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World Briefing - 2003-01-15

The Ivory Coast government, political parties and rebels have begun peace talks this week in France. They hope to end four months of armed conflict in the West African country. Together, the three rebel groups control the northern half of Ivory Coast. The rebels have demanded the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo as well as new elections.

Venezuelan soldiers loyal to President Hugo Chavez have seized automatic weapons, rifles and anti-riot equipment from Caracas police loyal to the city's opposition mayor. Tuesday's military action comes amid a long-running anti-government strike aimed at forcing President Chavez to resign. The strike has paralyzed Venezuela's vital oil industry and boosted world oil prices.

In Rwanda the government has begun to release as many as 40,000 genocide suspects from its jails as a means of relieving overcrowding. Most of them are suspected of involvement in the country's 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists murdered some 800-thousand ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

A leading human rights group says China took advantage of the war on terrorism and a transfer of power last year to implement highly repressive policies. The annual report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch cites allegations of a harsh crackdown on ethnic Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang region, as well as the stifling of religious freedom in Tibet. China's Foreign Ministry condemned the Human Rights Watch report, calling the allegations groundless.

Human Rights Watch also said the United State's focus on fighting terrorism is undermining its leadership as an advocate of human rights. The review said the United States hurts the global human rights cause when it overlooks abuses by some of is anti-terrorism allies. A White House spokesman disagreed with the reports’ assertion saying that many people who were once oppressed are now free thanks to the U.S and its allies.

A British-sponsored conference on the Middle East peace process has ended with a Palestinian pledge to draft a democratic constitution and renounce violence. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said one of the goals of the meeting was to accelerate reform within the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians agreed to draw up a new draft constitution by the end of January.

Finally, Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders are meeting today for talks on a United Nations plan aimed at resolving the decades-long division of the island. Tuesday, tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots rallied in Nicosia to urge their leaders to support the U.N. plan.