News In Brief

THE US

The House was to start debate yesterday on a GOP plan to balance the budget in seven years. House Speaker Gingrich forecast passage of the plan, despite a suggestion from President Clinton that Republicans were headed ''off the deep end'' by cutting taxes for the wealthy while seeking huge savings from Medicare. Conservative Democrats produced an alternative to the GOP plan that also would wipe out deficits by 2002, but which shuns tax cuts. The Democrats would use the money to soften the blow against Medicare, agriculture, and other domestic programs.

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The Christian Coalition called for new restrictions on abortion and measures allowing prayer at schools and other public places. In a ''Contract With the American Family,'' released yesterday, the organization also called for several changes in tax policy it said would help families. The group's efforts have led Democrats and some GOP moderates to predict a Republican civil war over divisive social legislation. Conservative Republicans, including House Speaker Gingrich and Senator Gramm, said they will support at least a few of the measures.

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The House passed a bill that would ease water-pollution controls for industries and cities, lift protections for many wetlands, and make regulators give greater consideration to costs before requiring water-quality improvements. The Senate, meanwhile, approved legislation giving governors broad discretion over restricting trash imports.

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The administration is preparing to allow more than 200 Haitian children now being detained at Guantanamo Bay into the US, the Miami Herald reported.

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The Senate Ethics Committee found ''substantial cause'' that Senator Packwood ''may have abused his United States Senate Office'' through alleged improper sexual conduct toward more than a dozen women. The committee said it has decided to push the investigation further, launching a formal inquiry that could include public hearings.

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Timothy McVeigh said he bombed the Oklahoma City federal building because it housed several government offices, but he didn't know a day-care center was inside, the New York Times reported. McVeigh admitted responsibility to two unidentified sources, the newspaper said. Stephen Jones, McVeigh's attorney, said he doubts such a jailhouse confession was ever made. Oklahoma Governor Keating said he also doubts the validity of a confession. The federal building will be demolished by next Tuesday morning, CNN reported.

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Minority doctors bear the heaviest burden of caring for the poor, and it is costing the doctors dearly, a study by the University of Maryland in Baltimore found. The study said 29 percent of Medicaid patients received care from nonwhite doctors, as did nearly 19 percent of other low-income and uninsured people. Minority doctors cared for only 13 percent of the more-affluent patients, the study found.

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Vestiges of school segregation still bar many minority students from colleges in the South and limit their success once they're in, a study by the Southern Education Foundation said. Whites and minorities often attend different public universities; blacks receive college diplomas at a lower rate than whites; and the high schools that blacks and Hispanic attend often fail to prepare them for college, the study found.

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Another financial official is facing charges in the investment disaster that drove Orange County, Calif., into bankruptcy. Former assistant treasurer Matthew Raabe was indicted on six felony charges, including four counts of misappropriating public funds.

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NBC said it will abandon two major on-line services in favor of one to be created by Microsoft Corp. The action is part of a broad arrangement between NBC and Microsoft that includes consumer-targeted software and futuristic, two-way television. AT&T Corp., meanwhile, is reportedly talking with Time Warner Inc.'s cable TV unit about a phone-service alliance.

THE WORLD

US and Japanese officials are both predicting victory if the trade dispute develops into a trade war. Japan's trade minister says US plans to levy nearly $6 billion of punitive tariffs on Japanese-made luxury cars are illegal; Japan will file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. Some Japanese parliament members and bureaucrats are mulling cutting US agricultural imports as retaliation.

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Smoke billowed over the foothills north and south of the Chechen capital Wednesday after oil storage facilities were set ablaze in fighting. Elsewhere, Russian commanders said warplanes and artillery attacked rebel positions in the south. Twenty-seven rebels and three Russian servicemen were killed. Meanwhile, Chechen rebels' military chief said he wanted talks with Russian Defense Minister Grachev on ending the fighting.

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The worst battles in two years engulfed Sarajevo Tuesday but the UN rejected a Bosnian plea for NATO air strikes against Serb forces. Five people were killed and 25 wounded. Heavy shelling by Bosnian Serb forces continued against Croat positions along a supply corridor in northern Bosnia. The Croatian army has failed to complete a withdrawal from UN-patrolled buffer zones by a Tuesday deadline. Croatia's rebel Serb leaders meet today to settle accounts over the biggest Serb defeat this month. Most Americans want the UN to get tougher on Bosnia, a University of Maryland poll states.

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Arab and Israeli negotiators are considering adding human rights to their agenda for peace talks, but progress was threatened by the dispute over Israel's confiscation of Arab land in Jerusalem. Delegations from the Mideast, Europe, North America, and Japan will hold talks on Wednesday in Switzerland. Members of Jordan's parliament called for Israel to freeze or cancel the peace treaty with the Jewish state; the European Union has condemned Israel's land confiscation. Meanwhile, an Israeli soldier and Moslem guerrilla were killed and seven others wounded when guerrillas attacked a post in south Lebanon. A South Lebanon Army fighter was wounded in a second attack.

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Police interrogated cult leader Shoka Asahara Wednesday, and said he answered some questions but not about the nerve-gas attack on Tokyo subways March 20. Police continued searching facilities owned by the Aum Shinri Kyo sect, making another arrest. They seized chemicals and optical discs, and said a sect hideout outside Tokyo might have been used to forge documents. A man abducted by cult members in February died while in their custody.

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Conservative Jacques Chirac was inaugurated Wednesday the fifth president of France, assuming leadership for a seven-year term. Chirac is a former prime minister and mayor of Paris.

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In a tense confrontation at sea, China ranged two missile-armed frigates against a Philippine ship that had to be towed into port with engine failure. The 70-minute standoff last weekend in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea demonstrated what would happen to Philippine forces in a military showdown with China. The Spratlys, which are believed to be potentially rich in oil and gas, are being squabbled over by six nations. Meanwhile, the search for more bodies from a burning ferry that sank off the Philippines Tuesday continues. The death toll stands at 44.

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Iran's top nuclear official has denied telling the New York Times his country plans to build 10 nuclear-fueled power plants over the next two decades. In Iraq, a senior UN arms control official left Baghdad Wednesday with a pledge to provide missing data on its past chemical weapons programs.

ETCETERA

Once again it is the civilians who become the ultimate victims of this tragic war.''

UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko on the worst battles to engulf Sarajevo in two years

Two cosmonauts made their second difficult spacewalk in five days yesterday. They were preparing the Mir space station for the docking of a research module and the arrival next month of the US shuttle Atlantis. Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strelkov spent more than six hours outside Mir, with US ''visiting'' astronaut Norman Thagard alone inside the space station monitoring their progress.

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Youthful directors and controversial themes are the highlights of the 48th Cannes Film Festival, which opened yesterday. Six American films dominate the lineup of 24 movies. Awards are to be announced May 28 in this chic Mediterranean resort. Movie stars, moguls, agents, journalists, and stargazers are everywhere.

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Long-secret US government documents indicate that the Central Intelligence Agency was monitoring conductor Leonard Bernstein for supposed subversive activities as recently as the 1970s, the New York Times reported.

Japanese Luxury Cars Targeted by US Tariffs

(Valued at $5.9 billion last year)

1. Honda Acura Legend

2. Honda Acura 3.2 TL

3. Toyota Lexus LS400

4. Toyota Lexus SC400

5. Toyota Lexus SC300

6. Toyota Lexus GS300

7. Toyota Lexus ES300

8. Nissan Infiniti Q45

9. Nissan Infiniti J30

10. Nissan Infiniti I30

11. Mazda 929

12. Mazda Millenia

13. Mitsubishi Diamante (four-door sedan)

Associated Press

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