Other items: British cabinet secretary resigns over scandal; Albanian hijackers release hostages in Greece; and a measure was delayed on voting rights for Mexicans living abroad.

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A band of former soldiers took over ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s former home early yesterday and said they would use it to provide security in the neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital.

Though the estate, abandoned since Aristide fled the country Feb. 29, is just blocks from a U.N. base with 1,200 Brazilian soldiers, no U.N. peacekeepers or Haitian police were at the scene, and their spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has accused Aristide of orchestrating recent violence from exile in South Africa — a charge Aristide has denied. Aristide says the United States forced him to leave the country, a claim U.S. officials deny.

The ex-soldiers, who led the three-week rebellion against Aristide that forced him to flee, say that Haiti’s ill-equipped police force is not able to provide security in the Caribbean country of 8 million people, and they have offered their services.


Cabinet secretary resigns over scandal

One of Britain’s most powerful and popular Cabinet secretaries resigned his post yesterday after admitting his office had fast-tracked a visa application for his married lover’s nanny.

The resignation of Home Secretary David Blunkett, whose department oversees homeland security, immigration, the justice system and national police force, brought a dramatic climax to disclosure of a three-year love affair between Blunkett, 57, and the married, American-born Kimberly Quinn, 44, publisher of the weekly Spectator magazine.

The scandal creates a political headache for Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has relied upon the outspoken home secretary to shore up his government’s support among blue-collar voters for whom Blunkett’s hard-line stance on law and order, immigration abuses and other criminal-justice issues has resonated powerfully.

The Sunday Telegraph reported allegations that Blunkett had abused his office by doing personal favors for Quinn, including speeding up the processing of her Filipina nanny’s visa.

Athens, Greece

Albanian hijackers release hostages

Two armed Albanian hijackers surrendered and released their hostages early today, 18 hours after seizing a bus in an Athens suburb and threatening to blow it up if authorities did not pay a ransom.

Police said a preliminary investigation indicated the two men, both 24, were motivated by money and had planned to take the bus to Albania.

At one point during the standoff, a hijacker threatened to blow up the bus if authorities did not deliver a ransom of $1 million by dawn today. Greek police said the two suspects were armed with shotguns but did not have explosives and the demand to go to the airport appeared to be a ruse to hide their real destination.

Mexico City

Measure delayed on voting rights abroad

Millions of Mexicans living abroad will have to wait until at least February to see if they can vote in their country’s 2006 presidential election after Congress failed to approve the measure before its Christmas break.

At least 10 million Mexican citizens live, both legally and illegally, in the United States, and millions more there claim Mexican descent. Mexicans abroad are demanding a political voice at home to match their growing economic clout. They sent a record $16 billion back to relatives and friends in Mexico this year. Those remittances are Mexico’s second-highest source of foreign currency, behind only oil exports.

Only 3 million Mexicans abroad are currently registered to vote in their country’s next presidential election, which is shaping up as a tough fight. Mexican candidates would likely visit the United States to campaign, and ballot boxes would be set up in U.S. and Canadian cities, electoral officials say.


NATO honored Allied veterans of the “Battle of the Bulge” at a ceremony yesterday to mark the 60th anniversary of a World War II battle in southern Belgium’s Ardennes region seen as having cemented the transatlantic alliance.

The six-week battle to repel a last-ditch German offensive on Dec. 16, 1944, was the bloodiest land battle of World War II involving U.S. troops, who suffered some 80,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed. Total German casualties were over 100,000.

Government troops
battled rebels in the remote mountains of western Nepal yesterday in fighting that killed at least 20 soldiers and six guerrillas, officials said.

Former President Carter
, who won a Nobel peace prize for his Middle East peace efforts, said yesterday he would head an observer mission to monitor the Palestinian presidential elections next month.

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake
jolted eastern Taiwan today, the Central Weather Bureau said, but no damage or injuries were reported.