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News Briefs I

Algerians Vote in Local Elections

The Washington Post
CAIRO, Egypt

Algerians voted Thursday in local elections that the military-backed government hopes will cement its claim to legitimacy and help end a bloody five-year-old insurrection by Islamic militants.

The contest has elicited little excitement among Algerians, many of whom believe that the elections are stacked in favor of pro-government parties and that power will remain firmly in the hands of secular army generals who have run the country since independence from France in 1962.

The government of President Liamine Zeroual nevertheless is attaching considerable significance to the elections, which officials describe as the final phase of the country's transition to democratic rule. The government has sought to reestablish its claim to power since 1992, when the army forced the cancellation of parliamentary elections rather than permit a victory by the fundamentalist-leaning Islamic Salvation Front.

That decision touched off years of violence that has killed tens of thousands of people - estimates range from 60,000 to 120,000 - most recently in a series of civilian massacres near Algiers. The slaughter has shocked Algerians and foreigners alike and prompted talk of an international role in mediating between the government and its Islamic opposition.

Sabotage Is Suspected In City Power Outage

Los Angeles Times
SAN FRANCISCO

A massive, predawn power outage that snuffed out lights across San Francisco Thursday, snarling traffic and wreaking havoc on the city's morning routine, may have been the work of saboteurs.

A spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said the utility called in the FBI and San Francisco police Thursday afternoon to determine why three banks of transformers at a key substation lost power at 6:15 a.m., cutting electricity to 120,000 customers - and leaving a third of the city dark.

"They are treating the substation as a crime scene, and we believe there is a strong possibility of tampering," said PG&E spokesman Bill Roake.

The blackout set burglar and fire alarms ringing, police scrambling to control traffic at busy intersections and tens of thousands of San Francisans scurrying to begin their day without lights or hot food.

San Francisco police said there were no reports of injury and no serious mishaps due to the unexpected plunge into darkness.

Roake said PG&E turned to law enforcement when it found no equipment failure at the unmanned substation that could explain the outage. It is a federal crime to interrupt the function of an energy facility.

U.S. Records of Nuclear Bomb Dismantlement Are Missing

Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Energy Department has disclosed in private correspondence that it cannot locate the records proving it dismantled and destroyed as many as 30,000 nuclear bombs between 1945 and 1975 at weapons plants across the United States.

The disclosure comes amid growing U.S. concern over the lack of control and poor record keeping afflicting the Russian nuclear weapons program. Earlier this year, Congress called hearings to investigate whether Russia had lost track of so-called suitcase nuclear weapons, and Energy Department officials have been actively seeking a halt to Russian plutonium production.

The missing U.S. records were sought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, which had filed a request for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The agency told the NRDC in a series of letters that "nuclear weapon disassembly information could not be located." In a letter this week to Energy Secretary Federico Pena, the NRDC asks the department to find or reconstruct the missing data.