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World Briefs I

At Least 41 Killed by Tornados in Southeast

The Washington Post

Rescue workers sifting through debris in search of survivors and victims' bodies moved across fields of devastation Friday in what had been comfortable suburban neighborhoods that were tormented and wrecked by a series of tornadoes sweeping across the South. Emergency officials said at least 41 people were killed and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.

The storm that carried in the swift-moving tornadoes Wednesday night brushed Mississippi and crashed violently through central Alabama near Birmingham before moving northeast into Georgia and over the Carolinas toward the Atlantic. Officials said it left in its wake 32 dead in Alabama, at least eight in Georgia and one in Mississippi. They warned the toll could rise as emergency teams searched the wreckage.

The winds struck with such intensity around here that they "sounded like the thunder of a Winston Cup" stock car race, according Debbie Blackburn, who survived by huddling in a hallway with fellow church members in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama's largest city about 80 miles north of Montgomery, the capital.

President Clinton declared portions of Alabama and Georgia major disaster areas, making residents eligible for federal assistance, including housing, low-cost loans and aid to local governments. Vice President Gore planned to visit the area Friday.

Police Arrest Hamas Leader In Wake of Bomb Maker's Death

Los Angeles Times

Palestinian police detained the most prominent Hamas political leader in Gaza City on Thursday amid growing tensions between Yasser Arafat's government and his Islamic opposition over the recent killing of the chief Hamas bomb maker.

Abdulaziz Rantisi's arrest appeared to be part of a Palestinian Authority crackdown on Hamas to try to prevent the group from carrying out its threats to avenge the death of the bomb maker with attacks on Israel and Jews around the world.

Scores of Hamas activists in the West Bank also have been rounded up since the body of Mohiedin Sharif was discovered last month by an exploded car in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank city of Ramallah. Palestinian officials announced that Sharif was killed in a Hamas power struggle and that five of six people involved in the killing were in custody.

Rantisi was detained at his home after he gave an interview to an Israeli radio station in which he accused the Palestinian Authority of fabricating evidence and extracting confessions by torture to falsely charge Hamas with the killing. He demanded that the official Palestinian investigating committee be put on trial.

Russians Protest Conditions

The Washington Post

Thousands of Russians demonstrated Thursday to protest unemployment, delays in wage payments and the government's general economic policy. Since there is no government, it was for the demonstrators to know whom to blame for what.

It has been 15 days since President Boris Yeltsin dismissed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his cabinet. Parliament has balked at confirming Yeltsin's choice for premier, Sergei Kiriyenko, 35, a former oil company manager and energy minister.

So the marches, planned long before the government crisis, were firing verbal bullets at a moving target. The demonstrations began in Vladivostok in the Far East, eight time zones from Moscow, and continued across Siberia into western Russia as the day progressed. Organizers had hoped for a turnout of up to 20 million, but provincial reports said that many workers ignored the call for a day-long strike and that participation was in the hundreds of thousands.

Marchers carried the red banner of the Communist Party, different hued flags of other parties and trade unions. In Moscow, Communists blended calls for jobs with demands for the restoration of the Soviet Union. There was an occasional banner demanding Yeltsin's resignation.

But the government shakeup seemed to take passion out of the protests. Even organizers were inclined to give Kiriyenko a chance. "Kiriyenko has given us hope. He is prepared to find a way to pay off wages," said Alexei Surikov, an official from the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, one of the organizers.