News In Brief

The US

President Clinton began a no-apologies defense of federal affirmative-action programs. After an extensive review of the race- and gender-based incentives - which many expected to yield a condemnation of the programs - Clinton said yesterday that they are fundamentally sound but need some reforms. One adjustment is an initiative that would allow anyone - regardless of race or sex - to qualify for set-aside programs if his or her business is in a poor area. Clinton has also derided fraud in the programs' procurement process. The move comes amid GOP criticism of the programs and a Supreme Court decision restricting race-based preference programs. (Editorial, Page 20.)

Congressional hearings on the federal raid in Waco, Texas, began yesterday. The eight day proceedings were expected to cover everything from the planning of the government's 1993 deadly search warrant raid into the Branch Davidian compound to the fire that destroyed it. Congress will try to bridge the gap between the government's description of events and the recollections of those inside the compound. (Story, Page 4.)

Senate Republicans are trying to prove that the Clintons have something to hide, as the Whitewater hearings continue. They alleged Tuesday that presidential counsel Vincent Foster may have committed suicide over discomfort with discrepancies between the Clintons' ledger and their public statements on their Whitewater Development Co. investment. The hearings will continue to focus on whether the White House kept authorities at arm's length in the days after Foster's death in order to protect the Clintons.

A micro-asteroid slammed into a space shuttle window Tuesday causing minor damage. Yesterday a House committee approved NASA's $13 billion budget, including funds for a Saturn mission.

Senator Dole says he may drop his regulatory-reform bill. This after Republicans failed to halt debate on the plan that would drastically cut health, safety, and environmental regulations. But the GOP did block a more moderate Democratic plan. (Opinion, Page 19.)

Housing starts slipped 0.1 percent in June, the fifth decline in six months, the Commerce Department said yesterday. The fall was entirely in multi family dwellings. Single-family starts posted a healthy gain.

The Senate was expected to vote yesterday on whether to call for lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian government. Senator Dole says the Bosnians must be allowed to fight for themselves. Clinton opposes the move.

A bill to outlaw late-term abortions got committee approval yesterday. The measure would outlaw so-called ''partial-birth'' abortions performed after the 20th-week of pregnancy.

Random IRS tax audits are under congressional scrutiny. The IRS says it needs to perform 153,000 of the detailed inquiries in which taxpayers have to produce marriage licenses to prove they can file joint returns or birth certificates for dependents. But Congress is questioning their burden on taxpayers.

O.J. Simpson punched the air while talking about ''working out with the wife'' in an exercise video shown to jurors yesterday after Judge Ito overruled defense attempts to block the screening. In another video Simpson said that after drinking ''Juice Plus'' he no longer had arthritis pains - a statement that contradicts defense assertions that he is hobbled by the disease.

Black mortgage applicants are rejected more than twice as often as whites with similar incomes, the government reported. Last year 33.4 percent of black applicants and 16.4 percent of white applicants were denied.

The World

Croatian Serb troops and their Muslim allies attacked Bosnian government positions in the Bihac enclave Wednesday. Meanwhile, the US said Tuesday it is considering using US attack and transport helicopters to shuttle a European ''rapid reaction'' force into Gorazde. Also under consideration: stepped-up NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serbs and a new command structure that would bypass UN approval. The proposals are to be taken up at a six-nation meeting Friday in London. Government soldiers threatened to use Ukrainian peacekeepers in the ''safe area'' enclave of Zepa as human shields Tuesday unless the UN orders airstrikes to prevent the town's fall. The Serbs, meanwhile, said they would respond to NATO airstrikes by shelling eight peacekeepers in a UN base near the town. (Story, Page.6.)

Nigeria's government is feeling the squeeze from the Nigerian press and Western governments to commute its sentencing of 40 Nigerians purportedly involved in a coup plot. Canada joined the US and other Western countries in condemning the decision. Former head of state Olusegun Obasanjo was jailed for life; his No. 2, Maj. Gen. Shehu Musa Uar'Adua, was given the death sentence with 13 others.

Guatemalan Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, a Quiche Mayan Indian, launched a national campaign Tuesday to encourage poll-shy Guatemalans to register to vote in general elections this fall. Like 80 percent of indigenous Maya women, Menchu has never voted. In congressional elections last year, less than 20 percent of the electorate voted. Meanwhile, the UN released a gloomy report on the country's human rights abuses Monday, but said the situation had improved since another UN report released in early 1995.

A dispute over water, one of the Middle East's rarest resources, caused a crisis in Israel-PLO talks Tuesday and is threatening talks on expanding Palestinian rule expected to take place next week.

Japan launched a private fund to compensate Asian women conscripted as wartime sex slaves. Meanwhile, news of larger-than-expected US trade deficit sent the dollar sharply lower against the yen, despite central bank intervention, and helped push prices down on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Hundreds of Korean students hurled rocks at police to protest the decision by President Kim Young Sam's government not to bring legal action against two of Kim's predecessors. The men have been linked to suppressing an uprising 15 years ago that left 200 dead and 1,800 wounded.

The US appealed to Kashmiri separatists Tuesday to release five Western hostages, including one American. The Muslim separatists said nothing about the health of the hostages, even though they had vowed to kill the hostages by a Monday deadline if 20 guerrillas jailed in India were not released. The separatists are fighting to free Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state, from overwhelmingly Hindu India.

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council postponed indefinitely parliamentary elections set for this Saturday. The elections were to be held in eight of the country's nine provinces to make up for faulty balloting during the June 25 elections, where official results were destroyed or polling stations did not function.

Russian President Yeltsin appeared on TV to assure Russians he is mending, but aides said Tuesday he faces recuperation at a sanitarium after release from the hospital. Also, Russian negotiators headed for Chechnya with new peace proposals Wednesday.

Etcetera

Japan has the revenue, but the US is making the money, ''Fortune'' magazine's new list of the world's largest companies shows. Japanese firms dominate the list, yet US company earnings average 4.9 percent compared with just .71 percent for Japanese companies.

Defending chess titlist Garry Kasparov and challenger Vijay Anand will meet Sept. 9 in a series of matches on the observation deck atop the World Trade Center in New York City.

China's State Council has ordered confiscation of a set of six World War II commemorative coins, one of which bears the face of Adolph Hitler, the central bank in Beijing said yesterday.

The Richmond, Va., City Council has voted to put a statue of the late tennis star Arthur Ashe on its Monument Avenue. Native-son Ashe's statue will stand among Confederate icons such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Newark, Calif., school officials may have parents attend Saturday school with their children in an attempt to improve study habits. The plan initially will focus on elementary-school children.

College art students in Savannah, Ga., have painted a 76,726-square-foot portrait of Elvis. Why did they do it? To get into the Guinness Book of records, of course.

Top-Grossing Films In the US, July 14-16

(Preliminary figures)

1. ''Apollo 13,'' $15.6 million

2. ''Under Siege 2: Dark Territory,'' $12.6 million

3. ''Nine Months,'' $12.5 million

4. ''Species,'' $10.1 million

5. ''Pocahontas,'' $8.1 million

6. ''The Indian in the Cupboard,'' $7.7 million

7. ''First Knight,'' $6.6 million

8. ''Batman Forever,'' $5.3 million

9. ''Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,'' $2.8 million

10. ''Judge Dredd,'' $2.4 million

- Associated Press

'' I had been picked as the one-person jury for the O.J. trial because it had been determined that I was . . . the only American who had not been prejudiced by pretrial publicity.''

- US astronaut Norman Thagard on a joke letter he received from NASA during his nearly four months in space

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