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54 more U.N. troops are set free

Rebel forces in Sierra Leone freed 54 more of the 500 U.N. peacekeeping troops they seized early this month, allowing them to be flown to neighboring Liberia and raising hopes that more could be released soon.

Sunday's release means that 204 U.N. soldiers have been freed by the Sierra Leone rebels thus far, U.N. officials said.

Some of the freed soldiers said the rebels had been moving other captured peacekeepers toward the Liberian border for pickup by helicopter. U.N. officials voiced hope that this meant more releases were imminent and that an end to one of the greatest U.N. peacekeeping humiliations was in sight.

Fiji rebel accused of

planning to kill hostages

SUVA, Fiji _ Fiji's president on Sunday accused armed rebels who are holding the prime minister and legislators hostage of threatening to kill the captives if their demands for control of the country are not met.

Rebel leader George Speight denied the allegation, saying his uprising in this South Pacific nation was a civilian coup, not an act of terrorism.

In elections . . .

HAITI: Braving threats of violence, Haitians lined up by the thousands Sunday for a vote to restore democracy and in the process free a half-billion dollars in desperately needed foreign aid.

The Haitians' strong determination to vote _ not seen since 1990 elections brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti's first democratic vote _ was frustrated by hours-long delays. A firm tally is not expected for days.

MEXICO: A major poll Sunday showed opposition candidate Vicente Fox leading in the race for Mexico's presidency, which has been held by the Institutional Revolutionary Party for 71 years.

Discounting undecided voters, Fox was favored by 43 percent of those polled and Francisco Labastida of the governing party by 35 percent, according to the poll. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party was favored by 15 percent.

ITALY: Yet another referendum on changing Italy's electoral system failed Sunday because of skimpy voter turnout. A referendum in Italy must attract more than 50 percent of the voters to be valid; Sunday's ballot drew just under a third of the registered voters, according to exit polls.

Elsewhere . . .

MASSACRE REPORT QUESTIONED: Congolese rebels killed up to 31 civilians May 14 in an eastern village in retaliation for an attack by pro-government militia, a U.N. aid official said Sunday, questioning the 300 deaths reported by an Italian missionary news agency.

CHILDREN RESCUED: Philippine soldiers rescued two child hostages Sunday in a clash with Muslim rebels who had held the children and seven others since March.

SWISS BACK FREE TRADE: Swiss voters approved a sweeping free trade package with the European Union by a two-thirds majority on Sunday, ending the country's long, self-imposed isolation in the heart of the continent.

SEGA CHIEF MAY QUIT: The president of Sega Enterprises Ltd. will resign to take responsibility for the poor sales of Dreamcast game consoles, a Japanese news report said today. Citing company sources, the Nihon Keizai newspaper said Shoichiro Irimajiri will become vice chairman of the firm. Company officials could not be reached for comment early today.

EVEREST RECORD: A Sherpa guide reached the summit of Mount Everest in less than 16 hours on Sunday, setting a record for the fastest climb of the peak. Babu Chhiri, 34, made the climb to the 29,035-foot summit Sunday morning.

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