RUSH-HOUR TRAGEDY: A natural-gas explosion killed at least 100 morning rush-hour commuters in the South Korean city of Taegu, about 240 km south of Seoul. Witnesses said a sheet of flame erupted from the site, and the blast tossed buses and cars into the air and shook buildings over a wide area. Police, who are seeking the arrest of three officials of a small engineering firm working near the site, said the explosion was caused when a spark from a subway construction site ignited gas escaping from a broken pipe.
A succession race
Defying the opinion polls, Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin emerged as the leader with 23.3 per cent of the vote in first-round balloting to replace French President François Mitterrand, who has held office for 14 years. Jospin, 57, will face Jacques Chirac, the longtime Conservative mayor of Paris, who received 20.8 per cent of the vote in a runoff election on May 7. Chirac, 62, beat out fellow Gaullist Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who got 18.5 per cent of the vote, and far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who polled 15 per cent, for second place.
Very few within the faction-ridden Socialist Party, let alone those outside it, had given the lacklustre Jospin a chance of winning after the Socialists’ favorite candidate, former European Commission president Jacques Delors, decided not to run last December. But while Chirac and Balladur waged an unseemly feud, forfeiting public esteem, Jospin emerged with the image
of an honest, decent and moderate candidate. Both Chirac and Jospin are now vying for some 40 per cent of the electorate, which deserted mainstream parties in the first round. But Jospin appeared to be the underdog. According to one authoritative opinion poll, Chirac leads the Socialist by 10 percentage points.
Japanese police arrested seven key members of Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth), the doomsday religious sect being investigated in connection with a March 20 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways that killed 12 people and left more than 5,000 ill. The cultists were de tained on suspicion of confining fellow sect members and harboring a fugitive. Meanwhile, police ordered a national search for Shoko Asahara, the 40-yeaold fugitive leader of the mysterious cult. Investigators have found large quantities of toxic chemicals, including all the ingredients of sarin, at various cult facilities.
WAR CRIMES TRIAL
The first war crimes trial since the Second World War named Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, army commander Ratko Mladic, and former secret police chief Milo Stanisic as war crimes suspects. Meanwhile, the first defendant to appear before the UN International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, pleaded not guilty. Dusan Tadic, 39, is a Bosnian Serb charged with murdering, raping, beating and torturing Croats and Moslems in northwest Bosnia during a 1992 campaign of ethnic cleansing.
RUSSIAN PIPELINE DISASTERS
A huge explosion ripped open a gas pipeline in northern Russia, sending a pillar of fire into the air that officials said could be seen for 120 km. Earlier, an oil pipeline ruptured in western Siberia, spilling at least 250 cubic metres of crude into the Maly Agan River. The accidents highlighted accusations by environmentalists that Russia’s pipeline network is poorly maintained.
ARMY ADMITS GUILT
The current head of the Argentine army, Gen. Martin Balza, apologized to the nation for the first time for the “dirty war” against leftists in the 1970s in which thousands of people were kidnapped, tortured and killed. About 10,000 people vanished under military rule from 1976 to 1983. The military leaders of that period were tried, stripped of their rank and jailed in 1985, two years after the return to democracy. They have since been pardoned and freed.
Three pathologists, including two Israelis, declared that a Palestinian prisoner held by Israel died as a result of torture. Abd a-Samed Harizat, a 30-year-old Muslim militant, was the first Arab to die in detention since Israel relaxed interrogation rules for its Shin Bet secret police last year. A criminal investigation is under way.
Ukrainians solemnly marked the ninth anniversary of the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear station that caused the deaths of more than 125,000 people and contaminated two million others. The ruined reactor No. 4 remains encased in a concrete sarcophagus. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Chernobyl does not meet world safety standards, but cash-strapped Ukraine says it needs the electricity generated by the plant’s two functioning reactors.
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