News In Brief

The US

House Republicans won a first vote on their plan to slash the size of government, reduce social-welfare programs, and balance the budget in seven years. The Budget Committee voted 24-17 to send the measure to the full House. Both the House and Senate budgets are scheduled to move to the floor for general debate next week. The Clinton administration said the GOP's path to a balanced budget by 2002 would put the economy into a fiscal straitjacket and could cause damage if the country slipped into a recession. House Budget Committee chairman Kasich countered that the blueprint would require fair sacrifices of all Americans. (Stories, Page 1.)

The administration was to announce a plan for redesigning the Department of Health and Human Services by cutting headquarters staff, consolidating programs, and giving states more responsibility for improving the health of Americans. Administration officials said the changes would save $453 million by 2000 while cutting 2,400 jobs from a work force that now totals 62,000 employees.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 last week, the biggest improvement in six weeks, the Labor Department said. Retail sales fell for the second time in three months in April, led by sharp declines in sales of interest rate-sensitive, big-ticket items such as cars and furniture, the Commerce Department said. Inflation at the wholesale level, meanwhile, shot up by 0.5 percent in April, the biggest increase in five months, according to the Labor Department's Producer Price Index.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the National Highway System Bill, which makes 159,000 miles of roads eligible for $6.5 billion in federal funds. The bill, headed for the full Senate, repeals the national 65 miles-per-hour speed limit, allowing states to set their own limits.

The Agriculture Department proposed cutting $350 million from the Food Stamp Program over the next five years. The cuts would come from giving states more flexibility, strengthening antifraud measures, and eliminating millions of dollars in overpayments. Congress is considering cuts of more than $20 billion.

Large foreign-owned corporations are becoming more successful at avoiding taxes on their US operations, congressional investigators said. The number of companies avoiding income taxes rose by 141 percent in four years, the General Accounting Office reported.

The House is considering a controversial overhaul of a 23-year-old law that protects lakes and rivers from pollution. Lawmakers began a string of votes on the measure Wednesday.

The House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee voted to phase out the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. Funds would be eliminated by fiscal 1999.

President Clinton sent Congress legislation to reinstate a federal school-zone gun ban declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Investigators looked further into the role Terry Nichols might have played in the Oklahoma City bombing case. Nichols was scheduled for a preliminary hearing yesterday. A law-enforcement source said investigators have evidence that Nichols traveled from Oklahoma to Kansas with the Ryder truck allegedly used in the bombing. The Dallas Morning News said Nichols admitted driving the truck from Kansas to Oklahoma City but told officials he didn't know what the truck would be used for.

Thunderstorms along the Gulf of Mexico continued to cause problems in Louisiana and coastal Mississippi. Flooding in a New Orleans suburb Wednesday forced about 800 people from their homes. More rain was forecast for Mississippi yesterday.

Media baron Rupert Murdoch and MCI Communications said they are joining forces to build a system that will provide electronic news, information, shopping, and entertainment. MCI and News Corp. will each invest $200 million in the joint venture, which could begin operations before the end of the year.

The World

US President Clinton met with 10 Russian opposition leaders in Moscow -- but left ultranationalist Zhirinovsky off the guest list -- before flying on to Kiev, Ukraine. The Russians told Clinton that many of their countrymen believe the West does not understand or care about the nature of their sacrifice as they move to a market economy. Clinton praised President Yeltsin's plans to move forward with parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections in June 1996. In Kiev, Clinton thanked the Ukranians for progress made on nuclear disarmament.

The threat of US trade sanctions against Japan helped bring down stock prices yesterday in Tokyo, and the dollar rose against the yen. The US said it would file a complaint with the new World Trade Organization after 20 months of negotiations with Japan failed to open that country's market to US autos and auto parts. Tokyo said it will file a countercomplaint with the WTO. Washington, meanwhile, is readying punitive duties on Japanese exports to the US. (Story, Page 8.)

The chief chemist of a Japanese sect linked to the Tokyo subway nerve-gas attack admitted the group manufactured sarin, the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported, quoting police sources. Australian Justice Minister Kerr said the sect may have carried out a sarin-testing program on sheep in Australia in 1993. His allegations were based on tests done at a sheep station purchased by the sect.

A French peacekeeper was in critical condition after he was shot along Sarajevo's ''Sniper Alley.'' UN sources said the shot came from Serb positions. Serbs reopened their key supply corridor linking Serbia and Serbian-held land in western Bosnia and Croatia, but fighting continued along the route. UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali is to meet in Paris today with senior officials from the warring factions.

With Argentina set to vote in presidential elections Sunday, President Menim's main rival, Jose Bordon of the center-left coalition Frepaso, hinted that the government may be responsible for an arson attack on one of Frepaso's offices. Menim said his rivals were demagogues and told voters that only his victory would assure a bright economic future.

Sinn Fein's top strategist said British demands that the IRA disarm are ''impossible'' until it is clear that a satisfactory peace settlement is being shaped. The comment put into question the possibility of further talks between negotiator Martin McGuiness and British Minister Ancram. The two sides met in Belfast for their first official visit in 23 years. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who is in the US to raise money, and Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Mayhew will be in Washington May 24-26 at a meeting hosted by Clinton. (Story, Page 6.)

Negotiators were set to make the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a permanent part of global law. A last-minute deal with 14 Arab nations called on all Middle East states ''without exception'' to sign the treaty and accept inspections of nuclear facilities. This puts more pressure on Israel to sign the NPT.

An elevator in a South African gold mine in Orkney fell 1,500 feet, killing up to 100 people. About 400 other workers were brought to the surface safely. (Story, Page 7.)

The Philippines election commission barred Imelda Marcos from being proclaimed winner in her race for House of Representatives, even as she widened her lead against the governing party candidate. The Supreme Court will rule if the disqualification is legal.

Etcetera

Ice once covered 7.7 square miles of a remote mountain in eastern Indonesia. Now it spans only one square mile. Asia's only permanently ice-capped tropical mountain is rapidly losing its snowy mantle.

Men outspend women by about 23 percent when buying gifts for Mother's Day, a survey shows. Men spend an average of $53 to women's $43.

Telephone coverage in China's urban areas has reached 13 percent, with as many as 25 phones for every 100 residents in more economically developed cities. More than 1,200 cable TV stations, meanwhile, were seen by 30 million Chinese families by the end of 1994.

Country Music Awards

Some winners of the 30th annual Academy of Country Music Awards

Entertainer: Reba McEntire

Album: ''Not a Moment Too Soon,'' Tim McGraw

Song: ''I Swear,'' John Michael Montgomery

Single Record: ''I Swear,'' John Michael Montgomery

Male Singer: Alan Jackson

Female Singer: Reba McEntire

Group: The Mavericks

Duet: Brooks & Dunn

New Male Singer: Tim McGraw

New Female Singer: Chely Wright

New Group or Duet: The Mavericks

Video: ''The Red Strokes,'' Garth Brooks

Pioneer Award: Loretta Lynn

Jim Reeves Memorial Award: Garth Brooks

Associated Press

''I've heard a defense of nearly every government-spending program known to man.''

Republican Congressman Bob Walker

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