Court clears 6 of charges in East Timor

JAKARTA, Indonesia — In a development that could complicate the Bush administration's drive to renew ties to the Indonesian military, two courts yesterday acquitted six officials accused of human-rights violations in East Timor.

One court cleared Brig. Gen. Timbul Silaen — Indonesia's last police chief in East Timor — of charges that he allowed his men to take part in atrocities or did nothing to stop a rampage by paramilitary gangs after East Timor's people voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1999.

After Portugal abandoned its colony East Timor, it was forcibly annexed in 1976 by the government of Indonesian strongman Suharto. After he stepped down in 1998, the Indonesian government agreed to the referendum, but the army, which opposed independence, organized militias that ran amok, slaughtering civilians, destroying thousands of buildings and herding 260,000 refugees across the border into West Timor, which remains a province of Indonesia.

Placed under U.N. protection, East Timor became independent in May.

The United States cut off military ties with Indonesia to protest the East Timor violence, but Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country — and its cooperation in the war on terror is a priority for Washington.

United States apologizes over Italian beach incident

ROME — The United States has apologized to Italy after three U.S. military helicopters swooped low over an Italian beach earlier this week, sending beach furniture flying and injuring five people.

The incident Tuesday over a crowded beach on Italy's southeastern coast triggered memories for Italians of 1998, when a U.S. Marine jet flying low sliced a ski gondola's cables, killing 20 people on an Italian mountainside.

Italian newspapers reported yesterday that U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler, after being contacted by the Italian defense minister, issued an apology Wednesday and asked U.S. military authorities to investigate the incident.

Opposition parties join forces for Pakistani election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's two main opposition parties agreed yesterday to cooperate in October elections and former prime minister-in-exile Benazir Bhutto issued a court challenge over laws used to bar her from the polls.

A spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party said she had given the go-ahead to cooperate with Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, for long her archrival.

Farhatullah Babar said the opposition wants to make sure the two parties, both of whose leaders are barred from contesting the Oct. 10 polls, did not cancel out each other's votes.

Muslim League spokesman Siddiq-ul-Farooq said the objective of both parties was to defeat military ruler President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf ousted Sharif, Bhutto's successor as prime minister, in a bloodless coup in 1999 and has decreed that premiers who have served twice before cannot run for a third term.

Bhutto has been living in self-imposed exile in London, while Sharif and his family are in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Protesters form human chain in effort to oust U.S. forces

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of civic activists ripped a large American flag to pieces in front of a U.S. military base in central Seoul yesterday, demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

About 1,000 protesters held hands to form a human chain along a wall of the Yongsan garrison, headquarters of 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against communist North Korea.

For weeks, South Korean activists have staged frequent rallies and marches to protest the deaths of two girls killed by an armored U.S. military vehicle in June.

The case triggered an outcry from many South Koreans who say South Korea should have more legal power in the periodic accidents and crimes involving American soldiers.

15 Canadians recovering after morphine overdose

CALGARY, Alberta — Fifteen youths from northern Canada, ages 13 to 20, were recovering yesterday after overdosing on morphine pills prescribed to one of their parents, who was out of town for medical treatment, police said.

Two of the youths from the small town of Nipawin, Saskatchewan, were listed in critical condition and another three were stable after overdosing on the morphine, local media reported.

Chinese official executed for arranging woman's death

BEIJING — A top government official in the central Chinese city of Wuhu has been executed for allegedly arranging to have his former lover killed, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

Zhou Qidong, a member of the municipal Communist Party standing committee in the Anhui province city, was put to death Tuesday, along with three other men who allegedly helped him plan and carry out the stabbing murder, Xinhua said.

Hoping to end a long affair with the woman, Zhou in June 2001 conspired with local businessman Zhao Zhenghe to have her killed, Xinhua said. Zhao then arranged for two men already wanted for committing earlier killings to ambush the woman outside her home Sept. 4, stabbing her 27 times, the report said.