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NEWS CAPSULES

Around the world

POPE: Pope John Paul II arrived in El Salvador Thursday on the last stop of his Central American tour, visiting a country erasing the bitterness of civil war but still mired in the poverty that helped cause it. "Pope John Paul II, We love you!" people chanted as the pope landed at a military airport east of the capital, San Salvador. Flags of El Salvador and the Vatican flew from the cockpit. Hours before dawn, tens of thousands of people began streaming into a field in the capital for an open-air Mass. The pope is on his 69th foreign trip, which will end Sunday.BARRICADES: Chechen separatists built barricades of stones and concrete blocks in front of the presidential palace in Grozny Thursday, vowing to resist any attempt to break up the largest rally in months against Russia. The palace in Grozny was devastated by Russian bombs last year but remains a symbol of Chechen independence. Thousands of Chechens have gathered there since Sunday, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops.

PURGE: Guatemala's new president has purged top military commanders and more than 100 police officers, rousing hopes that Guatemala's notorious security forces may be curbed. The international community and human rights groups applauded President Alvaro Arzu's action against the security forces, which have appalling human rights records and have been linked to drug trafficking, car theft and kidnapping rings. On Jan. 19 - five days after Arzu took office - 118 police officers suspected of criminal involvement and corruption were fired. Four top army generals were retired early and three were suspended.

NUKES: China fiercely lashed out at U.S. criticism of its nuclear testing program Thursday, saying the country with the largest and most advanced nuclear arsenal was "not qualified to lecture" Beijing. Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang was responding to a speech by U.S. disarmament ambassador Stephen Ledogar, who had singled out China as the only nuclear power to continue to conduct underground nuclear tests and build up its nuclear arsensal.

PROTEST: Separate but equal isn't good enough for the blacks of Potgietersrus, South Africa. In a scene evoking the American civil rights struggle of the early 1960s, about 6,000 black parents and children marched through this farming town Wednesday to demand that an all-white primary school admit black pupils.

TRANSPLANT: A South Korean bone marrow transplant that could save a leukemia-stricken U.S. Air Force cadet will take place after his graduation in May. Doctors say Brian Bauman, a Korean-born senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy, has at most five years to live without a bone marrow transplant, which offers a 45 percent chance of survival. He was diagnosed with leukemia in October.

Across the nation

WATER MAINS: Surgeons scrubbed up with bottled water and some restaurants had to close as two water main breaks disrupted life for 750,000 people in northern New Jersey. Before daybreak Thursday, 50,000 customers in the state's two most populous counties - Bergen and Hudson - were still without water and many others were being told to boil theirs before drinking. Crews pumped out enough water overnight to repair the mains, which ruptured Wednesday morning, but water wasn't expected to be fully restored until Friday.

ART THEFT: It was supposed to be a low-key affair: The Mexican businessman, tucking what he believed to be $13 million worth of artwork into a black plastic portfolio, boarded a plane for New York, where he would have them appraised. At Kennedy Airport, "he expected just to be able to walk through, get a cab and proceed to Manhattan," his lawyer said. In quick order, Avelino Espinosa Gonzalez got a big gulp of reality: a Customs hassle, the disappearance of the two paintings and a drawing, an FBI investigation, and the discovery of the missing art in a Queens basement. And then came the final blow: Garcia's artworks, FBI spokesman Joseph Valiquette said Wednesday, were fakes - and bad fakes, at that. Gonzalez had thought he had two Picassos and a Pissarro.

MEATPACKER: John Morrell & Co. pleaded guilty to illegally dumping slaughterhouse waste into a downtown Sioux Falls, S.D., river for close to a decade and agreed to pay $3 million in fines, the Justice Department said. The meatpacker pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of conspiracy and five counts of violating the Clean Water Act in connection with the release of ammonia nitrogen, according to U.S. Attorney Karen Schreier. Ammonia nitrogen comes from urine, excrement and other waste parts of slaughtered animals.

FIRES: The NAACP is asking the Justice Department to investigate fires at predominantly black churches in Alabama and Tennessee for possible civil rights violations. In a recent letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said the "discernible pattern" of the fires warrants such an investigation. At least eight fires have been reported in the past year, all at mostly black churches in small communities in the two Southern states, said Wade Henderson, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau.

BLEACH: A woman is suing a Kentucky Fried Chicken that she claims served her bleach instead of water with her meal, causing her to burn her throat when she took a sip. Cindy Wallis and her husband, Bill, ordered the dinner at the drive-through window of the KFC in Simpsonville, S.C., about 20 southeast of Greenville, just after Christmas. Cindy Wallis said the bleach was served in a paper cup with ice and a lid, as if it were water.

Other news

AN OFFSHORE earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 shook northern Japan and the southern Kuril Islands Thursday, but there were no reports of injuries or damage. . . . TEACHERS in San Diego, California's second-largest school district, returned to their classrooms Thursday, ending a weeklong walkout that divided the community and left students watching videos. . . . A FRENCH soldier with the Bosnia peacekeeping force was wounded in the foot when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine. . . . RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin said on Thursday he would announce whether he would stand for a second term in the June election on Feb. 15. . . . SHEIK AHMED Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Muslim militant group Hamas, is in critical condition in a prison hospital in Israel, his lawyer said Thursday.