News In Brief

The US

A ''tremendous'' explosion blew off the front portion of a federal building in Oklahoma City yesterday. At press time, CNN was reporting the possible deaths of six children. Investigators said they may have found two more explosive devices in the building.

President Clinton used a Tuesday-night news conference to claim his relevancy in Washington. He challenged Congress to submit a welfare-reform bill by July 4 that he could sign. Clinton said for the first time that a flat tax on incomes might be worth considering. He repeated his vow to fight for Surgeon General nominee Henry Foster. Clinton said he hoped to persuade Russian President Yeltsin to abandon his planned sale of two nuclear reactors to Iran. He said he gave full support to US Trade Representative Kantor's aggressive efforts to sell more autos and auto parts to Japan. (Story, Page 1.)

In response to Clinton's prime-time news conference, Congressman Armey told CNN that the GOP ''is anxious'' to have Clinton engaged in making policy, but the president has ''vacated the field,'' so Congress has moved forward with its own work. Senator Dole, meanwhile, said Henry Foster's nomination for Surgeon General was in trouble because of his ''credibility problem,'' not presidential politics or the abortion issue.

Reversing course, former Pennsylvania Governor Casey said he would not challenge Clinton in the 1996 Democratic primaries, saying he was not up to the rigors of a presidential campaign. Casey set up a presidential exploratory committee March 24. GOP candidate Alexander, meanwhile, said he would not raise federal taxes under any circumstances except war.

The US trade deficit, after starting the year with a record gap, narrowed sharply in February even though the country's deficit with Mexico hit an all-time high, the Commerce Department reported. Analysts said they hoped the overall improvement would provide support for the embattled dollar.

The Supreme Court was to hear arguments yesterday in two cases involving gerrymandering to create minority congressional districts. In the first case, the justices were to consider whether Louisiana state lawmakers acted legally when they created a black-majority congressional district. The high court also was to hear a challenge to redistricting in Georgia that could produce new racial rules for Southern elections. The court ruled that people have a constitutional right to hand out anonymous political leaflets. And by a 5-4 vote, it overturned the murder conviction of Louisiana death row inmate Curtis Lee Kyles for the 1984 killing of a New Orleans woman. The ruling makes it easier for death-row inmates and other convicted criminals to win new trials if prosecutors withheld information from trials that may have helped the defendants.

Federal regulators are preparing to ease rules aimed at fighting discrimination by lending institutions against women, blacks, and other minorities, government sources said. They said the new rules would address complaints by lenders that they are swamped with paperwork under the current rules. Lenders would no longer be required to list the race and gender of all small-business borrowers, but instead would have to compile such loans in the aggregate.

Black federal employees are 2.4 times more likely to be fired than white workers, discounting such factors as age, education, occupation, and pay grade, a study by the Office of Personnel Management said. The research found that the racial gap in firing persisted in occupations with high numbers of black workers.

The World

The dollar plunged in value to 79.75 yen in Tokyo, another record low, but later recovered somewhat. A Bank of Tokyo official predicted that the dollar would drift around the 80-yen mark. Japanese Finance Minister Takemura warned the US not to use its weak currency as a trade tool. President Clinton said the US could not affect currency directions in the short term. At the US-Japan trade talks in Washington, the US said it was determined to break down Tokyo's barriers to US autos. The head of the World Bank said world economic conditions are the best in years as trade links grow, but he warned that the US needs to raise interest rates soon to defend the dollar. (Story, Page 1.)

Japanese police said a gas attack in Yokohama was deliberate and is a criminal matter. About 300 people were sickened by an unidentified substance in an underground corridor of the city's main train station. Sarin, the gas used in a Tokyo subway attack last month, was not the agent, police said. A major Tokyo paper said police think a missing sect leader supervised the production of Sarin. (Story, Page 5.)

Most of Chechnya is under Russian control, the Russian commander in the republic said at a Moscow news conference. With the fall of Bamut, General Kulikov said, Russia controls 80 percent of Chechnya. He also said Chechen leader Dudayev doesn't have the ''social or economic'' base to continue fighting. Kulikov said he is under no pressure to end the war before Clinton and other Western leaders arrive in Moscow May 9 to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Clinton and Turkish Prime Minister Ciller were to meet in Washington yesterday, with Clinton pressing for an early Turkish withdrawal from northern Iraq. Ciller has maintained that criticism of Turkey's attack on Kurds in Iraq is unfair. She said efforts to block Turkey's bid to join the EU would bolster Islamic fundamentalists active in her country.

France and the US urged the UN to do more to control Bosnian Serbs. Prime Minister Balladur said France would consider pulling out of the UN force in Bosnia if the Security Council did not act within 48 hours to bolster the security of peacekeepers. Two French peacekeepers were killed there recently. Secretary of State Christopher criticized the UN for allowing Serbs to prevent the US ambassador to Bosnia from flying out of Sarajevo.

At the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference, US Vice President Gore joined US diplomats in efforts to extend the 1970 non-proliferation treaty as a permanent charter of arms control. A number of developing countries are still holding out for a limited extension, to pressure the five nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear arms.

China granted the EU the same intellectual property protections pledged to the US, EU vice president Brittan said in Beijing. He also pressed for greater market access to China.

Tamil rebels broke a 14-week truce in Sri Lanka, killing 10 sailors on government boats. The rebels, fighting for a separate homeland, had set a deadline for government concessions in the peace negotiations.

The captain of a ferry that had to be abandoned in the British Channel had his license taken away until an investigation is completed. Some 300 passengers were evacuated and many of them were injured.

A Libyan airliner carrying pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, took off from Tripoli. The UN gave last-minute approval for such trips, temporarily lifting an air embargo on Libya. A Libyan official said up to 10,000 pilgrims will make the trip.

Etcetera

Winners of the 1995 Pulitzer Prizes

Journalism

Public service -- The Virgin Islands Daily News

Spot news reporting -- Los Angeles Times staff

Investigative reporting -- Brian Donovan and Stephanie Saul of Newsday

Explanatory journalism -- Leon Dash and Lucian Perkins of The Washington Post

Beat reporting -- David Shribman of The Boston Globe

National reporting --

Tony Horwitz of The Wall Street Journal

International reporting -- Mark Fritz of

The Associated Press

Feature writing

Ron Suskind of The Wall Street Journal

Commentary -- Jim Dwyer of New York Newsday

Criticism -- Margo Jefferson of The New York Times

Editorial writing --

Jeffrey Good of the St. Petersburg Times

Spot news photography -- Carol Guzy of The Washington Post

Feature photography -- The Associated Press staff

Arts

Fiction -- ''The Stone Diaries,'' by Carol Shields

Drama -- ''The Young Man From Atlanta,'' by Horton Foote

History -- ''No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II,'' by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Biography -- ''Harriet Beecher Stowe: A life,'' by Joan D. Hedrick

Poetry -- ''The Simple Truth,'' by Philip Levine

General nonfiction -- ''The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time, '' by Jonathan Weiner.

Music -- ''String Music,'' by Morton Gould

Houston became the biggest one-newspaper town in the US after the 110-year-old Houston Post closed its doors, ending a 94-year rivalry with the Houston Chronicle. The paper was purchased by the Hearst Corporation, including its printing facilities, land, and buildings. The paper's 1,500 employees were asked to vacate the building by Tuesday evening.

''I am willing to work with the Republicans. The question is, are they willing to work with me?''

President Clinton

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