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Pan Am bombing suspects enter pleas

The two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 pleaded innocent Wednesday at a pretrial hearing as both sides agreed to speed up their trial, due to start May 3.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, in custody in the Netherlands, did not enter the pleas in person before the Scottish High Court judge, Lord Ranald Sutherland. Instead, in an unusual move in a Scottish court, the pleas were relayed by their attorneys.

The court's acceptance of the pleas was an indication that all parties are eager to see the trial begin as scheduled. There have been repeated delays since the suspects, alleged Libyan intelligence agents, were surrendered for trial in April.

The trial will be held without a jury at Camp Zeist, a former U.S. military base in the Netherlands. The two Libyans could face life in a Scottish prison if convicted on charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and contravention of the British Aviation Security Act.

The airliner exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew _ including 189 Americans _ and 11 people on the ground.

China protests bill

to bolster U.S.-Taiwan ties

BEIJING _ China called in the new U.S. ambassador Wednesday and assailed passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of legislation to bolster Washington's military ties to Taiwan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi warned Ambassador Joseph Prueher that U.S.-China ties would be "seriously damaged" if the bill becomes law.

The Clinton administration has said the president would veto the bill, the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, if it reaches his desk. The act would establish direct military communications between Washington and Taipei, expand U.S. training of Taiwan's military officers and force the administration to make public Taiwan's request for weapons systems.

China views Taiwan as a renegade province.

Israeli request for codes

stalls helicopter sales

JERUSALEM _ A $450-million Israeli purchase of U.S. Apache attack helicopters has stalled because the United States refuses to give Israel the helicopter system's sensitive software codes.

The Israelis said Wednesday they are requesting the codes so they would be able to modify the helicopters, if necessary, to meet future threats.

"It's obvious we need this information," Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliahu said.

But the United States is concerned that giving Israel the codes would allow it to modify and sell U.S. technology developed at great expense, the Associated Press reported, quoting a U.S. official.

Rome gears up

for no-car Sunday

ROME _ Motorists will be banned from downtown Rome on Sunday, and to soothe any angry feelings, the capital is offering free entry to most museums and archaeological sites.

Bus, tram and metro lines also will be free during the city's first carless Sunday.

The initiative is part of a nationwide campaign to reduce air pollution. Most Italian cities are making their city centers off limits to cars and mopeds on the first Sunday of each month next week.

Special date of even

digits finally arrives

LONDON _ Wednesday was a day like no other, at least not since late August in the 9th century.

It was the first date in more than a millennium in which every digit was an even number: 2/2/2000. That hasn't happened since 8/28/888.

There will be eight more days like it this month, as early as Friday.

"It is a bit like a mathematical bus. You have been waiting around for this to occur for more than 1,000 years and then dozens of them come along at once," said David Jerwood, head of mathematics at the University of Bradford.

Bus carrying Serbs hit

by rocket in Kosovo; 2 die

KOSOVKSA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia _ A U.N. bus carrying 49 Serb civilians was hit by a rocket Wednesday in Kosovo. Two people were killed and three were injured.

The bus, which was escorted by two French armored vehicles from the Kosovo multinational force, was driving through dense fog at the time it was hit.

Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, peacekeeper commander, said his force "will conduct a full and thorough investigation with the aim of bringing the terrorists to justice."