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World in brief

Peace deal warms Sudan to peacekeepers in Darfur region

Published May 7, 2006

ABUJA, Nigeria - Sudan's government said Saturday that its peace accord with Darfur's main insurgent group could pave the way for it to welcome U.N. peacekeepers, as mediators worked to persuade other rebel groups to join the process.

The peace agreement, reached Friday in Abuja with one branch of the Sudan Liberation Army after two years of sporadic negotiations, aims to end ethnic bloodshed that has killed at least 180,000 people in three years and displaced some 2-million.

The suggestion that it could pave the way for a deployment of U.N. peacekeepers overturns previous rejections by Khartoum, which so far has allowed only African Union peacekeepers on the ground. The underfunded African forces have largely been ineffective in stopping atrocities and establishing security.

"The Sudan government will be open for any assistance," said Bakri Mulah, secretary-general for external affairs in Sudan's Information Ministry.

Decades of low-level tribal clashes over land and water in Darfur, a vast region about the size of France, erupted into large-scale violence in early 2003 with rebels demanding regional autonomy. The government is accused of responding by unleashing Janjaweed militias upon civilians, a charge Sudan denies.

The peace deal calls for a cease-fire, disarmament of government-linked militias, the integration of thousands of rebel fighters into Sudan's armed forces and a protection force for civilians in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Yet there were concerns the deal could fall apart. Both sides have a history of failing to honor agreements, and the fledgling accord was struck with only one rebel group and only after intense pressure from the United States.

Mediators on Saturday were still trying to persuade the second largest rebel group - another branch of the Sudan Liberation Army - to join the deal.

Rescuers resort to digging by hand to free miners

BEACONSFIELD, Australia - Two Australian gold miners spent a 12th night trapped underground as rescuers struggling to cut the final stretch of an escape tunnel by hand today considered using explosives.

Officials had hoped to free Brant Webb, 37, and Todd Russell, 34, before dawn but said progress chipping through the solid rock by jackhammer was slower than expected.

Workers were toiling on their backs in a cramped tunnel almost a half-mile underground trying to smash through the final 5 feet of solid rock using hand tools. Bill Shorten, a union official, said using jackhammers was like "throwing Kleenex at rock" and mine authorities were considering using low-impact explosives.

Webb and Russell have been trapped underground since April 25, when a magnitude 2.1 earthquake sent tremors through the century-old mine in the southern state of Tasmania and pinned the tiny cage they were working in under tons of rock.

The rockfall killed their colleague, Larry Knight, 44.

Officials said Webb and Russell have remained upbeat, buoyed by the prospect of fast food, an invitation for beers from Dave Grohl of the rock group Foo Fighters, and reunions with their wives and children.

Australia has a strong mine safety record compared with many other countries. After the deaths of 16 West Virginia coal miners earlier this year, U.S. labor leaders and experts held up Australia as a possible role model.

Venezuelan leader wants vote to extend rule to 2031

CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that Venezuelan voters should have the chance to decide whether he should govern the country for the next 25 years.

Speaking at a stadium packed with supporters in central Lara state, Chavez said he would hold a referendum to put the question of his remaining in office to Venezuelans if the opposition pulls out of upcoming presidential elections.

It was not clear if Chavez was talking about holding a legally binding vote to eliminate term limits or proposing a plebiscite.

The Venezuelan Constitution allows a president to be re-elected only once in immediate succession. Chavez is eligible for re-election to another six-year term in December, but if he wins he would not be able to run again in 2012.

Walkers won't be deported, Russian news agencies say

MOSCOW - A court in Russia's Far East overturned a deportation ruling Friday for U.S. and British adventurers accused of illegally crossing the border by walking across the frozen Bering Straight from Alaska, Russian news agencies said.

Karl Bushby, a 37-year-old former British paratrooper, was detained in Chukotka province on April 1 after making the 56-mile crossing as part of his attempt to walk around the world. His American travel companion, Dimitry Kieffer, was also detained.

The two were ordered deported and barred from returning to Russia for five years, preventing them from completing the trip.

The Chukotka regional court overturned the deportation, the agencies said.


Fiji: Fiji Saturday began a weeklong election that could fuel more turmoil in this troubled and racially divided South Pacific democracy. The choice for prime minister is between an ethnic Indian opposition leader whose previous rise to power sparked a coup and an indigenous Fijian incumbent who is struggling for power with the country's military chief. The election will also fill 71 parliamentary seats.

Chad: Chad's opposition said Saturday that it would not accept the president's expected victory in elections. Idriss Deby appears set to win a new term after Wednesday's election. An alliance of 19 opposition parties called the vote illegitimate and said it will not negotiate with Deby about the future of the central African nation. Three of Deby's allies and a minor opposition leader provided a token challenge.

Singapore: Singapore's ruling party won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections Saturday, signaling continuity in the city-state's trademark mix of economic success, social stability and tight political controls. Final results showed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's People's Action Party winning 82 of 84 seats in Parliament, including 37 seats it captured automatically before the election because the opposition did not contest them.

[Last modified May 7, 2006, 07:10:36]

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