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Coup strongman: I'm a democrat

A day after he had toppled a government for the second time in a military coup, Burundi's new strongman had an unusual description of his political philosophy.

"I think I am a true democrat," Pierre Buyoya said Friday. Buyoya, a retired Army major, previously overthrew the government in 1987 and ruled by junta until 1993.

That is when Buyoya allowed Burundi's first free elections. When he lost, he became the nation's first leader to voluntarily step down. Nearly every other president since independence from Belgium in 1962 has been overthrown or killed in office.

Buyoya said he was ready to restore democracy and said he would be willing to enter talks with Hutu rebels once they renounced violence.

In Nairobi, Burundi's main Hutu rebel group spurned his offer and vowed to step up its guerrilla war in which aid workers and human rights groups say about 1,000 people are being killed each month.

Elsewhere . . .

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka _ Sri Lankan troops launched a major offensive Friday, sending international aid workers and hundreds of civilians fleeing as they closed in on a northern rebel-held town. The soldiers, backed by armor, artillery and air cover, thrust to within 6 miles of Kilinochchi in a fresh drive that followed some of the worst fighting in Sri Lanka's long and bloody ethnic war.

MOGADISHU, Somalia _ Faction leader Mohamed Farah Aideed may have been wounded in heavy clan fighting, Somali and foreign sources said Friday. Somalis and a foreign expert on the clans battling for power said there were persistent but unconfirmed reports that Aideed was wounded on Thursday. Anti-Aideed radio reported Thursday that Aideed had been "seriously wounded" in fighting in the capital.

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina _ Thousands of angry Bosnian war veterans, many on crutches or in wheelchairs, converged on parliament Friday to demand the government pay back pensions and other state aid. The government owes the veterans and families of soldiers killed in the 3{-year war about $52-million in back pensions, according to the president of the veterans' group that organized the protest.

BRASILIA, Brazil _ Married Catholic priests from around the world called on the Vatican to end its ban on marriage for the clergy, warning that intransigence on the issue could further erode the church's thinning ranks. "The Vatican is hurting us and the future of the church just to uphold a law that Jesus Christ never gave us," said Anthony Padovano, who heads the U.S. Corpus of Married Priests. About 200 priests and many of their wives and children attended the opening day of a Fourth International Conference of Married Catholic Priests.

BONN, Germany _ A German surgeon not only performed a successful kidney transplant operation but also provided the donor organ himself. "The idea resulted from a talk with colleagues who said we should only recommend to our patients what we would do to ourselves," said the doctor, Jochen Heuer, 53. Both he and his patient have felt fine since the operation.