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World Briefing - 2002-12-11

In Venezuela the opposition has taken to the streets of Caracas again, amid a crippling general strike that has caused shortages of goods and panic buying. The demonstrations follow days of similar protests. Long lines formed down streets as Venezuelans waited to withdraw money from banks and shoppers crowded supermarkets.

A team of international observers is in Indonesia's northwestern Aceh province. This, after the Indonesian government and separatist rebels from the northwestern Aceh province signed a peace deal aimed at halting more than 25 years of fighting. Representatives of the government and the Free Aceh Movement signed the agreement Monday in Geneva.

Police in Nepal say five people have been killed and at least 30 wounded in a bus attack. Authorities say the passenger bus blew up when it hit an explosive device in the road Sunday on a highway east of the capital Katmandu. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but police blame Nepal's Maoist rebels. More than seven thousand people have been killed during the insurgency.

Spanish officials say the tanker that sank off the country's coast last month is leaking about 125 tons of oil into the Atlantic Ocean daily, threatening more damage to the country's coast and fishing industry. The Prestige broke in half and sank on November 19th with about 60,000 tons of oil still on board.

Forecasts for rain are bringing hope to Australia's New South Wales state, where firefighters are battling more than 60 brushfires in the Blue Mountain area. The Rural Fire Service is already taking advantage of cooler temperatures and lower winds to fight the fires. On Sunday, firefighters saved one of the best-known Blue Mountain landmarks from burning--the nearly 100-year-old art deco Hydro-Majestic Hotel.

In Portugal public transport and other services were disrupted Tuesday when a national stoppage was called to protest proposed labor law changes. Train, subway, ferry and bus services in Portugal's biggest cities were halted. The one-day strike was called by the 800,000-member General Confederation of Portuguese Workers. This is the latest in a wave of labor protests against Western European governments.

The European Union's top court has upheld tough new rules on tobacco companies requiring stricter health warnings on cigarettes and cutting tar and nicotine levels. The European Court of Justice rejected arguments by British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco that the new rules were illegal.

And in other E.U. news, the E.U.’s Commission President Romano Prodi has urged E.U. states to help finance the cost of the Union’s planned enlargement to 25 states.

Finally, clashes have erupted between Israeli troops and Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah. This, after Israeli special forces detained at least three militants belonging to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And in the Balata refugee camp hundreds of Palestinians marched in the funeral for a Palestinian militant shot dead by Israeli troops early Wednesday.