News In Brief

THE WORLD

Iraqi lawyers yesterday questioned two Americans in custody. David Daliberti and Bill Barloon, who work for US defense companies in Kuwait, strayed over the Iraqi border last week and were arrested. In similar cases over the past few years, Iraq has jailed individuals for several months. Diplomats in Baghdad said they doubted Iraq could use the issue to bargain for ending the strict UN embargo.

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Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, said yesterday it hoped to start Northern Ireland peace talks with British government ministers within a couple of weeks. The party is already involved in lower-level exploratory talks. British Prime Minister Major has insisted Sinn Fein must detail how the IRA will put down its arms before his ministers can join the talks. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was to end a trip to the US yesterday. He met with President Clinton Friday.

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Mexico's legislature passed an emergency 50 percent increase in its sales tax, pushing it to 15 percent. The plan, designed to stabilize the battered economy, also hiked the cost of gasoline and electricity. President Zedillo is taking a big political gamble with the measure, which was supported by his Institutional Revolutionary Party.

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European Union foreign ministers offered Russia a long-term special relationship. The 15 ministers said it was important not to isolate Russia, and proposed a special agreement with NATO if Russia overcomes problems in Chechnya and drops objections to NATO expansion eastward.

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Azerbaijan seemed quiet yesterday following a failed coup put down Friday. As many as 30 people were killed in the attempt to oust President Haydar Aliyev. Instability has wracked the former Soviet republic since independence in 1991.

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The PLO appointed Mahmoud Abbas to its negotiating team with Israel. PLO leader Arafat said it was ''necessary'' for Abbas -- an architect of the Palestinian autonomy agreement with Israel who later split with Arafat -- to rejoin the talks. Yesterday the PLO renewed its commitment to the peace process but again asked for international help in the current impasse.

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The army of Afghan President Rabbani scored its biggest victory in the three-year civil war when it drove the rival Taliban militia from its main base south of Kabul yesterday. Rabbani's soldiers now control all of the capital and its suburbs.

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Finland's voters, upset by austerity measures, seemed certain to vote out the government in general elections yesterday. Polls showed the opposition Social Democrats were poised to become the strongest party, defeating Prime Minister Esko Aho's Center Party.

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Three weeks before Zimbabwe's parliamentary election, Prime Minister Mugabe's ZANU-PF party seems sure to win. Opposition parties have failed even to field candidates for 52 of the 120 seats.

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The Chinese have built new facilities on a portion of the Spratley Islands also claimed by the Philippines, according to reports in Manila newspapers. The reported sightings came as officials from the two nations were due to discuss the Spratleys in Beijing today. Meanwhile, the Manila Chronicle quoted the former Philippine consul general in Singapore as saying the Filipina maid executed Friday for murder had insisted earlier that she committed the crime.

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Canadian railroads came to a halt as 21,000 workers struck or were locked out. The shutdown affected commuter rail services to several cities, including Toronto and Montreal. Canada's major automakers said the strike could shut them down in two days.

THE US

Mail theft is increasing, postal officials say. Thieves are ransacking collection boxes and apartment mail boxes and attacking mail carriers, looking for bank statements, social security numbers, government checks, phone cards, and credit cards. A federal grand jury in New York is investigating.

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The Republican welfare reform bill looks set for approval tomorrow. GOP moderates have won several concessions from the leadership and are unlikely to break ranks. The nation's Roman Catholic bishops criticized the measure, warning it would hurt poor children and could push women to have abortions. The bishops attacked proposals to end cash assistance to children of unwed mothers, to unmarried teenage mothers and to legal immigrants. Like much of The Contract With America, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

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President Clinton urged Congress to threaten revocation of deadbeat parents' drivers' licenses. In his weekly radio address, he called the measure the major element missing from the GOP welfare reform plan. Clinton said if all of the billions of dollars in unpaid child support were paid, 800,000 mothers and children could be moved off the welfare rolls. Replying for the GOP, Representative Portman said defenders of the current system are using ''irresponsible scare tactics'' to cloud the debate.

r

Senator Dole said he will move today to shut off Senate debate on the line-item veto. He needs 60 votes to do so. The majority leader called on Clinton to pressure Democrats to support the measure and accused them of trying to kill it. The Senate is considering competing bills and Clinton has not said which he favors.

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Meteorologists predicted more rain for northern California. Governor Wilson suspended the state's endangered-species law to allow farmers and residents to clean up and restore property without getting state permits. Wilson earlier waived air-pollution laws to allow for clearing of fallen timber and rotting produce. Meanwhile, engineers completed a temporary bridge over I-5, replacing one that washed out in heavy rains last week.

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The Space Shuttle Endeavour ended its 16-1/2-day mission with a touchdown in California. The 6.9 million-mile flight was the longest shuttle flight ever. Stormy weather prevented a planned landing in Florida.

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The Justice Department closed its inquiry into Transportation Secretary Pena. Attorney General Reno said investigators found no credible evidence he violated federal law in the building of Denver's new airport or in the awarding of a contract to his former firm. The announcement was good news for the president: His administration is already dealing with three independent counsels who are investigating Housing Secretary Cisneros, the Whitewater affair, and former Agriculture Secretary Espy.

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Federal officials began notifying Cubans selected to receive the first annual allotment of more than 20,000 US visas. The first 1,000 winners of a lottery among 189,000 applicants will get letters and forms soon. The arrangement was part of a deal between Washington and Havana ending last year's refugee exodus. Officials expect to admit 26,000 Cubans this year.

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The Dow Jones index ended last week at 4,073.65, breaking the record set the day before. One analyst predicted the Dow would hit 4,150 this week unless the dollar's fall continues. A University of Michigan study, meanwhile, reportedly finds consumer confidence falling in March.

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Police detective Philip Vannatter is set to return to the stand today in the O. J. Simpson trial. He testified last week about blood drops found at the murder scene. He follows six days of testimony by detective Mark Fuhrman, who denied planting the glove he found on O. J. Simpson's estate that appears to match one at the murder scene. Judge Ito dismissed a fourth juror, reportedly because the man was writing a book on the case.

ETCETERA

I think we have to chart a course between the old way of big government and the new rage of no government.''

President Clinton, in his weekly radio address

''I'm back.'' With those words, superstar Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls. and ended 17 months away from basketball. His scheduled first game was against the Indiana Pacers yesterday on national TV.

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Princess Elena, daughter of Spain's King Juan Carlos, Saturday wed banker Jaime de Marichalar y Saenz de Tejada in a Seville cathedral. Looking on were Queen Paola of Belgium, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and Prince Charles of Britain.

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Author Salman Rushdie was in Paris Sunday for a rare appearance as part of his campaign to overturn an Iranian death order. The late Ayatollah Khomeini imposed the order for Rushdie's alleged blasphemy against Islam.

Week's Top Video Rentals

1.''Clear and Present Danger,'' (Paramount)

2. ''Natural Born Killers,'' (Warner)

3. ''Timecop,'' (MCA-Universal)

4. ''True Lies,'' (FoxVideo)

5. ''The Lion King,'' (Disney)

6. ''Color of Night,'' (Hollywood)

7. ''It Could Happen to You,'' .(Columbia)

8. ''The Mask,'' (Turner)

9. ''Wolf,'' (Columbia TriStar)

10. ''The Little Rascals,'' (MCA-Universal)

11.''Corrina, Corrina,'' (Turner)

12. ''The Client,'' (Warner)

13. ''In the Army Now,'' (Hollywood)

14. ''The Shadow,'' (MCA-Universal)

15. ''Renaissance Man,'' (Touchstone)

Copyright 1995, Billboard Publications Inc.

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