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Antisubversion bill softened, but Hong Kong vote will go on

Fighting to keep his job after massive antigovernment protests embarrassed his bosses in Beijing, Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, agreed Saturday to soften the controversial antisubversion bill that triggered the demonstrations. But he refused to postpone a vote on the legislation, setting the stage for a showdown next week with his prodemocracy opponents.

Tung offered the concessions after half a million people marched through downtown Hong Kong on Tuesday in a powerful display of discontent on the sixth anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule. The protests were the largest in China since Beijing crushed the 1989 student-led democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

"Hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets to express their concern over (the antisubversion bill), their dissatisfaction over government policies and over my governance in particular," Tung said. "My colleagues and I have to do better."

Tung acknowledged he failed to address the public's fears about his antisubversion bill, which critics have described as a threat to freedom of speech, press and assembly. To address their concerns, he said he would remove a provision allowing the government to ban groups linked to organizations outlawed in mainland China, add protections for journalists who publish state secrets and scrap a section allowing police searches without warrants.

But he refused to postpone a vote on the bill, scheduled for Wednesday, saying it was a "matter relating to the national dignity and the glory of the Chinese race."

Palestinian prime minister meets with Hamas leader

JERUSALEM _ Seeking to cement a cease-fire declared a week ago by Palestinian militant groups, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met for the first time Saturday with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas.

Further bolstering the cease-fire, a smaller Palestinian militant faction known as the Popular Resistance Committee said Saturday it would join in the three-month truce declared by larger groups including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Although relatively small, the Popular Resistance Committee was responsible for a number of attacks during the course of the 33-month intifada.

At a meeting of the Palestinian Cabinet in Gaza City on Saturday, officials expressed hopes that the cease-fire would hold.

Late Friday, a Palestinian militant shot at Palestinian police trying to detain him in connection with a mortar attack against a Jewish settlement, according to Palestinian police. Three people were hurt in the Gaza Strip incident.

France catches its most-wanted suspect

AJACCIO, Corsica _ France's most wanted man was put in prison on Saturday after a four-year investigation and a raid on a hut in Corsica.

Yvan Colonna, a 43-year-old Corsican nationalist, was arrested without incident by police Friday evening and transferred early Saturday to a Paris prison.

Colonna is accused of being the gunman in the 1998 assassination of Corsica Gov. Claude Erignac.

The arrest came less than 48 hours before a referendum in Corsica on streamlining its administrative structure that, if approved, would give its residents a stronger political voice.

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