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Countries welcome NATO vote

Poland's leaders and people greeted the U.S. Senate's vote to approve their NATO membership with relief and delight Friday, praising the vote as the beginning of a promising new era that would overcome a century of dark history.

"Thank you, America," exclaimed Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, breaking out into his rarely used English on Polish television Friday.

In the Czech Republic and Hungary, where public support for NATO membership had been more muted than in Poland, the reaction to Thursday night's vote was also enthusiastic.

Czech President Vaclav Havel said the Senate vote would help build the "foundations of stability in the entire Euro-Atlantic area."

And in Hungary, Prime Minister Gyula Horn, a former Communist, said his country should interpret the favorable vote as a sign that Hungary met "international requirements for freedom, democracy and a market economy."

Yeltsin's Chechnya envoy abducted at gunpoint

MOSCOW _ Boris Yeltsin's envoy to Chechnya was seized from his car at gunpoint Friday, falling victim to the crime wave that plagues southern Russia _ or perhaps to what an official called a "political provocation."

Valentin Vlasov, who had been seeking the release of kidnapped Russians in the separatist republic, was himself abducted by five people wearing masks and camouflage clothing, the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Chechen police as saying.

The attackers, who were in three cars, fired into the air as they stopped Vlasov's sedan outside the town of Asinovskaya, which lies near Chechnya's border with the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, Russian officials said.

No one has claimed responsibility or laid out terms for Vlasov's release. Russian security officials were convinced that the kidnappers were Chechens.

Several hours after the kidnapping, Vlasov's driver and bodyguard were arrested by Chechen police on suspicion they may have been involved, ITAR-Tass said.

Yeltsin dispatched acting Russian Vice Premier Ivan Rybkin and a delegation of Russian security officials to Ingushetia for urgent talks on the kidnapping with Chechen officials.

About 50 people are being held hostage in Chechnya, many of them ethnic Russians and foreigners. Most are held by gangs seeking ransom.

Also Friday, Moscow police reported the disappearance of Chechnya's former agriculture minister, Avash Saykhanov.

An official in the wartime, pro-Moscow government, Saykhanov was forced into a car by three people on Tuesday, NTV independent television reported. Moscow police said Chechen authorities had recently questioned Saykhanov about alleged embezzlement.

Sinn Fein pressured

on IRA disarmament

BELFAST, Northern Ireland _ Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern pressed the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party Friday about the Irish Republican Army's refusal to disarm as part of the Northern Ireland peace accord.

"If the agreement is to work and all parties are to participate, then weapons have to be out of use and out of commission for good," Ahern said before meeting Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in Dublin.

As Adams' four-member Sinn Fein delegation arrived at Ahern's office, the Sinn Fein leader said, "We've made it consistently clear that we want to see all of the guns taken out of Irish politics _ and we do."

While their discussions continued, Irish anti-terrorist police killed a suspected IRA dissident and arrested five others trying to ambush a security van loaded with cash 30 miles south of Dublin.

The heavily armed gang surrendered after an exchange of gunfire that wounded no one but the slain man, who was not immediately identified. Officers seized a rocket launcher, an assault rifle and two handguns.

The IRA and other anti-British paramilitary groups previously have robbed security vans and banks in the Irish Republic to finance their operations.

The peace agreement _ struck April 10 among the British and Irish governments and eight political parties _ must be approved May 22 in referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

MAY DAY CELEBRATION: A boy dressed in military fatigues waves at a podium where President Fidel Castro looks on as Cuban workers march past in Havana's Revolution Plaza. The rally Friday by Cuba's communist workers' movement was one of the largest of many around the world to mark the day honoring labor. Cuban officials billed the march as a denunciation of the United States' economic embargo.

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