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World in brief

By more than 3-to-1, Czech Republic votes to join EU

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Czechs voted overwhelmingly to join the European Union in a referendum that ended Saturday, a move supporters said would bring a definite end to isolation brought on by decades of communist rule.

Final results from two days of voting showed 77.33 percent of voters approving joining the union, while 22.67 voted "no," according to the state Statistical Office. Turnout was 55.21 percent.

The vote opens the way for the Central European nation to be part of the largest expansion in the union's history next May, when 10 new members are due to join the 15-member bloc.

"This is a victory for the Czech people," Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said.

"I voted yes because things can't get worse than they are now," said Jiri Ruzicka, a 38-year-old pub owner.

Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia have backed joining the EU in referendums. Latvia and Estonia hold referendums in September. Of the 10 candidate states, only Cyprus has decided not to hold a vote on membership.

French troops come under fire for first time in Congo

BUNIA, Congo - French troops leading an emergency force in Congo came under fire for the first time Saturday in their mission to stabilize this northeastern town ravaged by tribal turf wars.

The firefight on the outskirts of Bunia, from which the French special forces emerged unscathed, occurred amid growing concern that the force's mandate is too limited and does not include the demilitarization of the town that six weeks ago boasted a university, a brand-new mobile phone network and a thriving trade in gold.

The French patrol, among the first 400 members of a force expected to number 1,400, returned small arms, heavy machine gun and light tank fire after being fired at by attackers about 4 miles south of Bunia, Maj. Xavier Pons said.

2,000 U.S. Marines sent to Liberia

WASHINGTON - More than 2,000 Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge are steaming toward the west coast of Africa to prepare for the possible evacuation of U.S. citizens from strife-torn Liberia, military officials said Saturday.

The Kearsarge was heading home to Norfolk, Va., after a five-month deployment in the Persian Gulf, when it was ordered on Thursday to divert to West Africa.

More than 500 foreigners were evacuated this week from the Liberian capital of Monrovia, which has been surrounded by rebels who are seeking the removal of President Charles Taylor. Rebels control about two-thirds of the country.

The Marines would join 300 U.S. troops, including Special Operations forces, dispatched this week to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, and to be positioned in nearby countries.

Elsewhere . . .

ARRESTS MADE IN IRAN: Police in Tehran, Iran, Saturday arrested dozens of proclergy militants who smashed their way into university dormitories and beat up sleeping students in a wave of violence aimed at putting down protests against Iran's Islamic government.

The arrests appeared to be an attempt by Iran's ruling hardline clerics to rein in their militant supporters.

Friday night, militants went on a rampage across the city, beating pedestrians with clubs, brandishing knives, firing machine guns in the air and hurling rocks at homes.

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