In other items: Officials from Pakistan and India yesterday held a landmark dialogue on their dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir; police in Colombia captured a reputed leader of the Norte del Valle drug cartel yesterday; and Romania's Parliament yesterday voted in a centrist government packed with young, Western-educated academics vowing to speed up...

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Jericho, West Bank


Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the front-runner in upcoming presidential elections, received a loud ovation from thousands of supporters yesterday at his first public rally since replacing the late Yasser Arafat.

Also yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip suffered a setback when a parliamentary committee failed to approve a set of guidelines governing the evacuation. While the vote isn’t expected to disrupt the withdrawal, which is to begin in July, officials said it would complicate preparations.

The campaign speech to several thousand supporters in Jericho was an important test for Abbas, a soft-spoken bureaucrat who prefers to avoid large crowds.

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He echoed what are shaping up to be the themes of his campaign: a pledge to continue Arafat’s struggle for Palestinian independence, a call to achieve this goal through peaceful negotiations and a plea for Palestinian unity.


Islamabad, Pakistan


Pakistan and India conclude peace talks

Top Foreign Ministry officials from Pakistan and India yesterday held a landmark dialogue on their dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir during peace talks aimed at resolving five decades of enmity.

The foreign secretaries of the two South Asian nuclear-armed rivals concluded two days of meetings in Islamabad and agreed to carry forward a wide-ranging peace process with more talks on Kashmir and other issues in the months ahead.

Both sides sounded upbeat, even though they remain poles apart on Kashmir — over which they have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 — and have made little substantive progress in the past year.


Bogotá, Colombia


Alleged drug kingpin sought by U.S. is seized

Police captured a reputed leader of the Norte del Valle drug cartel yesterday, the latest arrest in a U.S.-backed effort to dismantle a gang accused of trafficking half of all cocaine sold in the United States in the 1990s.

Dagoberto Florez, a reputed capo or leader in the cartel, was on a list of most-wanted alleged cocaine kingpins sought by U.S. authorities under a court order handed down in New York in May. The U.S. government offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

Police seized Florez in a rural area outside Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city 250 miles northwest of the capital, said the national police chief, Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro. He declined to provide details and said it hasn’t been decided who, if anyone, would receive the reward money.


Bucharest, Romania


Parliament installs reformist regime

Romania’s Parliament yesterday voted in a centrist government packed with young, Western-educated academics vowing to speed up reforms needed to bring the Balkan country into the European Union.

A joint session of both houses voted 265-200 against Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu’s government, hailed by many Romanians as a new beginning 15 years after the fall of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

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Saudi security forces killed three suspected militants in a raid on their hideout in Riyadh yesterday, officials said. None of the three was identified, and it was not known if they were on the kingdom’s list of 26 most-wanted militants.