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UNITED STATESRepublicans are as popular as Democrats in the South, once the nation's most loyal Democratic bastion of strength, according to a new poll. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a copyrighted story published in yesterday's editions, said its survey of 994 likely voters in the 11 states of the Old Confederacy plus Kentucky also found 73 percent overall approval of President Bush's handling of his job.... The shuttle Discovery's five-man crew safely launched the $633 million Upper Atmosphere Research Satell ite early yesterday. Data from UARS will help scientists determine exactly what effect pollutants are having on the ozone layer and other atmospheric systems.... Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn hinted Saturday that he expected to return to the Soviet Union, but his family said there were no immediate plans to go back. ASIA AND THE PACIFIC Afghan President Najibullah has promised cooperation with the US and the Soviet Union over their decision to halt all weapons supplies to the warring sides in his country and to plan free elections.... North Korea, which has applied to join the UN, said yesterday it would work on settling the problem of signing a nuclear safeguards agreement if "pressure" in that direction is removed.... The worst floods in more than a decade have hit the fertile rice-growing areas of southern Vietnam, killing at least 1 7 people and threatening swaths of prime agricultural land.

ENVIRONMENT AND SCIENCE A pioneering effort to reclaim one of Europe's few remaining wetlands with European Community funding has provided sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds in southern Spain, environmental officials said Saturday in Lucio Del Cangrejo, Spain. Herons, flamingos, spoonbills, terns, mallards, and water-hens are among 100-odd species that come to rest every winter and spring at the recently recreated Guadalquivir Marshes near the city of Seville.... Sen. Bob Graham (D) of Florida announced a bi ll Saturday to protect the US's 471 wildlife refuges by curtailing activities involving jet skis, off-road vehicles, and bomber planes in those areas. Graham's legislation would strictly define and restrict activities harmful to wildlife.

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN The US plans to retain its Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba despite the pullout of Soviet troops, a Defense Department spokesman said Saturday. Prensa Latina, Cuba's official news agency, had said that the US should shut down the naval base.... Guatemalan security forces are still torturing and killing opponents with impunity despite President Jorge Serrano's pledge to establish the rule of law, Americas Watch said yesterday. The group said the Serrano government inaugurated in January has failed to inv estigate thousands of political killings and disappearances during the years of military rule.

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