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News Briefs

Chinese Muslims Protest Detonation

The Baltimore Sun

China detonated a small-sized nuclear device Monday morning in the Gobi Desert, triggering diplomatic protests and further aggravating tense relations with the mainly Muslim population that lives near the test site.

The underground test, which came just days after more than 170 nations agreed to extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was in Lop Nor, about 150 miles south of Urumqi, provincial capital of China's Muslim province of Xinjiang.

"They use us as guinea pigs for their tests. The tests never take place where the Chinese live, only where we Muslims live. It's racist," said a local resident of the Uighur nationality.

Xinjiang, also known as Chinese Turkestan, is 60 percent Muslim, with the largest group being Uighur, an ethnic group closely related to the Turks.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said China will stop nuclear testing once a comprehensive test ban treaty is implemented.

Mexican Border Cleanup Imperiled

The Washington Post

Mexico is in danger of reneging on a 1993 pledge to clean up the 2,500-mile border it shares with the United States and could require external financial help to meet its environmental commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to senior officials here.

The border-cleanup issue - once regarded as resolved under an environmental side accord to NAFTA - has resurfaced as one of several high-priority items on the agenda of the annual U.S.-Mexico binational meeting, a one-day event that convenes today in Washington.

Eight members of President Ernesto Zedillo's Cabinet and other senior dignitaries will spend the day discussing cross-border economic, environmental, legal and cultural affairs with their U.S. counterparts.

Foreign Secretary Jose Angel Gurria, who will head the Mexican delegation to Washington, said in an interview that Mexico had to put on hold its participation in several border cleanup projects because the current financial crisis has sapped the federal budget. A currency devaluation in December followed by a massive economic contraction has forced the Zedillo government to slash the federal budget by nearly 10 percent this year.

NASA Robots on Weight-Loss Plan

The Washington Post

The space robots are going on a diet.

On Earth, daily life has been transformed by the miniaturization of electronics. But solar system explorers are still lugging yesterday's behemoth technologies among the planets. That's about to change.

Eight or nine bantamweight robotic expeditions are lining up for departure during the three years beginning next February, with even smaller packages planned after that. Their destinations include an asteroid and the moon, but the bulk of the frequent-flier bonus points is reserved for Mars missions. NASA plans to send two craft to the Red Planet every two years through 2005. The next landing is scheduled for July 4, 1997, scientists said, when Mars Pathfinder is to parachute in from orbit carrying a 22-pound rover only "about as smart as a bug."

The first of NASA's "smaller, faster, cheaper" Discovery missions is assigned to tango with an asteroid named Eros. Known as NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous), the 1,700-pound craft is to circle Eros for a year, nearing altitudes as low as 22 miles. It will make the first comprehensive measurements of an asteroid's composition. Scientists believe asteroids contain pristine material from when the planets formed, some 4.5 billion years ago.

The NEAR craft is being assembled in a "clean room" at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.