EVENTS

US ECONOMY GETS STEADILY STRONGER A revival in home sales coupled with strong consumer spending pushed US economic growth to a moderate 2.9 percent in the third quarter, the government said yesterday. The seasonally adjusted growth estimate was better than the analysts' estimates of 2.7 percent and more than double the dismal 1.4 percent rate of the first half of the year. The Gross National Product growth would have been even better 3.5 percent if not for crop losses from the Midwestern flood and Southern drought. The GNP is the value of all goods and services produced within US borders. It was fresh evidence that the US economic expansion continued to gather steam despite the recession that besets other parts of the globe. In the key sector of housing, construction shot up at an 11.9 percent annual rate, propelled by sales riding the lowest mortgage rates in 25 years. Sales of durable goods, such as appliances, were also strong. First lady denies claims

Facing Arkansas state troopers' claims that they arranged for extramarital encounters for then-Gov. Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first lady, said she ``absolutely'' stands behind her husband. She called the allegations ``outrageous, terrible stories that people plant for political and financial reasons.'' The troopers say they were pressured into remaining silent until now. Serb truce reached

All parties in current Bosnia peace talks yesterday agreed to a Christmas truce. It will allow for the safe passage of humanitarian aid convoys. Separately, the EU warned Serbia it will be hit with harsher economic sanctions unless its ethnic brethren in Bosnia make territorial concessions to beleagured Muslims. Cambodia fights back

Cambodian government forces have taken the offensive in an effort to reclaim some of the 15 percent of Cambodia held by the Khmer Rouge's 9,000 guerrillas, state radio reported yesterday. It said troops had seized 10 Khmer Rouge-controlled villages Dec. 12-19. The Khmer Rouge has said it wants to join the administration elected in a UN-organized poll in May, but has continued attacking government forces to bolster its bargaining power. Veterans get care

President Clinton signed legislation on Monday to require the Veterans Affairs Department to treat Persian Gulf war veterans for diseases that may have resulted from exposure to toxic substances. Possible chemical and biological contamination during the Gulf war has become an issue because of the many veterans dealing with undiagnosed illnesses that have come to be known as Persian Gulf syndrome. Japan doubles rice quota

Japan yesterday doubled its estimate of how much foreign rice it will have to import to make up for this year's bad harvest. The government insists the imports are a one-time emergency measure unrelated to its decision last week to end Japan's longtime import ban permanently in 1995. Rhine floods Germany

US troops boated through flooded cities in southern Germany to save stranded children and workers yesterday. Further north, the Rhine River began flooding the cities of Cologne, Koblenz, and Bonn. It was the worst flooding in many cities since 1947. The flood's death toll rose to at least five. More rain was forecast through today.

California fire-starter

A mentally ill refugee from China was sentenced to probation for accidentally setting a wildfire that destroyed 118 homes in Altadena, Calif. He set a fire Oct. 27 in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills to keep warm, but it got out of control and swept through the Altadena area. Dominos drops guarantee

Less than a week after a jury awarded nearly $79 million to a woman injured by a Domino's Pizza driver, the company is dropping the 30-minute delivery guarantee that helped make it the world's top pizza-delivery business. The company instead will offer an unconditional full refund to dissatisfied customers.

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