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News Briefs

December 27, 1995
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EST (2445 GMT)

France detonates fifth nuclear device in South Pacific


PARIS (CNN) -- Disregarding world criticism and violent protests, France exploded a nuclear device in the South Pacific Wednesday. It was the fifth in a series of tests on two remote atolls.

The blast, equal to almost 30 kilotons of explosives, came at 12:30 p.m. local time (2130 GMT) on Mururoa Atoll, the public radio station France Info reported, quoting the Defense Ministry. By comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was slightly less than 20 kilotons.

The testing has triggered condemnation and protests around the globe. The first explosion on September 5 led to violent demonstrations in Papeete, Tahiti, the capital of French Polynesia.

French President Jacques Chirac has said France will set off six nuclear explosions before permanently ending its testing program by the end of May. The final test now is expected in February. The resumption of the tests in September followed a three-year moratorium imposed by former President Francois Mitterrand.

Earlier Brief

Fellow cult members shot others, themselves

French police

GRENOBLE, France (CNN) -- Officials investigating the death of 16 members of the doomsday cult The Order of the Solar Temple said Wednesday that the two cult members found near the others shot them and set them on fire before killing themselves.

One of the two was a policeman. His wife and two daughters, ages two and four, were among the victims. They were among 14 who were heavily sedated and arranged in a star pattern before being shot in the forehead with .22 caliber rifles.

Prosecutor Jean-Francois Lorans refused to rule out the possibility that others might have been involved. He said the killings took place shortly after midnight Saturday, the same day the bodies were found.

Prosecutors said the deaths appear similar to the ritual deaths of 53 cult members in Switzerland and Canada last year. The Order of the Solar Temple harks back to centuries-old secret Roman Catholic societies and has members across the world. Its disciples believe that death is an illusion and life continues after earth on other planets.

Snowstorms kill dozens in Kazakh steppes

MOSCOW (CNN) - Dozens of people have died or are missing in the snowbound steppes of Kazakhstan after storms covered most of the former Soviet republic.

Kazakh officials said Wednesday that the weather was likely to get worse, according to Russian news agencies.

Interfax news agency said storm warnings had been issued since December 21 but 89 people, mainly villagers in Central and Northern Kazakhstan, had died and 10 were missing.

ITAR-Tass news agency said that up to 80 people had been killed and dozens were hospitalized, some with severe frostbite.

Winter storms are not uncommon in Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union formerly sent many Soviet political prisoners, but officials said this year's weather was unusually brutal.

Liberian disarmament to start next month

Liberia map

MONROVIA, Liberia (CNN) - Thousands of Liberia's armed militants will begin to hand over their weapons to African peacekeepers on January 15, the country's interim head of state Wilton Sankawulo said Wednesday.

Sankawulo, chairman of Liberia's state ruling council, told a news conference the ECOMOG West African peacekeeping force and faction leaders had agreed on the start date.

Disarmament is a central part of the peace accord signed in Nigeria in August to end six years of civil war and hold free elections next year.

Chief rebel leader Charles Taylor, who is now a member of the six-member ruling council, had ordered his people to be ready for disarmament, Sankawulo added.

New flood warning for ravaged S. African province

Flood damage

DURBAN, South Africa (CNN) - Authorities issued a new flood alert for South Africa's Zulu homeland Wednesday, warning residents to be ready to flee at short notice if the engorged Umsunduzi River burst its banks again.

More than 125 people have been killed in what's being described as South Africa's worst natural disaster, which hit on Christmas Day. The most affected area was around the city of Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Heavy rain and hail fell again Wednesday and civil defense officials said the Umsunduzi was swollen and moving rapidly, and that the Henley dam near Pietermaritzburg was overflowing, threatening a new flood.

Related Story

A sure deal that didn't pay off

Jeanne Calment

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Thirty years ago a French lawyer made what seemed like a sharp deal. At the age of 47, Andre-Francois Raffray agreed to pay Jeanne Calment 2,500 francs a month rent for her house, which he would inherit when she died.

She was 90 years old then, so he probably figured that he couldn't lose.

What he didn't count on was her outliving him.

When Raffray died Monday at the age of 77, he had paid 900,000 francs rent over the years, about three times the value of the house.

Landlady Calment is doing just fine, and looking forward to her 121st birthday in February.

And, she now has a house for rent.


Seoul rules out Pyongyang aid despite crew's return

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Despite North Korea's release of five captured sailors Tuesday, South Korea said Wednesday it will not resume rice aid to the North.

"There is no change in our government's position," Deputy Unification Minister Song Young-dae said. "For additional rice assistance, there must be a change in North Korea's attitude towards us."

Tuesday's border handover of the five seamen, as well as the remains of their three colleagues, was just one prerequisite for additional aid, Song said.

The boat, Woosung, was seized in May after straying into Northern waters. Two sailors were killed during its capture and one later died of illness.

North Korea has been on the brink of famine after floods devastated its summer grain crop. Seoul shipped 150,000 tons of rice to the North on humanitarian grounds this year, but halted aid after Pyongyang rebuffed repeated requests to release the Woosung and its crew.


Israeli troops withdraw from last West Bank town

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli troops began to pull out of Ramallah Wednesday, the last of six West Bank towns to be handed over to Palestinian control this year.

Israel has controlled Ramallah, a town of 40,000 10 km (six miles) north of Jerusalem, for 28 years. The city is the economic capital of the Palestinian self-rule territories.

Ramallah Ramallah is the sixth and last West Bank town that Israel has promised to hand over to Palestinian autonomy by the end of the year in time for the January 20 election of a Palestinian self-rule council.

The final obstacle to the Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah was lifted Tuesday with the formal opening of a bypass road which will permit Jewish settlers living north of the town to travel to Jerusalem without passing through Palestinian-ruled territory.


Pope leaves Vatican after Christmas flu scare

VATICAN CITY (CNN) --Pope John Paul II left the Vatican Wednesday to rest at his residence south of Rome after a bout of the flu. The illness interrupted Christmas Day celebrations for the Pope and has caused much worry over his health. "He is better," a Vatican official said.

The Pope, 75, will remain at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence 15 miles south of Rome, "for a brief period of rest" until December 31, according to a Vatican statement.

The Pope is scheduled to resume his public engagements with a New Year's Eve "Te Deum" vespers service of thanksgiving at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Rome.

The Pope was unable to say Christmas Day mass at St Peter's Basilica Monday for the first time since his election in 1978.

AP and Reuters contributed to this report


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