 66 percent in favor and 34 percent against. Ninety percent supported joining the EU, with 10 percent against, according to figures released by the state electoral commission after nearly all the votes had been counted. Turnout was about 60 percent.

Prime Minister Anton Rop welcomed the news, saying Slovenia was "entering a new era. President Janez Drnovsek said: "There were quite a few misgivings, especially concerning NATO. But this is a good result. The future will certainly bring less uncertainty."

The results are legally binding. Slovenia is due to join NATO and the EU in 2004.

Israel considers two plans for extending barrier

JERUSALEM -- Israel is considering two plans to extend a barrier separating Israelis from Palestinians, officials said Sunday. Both would likely claim more land for Israel and muddy progress on a U.S.-backed plan for Palestinian statehood.

Israel says the electronic fences and cement blocks Israelis have been calling a "separation fence" are meant to protect Israel proper and Jewish settlements from attacks by Palestinian militants.

The barriers do not run strictly along the border of undisputed Israeli territory; instead they bite in several areas into the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim as the heartland of a future state, incorporating thousands of Jewish settlers -- and Palestinians.

Two proposals revealed Sunday would increase the amount of land the Palestinians would lose compared to previous plans, although an exact figure was not available. Israeli officials said the barriers could be demolished and moved if and when a permanent border is set for a Palestinian state.

Baby selling arrests made; search begins for parents

BEIJING -- Police arrested about 10 people in an apparent scheme to smuggle and sell infants reportedly found in nylon gym bags on a bus in southern China, an official said Sunday.

Authorities were trying to find the parents of the 28 infants, a government official in the Guangxi region said.

Local media have reported that the babies were all younger than 3 months and one had died. The infants have been taken to a local hospital. Officials at the hospital and police did not return phone calls seeking comment.

ChevronTexaco closes Nigerian installations

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Oil giant ChevronTexaco on Sunday evacuated staff and closed nearly all its installations in Nigeria, where weeks of fighting have killed scores of people.

The development came as ethnic militant leaders accused the army of attacking the Niger Delta village of Okpelama, near the company's main Escravos oil export terminal.

Jay Pryor, chairman and managing director of ChevronTexaco's Nigerian subsidiary, said the company was evacuating its remaining workers from the Escravos terminal and offshore rigs "to protect them from harm."

"The safety of people is our absolute priority," Pryor said. The company earlier evacuated most of its staff at onshore oil sites.

The pullout cuts 440,000 barrels and 285-million cubic feet of gas a day, or nearly all of ChevronTexaco's Nigeria production, Pryor said.

Elsewhere . . .

INDIA: Gunmen on Sunday shot to death the former leader of Kashmir's largest Islamic rebel group in what might have been retribution for talks with the Indian government. Later, unidentified gunmen killed 24 Hindus in India-controlled Kashmir, police said.

The slaying of Abdul Majid Dar, former Kashmir commander of the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, was a setback for Indian security authorities, who were trying to persuade the former leader to take a political role in the state wracked by 13 years of separatist violence.

TURKEY: The new Turkish government won a widely expected vote of confidence in parliament Sunday, as legislators voted 350-162 in favor of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's nine-day-old government in a procedural vote that finishes off the process of installing a government.

VATICAN: Pope John Paul II beatified four founders of religious organizations and a Hungarian doctor Sunday, adding to the ranks of those on the path to sainthood.

Those beatified were Pierre Bonhomme, French founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Calvary; Maria Dolores Rodriguez Sopena, founder of the Dolores Sopena Catechetical Institutes; Maria Caridad Brader, a Swiss missionary who founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate; and Juana Maria Condesa Lluch, founder of the Congregation of the Handmaids of Mary Immaculate.

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