News In Brief

The Supreme Court has set the stage for an important ruling on racial preferences in the workplace. In the opening day of its 1985-86 term, the court agreed yesterday to review a quota system for promoting blacks and Hispanics among Cleveland's firefighters, and also announced that it would study court-ordered quotas for union membership.

The court will hear a challenge to the Cleveland quota system by a predominantly white firefighters union. The challenge is supported by the Reagan administration.

In the union case, the court said it will review lower-court rulings requiring a New York-New Jersey sheet metal workers' union to raise its black and Hispanic membership to 29 percent and imposing heavy fines for refusal to meet that quota.

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Union officials said they had not met the quota in part because of hard economic times and higher unemployment in the industry.

The high court's action expands its study of affirmative-action plans attacked as ``reverse discrimination.'' The court indicated earlier that it would settle a related issue in a case from Michigan.

Acting on a flood of new cases, the court also:

Agreed to decide whether people opposed to the death penalty may be barred for that reason from serving as jurors in deciding guilt or innocence in capital cases.

Set the stage for a ruling on free-speech by agreeing to decide in a Tacoma, Wash., case whether school officials may discipline a student who used sexual innuendo in a speech to fellow students.

Agreed to decide in the case of an accused Czech spy whether people may be forced to testify against their spouses if both spouses are accused of participating in a crime.

Let stand the conviction of former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle for lying to Congress.

Refused to force the federal government to compensate US citizens whose land in El Salvador was seized by that government.

Agreed to decide whether an employer may be sued when, even without his knowledge, a supervisor sexually harasses a worker.

Let stand a decision giving the federal government rather than the states almost complete control over railroad regulation.

US asks World Bank to raise its lending to debtor lands

The US, formally acknowledging that its debt strategy has changed, urged the World Bank yesterday to boost its lending to debtor nations. The various commercial banks must keep lending money to developing nations if incomes are to rise throughout the world, US Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III told a meeting of international economic officials.

Mr. Baker said the bank could boost its annual payout to debtor countries to between $13.5 billion and $14 billion a year from the $11.4 billion lent in its last financial year.

A task force commissioned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund reported that projected aid to low-income countries is likely to be inadequate and recommended more contributions from private sources and middle-income nations.

Four Palestinians killed on West Bank, Israel says

Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians Saturday during an Army ambush on Hebron mountain in the occupied West Bank, a military spokesman said Monday. A fifth was wounded in the ambush, he said. The group is believed responsible for a series of attacks in the last six months on Jews in the occupied territories, the spokesman said.

The Army believes the group had been operating since May 1984 and had murdered five Israelis in three attacks. The group is also believed responsible for four incidents of shootings at Israeli buses traveling from Jerusalem to Hebron, in which 17 people were injured.

Eighteen others, who had allegedly supported the group, have also been arrested.

South Africa to let cinemas drop apartheid in some areas

The government announced reforms in apartheid laws yesterday which at present segregate cinemas, with most, including those in city centers, reserved exclusively for whites. The reforms will allow theaters in some major city centers to apply for special permits to admit black viewers. The reform is similar to that which allows some hotels and restaurants -- generally the more expensive apply -- to admit nonwhite customers.

The change follows appeals by major movie chains to allow them to let nonwhites into city center movies in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and the Natal provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg. The government statement did not say which city centers would be affected by the change.

Chinese population growth hit postrevolution low in '84

China announced yesterday that its huge population grew last year by the lowest natural rate since the Communists came to power in 1949 and said it would not exceed 1.2 billion by the year 2000. The New China News Agency said the growth rate last year was 10.81 per thousand, leading to a population of 1.035 billion at the end of the year.

Lisbon's center-rightists win, but coalition still the pattern

Voters chose the center-right Social Democrats over outgoing Prime Minister M'ario Soares's Socialists in parliamentary elections Sunday, but failed to give any party a majority to form a new government. Returns from the National Election Center early yesterday indicated that the Social Democrats would receive 88 seats in the new Assembly; the Socialists, 54; the Democratic Renewal Party, 48; the Communists, 36; and the Christian Democrats, 20.

Ever since Portugal resumed democratic elections in 1976, two years after leftist Army officers overthrew a 48-year right-wing dictatorship, no single party has been able to secure a majority that would allow it to govern alone. That has resulted in unstable coalitions and five parliamentary elections in nine years.

Sakharov kin dismisses talk of his being freed by USSR

A relative of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov said yesterday speculation that he will be allowed to leave the Soviet Union is a Moscow publicity stunt to ease conflict over human rights before the November summit. Efrem Yankelevich does not expect that Dr. Sakharov, a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, will ever be released.

Mr. Yankelevich, who is married to Sakharov's stepdaughter, said it would make sense for the Soviets to release Sakharov as a goodwill gesture before the summit, but not after.

Romanian leader in Peking, with new cordiality at stake

Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu arrived in China yesterday for his fourth official visit in what Western diplomats said was an attempt to reinvigorate the formerly intimate Sino-Romanian relationship. Mr. Ceausescu will discuss European security and general disarmament issues, including US-Soviet arms reduction talks, the Romanian official said. Both sides wanted to improve trade and other bilateral relations, he said.

A bit of the secrecy lifted as Atlantis returns to Earth

The new space shuttle Atlantis glided out of orbit to a safe desert landing yesterday to end a clandestine maiden mission that deployed two military communications satellites under a tight news blackout. The shuttle touched down on a hard-packed sand runway at 1 p.m. Eastern time after a four-day orbital shakedown cruise of the last of NASA's four-craft shuttle fleet.

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