News In Brief

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The US

The government's main forecasting gauge of future economic activity, the Index of Leading Economic Indicators, declined a widely predicted 0.2 percent in May. It was the fourth-straight decline, the first time that has happened since the 1990 recession. This latest evidence of a serious slowdown came as the Federal Reserve's monetary policymakers were meeting to determine whether to lower short-term interest rates to stimulate the economy. An announcement was expected late yesterday. The number of Americans seeking first-time jobless benefits, meanwhile, remained unchanged last week at at 369,000, the Labor Department reported. The number of people receiving benefits, however, climbed to the highest level since last July.

House tax-writers next week will consider 230 tax breaks ranging from the popular - a charitable contributions deduction for the 70 percent of Americans who don't itemize - to the arcane - a repeal of the gas-guzzler tax on stretch limousines. House Ways and Means chairman Archer promised he will oppose anything that amounts to targeted tax relief or that costs too much. Among the biggest changes proposed are allowing tax-sheltered savings accounts for education expenses and phasing out the excise tax on luxury autos.

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President Clinton was to devote an address at Georgetown University in Washington yesterday to his ongoing theme of returning civility to daily life. Aides said the president wants to urge people to take responsibility for their actions and come together to build a better country, denouncing hatred and violence. He argues that government can, and should, help Americans prosper, but individuals must also help themselves and their community. Clinton has played on the theme before, at an Arkansas fund-raiser last month and in his State of the Union address.

The Clinton administration, which promised two years ago to lessen big-money influence in politics, yesterday defended the Democratic Party for offering presidential dinners and other perks to major donors. Public interest groups accused the White House of peddling access to the Oval Office. In a Democratic National Committee letter, $100,000 donors are promised two dinners with the president; a $1,000 donation gets a social invitation with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton; and $50,000 buys a reception with Clinton.

Civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson said he might consider running for president in 1996 as an independent candidate. Jackson told CNN's ''Larry King Live,'' hosted by former New York Governor Cuomo, that running as an independent would buy him more time since only four states require independent candidates to file their data before July 1996.

Senator Packwood's decision to waive his right to a hearing on charges of ethical misconduct left the determination to the Senate Ethics Committee's three Republicans and three Democrats. So far, one committee member has called for a public hearing and another, a Democrat, has signaled his support.

California's leading politicians pressed Clinton to reject a base-closing compromise plan. Clinton is considering a Pentagon proposal that attempts to preserve some jobs at McClellan Air Force Base in California. The Sacramento-area base is slated for shutdown. Senator Feinstein, for one, has demanded that Clinton reject the plan outright, saying it doesn't guarantee that the jobs will stay in California.

Attorneys for bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh asked for a hearing on claims the government has leaked secret grand jury information and kept witnesses from talking. The motion is similar to one filed by attorneys for Terry Nichols but rejected by a federal judge last week for lack of evidence.

Astronauts and cosmonauts conducted a final round of medical experiments yesterday while crewmates prepared the shuttle Atlantis for its return to Cape Canaveral, Fla., today. (Stories, Page 3.)

A Miami lawyer, Daniel S. Pearson, was named independent counsel to investigate the finances of Commerce Secretary Brown. He'll investigate whether Brown improperly accepted nearly half a million dollars from a business partner and whether he deliberately filed inaccurate financial-disclosure statements.

The World

Contradicting Israeli claims, PLO leader Arafat said yesterday that Palestinian elections will not take place until all Israeli troops leave the West Bank. Arafat's comments were echoed by a senior Palestinian negotiator who said the PLO never agreed to elections before a complete pullout, as Israel contended. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Peres said he and Arafat had agreed to a phased Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank over two years, starting with four major towns before Palestinian elections this year.

Hundreds of civilians and Dutch peacekeepers took shelter as a fierce battle with heavy weapons broke out in Srebenica between defending Muslims and Serbs. Serb shelling of Sarajevo also continued. A UN relief convoy reached the government-held Bihac enclave in northwest Bosnia soon after the first deaths by starvation were reported. Serb and rebel Muslim forces have not abided by agreements to allow aid convoys into the area. (The search for firewood in Sarajevo, Page 7.)

Britain's new Cabinet met for the first time yesterday, determined to end the strife within the ruling Conservative Party and plot a new course for Prime Minister Major's embattled government. Major rewarded loyal center-left colleagues in a Cabinet reshuffle, offering little to appease his anti-European, right-wing critics. Newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Heseltine claimed that the rift had been healed. Malcolm Rifkin was named foreign secretary.

Russian forces accused Chechen rebels of attacking their positions just hours before peace talks resumed in Grozny. Each side accused the other of breaking a truce. To be discussed: Chechnya's status and the future of rebel leader Dudayev. Meanwhile, President Yeltsin promised to repeal a recent decree to permanently station troops in the republic after angry Russian negotiators threatened to quit. Later, his spokesman said the decree would stand.

Japanese Prime Minister Murayama launched his Socialist Party's campaign for Upper House elections, pointing to his record of holding an unlikely coalition together. Some 567 candidates from 23 parties have declared in the first nationwide poll since 1993. Murayama needs to control both houses to govern effectively, and he admits his coalition is just beginning to show gains in public opinion. Meanwhile, Japanese auto imports surged 35 percent in the first half of 1995, an industry association announced.

South Korea's opposition demanded that the Cabinet resign over last week's collapse of a shopping mall. Workers continued to search for victims, and the number of fatalities reached 130. North Korean cities, meanwhile, prepared to commemorate the death of leader Kim Il Sung nearly a year ago.

The international community has known all along that Iraq had a germ war program, a US State Department spokesman said. Iraq admitted for the first time that its biological-warfare program was designed for offensive purposes. UN officials say they must now verify the country's claim it destroyed the materials.

In its annual global report, Amnesty International accused the US of abetting human-rights abuses abroad by exporting weapons to repressive regimes and by easing trade restrictions with China.

In remarks at the celebration of the UN's 50th anniversary in Geneva, French President Chirac accused the US of ''grave failure'' in falling behind in its UN payments. The US, which is committed to paying 25 percent of the UN's budget and one-third of its peacekeeping costs, owes $1.18 billion.

Armenia's ruling party led in early returns in the country's first post-Soviet parliamentary elections. One election official claimed that the Republican bloc had won a landslide victory. International observers said the elections were generally free but not entirely fair.

Etcetera

Time was, writing meant typewriting. Words such as these were composed on the solid keyboard, banged noisily onto a piece of paper, and XXXed out when they weren't quite right. But it's easier and faster with a computer, a reality that forced Smith Corona Corp., the last big-name American typewriter manufacturer, into bankruptcy Wednesday.

Officials in Crookston, Minn., say they wanted to connect their city to something unique. So they decided on Bigfoot. Never mind that Bigfoot isn't known to prowl in Minnesota. Crookston says Bigfoot beats the city's current mascot, the ox cart. City officials plan to create an 8-foot-tall, furry statue of the world's most-famous creature and display casts of footprints found at some sightings in North America.

Planning to write someone overseas? Better do it now: The cost of mailing a letter outside the US goes up on Sunday.

10 Richest Individuals

1. Bill Gates, US, $12.9 billion

2. Warren Buffet, US, $10.7 billion

3. Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, Japan, $9.0 billion

3. Hans Rausing, Sweden, $9.0 billion

5. Paul Sacher, Switzerland, $8.6 billion

6. Tsai Wan-Lin, Taiwan, $8.5 billion

7. Lee Shau Kee, Hong Kong, $6.5 billion

7. Kenneth Thomson, Canada, $6.5 billion

9. Chung Ju-yung, South Korea, $6.2 billion

10. Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong, $5.9 billion

- Forbes Magazine

'' I would only say this: that actions are a lot more important than words.''

- State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns on Iraq's admission that its biological warfare program is offensive

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