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Monday, March 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

World Digest
U.S. choice elected in El Salvador

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The U.S.-backed candidate in El Salvador's presidential election declared victory yesterday over a former Communist Party guerrilla leader.

With about 73 percent of the ballots counted, Tony Saca of the Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, had 57.6 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a May 2 runoff for the five-year term, which begins June 1.

His challenger, Schafik Handal of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, received 33 percent.

Saca, 39, a conservative broadcast-media businessman, was the clear favorite of President Bush's administration, whose officials suggested an opposition victory could affect El Salvador's remarkably warm relations with the United States. The Central American nation has contributed troops to the coalition effort in Iraq.

Handal had said he would bring Salvadoran troops back from Iraq and seek to restore relations with Cuba.

Governing conservatives trail in French elections

PARIS — Voters dealt a solid blow to France's governing conservatives in yesterday's first round of regional elections, giving the leftist opposition some 40 percent of the vote and boosting the extreme right, according to unofficial results.

Exit polls showed the party of President Jacques Chirac receiving 34 percent of the vote, while the extreme right received about 17 percent. Voters were choosing among 17,658 candidates running for hundreds of council seats in 26 regions.

The regional elections were widely viewed as a test of the government, and estimates confirmed predictions that Chirac's Union for a Popular Majority would be punished for France's economic and social woes.

Canada to make marijuana available in pharmacies

TORONTO — Canada plans to make government-certified marijuana available in local pharmacies, a move that would make it only the second country in the world to allow the direct sale of medical marijuana.
Officials are organizing a pilot project in British Columbia modeled on a year-old program in the Netherlands.

There are 78 medical users in Canada permitted to buy government marijuana, which is grown in Flin Flon, Manitoba. An ounce sells for about $113, and the marijuana is sent by courier to patients or their doctors.

But the department is changing the rules to allow participating pharmacies to stock marijuana for sale to approved patients without a doctor's prescription.

Some patients report that marijuana alleviates the pain and nausea associated with AIDS and other diseases.

Government forces kill up to 500 rebels in Nepal

KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepalese government forces killed as many as 500 rebels, and at least 18 police and soldiers died in some of the fiercest fighting since a cease-fire collapsed last year, officials reported yesterday.

Hundreds of rebels swarmed into Beni, a town 175 miles west of Katmandu, the capital, and battled security forces for nearly 12 hours before being chased away by reinforcements, according to Army Spokesman Col. Deepak Gurung.

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