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Afghanistan's warring factions start peace talks

U.N.-sponsored talks between Afghanistan's warring factions opened Sunday in the capital of neighboring Pakistan, with both sides pledging to seek a peaceful resolution to nearly a decade of civil war.

Delegates from the fundamentalist Taleban regime and its military opposition met all day at a government guest house in their first structured peace talks since the Islamic militia captured Kabul, the Afghan capital, a year and a half ago.

The opening round of the preliminary talks, scheduled to last from three to five days, got hung up on how to form a representative council that would negotiate a permanent peace settlement. Taleban delegates insisted on including only Islamic scholars, while opposition representatives argued for a broader membership.

Other items on a provisional agenda were a cease-fire, exchange of prisoners and removal of roadblocks to international humanitarian aid.

Nigerian opposition

calls for strikes

LAGOS, Nigeria _ Opponents of Nigeria's ruling general, Sani Abacha, called Sunday for strikes to resist his effort to retain power as civilian president. They declared themselves energized after Nigerians boycotted legislative elections Saturday that Abacha had called as part of his transition to civilian rule.

Most Nigerians have appeared apathetic and unwilling to actively resist Abacha, whose government readily jails dissidents. But opponents of Abacha said the breadth of the boycott _ with turnout observed by journalists at between 0 percent and 8 percent in parts of Lagos _ might help nudge Nigerians toward active resistance.

The main anti-Abacha movement, United Action for Democracy, called on Nigerians to observe a general strike and attend rallies Friday in hopes of reviving a civil disobedience campaign. Abacha is the sole legal candidate for a presidential election scheduled Aug. 1.

Spain diverts toxins

from nature reserve

DONANA NATIONAL PARK, Spain _ Spanish authorities prevented a major ecological disaster Sunday when they diverted a huge flow of toxic waste away from Donana National Park, one of Europe's leading nature reserves.

A wall of acidic water and toxic mud had rushed into the Guadiamar River in southern Spain on Saturday after a waste reservoir at a mine ruptured. The spill cut a 20-mile path of destruction along the riverbank, damaging thousands of acres of crops and killing birds and fish.

Environment Minister Isabel Tocino said engineers succeeded with makeshift dikes in blocking off the river before the flow reached the park, designated as a World Heritage Site.

The environmental group Greenpeace, however, said the situation was not under control and sent a ship to investigate.

Elsewhere . . .

HAVANA _ Saying that persuasion is more effective than sanctions in bringing change to Cuba, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien arrived in Havana on Sunday for a two-day visit. "Of course we will raise the question of human rights and political rights," Chretien said before leaving Canada. "Isolation leads nowhere. But if we are engaging them the people of Cuba and the president of Cuba will certainly be happy to have a dialogue."

TEHRAN, Iran _ A Briton is being held by the Iranian security services on charges of spying after he was arrested on the mountainous Iran-Iraq border posing as a BBC journalist, a Tehran newspaper reported Sunday. The Al-Jomhuri Islami named the arrested man as Robert Gavin. The British Foreign Office said it understood that the man was not an intelligence agent.

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