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UNITED STATES

The US trade deficit shrank by 3.9 percent in January, to $5.8 billion, the Commerce Department said yesterday, as cheaper oil and weaker demand kept import costs down. Imports fell by 1.4 percent from December levels, to $41.3 billion, while exports declined slightly by 1 percent, to $35.5 billion.... The US may lift a tuna import embargo aimed at protecting dolphins from being killed in tuna catches, diplomats in Geneva said Wednesday. Mexican and US officials, appearing before a meeting of the ruling council of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, described dolphin protection moves they had taken. A GATT dispute panel had ruled earlier that US measures to ban the import of "dolphin-unsafe" yellow-fin tuna had violated GATT's free-trade rules. EUROPE

European Community officials are preparing to lift remaining sanctions against South Africa after Wednesday's pro-reform vote in Pretoria's whites-only referendum and is also considering the establishment of a permanent diplomatic mission in South Africa. ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

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Japan's real economic growth contracted for the first time in two-and-a-half years in the last quarter of 1991, an annualized 0.2 percent, further evidence that the present mild downturn is worse than initially believed.... Pakistan-based mujahedin yesterday appeared unimpressed by Afghan President Najibullah's offer to step down in favor of a UN-sponsored interim government, while Pakistan welcomed the offer.... Thai air strikes have decimated Burmese troops and forced them to retreat from the Thai terr itory they entered in pursuit of ethnic rebels, Thai officials said yesterday.

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