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World Briefing - 2002-09-19

For the first time in seven years, communications have begun between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, a rebel group. The Tigers have been fighting for a separate state for the Tamils since 1983 because they believe they are being discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese. Delegates from Norway will also be monitoring these peace talks which are taking place in Thailand.

Elections are underway in several areas of Indian-ruled Kashmir amid tight security. Voter turnout has been scattered throughout the region. Islamic separatists have called for boycotts and have demonstrated at some voting sites. More than 300 people have been killed since elections were announced last month.

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats have overcome a challenge by the center-right opposition, winning Sunday's national elections and bucking a conservative trend that has prevailed across much of Europe in the last year. Prime Minister Goeran Persson won another four-year term, promising to maintain Sweden's current welfare system. He is expected to deal with the issue of whether or not to adopt the Euro as the national currency sometime in the next year.

In Macedonia, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his nationalist party, VMRO, conceded defeat to Social Democrat Branko Crvenkovski, early Monday. These were the first elections since ethnic warfare ripped through the country last year. The Democratic Party of Albanians, who shared power with VMRO, also suffered a defeat as former Albanian guerilla leader Ali Ahmeti and his new party, the Democratic Party for Integration, also gained a significant amount of votes. It's anticipated that the new Albanian party will be asked to join the Social Democrats in a coalition.

Construction has begun on a pipeline on Azerbaijan's Caspian shoreline. This pipeline will export oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to a terminal on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, making it the first transport route from the Caspian Sea to bypass Russia. Up to one million barrels of crude oil a day are expected to go through the pipeline. Thousands of marchers have gathered in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, demanding the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma. The marchers are made up of communists, socialists, liberal market reformers and nationalists. The demonstrators have accused the president of corruption and of being linked to the murder of an investigative reporter who was critical of the government. This has been the biggest challenge to President Kuchma since three months of mass demonstrations began. The protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating until the president steps down. However, President Kuchma has vowed to stay in office until his term expires in 2004.

In Argentina, a bus carrying 70 passengers drove off a cliff near La Merced. Officials estimate that at least 50 people were killed after the bus plummeted over 30 meters. Most of the passengers were religious pilgrims on their way home from a temple in a neighboring province. Brake failure is the likely cause.

And finally, on a much lighter note, Kamato Hongo celebrated her 115th birthday in Japan on Monday. Ms. Hongo is currently the world's oldest living woman according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Japanese media reports that Ms. Hongo spent most of her birthday asleep.