News In Brief

THE WORLD

Russian and Chechen forces clashed in parts of southern Chechnya, despite the start of a two-day cease-fire. In a state-of-the-nation address, President Yeltsin defended his decision to send troops to Chechnya, saying Russia had been too nice for too long to the separatist Chechen leadership. He blamed military leaders for ''big losses'' and human-rights violations. Yeltsin promised to strengthen the ruble and stabilize Russia's economy, but offered few details on how he would accomplish that.

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Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Arafat met for the second time in two weeks, trying to overcome an impasse in peace talks. Rabin agreed to gradually reopen the West Bank and Gaza Strip, allowing 15,000 Palestinian workers to return to their jobs in Israel, the PLO said. The two leaders also agreed to step up negotiations on Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank, the PLO said.

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The Mexican government said it had regained control of the remote jungle region in southern Mexico, but rebel leaders, soldiers, and supporters remained at large. Uncertainty over the situation in Chiapas state contributed to a sharp drop in the Mexican stock market and weakened the peso.

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Croatia said it would welcome a proposal to suspend sanctions against Serbia only if it would include strict monitoring and demilitarization of Serbia's borders. US Secretary of State Christopher said new efforts to resolve the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia could bring peace if Serbian President Milosevic agreed to them. Speaking to Congress, Christopher said Milosevic's cooperation was far from certain.

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South Korean and US officials played down North Korea's threat to abandon a landmark nuclear deal, saying it was an anticipated tactic aimed at getting more concessions. North Korea had warned that it would reject the deal if Washington forced it to accept nuclear reactors made in South Korea. Meanwhile, Pyongyang continued to celebrate leader Kim Jong Il's birthday.

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Baghdad has set up an underground network to export oil and bypass UN sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the New York Times reported. Trucks take the oil to Turkey or Iran across Kurdish territory. The illicit sales have generated up to $800 million in the past year, the paper said. Iraq denied the report. Meanwhile, Iraqi President Hussein took charge of repulsing a fierce Shiite Muslim attack on his army in the country's southern marshes.

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Peruvian President Fujimori said a cease-fire with Ecuador was holding. International observers are headed to the border area to monitor the truce.

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The European Union and ministers of African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations ended a scheduled two-day meeting after less than an hour. EU ministers couldn't decide among themselves how much aid to give the developing countries, and the two groups agreed to meet again when a real aid offer was forthcoming. In Washington, National Security Adviser Lake warned African nations that they must take more responsibility for their future. The international community's patience and aid resources were dwindling, he said.

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In the latest display of soccer hooliganism, English fans angered by an Irish goal tore up wooden benches and threw them at Irish fans. About 20 people were injured, and the game was canceled. The Dublin incident renewed debate on soccer violence and cast doubt on whether England should stage next year's European Championships.

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In a letter to British Prime Minister Major, Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Party said it fears it won't be able to accept British and Irish proposals for a peace settlement.

THE US

New jobless claims jumped an unexpected 20,000 last week, the Labor Department said. The increase, to 338,000, was the largest since last July. But the four-week average, considered a more-accurate figure, dipped slightly. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said housing starts in January plunged 9.8 percent, the second straight drop and the largest in a year. Analysts said the slowdown reflected the impact of higher interest rates.

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Attorney General Reno said the Justice Department appealed a federal judge's rejection of its antitrust settlement with Microsoft Corp. Justice officials said they knew of no other antitrust case where a judge had rejected a consent decree.

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House Republicans pressed ahead on their national-security bill. The proposal would cut US funding for UN peacekeeping, prevent US peacekeeping troops from being under foreign command, and press for early expansion of NATO. Lawmakers rejected a plan to force the president to deploy an antimissile system at the earliest practical date, with 24 Republicans voting no. President Clinton says the bill unwisely restricts presidential authority.

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A court hearing in Raleigh, N.C., was set today for Kevin Mitnick, the ''most-wanted computer hacker in the world.'' Mitnick, arrested by the FBI Wednesday, allegedly pilfered thousands of data files and at least 20,000 credit-card numbers, broke into telephone networks, and was a suspect in a rash of break-ins over the Internet. Computer-security expert Tsutomu Shinomura tracked him down after he broke into Shinomura's home computer on Christmas. Mitnick has a previous hacking conviction in California.

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Spring training began with no end to the baseball strike in sight. The White House spokesman said the president won't throw out the first ball opening day unless major-league players are on the field. Owners say they will go ahead with replacement players, but the Toronto Blue Jays are forbidden by law from doing so, and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos says he will not.

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Senate Minority Leader Daschle announced his opposition to the balanced-budget amendment. He said he supported the concept, but not the specific bill now before the Senate. Some senators predict the measure will garner the 67 votes needed to pass; others say it's still too close to call. A final vote appears to be two weeks away.

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A second credit-rating service has downgraded District of Columbia bonds to junk-bond status. Moody's Investors Service said continuing budget pressure and lack of a plan to deal with Washington's financial crisis prompted the move. The district had a $355 million deficit for 1994 and projects a $722 million deficit this fiscal year. Standard & Poor's had earlier downgraded Washington's bond rating.

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The Episcopal Church is investigating possible misuse of funds following the resignation of its national treasurer. A church spokesman wouldn't say how much is missing but said, ''It's not petty cash.'' The church has a $45 million annual budget. The missing money comes at a difficult time for Episcopalians, after the suicide of their Massachusetts bishop and subsequent revelations that he had a series of extramarital affairs.

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A Houston jury awarded a woman $5.2 million in damages for a leaking silicone breast implant. It recommended Dow Chemical Corp. pay 20 percent and Dow Corning, a joint venture with Corning Inc., 80 percent. The judge could still set aside the award in two weeks. The decision could mean Dow Chemical will have to contribute to a $4.2 billion global class-action settlement in a separate federal lawsuit.

Atlanta: At Least We're Not Birmingham. Atlanta: The Hometown of the American Dream. Atlanta: A City of Immense Pride. Atlanta: Not Bad -- For Georgia.''

Public suggestions for an Atlanta tourism slogan

ETCETERA

CBS, running third for the prime-time TV season, will add three new series to its schedule next month and lift four half-hour shows to make room. The new series are ''Under One Roof,'' a one-hour drama, and the half-hour comedies ''The George Wendt Show'' and ''The Office.'' Going on hiatus will be ''Hearts Afire,'' The Boys Are Back,'' ''Rescue 911,'' and ''Love & War.''

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The Oscar nominating process for documentaries will be reevaluated in the wake of the snubbing of the acclaimed ''Hoop Dreams,'' the motion-picture academy said. The panel that nominates documentaries is made up not of documentary filmmakers, but of 47 academy members who volunteer.

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Musician Johnny Clegg has signed with broadcast executives to create a South African version of MTV. It's set to start broadcasting next year over channels in 64 countries.

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Lyubov Kremlova of Russia has broken one of the oldest world records in indoor track by running the 1,000 meters in 2 minutes, 34.18 seconds at a meet in Erfurt, Germany. Brigitte Kraus of Germany had held the record since 1978.

Top 10 TV Shows, Feb. 6-12

Rank/Show/Network/Rating

1. ''E.R.,'' NBC, 23.3, 22.2 million homes

2. ''Seinfeld,'' NBC, 21.7, 20.7 million homes

3. ''Grace Under Fire,'' ABC, 19.9, 19.0 million homes

4. ''Wings,'' NBC, 19.8, 18.9 million homes

5. ''Home Improvement,'' ABC, 19.6, 18.7 million homes

6. ''60 Minutes,'' CBS, 17.5, 16.7 million homes

7. ''Texas Justice - ABC Sunday Night Movie,'' 17.1, 16.3 million homes

8. ''NYPD Blue'' ABC, 17.0, 16.2 million homes

9. ''Murder, She Wrote,'' CBS, 16.4, 15.6 million homes

10. ''Friends,'' NBC, 15.9, 15.2 million homes.

(Ratings equal percentage of American homes with TVs)

A. C. Nielsen Co.

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