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News Briefs, part 1

PRI Rift Thwarts Selection Of Presidential Candidate

Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY

One by one, party chiefs, government ministers and potential candidates parade in and out of the presidential mansion, stoic and mute. Throngs of reporters staked out nearby jostle for a sliver of information, a name. But, as the ritual of consultations continued Monday, the veil of secrecy did not lift.

Five days have passed since the assassination of Mexico's probable next president, and the ruling party is struggling to name a replacement. The delay in choosing a new candidate has exposed serious rifts in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and highlights once again its autocratic, increasingly criticized way of doing things.

Depending on the choice he makes, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is faced with a virtual mutiny among party members, from either old-guard hard-liners or reform-minded progressives.

The assassination last week of Luis Donaldo Colosio shook Mexico's ruling party to the core and has incited a bitter power struggle that seems certain to leave the PRI bruised and fractured.

Ernesto Zedillo, who was Colosio's campaign manager, is rumored to be the front-runner because he is close to Salinas and could be counted on to continue Salinas' free-market economic policies.

Party Chairman Fernando Ortiz Arana appears to have the backing of many traditional party stalwarts who have been waging a campaign to boost him and to block Zedillo.

Arabs Hold Off Lifting Israel Boycott in Wake of Massacre

Los Angeles Times
CAIRO, Egypt

The massacre of about 30 Palestinians by a Jewish settler in Hebron has set back the timetable for a possible lifting of the Arab boycott against the Israelis, even as the Arab League finds itself increasingly divided over whether to consider Israel a friend or foe, officials said Monday.

Foreign ministers of the Arab world, still fractured by the wounds left by Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, found themselves at their 101st regular session unable even to agree on who represents a common enemy of the Arabs -- though Israel got barely a mention among possible threats to Arab security.

The conclusion of two days of meetings with no new resolutions adopted on the Arab boycott, Arab security, or even the issue of a proposed Arab court of justice reflects the extent to which the Arab world remains unsettled by the Persian Gulf war and the uncertainty about how to deal with prospects of a general peace with Israel.

"Relations with Israel have really changed substantially, and we cannot speak about Israel using the same language we used to use in the past," said Nagui Ghatrify, spokesman for the foreign ministry of Egypt, which has urged its Arab neighbors to move toward peaceful relations with the Jewish state.

Oil Prices Fall to Near 5-Year Low

The Washington Post

Oil prices dropped sharply on world markets Monday, and some industry analysts predicted further declines could be in store after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries failed to reduce production.

The disarray in oil markets was good news for consumers, who can anticipate relatively low gasoline prices at least until summer, when demand increases with the vacation driving season. But the fall in crude prices triggered a dive in stock prices for oil companies, and for firms in the oil drilling and equipment business.

The price of crude oil for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at $14.08 a barrel Monday, down $1.05. Some oil industry watchers said they thought the price could fall to $10 or $12 a barrel, before rising again later in the year.

OPEC ended a two-day meeting in Geneva by retaining the current 24.52 million barrels-a-day ceiling on production for another nine months. According to news service reports, efforts to lower the ceiling fell apart because of resistance by Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.