Washington — The Justice Department said yesterday it has reached confidential, out-of-court settlements with the families of schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and three other astronauts who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger Jan. 28. The other astronauts whose families' claims have been settled are mission commander Francis Scobee, mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, and payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, the Justice Department announced.
The amounts of the settlements were not disclosed, but they required the approval of Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns - meaning under department guidelines they were worth at least $750,000 per family.
The department said that under terms of a separate agreement, Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters used on the Challenger, will make a ``substantial contribution'' to the sums paid the four families.
A $15 million claim filed against NASA by the family of shuttle pilot Michael John Smith remains pending, officials said, as does a suit by the family of mission specialist Ronald McNair against Morton Thiokol. No claim has been filed on behalf of the estate of mission specialist Judith Resnik, the seventh astronaut on the flight.
Peking students march, defy government ban
Students at Peking Teachers' University, banging drums and chanting slogans calling for democracy and freedom, staged a march early yesterday in defiance of a ban on unapproved demonstrations. The official Peking Evening News reported that between 200 and 300 students marched to three other city campuses. A foreign reporter, however, said numbers reached up to 3,000 as the march progressed.
According to reports, up to 30 police in cars accompanied the marchers, but police did not attempt to stop the students.
The march, the first in Peking since tight controls on demonstrations in the capital were announced last Friday, was held despite a barrage of official warnings to students to stay off the streets. New restrictions require prior approval of all demonstrations and prohibit marches in certain parts of the city.
Disenchanted immigrants return to Soviet Union
Fifty Soviet emigres who decided to abandon life in the US arrived home yesterday in what Radio Moscow portrayed as the first wave of hundreds of returnees from the West. The passengers, some of whom left Kennedy Airport with videocassette recorders and other goods scarce in the Soviet Union, cited a variety of reasons for returning, many saying they wanted to be reunited with family and friends. Soviet officials said this is the largest single group of emigrants to return to the Soviet Union from the US.
Israeli prime minister cleared in Shin Beth case
Israel's attorney general cleared Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir yesterday of criminal involvement in the 1984 killing of two captured Arab bus hijackers and said no one would stand trial in the case. Earlier this year, three senior Shin Beth officers had charged that Avraham Shalom, chief of the intelligence organization at the time of the incident, had ordered the killings. Mr. Shalom, who resigned in return for immunity from prosecution, said the killings and subsequent cover-up had been authorized by Israeli poltical leadership. Mr. Shamir was prime minister at the time of the hijacking.
Texas Air to control troubled People Express
Shareholders of the financially troubled airline People Express approved a $115 million merger with Texas Air Corporation yesterday. The vote by shareholders, about one-third of whom are employees, was the final hurdle in Texas Air's bid to take control of the cut-rate airline. The merger makes Houston-based Texas Air the nation's largest airline company.
Suit seeks to recover Marcos property in US
The Philippine government yesterday filed its first lawsuit to regain part of the billions in hidden wealth it says deposed President Ferdinand Marcos amassed during his 20 years in power. Jovito Salonga, chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, said the properties include four buildings in Manhattan and an estate in Long Island, which have an estimated value of $350 million. Salonga said the suit was filed in a special Philippine court handling graft cases. He said the Philippine government will ask New York authorities to enforce the judgment if it wins the suit.
Weinberger requests additional defense funds
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger asked Congress yesterday to give the Pentagon $2.8 billion more in the current fiscal year, including $110 million to study new, more powerful rockets that would be part of the ``star wars'' antimissile program. The money would finance a pay raise for the nation's 2.1 million uniformed military personnel, changes in the health care system, and destruction of aging chemical weapons, along with increases for Strategic Defense Initiative programs.
Britain, Guatemala will resume diplomatic ties
Britain and Guatemala have decided to resume diplomatic relations, broken by Guatemala in 1963 in a dispute over neighboring Belize, the British Foreign Office said yesterday. The renewed ties, effective immediately, open the door to settlement of a longstanding dispute over Belize, which was a British colony until 1981.
US, Iran discuss frozen assets. Iran-contra update
Iranian and United States negotiators met yesterday at the Iran-US Claims Tribunal to work out terms for the return of $506 million in Iranian assets, plus interest, to Iran. Iran has said it might intercede on behalf of American hostages in Lebanon if it gets back all its US-held assets. The $506 million represents Iran's overpayment into a $3.67 billion fund held by the New York Federal Reserve Bank for repaying syndicated bank loans to Iran.
The US has agreed in principle to return the money plus interest, but the two sides still must work out details, such as wording of an Iranian pledge that it will make no further demands once the case is closed. The Iran-US Tribunal, which has been disentangling the two nations' financial relations since 1981, is the only public forum for bilateral meetings between Iran and the US. Washington froze US-held Iranian assets when relations broke down following the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and subsequent taking of the US Embassy and American hostages.
The speaker of Iran's parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, has said several times recently that Iran might intercede on behalf of the five Americans missing in Lebanon if Washington released frozen Iranian assets.
But Iran's prime minister, Mir Hossein Musavi, has ruled out an immediate resumption of ties. ``There will be no reconciliation on our side with the United States,'' Mr. Musavi told the Iranian parliament Sunday.