Middle East peace topic at EU summit

BRUSSELS, Belgium

European Union ministers plan to try their hand at Middle East peacemaking today before opening a week of intense negotiations to resolve several internal disputes within their 15-nation bloc.

The EU has invited Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and top Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath for talks in an effort to halt resurgent violence in the region.

The pair are scheduled to meet Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who holds the EU”s rotating presidency, and EU foreign ministers gathered here. European officials, however, expressed little hope of a breakthrough.

“We realize how difficult and fragile the situation is,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who will chair Monday”s ministerial meeting.

The ministers will also look at the EU”s role in the war against terrorism, and plans to help stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan now the Taliban have fallen.

The meeting was originally called to prepare for the EU”s year-end summit to be held in Brussels Friday and Saturday.

To ensure the summit runs smoothly, the EU foreign ministers will try to overcome differences on various issues.

22 police officers injured in IRA riots

CROSSMAGLEN, Northern Ireland

Irish Republican Army supporters armed with clubs, fence posts and other makeshift weapons clashed with riot police and soldiers yesterday at three British security installations near the Northern Ireland border.

Police said 22 officers suffered mostly minor injuries, but two with head wounds were airlifted by helicopter to a Belfast hospital. The officers reported firing two plastic bullets to force back protesters outside one army watchtower and used batons and a further plastic bullet to beat back protesters who had forced their way into the main barracks used by soldiers and police in Crossmaglen.

One soldier suffered burn injuries after protesters filled a large oil drum with gasoline and set it alight against the barracks” main gate, police said. Two military dogs were also injured in the attack on the base.

Police said they had arrested four people during yesterday”s protests two men and two teen-agers and had videotaped the scuffles outside the watchtowers in the hope of identifying people in the crowd. Warning signs outside each base read, “This is a prohibited place within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act. Unauthorized persons in the area will be arrested and prosecuted.”

Supplies unloaded into space staion

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.

Astronauts aboard the linked space shuttle Endeavour and international space station unloaded supplies yesterday for the three men who will remain in orbit until May.

The most noteworthy payloads, though, are staying on the shuttle: thousands of U.S. flags in tribute to those killed on Sept. 11.

Six thousand of the small flags will be distributed after Endeavour”s flight to victim”s relatives and some of the survivors of the tragedy. The larger flags will be returned to Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and New York, where one of them was flying at the World Trade Center when the hijacked airliners slammed into the towers.

That flag is ripped and still smells of smoke. Shuttle commander Dominic Gorie said before the mission that he was reluctant to unpack it in space for fear it would trigger smoke alarms.

First Ebola outbreak confirmed in Gabon

GENEVA

An outbreak of fever in the west African nation of Gabon has been confirmed as the deadly disease Ebola, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

It is the world”s first documented outbreak of Ebola since last year in Uganda, where 224 people including health workers died from the virus. Ebola is one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind, causing death in 50 to 90 percent of all clinically ill cases.

“It”s been confirmed by a laboratory in Gabon,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told The Associated Press. “We”ve had reports that seven people have died.”

Hartl said WHO has already sent a team to help the coastal nation and that a second team of four specialists would leave Geneva for Gabon today.

Slide continues on Japanese markets

DUBLIN, Ireland

Doctors said they were growing more hopeful yesterday about the condition of five refugees fighting for their lives after a journey in a shipping container that killed eight others.

The survivors four men and one woman remained in critical condition, but their conditions have stabilized, said Dr. Paddy McKiernan, a consultant physician at Wexford General Hospital.

“We are much more hopeful about them now,” he said, though he added that the woman in particular remained critically ill. The patients were being treated for respiratory problems and hypothermia, doctors said.

A trucker discovered the survivors and eight dead bodies amid his cargo of office furniture Saturday after hearing moaning and pounding noises as he neared the town of Wexford, 70 miles south of Dublin.

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