News Currents

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

In Singapore, six Southeast Asian leaders signed two landmark agreements Jan. 28 to forge economic links and help turn the booming region into a free-trade area (see story, Page 7). The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also signed a Singapore Declaration welcoming the accession of Vietnam and Laos to the group's friendship treaty. The leaders signed a separate "framework agreement" to seal their commitment to create an ASEAN Free Trade Area by 2008 and cooperate in trade and investme nt.... In Tokyo, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa told parliament Jan. 28 his government was reviewing Japan's defense strength in the post-cold-war era but said he opposed an immediate cut in defense expenditures.... In Mangdaw, Burma, senior Bangladesh and Burmese military commanders held talks Jan. 28 in renewed efforts by the two neighbors to defuse border tensions and stop the flow of Burmese Muslim refugees into Bangladesh.... Pakistan's backing of the United Nations peace plan for Afghanistan received

support from moderate Afghan mujahideen leaders, but the hard-liners were unmoved. The UN plan calls for a cease-fire in the Afghan civil war and an interim government to arrange elections. MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS

In Moscow, the latest round of Middle East peace talks got under way Jan. 28 without Palestinian delegates, who protested against Israel's refusal to accept their representatives from Jerusalem and the diaspora (see story, Page 3). Syria and Lebanon also boycotted the conference, which is to deal with regional cooperation on issues ranging from economic and security questions to water resources and the environment.... Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, right-wing Jewish extremists fired shots at the house of Bethl ehem Mayor Elias Friej Jan. 28 and warned other Palestinian leaders that further attacks would follow.... In Beirut, followers of pro-Syrian Palestinian groups organized a strike in southern Lebanon Jan. 28 to protest the Middle East peace talks. Shops, schools, and businesses closed in Beirut and the southern port cities of Sidon and Tyre. UNITED STATES

In Washington, President Bush delivered his State of the Union address Jan. 28, hoping to jump-start the nation's stagnant economy and ignite his reelection campaign.... In Sacramento, the California Senate Appropriations Committee approved a plan Jan. 27 that would create a single publicly financed health-care system in California and guarantee all residents the right to medical treatment, regardless of their ability to pay. The program would be financed by a 10 percent payroll tax and a 1.5 percent tax

on the adjusted gross income of Californians with incomes surpassing 250 percent of the poverty level.... R. H. Macy & Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Jan. 27 under the weight of $5.3 billion in liabilities and mounting losses.

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