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Influential Iranian urges vote on ties with U.S.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's former president expressed support Saturday for holding a referendum on restoring ties with the United States, marking a significant shift as his fellow hard-liners nervously watch U.S.-led forces take control of Iraq.

Hashemi Rafsanjani has openly sided with hard-liners since stepping down as president in 1997 and still heads a powerful body advising Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rafsanjani said "the problem of Iran-U.S. relations" should be resolved, either through a referendum or through a decision by the advisory body, called the Expediency Council.

Castro vows to defend Cuba against instability

HAVANA -- President Fidel Castro is defending his crackdown on dissent, shrugging off international criticism and vowing to defend Cuba against destabilizing moves by the United States.

"We are now immersed in a battle against provocations that are trying to move us toward conflict and military aggression by the United States," Castro said in a speech broadcast Friday night on state television.

He did not directly refer to Friday's execution of three men convicted of hijacking a ferry to get to the United States. Nor did he mention the lengthy sentences given 75 dissidents convicted of helping U.S. diplomats undermine Cuba's socialist system.

Elsewhere ...

ISRAEL: Disagreements between Yasser Arafat and the new Palestinian prime minister are delaying the formation of a new Palestinian government, senior officials said Saturday. A credible government must be formed under Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas before a U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan calling for Palestinian statehood can be unveiled.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party, demanded Saturday that Britain and Ireland disclose a new wide-ranging peace plan for Northern Ireland before the IRA shows its hand. HUNGARY: Hungarians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum Saturday to join the European Union. The National Election Office said 84 percent of voters said yes to membership.

NIGERIA: Nigerians ignored scattered violence to vote Saturday in legislative elections that are a crucial test for civilian rule.

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