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World Briefs I

Agrarian Reformers Hold Rally, End 630-Mile March

Los Angeles Times

Tens of thousands of marchers demanding agrarian reform completed a two-month trek through the brush with a historic rally Thursday in Brasilia, dramatizing the strongest political challenge to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso during his two years in office.

The demonstration was organized by the Movement of Landless Workers, a highly disciplined leftist organization that is the most important social movement in Brazil today. The movement has led squatters in occupations of rural property and clashed with landowners and police.

More than 25,000 protesters assembled among the capital's stark, box-like buildings - the biggest such gathering in decades here - and called on Cardoso to speed agrarian reform. Brazil's rates of income and land distribution are among the world's most unbalanced: 20 percent of Brazilians own about 90 percent of the land. The marchers also marked the one-year anniversary of the massacre of 19 activists by police in the state of Para.

Oldest Known Common Ancestor Of Both Men and Apes Found

The Washington Post

Fossils unearthed from ancient rock in Uganda have revealed what scientists say is by far the oldest known common ancestor of both men and apes: a shockingly big, tree-dwelling lug that could hang around comfortably in an upright position, but that walked somewhat awkwardly on all fours when on the ground.

The finding, reported by a diverse international team in Friday's issue of the journal Science, dates the remains to 20.6 million years ago. That is about 10 million years before the next oldest viable fossil candidate for a common ancestor. And it is roughly the period in which a great evolutionary split presumably occurred, producing one lineage that would go on to become various kinds of latter-day monkeys and another group, called hominoids, that would become modern apes and humans.

If the analysis is confirmed, the heretofore uncategorized creature, which the researchers have named morotopithecus bishopi, will shatter the widespread assumption that the common ancestors of modern apes and humans in that era were probably small as contemporary gibbons.

Senate Plans Vote On Chemical Weapons Treaty

The Washington Post

The Senate agreed Thursday to vote a week from now (next Thursday) on ratification of a global treaty to ban production and use of chemical weapons. The action came after nearly four years of delay climaxed by last-minute pressure for concessions from Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

With the assent of Helms, who remains adamantly opposed to the treaty, the Senate unanimously approved an agreement setting terms for debate. It anticipates separate votes on five key amendments, most of which have been dubbed treaty "killers" by the Clinton administration.

Principal among them are proposals to hold up ratification until the treaty is approved by Russia and "rogue states" such as Iraq, Iran and Libya and to force renegotiation of provisions requiring exchange of information on chemical technology and defenses. Another critical proposal would raise verification standards to what the administration regards as unachievable levels.