World briefs 02/24/03

Judge orders house arrest for strike leader

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A leading opponent of President Hugo Chavez who helped lead a two-month national strike was put under house arrest Sunday after a judge struck down a treason charge but left standing two other serious counts.

Carlos Fernandez, president of the Fedecamaras business chamber, was seized Wednesday by federal agents. An arrest order was issued for another strike leader who remains in hiding.

A judge struck down three of the charges against Fernandez, including treason, in a 13-hour closed-door hearing that ended early Sunday. The court upheld charges of rebellion and incitement, said Pedro Berrizbeitia, one of the business leader's defense lawyers.

Separately, gunmen loyal to Chavez ambushed a group of policemen overnight, killing one officer and wounding five others, police officials said.

Fire breaks out during Harry Potter filming

LONDON -- A grass fire started near a railroad bridge in Scotland as crews filmed the latest Harry Potter movie, disrupting production of the popular series.

Authorities extinguished the fire Sunday after it burned across more than 100 acres of scrub near the Glenfinnan Viaduct in northwest Scotland.

No one was injured in the fire, which started Saturday, and local residents who were evacuated since have returned home. The cause was under investigation.

When the fire started, the film crew was shooting a scene on the bridge from "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban," which is scheduled for release next year.

It was not immediately known when production would resume on the next movie based on J.K. Rowling's best-selling books about a teenage wizard. The railroad bridge was the setting for the flying-car scenes in last year's "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."

Nine killed in violence along Gaza Strip

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip -- Israel's week-old military offensive against Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip intensified Sunday, and six Palestinians were killed and 28 wounded in a raid on a Palestinian town from which homemade rockets have been fired at Israeli communities.

Two more Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed elsewhere in Gaza.

In response to Sunday's army assault, Hamas militants fired three more short-range Qassam rockets from Beit Hanoun, and one hit near a strip mall in the Israeli town of Sderot, about 700 yards away. The rocket caused some panic but no injuries.

In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon moved closer to establishing a new government as he signed up his first coalition partner -- the National Religious Party that opposes Palestinian statehood and advocates Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Vote on U.S. deployment to Turkey likely Tuesday

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turkey's parliament will likely vote early this week on allowing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops in the country ahead of a possible Iraq war, the foreign minister said Sunday.

Yasar Yakis said there remained only a few outstanding issues in negotiations on the economic, political and military conditions of the deployment. These issues could be resolved, Yakis said in an interview with private television CNN-Turk.

Asked whether a vote was likely Tuesday, Yakis said: "The probability is high." Parliament must authorize any deployment of foreign troops in Turkey.

Turkish and U.S. officials resumed talks in Ankara on Sunday.

-- From wire reports